What is true “off grid?” Hard to say. Depends how far you want to go. A form of anarchism would say, and don’t quote me on this, that we are meant to live as naturally with nature as possible, like indigenous peoples. Part of me agrees with that but I am tainted goods and don’t know if it would be possible for me to go that route. Anything is possible.
You could live off grid and have every imaginable gadget plugged into a 40+ solar panel system and not even realize you are off grid. Off grid can also mean you have running water. Most heat for off grid cabins or houses is supplied by a wood stove. Some may have a propane tank as a backup. All of that is not the case at my cabin, except for the wood stove.
So what does my “off grid” look like? My Amish cabin is considered a tiny house at 312 sq. ft. or 12 x 26, with a loft for my bed. It feels very roomy to me. My systems are:
Refrigerator: It is a cooler. All fruits and veggies go in a bin outside of the cooler. I use block ice and have made some during this winter. There is no room for a door full of condiments that I never use. I was going to get a solar system for a refrigerator but after reviewing the cost and seeing the cooler work, I decided not to bother now. For one person, it works. For a family, maybe not.
Wood Stove: Supplies all of my heat. I don’t have a propane tank for backup. How much wood did I need for this winter? I really didn’t know so I purchased 3 cords. A cord is 4’ x 4’ x 8’, and 3 cords was more than enough. There are some issues with a wood stove and no backup, which I have addressed in my post, “Cabin at -20 Outside.”
Stove for Cooking: A camping stove, which utilizes a propane tank, is used for all cooking. It sits on the porch, and I cook on it even when it was -10. The propane tank lasts about three weeks.
Hot Water: I heat two big soup pans, which hold approximately 2 quarts in each pan, every morning. This water is for washing my hair, bathing, and hot water for dishes.
Water: There is a well with a hand pump. I use approximately 7-8 gallons of water a day. In a way, I have running water. I fill two canisters for the kitchen and bathroom sinks. Turning the spigot on allows water to flow, which goes into a 5-gallon bucket under the sink. I take that water outside each day. In addition to the two canisters, I fill a 5-gallon bucket not quite to the top, which is for my hot water. I fill the containers and take them out usually once a day.
Bathroom: An outhouse serves for a bathroom outside, and I have a small bathroom inside. Both have a sink and vanity. The inside bathroom has a chamber pot for the middle of the night and a shower stall. I fill a camping shower with a mixture of boiling water and cold. It works fine.
Lights: Waka Waka lights were my lighting in the kitchen when I first moved in. They have two LED lights on one side and a solar panel on the other. They are approximately 2.5″ x 4″. I upgraded to a small solar system by Solar King that has 3 dome LED lights and a small solar panel that is about 8″ x 12″. It was $150 and was well worth the upgrade. This winter has had a good mixture of sun and cloudy days. A full day’s sun will get me 24 hours of light. I use about 4 hours of light each day, and they have remained charged so far.
Generator: Last January was cloudy the whole month. Very weird. I envisioned my solar lights with no energy left for lights at some point in the winter and being in the dark. That is why I bought the generator. It is not a big generator. It is 1600 watts, 2000 surge. Whatever that means. Basically, I can’t run a blow dryer on it at 1875 watts, a toaster, or coffeemaker. Oh my gosh, there is no life then! The generator would ensure I would have lights during those times, which is all I cared about. I can also watch a movie, charge my cellphone and mp3, use a drill, a small log splitter, etc.
Side note on the generator: One thing about the generator is it has exhaust and some noise. That may seem incidental to most and why bother noting it. Until I moved into my cabin, I never realized the ramifications or externalities of electricity or heat, which come from the extraction of coal and natural gas, along with the processing and transporting of it, as well. For all of my life, it was just a switch away. No exhaust. No noise. That exhaust could kill me in a confined area. Please note: We are very insulated from the realities of the conveniences that we use on a daily basis. There is a price to pay for them, even if we don’t see them.
Is my lifestyle a major inconvenience or a lot of work? Not at all. My cousin said I would be working all day to live this way. It takes about a half an hour to gather wood and take water out and refill my containers. Growing food will add some time. I have had some garden plots in recent years and didn’t find it added that much time, and I was working full time. I didn’t chop and split my own wood. It was delivered. I will do some of that in the future as over half of my 2 acres is wooded.
Also, it is not uncommon to be off grid in the area of WI that I live. It harbors “back-to-the-landers.” I guess that fits me just fine. Although, I am a bit of a prepper, too. This fall, I planted three apple trees, two hazelnut bushes, and three grape plants. A root cellar, greenhouse, wood shed, and rocket stove are in my brain, too. All in good time. There is tweaking going on as needed.
From the outside, this lifestyle looks insane. But last night, as I gazed at my fire in the wood stove, it felt normal. All my needs are met. I am dry and warm . . . have food and a place to store and cook it . . . my well supplies water . . . the outhouse is no big inconvenience . . . my mp3 was playing some jazz . . . solar lights lit up my kitchen . . . candles lit my living room area . . . my cat was sleeping on the chair . . . and there is a cozy bed to sleep in. What more could I want?