How to prepare to live off the grid

10 Things to do to Prepare to Live Off the Grid

In this article, we will cover 10 important things to think about so you know how to prepare to live off the grid.
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Are you dreaming of a life off the grid, where you can embrace self-sufficiency and reconnect with nature? If so, it's essential to know how to prepare for off-grid living. From gathering knowledge to finding the perfect location, building a home, and planning your power and water sources, there are crucial steps to take before embarking on this exciting adventure. In this article, we will cover 10 important things to think about so you know how to prepare to live off the grid.

1. Read as Much as You Can About How to Prepare for Off Grid Living

    With so much to tackle before going off-grid, it can seem a bit overwhelming to figure out yourself, so take advantage of learning resources before you’re in the middle of a field without cell service!

    There are many books available to purchase, download, or borrow that cover all aspects of the skills you need for going off grid, as well as several blogs online. Keep in mind that far more of these resources come from the United States than New Zealand, so not all advice will be relevant.

    These days you can learn just about anything on YouTube, and as such there are a plethora of channels covering all aspects of how to prepare to live off the grid.

    Some recommendations:

    In addition to how tos, you also need to understand any relevant laws and regulations that might affect your plans too. Many of these can be found on the various council and authority websites, and you can visit council offices to discuss any questions.

    How to prepare to live off the grid - books

    2. Find the Right Location

      There are several factors to consider when choosing your land – climate, water, access, slope, trees, councils, roads, proximity to town. We’ve got an article with 10 things to look for when buying and off-grid property here, and this post on our Facebook group has advice from others on where to look for land. The main recommendations included TradeMe, Facebook groups and marketplace, and other real estate websites, as well as word of mouth – going out and visiting farmers with lots of land or doing a mail-drop in the area advertising your interest!

      How to prepare to live off the grid - land

      3. Where and What to Build

        Before you can build your home, you need to survey your land to find the right spot. Important considerations include wind protection, orientation, shade that will affect solar, and ease of access for the building supplies!

        You’ll also want to weigh up your options of what you can build against how those plans fit within the region’s regulations, whether it can be insured, and how it’ll be done.

        A campervan or caravan is a very popular first step in how to prepare to live off the grid. They’re portable, and come fully self-contained in many cases. Most off-gridders will then transition these into cooking or living spaces as they build a separate sleeping area, or keep them as guest accommodation.

        When it comes to more permanent buildings, there’s a few directions to go:

        Tiny homes on wheels (aka THOWs) are a very popular option for off-gridders, as they’re also portable, initially more affordable, and have a huge community to fall back on. They do require a more minimalistic approach to work well, and may encounter some push back from certain councils, however. There have also been several tiny house building companies going through liquidation recently, so it pays to do your due diligence.

        Shipping container homes are growing in popularity, as you can start with a weathertight shell and make it your own. Some off-gridders also believe these are much more hassle than they’re worth, and they can run into similar council problems as tiny homes, so make sure you do you research before committing.

        The classic cabin or a larger homestead is usually the end goal for most, with a wide spectrum of relative luxury. Some build cheap little cabins or have shells built for them to line, some will relocate a house, and some will go all the way to building a brand-new passive house from the ground up.

        For those with one room cabins or caravans, many opt to create a separate outdoor kitchen to keep the smells and mess out of the smaller living and sleeping spaces – same with toilets.

        How to prepare for off-grid living - building

        4. Plan How to Power It

          It’s always a easier in the long run to know how you’ll power your building before you build it, so you don’t have to undo any hard work to retrofit something. If you’re going down the route of solar, you need to know where you want to put the solar panels, and where to keep the components - a helpful consideration for how to prepare for off-grid living since you’ll want to think about the direction of the sun and whether roof mounts or ground mounts make better sense for your property. Will you wire it into the household switchboard or rely on an extension cable and plugboard?

          It’s best to keep the solar panels quite close to the rest of the components (within about 10m) to prevent voltage drop, so you need to account for that proximity in your plans. Many people have the panels on their roof and the rest of the components in the house somewhere, but if you won’t have panels on the roof you’ll need to plan for where they’ll be. Some people will have the panels and gear all together in their chosen area, with an AC cable running back to the house.

          The components also need to be kept somewhere they won’t get wet from either the weather or condensation, but not in your living space, so an insulated garage is ideal.

          Solar panels need to face due north, so this may affect how you choose to face your home or roof, or mean you need to ground mount your panels.

          We recommend against electric cooking and space/water heating, so you’ll also want to plan alternatives to these (eg LPG or woodburning) and how these will fit into your home.

          How to prepare for off-grid living - power

          5. Plan Your Water

            Your method of collecting water may change as you build, but it’s great to have a plan for all stages.

            You can collect water from your roof in a tank, or any large surface area you have. Some people ground-mounting panels will build a mini 'roof' for them that doubles as water collection. You may also be able to collect water from naturally occurring water sources on your property, such as streams or springs, or by digging a well.

            Your water needs will differ depending on how many people will be there and what time of year, as well as any non-drinking plumbing considerations like showers and toilets. The average person uses 140-250L per day, which covers the toilet, hygiene, laundry, and kitchen – your usage average will probably be lower off grid considering how many people opt for composting toilets and other water efficient methods of living.

            Your storage needs will depend on your collection area too, but a 25,000L tank is about average. You can also work it out if you know your rainfall average and collection area. The annual rainfall of your area in mm is equivalent to the litres per square metre of catchment. Multiply that by the roof area to get your harvestable litres of water per year.

            E.g. Auckland's annual rainfall = 1212mm = 1212L/m2 of collection area. 1212 x 170m2 roof = 206,040L

            We also recommend testing and filtering your water before drinking, just to keep out any nasties. Some people swear they’ve never had a problem after decades of untreated water, so it’s up to your personal tastes.

            How to prepare for off-grid living - water collection

            6. Think About What You’ll Eat

              This may seem obvious but is high priority when planning how to prepare to live off the grid. Work out how you will be feeding yourself, and that will help you work out what supplies you will need. Are you going to have cows/sheep/goats for milk and/or meat? Are you going to have chickens? Will you grow your own produce? Are you able to hunt and fish on the land? What will you need to buy to supplement all of these things?

              Then you need to understand how each of these works with your land and how you’ll support those plans – is one area better suited to trees or root vegetables or animals? How much of each thing will you need to feed yourself? What do you need to get or make to be able to do this? What ongoing maintenance will it require?

              Then it’s a great idea to work out how you can maximise the longevity of everything you produce – will you preserve your vegetables by pickling or jarring? Dry meat? Dehydrate things?

              Find out where the local farmers markets are and what you can buy there, or if you have neighbours that you can buy from or barter with.

              7. Take Relevant Courses

                Practical experience will always be the most helpful thing for every project, so look out for courses you can take that allow you to try out everything yourself or see it first-hand and ask questions.

                First Aid is one we highly recommend since you’ll be further away from medical help, and these are offered by St John, Red Cross, and number of other companies. Mechanics, carpentry, and gardening are also very useful.

                You can find a number of courses through universities if you want the qualification, or various online resources can run you through the basics. You might also find night classes at a local high school.

                8. Find a Community

                  Getting in touch with your local community, and online shared interest communities is a great way to get access to helpful resources. They’re usually very willing to share advice, ideas, and assistance - crowdsourcing is a great way to get answers to niche questions that you can’t easily Google.

                  Check out community notice boards in town, or enquire at local businesses and community centres.

                  There are some great Facebook communities full of advice of how to prepare for off grid living, such as GridFree NZ and Self Reliance Family Food NZ.

                  9. Improve Your Physical and Mental Fitness

                    Living off grid requires a huge amount of physical labour. Things like chopping wood, building, and digging out gardens are all activities you can expect to be doing frequently, so being prepared for the physical exertion will go a long way in easing your transition to living off grid. If you’ve got time in advance, look into doing some cardio and weightlifting or other resistance training, and the transition won’t be quite as harsh!

                    It’s going to take a lot of hard work to get through all the chores required for off grid living, so you need to be mentally prepared for the grind too. It’s not all doom and gloom though! The environment you build is a reward in itself, not to mention the beautiful views and peace that come with being GridFree.

                    10. Prep Supplies

                      Once you’ve got a lot of your plans for your off-grid lifestyle sorted, you can start collecting the supplies you’ll need, even if you won’t be going off grid immediately. Create a list of supplies you know you’ll definitely need, and you can ease the financial strain of the many purchases by spreading them out over more time or waiting for sales. You can also consider bulk purchases of certain essentials from Costco and Gilmours to stock a deep pantry.

                      Great things to start with are a general-purpose tool kit (screwdrivers, pliers, spanners, hammer etc), basic gardening tools, food storage, and some entertainment! Living off-grid lends itself to being up early and inside after dark, so now might be your chance to tackle your reading list!