Dreaming about escaping the rat race and living off the land? Here are five things to consider before making your big move towards living off grid in NZ.
The land you pick is the foundation of your off-grid journey. When you're planning for off-grid living, there’s a few factors which are hugely beneficial for a self-sustained lifestyle – things such as sun exposure, water sources, soil quality, and local council laws are all very important considerations.
An essential component of self-sufficiency is not being reliant on power companies by producing your own energy with solar panels, so make sure your land has enough sunlight exposure and unobstructed space for solar panels. Dense areas with lots of trees or bushes may also cast shadows on panels, making your solar system ineffective, which may require you to either remove trees or find a different spot for your panels.
Having an accessible stream, pond, or other body of water will be a hugely beneficial water source for living off-grid, especially if you have water needs outside of personal use such as stock. Having an on-site water source in addition to rainwater collection reduces the stress of having enough water, especially in the early days before you've set up rainwater collection.
Ideally, most of your fruit and vegetables will come from your own gardening efforts. Soil types vary across the country so having the right soil for your intended plants will help you grow better fruits and vegetables. Knowing what type of soil you have and what plants it works best for will help you choose more appropriate plants, and reduce the frustration of planting something that fails to thrive.
Local Council Laws:
Different local councils have different laws and regulations around what you can build, waste management, and much more. Knowing what applies in your area will save you grief later down the track if the council ever comes calling - keep this in mind especially when you're getting advice from people outside your area.
Energy Consumption & Energy Source
Often a big learning curve for those living off grid is power usage, so it's important to consider what changes you may have to make in your usage habits. Many of the staple appliances you use in a grid-connected household are extremely energy intensive. Things such as your dishwasher, long hot showers, and cooking on an electric stove top are usually taken for granted, but considered more of a luxury when generating your own power off grid.
You might be surprised at how much power the average Kiwi home uses a day - roughly 20-25KWh. Supporting that much power usage year-round would require roughly 21x 390W solar panels - with the batteries and everything else you need it would end up costing you $40k+, and you'd still need a generator to help you get through winter!
An off grid solar system can run almost all of your normal appliances, but as a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t use solar for heating (hot water, cooking, heaters etc) or for other energy intensive appliances (pool pump, air conditioning etc). For these sorts of appliances it’s highly recommended you use alternatives such as LPG, woodburning, or a generator.
With this in mind, living off-grid doesn’t mean having to sacrifice the modern conveniences. It’s more about being conscious of how you use energy and using the right alternatives so you can save your power for where it's needed most (and save your wallet!). Now's the time to consider the alternative approaches to how you go about your daily life, so you don't have to restart your planning halfway through.
Below is an example of what you can power for at least 80% of the year with just 4x 390W solar panels - this is our most popular kit, the Bach Kit, and it starts at $7500.
Water Supply and Storage
It’s essential you have a reliable water supply and storage to get you through your day to day life. Things such as toilets, cooking, drinking, and gardening are all common common water users. Potential water sources include rain, streams, and bores.
The most accessible water supply for off-gridders is rainwater harvesting. It’s as simple as creating something that’ll catch and store rainwater, and waiting for the wet weather to do its thing. Rainwater harvesting is most commonly done through channelling a gutter into a storage tank. This water is great for uses such as gardening. For things such as showering and cooking, you’d definitely want to filter this water before usage. If you don't have any other water access, now's the time to think about what might affect rainwater collection - such as your roof, guttering, tanks etc.
Bodies of water/streams:
Having large bodies of water or a stream running through your property is an extremely valuable asset to have when living off-grid. Through the use of either a gravity fed system or a water pump, you can extract water from natural sources and use them in daily life.
Digging a well is least common out of these water sources as it’s often very expensive, time consuming and you have to have the right geological conditions for it to be effective. Although when done correctly, this can be a great supply of water.
When storing water, the bigger your water storage unit, the better. In New Zealand, the average person uses approximately 227 Litres of water per day – that’s roughly 1,589 Litres a week! This accounts for drinking, cooking, and hygiene-related use, so it will likely differ off-grid. With this in mind, it’s important to store enough water to get you through at least two weeks without water supply once you're living off grid full time.
A popular solution is 2x 25000L tanks on top of a hill, so you can use a gravity fed system to provide water for your living area. While not essential, this will save energy usage from water pumps!
If done correctly, wastewater can be managed can be a sustainable way to repurpose it into compost, and fertiliser, and water for plants.
There are two different types of wastewater, grey and black. Grey is the cleaner water that comes from showers, sinks, and washing machines, and many off-gridders opt to direct out into the garden or back into the toilet after a reasonable amount of filtering. Black comes from the toilet and is typically separated out for composting or sent into a septic system.
Perhaps the most common form of waste management is a composting toilet! It might sound a little unpleasant, but a composting toilet is actually one of the easiest and cost-effective ways to tackle waste management – and with solids and liquids separated, the sewage smell will be greatly decreased.
Heating & Cooking
It’s essential to think about how you’re going to do any sort of heating for your home. Things such as cooking, space heating, and water heating are necessities which aren't practical on solar (unless you’re looking at spending ~$60,000+ on a solar system), so most people use alternative energy sources such as gas, wood-burning, and diesel for these.
Using LPG or BioGas for cooking and heating is a very common choice amongst off gridders, as it’s cheap, effective and reliable. Typically, that means a califont (instantaneous hot water) for water, and a gas hob/oven or BBQ.
A woodburner with an attached wetback is a great method for heating water off grid, an it's popular as a more self-sufficient option than gas. Wetbacks can take a while to heat, making them a good choice if you’re going to have the fire running all day but are sometimes impractical.
Diesel heaters are commonly praised on our Facebook group – many off gridders believe they’re the best option for home heating. Most diesel heating systems can be bought from Trademe and installed quickly. They’ll keep your home warm without hurting your wallet.
There's a lot to think about when you're going off grid, but putting in the time now will save you a lot of headaches down the line! You can find more helpful articles to help guide along the process on our blog, and you can check out our full range of off grid solar kits here.