Our Facebook group, GridFree NZ, is full of off-gridders with plenty of knowledge about all the different areas of off-gridding, so we pulled together some of their advice to help you on your journey!
“Start learning now to be frugal with power so it becomes a habit. Downsize your appliances or use low energy requirement appliances. Enjoy zero power and then anything more is luxury! Decide what you CAN live without and what you really can't live without.” We’ve got a great article about adjusting your power use to suit off-grid living. The less power you use, the less you have to spend on a solar power system, so it all comes down to how you want to live.
“Work out what power each device uses - you can buy cheap plug-in meters to tell you how much power a device uses each day.”
“Consider buying a generator for those few days each winter with no sun when you need to preserve your batteries.” Some people may find a generator is necessary even in summer, as they wish to run power tools or similar high load items. If you plan to run a generator with your solar system, there’s two ways to go about it. One is to install a hybrid inverter/charger, which is an all-in-one unit that allows for easy mains/generator input and auto-start - though it is more expensive, and requires an electrician due to the 240V wiring. The second is to have a standard system with a separate inverter and charge controller, and purchase an additional battery charger unit, which is cheaper and DIY-friendly.
“Use your generator to top up the batteries, to ensure they don't drop below 50%. If they ever do drop below 50% charge them up to 100% as soon as possible with a long 8+ hour charge” Generally, your battery bank should not be discharged below 50%, so you should consider this your 0% where you can use no more power - read more about battery care here.
“Invest in good maintenance free batteries. Go straight for 48-volt, consider lithium if weight or longevity are concerns” 48 volt is more efficient than 12 volt in a larger system, which is why most of our kits run 48-volt battery banks. Lithium batteries are a great option for longevity, but each battery type has pros and cons.
“As for solar panels, buy quality, and get used to doing things while sun shines!”
“Install individually switched LED lights, so if you only need 1 on you're not running more than you need.”
Choosing the Land
“If you have an area in mind then do some investigating into climate in all four seasons and (depending on how far you want to go with off grid) what resources are available in the area.”
“Do your due diligence first - that’s where I’ve had most of my issues, trying to find land to put my tiny house onto permanently. Council regulations also change all the time.”
“Driveways can cost a fortune. One place I looked at would have cost me $50,000 to put a steep long winding driveway in. Bought a better place with driveway already done for cheaper price.”
Building and Developing
“Move onto your property and live in a mobile home for all four seasons before deciding what goes where. Keep everything simple. Shipping containers are your friend!”
“Build to make maximum use of the sun and the shade. Remember the sun is lower in the winter so an overhang the right size will provide shade in summer but allow the sun in under it during winter. And build your house or shed on the perfect pitch and correct facing for solar!”
“Build all your sheds in eyesight of home, and away from front gate, helps as a thief deterrent.”
“Always budget for fences in your initial move, even if it’s just placing them around the house/garden/vege patch to ensure livestock don’t eat your plants and set you back on garden development. Always plant trees ASAP and make them stock proof and easy to water - if you are developing bare land, you will not regret this!!”
“Send all the documentation to your insurance company - I had major lightning strike.” This can be a big one for some people – if you have a larger solar power system, the numbers may work in your favour to insure it against damage.
“Plan to build the things you know you need, and plan fences, troughs, and trees first - especially fruit and coppicing woodlot.”
“Utilize the beautiful horse for transport when you can, instead of burning petrol. And use horse poo in garden projects.”
“Get a hot house as well for tomatoes, veggies, anything - great in winter. You don’t need to till the soil to get outstanding results, kill perennial weeds by depriving them of light. This may take months. Get soil tested, amend if necessary. Apply compost or other mulches, (always keep soil protected), plant and enjoy. Look up ‘no till gardening’, also watch ‘Kiss the Ground’. Heaps of stuff on YouTube!”
“Two sources of supply hopefully, rainwater and bore or spring.”
“Buy a property with a hill so you can pump water up the hill every week or 2 and have gravity fed water. Water pumps use lots of power.”
“Have at least 2 25000L water tanks – we have one for the house and one in case of fire.”
“Buy huge water tanks to place off every roof, you would be amazed at how much water you can collect. We use ours unfiltered for stock water, cleaning, and gardens.”
“Check council guidelines as most regional authorities seem to have a mandated 45,000l dedicated water amount (on top of what you need for your home) that can add up to $8k for the tanks and outlet to meet that condition.”
“Buy or make the most basic composting toilet system you can but ensure it still has a separator for your solids and liquids. It’s easy to get sucked into buying expensive over engineered toilets that actually turn out to be a pain in the arse to maintain.”
“We have a large concrete septic tank which is gravity fed from the house, then has an automatic siphon system that kicks in once the chamber is full of fluid. This then floods the dispersal field fully each time, no power needed. We've had it 18 years and it has never once needed anything done to it, and we have never smelled it! Very low maintenance and no cost once it is installed.”
Cooking and Heating
“Use gas for cooking and water heating.” We highly recommend making the switch to gas or woodburning, as electric cooking and heating will require a very large solar system!
“Best peace of gear I have is good sized wood stove with oven and wetback, awesome if you like cooking and free hot water.”
“Store your firewood near the door or wood box, so you don’t have to drag it through the house. Buy a wetback model for the winter hot water.”
“Get a solar hot water setup, (evacuated tube) where the whole tank tubes and all is on the roof, that way you don't need a circulation pump.” This is a great alternative to woodburning, but (similar to solar power) will not be as effective in winter.
“Start a notebook of what you like and more importantly don't like in off grid living. The more you know about what you want the better you are prepared to filter all the advice (the good, the bad and the expensive). Go see someone living the life. There are three types - one who can live on very little, one who just throws money at it and some who seem to have something worked out.”
“Your fundamentals are dry shelter, water supply, mara kai, and medicinal remedies. Off grid is a fulltime reality smack in the face, where you'll be constantly maintaining the functionality of your home. Including the weeds and the most needed worms in your mara. But after its engrained in you, it will be 2nd nature. In effect you will learn to first be, then you'll be-come your environment. Bon voyage!”
“Live your own life. You can actually learn a lot from YouTube.”
Bonus! Katie’s story of living off-grid for 28 years:
“We have lived off-grid for 28 years. Our saving grace was that we started in a house truck. Here we learned how to economise power, water, storage, sunlight, heating, drying, cooking, showering, toileting, washing clothes and position ourselves against the elements.
We built a shed first too but essentially for storage of collectables for building our house. It wasn’t ideal for living because we built it out of the prevailing weather. So not a lot of sunshine for us. We bought our 10-acre bush block in 1997 just up the river from Greymouth and experienced rain like we’ve never experienced rain before, but drank fresh water like we’ve never tasted.
We prioritised and pioneered the land slowly and consciously. Building our mara kai where the morning sun hits first and observing our creek so as to design a power system that works with the debris that can rush through there in a deluge (we built an overshot waterwheel).
We chose a hillside for our orchard, so the trees didn’t get wet feet.
We are on clay and thankfully had a lot of gorse protecting and feeding the flat lands so put goats on long lines to cut fence lines through, then fenced with corrugated iron and let the pigs root up all the gorse, turn the clay and fertilise it. Oh, the gorse bonfire parties we had in those first years!
We only get two of the winds here so have designed and built our home against them while still facing north for all the sun.
I should write a book! Anyhow. What I’m trying to say is that even our neighbour’s property is very different to ours.
Your property will be different again.
If you plan on living your life there, get to know it – find the glorious summer-heat traps for drying your tomatoes and drinking beer, and the frosty nooks for your chiller room.
Again. Keep everything simple. It’s about enjoying the ride.”
There's a lot of information there, so if you want a second opinion on anything, we recommend you post a question in the GridFree NZ group! And for anything solar, feel free to give us a ring or an email. You can also check out all our other blog articles for lots of info about solar.