Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where Do We Start?

Recently, I learned that to many who go off-grid my husband and I are
considered to be extreme in how we manage it. I am often asked what
someone should consider when thinking about or preparing to make the
switch to a rural off-grid lifestyle. Here is what I would say to them.

You need to consider first and foremost just how "off grid" you want to
go. If married, does your spouse share in the same dream? That is very
important! If you and your spouse are not in agreement, you are
borrowing a lot of trouble later on. Do you want to simply use
alternative energy instead of a power company, yet keep your lifestyle
and home basically the same as it is now? Do you want to scale back and
use only the essential electrical appliances? Do you want to go all out
and eliminate electricity all together? Or are you somewhere in between
any of the above? The answers will determine just how much preparation
and financial resources you will need.

We took the leap and simply got rid of all electrical usage. I will be
honest in saying that in many ways it was much easier than expected. We
found that using electricity is simply a habit. We found other ways to
do the things we really wanted to keep doing. It took a year, but I
found an old treadle sewing machine that someone had in storage. Much
cleaning, oiling, and adjusting later and a cost of $50, I now have a
sewing machine again. We found someone willing to trade old fashioned
hand tools for our rechargeable drill set. Oil lamps provide our
lighting. We bartered our electric range for a propane one and some old
equipment that needed much work from our shed was bartered for a propane

In looking back, I see many things that made the transition easier for
us. The first was getting out of debt. We had only medical bills to
pay off yet. The mortgage was already paid off and we didn't have a car
note or credit card. We pay everything either by money order or cash.
The second thing was that we gathered knowledge and utilized what we
already knew. I was blessed to grow up having a Dad and Grandma (his
mother) who were always willing to tell me storied about how they lived
during the Great Depression. We also had Amish neighbors who I loved to
watch and occasionally when I would go buy eggs or would go with Dad to
visit, I would talk to Katie (the mom) about the Amish way of doing
things. Between the 3 of them, I was taught much simply by observing
and listening. Later on, I would study the old ways in books to learn
more details that I either hadn't yet learned or had forgotten.

When the day came for the electricity to be turned off, it happened
faster than we had planned on and our ducks were not yet all in a row.
We were calm however. We knew what needed to be done and simply rolled
up our sleeves and dealt with it. There was very little change for me.
I had already begun doing things the old way, just to see whether I
could actually do it and what alterations would need to be made to make
the process more efficient. In the 3 years since, I have never once
looked back and wished we had done it differently and stayed on the
power grid. With the current prices continuing to rise for electricity
and other utilities, we are even more determined to remain off-grid.

Some of the issues that you have to consider if thinking about taking
the leap that we did are food preservation, shelter, water, light, privy
issues, and income resources. Food preservation is huge for the
off-grid household. Whether you home can, freeze, dehydrate, or root
cellar, you need a plan and knowledge on how to preserve using those
methods, how to store the preserved food to optimize the shelf life, and
how to use those foods. Shelter is essential. Some choose to use a
camper or trailer on their land until a cabin can be built or a mobile
home can be set up. Whatever the choice, you have to be willing to live
in it for a long time just in case the building of your cabin takes
longer than expected. Water from a well or cistern is an important
issue unless you have another healthy water source available. Some
families find that having to haul water in a portable tank each week is
a bothersome and expensive undertaking when you consider fuel costs and
the time you spend doing it. Lighting can be one of you easier
decisions. We started out using candles for some lighting but quickly
found they were not efficient or cost effective. Buying oil lamps was
our choice, but instead of buying lamp oil we buy kerosene which costs
1/3 less than the lamp oil. We are now looking ahead for our home that
we are planning to build. Lehman's sells lights that use propane or
natural gas. The lights are similar, if not the same, as the old
fashioned gas lights that were used prior to electricity. These will
become our primary source of lighting, but we will always have oil lamps
to use as a secondary source. The privy was an interesting situation to
come about. We already had a working toilet in the home, but it needed
the inner parts replaced. Poor Joe spent many hours trying to take a
rusted bolt out so that he could fix the toilet. After much
frustration, we watched as he carried the toilet out of the house and
declared it "fixed." Thus came about our using an outhouse. We now
have an indoor toilet again, but it is simply a camping style one I
bought at Bass Pro Shops last winter. I am preparing to build a small
cabinet to put the bucket portion in. This will make a much more stable
toilet for Micah when he starts potty training.

In all of these areas, you need to consider what is legal according to
the codes of your location. In some areas, an outhouse is not allowed
for example. Any time you spend learning the code requirements will be
less headache and trouble for you later if something goes wrong. You
can find the codes online or in a book at the library.

Overall, we have done well. Not everything has gone as smoothly as we
would have liked, but we have learned and grown through the process. I
have learned to take life a lot easier. Keeping it simple is always
better for me in this lifestyle. I am still learning each day how to do
things more efficiently. I am also learning that the more simplistic my
lifestyle becomes, the more peace I am finding in my soul. I have
really learned to take a hard look at what the Lord says we need instead
of what society believes we need.

The 3 key issues to remember when planning to go off-grid or "back to
the land" is to educate yourself, get out of debt, and learn to live as
far below your means as possible.