Living off the grid is decidedly a lifestyle choice, but for preppers, it is usually viewed as the ultimate prep as part of a holistic readiness plan.
By freeing oneself from the trappings of society and distancing oneself from it, you insulate your family against calamity that may arise from the fall of society. However, there are rarely guideposts for executing or financially planning for such a radical change.
As with most things, it boils down to cost more often than not. How much does it really cost to live off grid?
Initial setup and acquisition costs for off-grid living can vary anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000. Size and location of parcel, type and size of home, utilities, amenities, and more will enter into the equation.
As always, making do with less or living a spartan lifestyle will reduce the cost while equipping your homestead with more modern accoutrement will cost more.
Living off-grid is definitely a big decision to make, but one that is often worthwhile for preppers. To make sure you don’t torpedo yourself financially, keep reading to learn more about the various obvious, and sometimes hidden, costs.
Cost is Dependent on Standard of Living and Amenities
When talking about off-grid living, people immediately imagine different standards, and that usually leads to conflict or mental dissonance when considering cost.
For instance, you might imagine a spartan, one room cabin with a nearby freshwater stream that will provide you with all the H2O you need for cooking and sanitation. A wood fireplace, a small flock of chickens, and perhaps a couple of goats and you are set.
Someone else might imagine a home that wouldn’t look out of place in a nice suburban neighborhood, one with its own solar panels for the generation of electricity, and a deep cycle battery bank for storing it.
A septic tank, electrically driven well pump and even satellite internet array complete this modern, functional homestead.
As it should be obvious from this simple comparison, one of these off-grid homes is going to cost a whole lot less. There is no hard and fast price tag for an off-grid property or a particular off-grid lifestyle.
Home Construction is a Major Factor
One of the biggest upfront costs for off-grid living is that your home itself, including the parcel of land you’ll be living on. There is no shortage of land in America, and in quite a few states there is so much to spare you can pick up quite a few acres on the cheap.
However, in certain states or in certain desirable regions land can be extremely expensive, even if it is in a remote area.
Aside from the land itself the cost of your home, whatever form it takes, is going to be the other major expense in your off-grid lifestyle transition.
Whether you build it yourself, have it delivered in the case of a tiny home or container home, or commission contractors to build it for you, the size, style and materials utilized in the home will affect the bottom line.
A primitive cabin or two room “dog run” home made of rough hewn timbers can cost very little if you have the skills, tools and materials to craft it yourself.
On the other hand, a craftsman built tiny home with fine fittings and high strength fasteners that is assembled ready to deliver could cost a pretty penny, out of all proportion with its meager square footage.
Alternately, a proper ranch house built to modern standards could easily cost as much or more than a comparable house near a settled area.
These are just benchmarks to get you thinking, and there is plenty of variation in between.
Off-Grid Power Generation and Storage is Another
A major point of contention for preppers considering an off-grid lifestyle is whether or not they will invest in their own power generation systems. Some preppers are of the notion that electricity does not belong at an off-grid home at all, and that’s the point.
Others believe that there is no reason to forgo the benefits of electricity, but one must overcome the challenges of generating it yourself. Without delving into the ideologies and semantics, suffice it enough to say that this is a personal choice.
But if one wants to be capable of generating their own electricity you’ll need to invest in the right technology and this technology is, as a rule, expensive and investing heavily in it can dramatically increase the cost of living off grid.
There are several options available for generally reliable off-grid power generation, including liquid-fueled generators, solar collector arrays and even windmills. Carefully sited off-grid homesteads might be able to take advantage of running water using hydroelectric power.
Of course generating the power is one thing, but storing it is another. Deep cycle battery banks will allow you to hold on to electricity you do not use for a later time.
Depending upon the intricacy and quality of these power generation and storage systems, you could spend anywhere between $2,500 and $25,000.
Water and Waste may be a Significant Expense, Too
Electricity is one thing but we cannot forget about water and waste also. Most preppers will plan on drilling a well if they aren’t relying on a nearby freshwater source, but a source of water is one thing.
For those who aren’t going the well route, or who want extra assurance against loss or contamination of the primary water supply mass water storage in the form of above or below ground tanks and likely a rain catchment system as well should be factored in.
Similarly, unless one is planning on going the old fashioned route with an outhouse or cesspool the installation of a septic system, composting household waste system or similar option must be considered.
Any or all of these amenities could run between $1,000 and $10,000 easily, and possibly more depending on the specifics of your home and property.
Isn’t Living Off-Grid Supposed to be Cheaper?
When faced with these quickly rising costs for off-grid living, many preppers will balk. After all, is it living off grid supposed to be cheaper?
Generally, it is cheaper in the long run and oftentimes cheaper upfront compared to living in an urban or suburban setting on grid, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily a cheap or even affordable option for you.
Much of the time, cost savings on utilities will be netted over time, but that will take a while.
Additionally, you’ll always have to pay taxes on your property, pay for what resources you cannot legally or effectively grow, gather, or catch yourself and you might have to spend a pretty penny on tools and equipment that will make your lifestyle viable in your chosen locale
All of these costs and more will likely prove to be a bargain in the long run, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be shelling out cash by the barrel load in order to make your transition to living off-grid initially.
You Need to Do Some Math
Off the grid living requires skills and knowledge to maintain your own forms of alternative power, and realistic expectations about the typical daily living conveniences your chosen systems can provide.
If you have tons of extra money to play with and a location that has ample sun year-round, running a dish washer and a washer and dryer, can be entirely feasible.
However, this is going to require about a $40,000 solar panel system, lots and lots of battery packs and sunlight year-round – or a combination of other forms of alternative energy working at peak performance daily.
After establishing how big of an alternative energy system you budget can afford and your location will support, it is time to sit down with members of your family and do some math – likely a lot of math.
You will need to know both how much power you should expect to get from your system on a daily basis in each season and how much power each appliance or modern convenience will require to run.
Then it is time to makes a wants and needs list in order of priority.
Discuss how much manual labor each off grid chore that will be required to replace a modern convenience will take, who will be responsible for the chore, and who will take over and complete the chore if the person typically responsible is no longer able to complete the task.
This type of chore chart should be completed two ways, one that divides up the work during normal times, and one designed to address the far more hectic and dangerous duty schedule after the SHTF.
Keeping the alternative energy system functioning properly and all essential manual labor household chores moving along even when security details and other post-doomsday disaster tasks must be undertaken in an all-hands-on-deck manner.
The only true drawback with building an off the grid home is the initial cost – it can be substantial. While the price tag on solar panels has come down over the past decade, you would still be looking at between $20,000 to $40,000 to fully power a typical 1,700 to 2,000 square foot home.
Top 4 Solar Panel Grants
Green Retrofit Grants – The United States Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) offers grants through its Office of Affordable Housing Preservation.
The Green Retrofit Grants are designed to provide solar panel systems and other types of alternative energy system sources for property owners in impoverished areas. The HUD program typically has a $250 million budget. Recipients have up to two years to spend their awarded funds.
REAP Grants – The United States Department of Agriculture offers up to $20,000 grants via the Rural Energy for America Program. The program is designed to help both small rural businesses and farmers implement sustainable energy systems.
If a farmer or homesteader can prove a minimum of half their income stems from an agricultural businesses they can pay for at least 75%of the planned project expenses to qualify for grant funding.
High Energy Cost Grants – This USDA programs aids rural residents who are subjected to high energy costs. Grant funds can be used to buy, build, install, replace, improve, or repaid on or off grid energy systems.
Renewable Energy Grants – This Treasury Department program, also regularly referred to as the 1603 program, reimburses homeowners for a portion of their solar panel system installation costs by way of income tax credits. The money is not distributed until after the solar system has been purchased by the applicant.
Solar Panel System Low Interest Loans
Home purchase, equity, and refinance loans designed to help defray the cost of making the house energy efficient by purchasing and installing solar panels, are offered through the FHA and VA departments.
Typically, the home owner can save more money on their electric bills than they will have to pay on the solar panel system loan payments. A tax credit up to 30% is often offered to loan recipients.
Interest rates on the government-backed solar panel system loans usually ranges between 3.5 to 7.5 percent. The interest on the loan may be tax deductible and the loan are often offered in 7 to 20 year terms.
Top Solar Panel System Loan Packages
- FHA Power Saver Loan
- Multi-Family Housing Loan
- VA Energy Efficient Mortgages
- Conventional Energy Efficient Mortgages
Transitioning into an off-grid living lifestyle will generally run you between $20,000 and $100,000 depending on a variety of factors like the cost of land and size of the parcel, size, type and materials used in the dwelling, utilities, amenities and other quality of life features.