Is Off-the-Grid Living Really as Cheap as the Media Claims?

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If you have just realized that luxury and modern technology mean nothing to you, perhaps you’ve thought of living off the grid. It’s simpler, quieter, and most of all, cheaper. But can you really survive without the things you’re used to?

Social media depicts off-the-grid living as a lifestyle choice for people who desire more peace, fewer possessions, and a closer relationship with nature. Indeed, stories of people who sold everything they had to live in the wilderness were once viral on social media, inspiring many others to consider doing the same.

But in the wilderness, you won’t like to have a speedy internet connection, so how are you going to entertain yourself? You may not have a stable water source as well. If that’s the case, then is off-the-grid living really cheaper?

What is Off-the-Grid Living?

When you first heard of such a term, you probably thought of log cabins, gypsies in a caravan, hippies living in tiny huts, or Eskimos. But living off the grid doesn’t mean you have to imitate or choose among those lifestyles.

Generally speaking, off-the-grid living means a lifestyle that doesn’t rely on modern technology. The wilderness is its typical location, where there are no electrical grids, heaters, and other utility lines. Thus, you have to create your own systems to obtain power and clean water.

You can also drive back to the city every so often to restock your supplies, but that defeats the purpose of living off the grid. You have to learn how to find your own source of heat, power, water, shelter, and food, without depending on modern conveniences.

The learning curve of off-the-grid living is really steep; it’s not all soul-searching and unwinding. But it has helped many people find their purpose, and realize what’s truly important to them. But let’s not veer off the practical part: How much does it cost?

Costs of Land

First, let’s gather the average land prices in popular off-the-grid regions (per acre):

  • Montana — $915
  • Kansas — $1,960
  • Texas — $2,120
  • Maine — $2,410
  • New York — $3,250
  • Arizona — $3,800
  • Michigan — $4,960
  • Florida — $5,950
  • California — $10,000

Different factors including the views, type of land (whether it’s farmland or the woods), water access, and proximity to the city influence the land costs. So if you choose a coastal region right next to a major city, then expect to spend higher. Farmlands are typically pricier than the woods as well, so take that into account.

Costs of Building a House

Some developed off-the-grid lands have houses for sale. But if your budget is tight, the building could be a good idea, particularly if you have the skills for it. You don’t have to buy timber if the lot you bought has enough of it. If you’re luckier, a forestry company may pay you in exchange for logging the timber in your lot.

But regardless of your situation, here’s how much building an off-the-grid house could cost:

  • Framing contractor — Anywhere between $120,000 and $150,000. It could go up to $200,000 if you prefer a rammed earth house.
  • Prefabricated house — Starts at $20,000
  • Prefabricated cabin — Starts at $50,000
  • RV — Secondhand models may cost $10,000–$20,000
  • Tent — May start at $500

Naturally, the bigger you go, the bigger you’d spend, even more so if you hire a framing contractor. All of those options are feasible for permanent off-the-grid living, except perhaps the tent, for security reasons.

Costs of Power Systems

small kitchen

Off-the-grid dwellers usually rely on wind turbines, so if you’d do the same, that would cost you around $1,000, with an inverter combined. Solar panels cost the same. But the catch is, your $1,000 can only power one fridge.

The solution is, of course, to purchase more wind turbines or solar panels. You need at least 5KW to make your home efficient, and that is equivalent to around 30 turbines or panels. Those are worth $30,000 in total.

In addition, you need batteries for backup. New batteries cost $200–$300 individually, while a complete backup system is around $7,000. All in all, your minimum spending for power is roughly $37,000.

Water Source and Costs

You can dig a well, or haul water from a lake or stream nearby. But you need to purify the water before consuming it; fortunately, water purification and filtration are cheap.

If you’d dig a well, it’d cost you between $5,000 and $15,000, professional help included. For the plumbing system, you’d add $800, and $500–$1,000 more for a storage tank.

Homeowners Insurance

The type of homeowner’s insurance plans you can get isn’t the same as the ones insurers usually offer. In fact, you may find it harder to obtain one in the first place, because some insurers refuse to insure off-the-grid homes. They are skeptical about properties without modern systems. But if you’d use solar or wind power, then you have a higher chance of getting a policy, since those systems are more efficient and environmentally-friendly.

Overall, you’d indeed save more money in living off-the-grid, but only if you stand by the principle “less is more.” Your cheaper utilities will ultimately mean nothing if you won’t let go of your urban ways.

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