Last Updated Jun 30, 2017 · Written by Rob Schneider
Many people are struggling to find affordable housing in Australia's major cities. On top of that, they have rent, electricity and water to pay for. Some are looking for an alternative. They have found it in off the grid living. How can you actually live off the grid?
Basically, living off the grid refers to living without relying on public utilities such as electricity and water. Aboriginals and other indigenous cultures did it for thousands of years. We are accustomed to electricity, water and even the internet. That doesn't mean we can't live off the grid, though. Technology is available that makes it possible to have the things we need, but still live off the grid, either totally or partially.
Living off the grid requires some lifestyle changes. Are you ready to:
These can be radical changes for some, but many people who have chosen off the grid living have discovered a more peaceful lifestyle away from the bustle of city living and the constant need to earn money.
Many people see people who live off the grid as old-fashioned "hippies." Those who live off the grid disagree. They are responsible people with families who have chosen an alternative lifestyle. They may live in an isolated location, but they have a network of friends and often get together with them. Some even live in cooperative villages.
The Goolawah Cooperative in northern New South Wales is one example of a cooperative community. Members of the community have solar power, composting toilets and collect rain water. Many of the homes on the cooperative are owner-built to save money. The cooperative also has public areas.
Jill Redwood has been living off the grid in Goongerah, East Gippsland since 1983. She now lives in "relative luxury" after having lived in a van, a tipi and a shack, none of which had running water or electricity. She built her house out of old railway sleepers and poles from the nearby forest. She has a waterwheel that pumps water to her home and solar panels for electricity.
Others haven't gone through what Jill has gone through. Some had homes in major cities, but decided they wanted to leave the "rat race." They sold their homes and bought property in a rural area. With the money from their homes, they were able to build comfortable homes with enough solar power and backup batteries to have electricity and water 24 hours a day.
Some people who live off the grid are within half an hour's drive of a city. They get jobs in the city and live normal lives. Others have internet connections and work as freelancer writers or have other online jobs. The difference is that they don't have a high mortgage to pay off and high electricity bills. They put their money back into their land, improving their homes and establishing organic vegetable gardens. Their children attend the local school and have a social life just like children in the city.
A few people live off the grid in the middle of the city. Michael Mobbs lives in Chippendale, in the heart of Sydney. While he may not be completely off the grid, his terrace house costs just $300 per year thanks largely to his solar panels and storage batteries.
People who live off the grid are often passionate environmentalists. They see the pollution we produce in the cities and don't want to be part of the environmental problem. By having solar power and raising their own vegetables, they feel they are making less of a detrimental environmental footprint on the earth. They learn how to recycle almost everything and use as little plastic as possible.
In our society, you can't simply wander off into the bush and expect to adapt. You need a plan and you will need money to fund your off the grid lifestyle. How much money you need will depend on your plan.
You will probably need to:
Jill Redwood built her house for around $3000 using scrap materials. In general, it costs anywhere from $5000 to $50,000 to build an off the grid house. That cost includes the land. In many rural areas, you can buy an acre of land for just $2000. Cooperatives and land sharing arrangements are another way to finance land. A cooperative will pool its resources while land sharing agreements are more informal. People with varying lifestyles will pool their money to buy larger parcels of land.
Solar power will be a major expense, but prices have come down considerably. Once your system is installed, you won't be paying for electricity and the system will soon pay for itself. Solar systems have been coming down in price. A 1 kilowatt system that cost $6000 in 2010 was only $2500 in 2014 and prices have fallen since then. Today, a 1kw system costs around $2150 and that includes installation. 1kw may not be enough for most people, but it illustrates the affordability of solar power. Larger systems cost less per kilowatt than smaller systems, too. 3kw systems that used to cost up to $20,000 are available for around $4500 to $5000 today.
The cost of water will depend on your location. Most people look for an area that has an abundance of water. They may have a water wheel or dig a well. People who live off the grid also collect rainwater and many have a greywater system for watering their gardens.
Let's say you spend the maximum of $50,000. That sounds like a lot of money, but when you purchase a home, you need to save at least 10 or 20 percent of the purchase price. On a $500,000 home, this can be $25,000 to $50,000. Many people have moved off the grid for those amounts, but don't have to pay a monthly mortgage. Once an off the grid home is built, it is self sustaining. You not only don't have a mortgage; electricity and water bills are a thing of the past.
When you add it up, off the grid living makes sense. It does require a change in lifestyle, but many people who have made the switch say they get a feeling of freedom when they live off the grid. They no longer have to work in jobs they don't like just to pay the rent. Instead, they pursue things they enjoy doing.
People who have adopted off the grid living often made "sacrifices" when they left the city. In time, many of them learned that those "sacrifices" were the very things that gave them a greater degree of freedom. They are no longer slaves to their mortgages and other bills. They may not be able to eat in expensive restaurants, but enjoy meals made from foods they have grown themselves. They may not go to pubs, but they have like-minded friends they get together with regularly.
Off the grid living may not be for everyone, but with life becoming so expensive, more people are contemplating making the switch to off the grid living. You can make the switch gradually or take the plunge and move away from the city. The choice is yours, but it's a choice worth thinking about.