Building an Off-Grid House: What You Need to Know
Do you dream of living hundreds of miles from your nearest neighbor? Away from traffic, noise, and the hustle and bustle of everyday life? Maybe you’re interested in being entirely self-reliant and not subject to city-wide power outages or water restrictions. Just you and your family living entirely on your own terms.
You’re not alone.
Some conservative estimates put the number of American families living completely off-grid at 180,000 and that number is rising rapidly, especially after 2020.
If you’re interested in building an off-grid home, here’s what to expect price and planning-wise, including the top mistakes to avoid to save both money and legal trouble.
This beautiful mountain home has 4 bedrooms and plenty of outdoor space. Plan #205-1021
What is an “Off-grid” House?
Living off-grid doesn’t mean living in a cabin in the woods with no electricity (unless you want it to!). An off-grid home simply means your home doesn’t rely on one or more municipal or public utilities, like electricity, water, or sewer.
Instead, homeowners choose to live autonomously and create these systems for themselves through options like solar or renewable energy and contained waste-water systems. However, they can have a beautiful kitchen with energy-smart appliances, Internet (including a great Work From Home setup!), and even a luxurious bathtub.
The great thing about living in an off-grid home is that you are in control of nearly every aspect of how you run your home, so it can be as rustic or modern as you prefer.
Homesteading VS. Living Off-grid
An off-grid home is similar to a homestead in that many who live in off-grid homes also choose to raise chickens for eggs and meat, as well as nurture a garden for homegrown fruits and vegetables, just like those who live on a homestead.
However, the main difference between the two lifestyles is that while homesteaders might create consumables (like food or clothing) for their own personal use or to sell to their community, they still have the option of being connected to public utilities, like electricity and water, while those who live “off-grid” do not.
Many who have a homestead do eventually transition into entirely off-grid living and being “half on / half off” is a popular phase in the process.
Is It Legal to Live Off-grid?
Yes, it’s legal to live off-grid in all 50 States. However, local requirements like building codes and property taxes differ, as do land prices, climates, etc. Living off-grid doesn’t mean you are exempt from the legal responsibilities of homeownership.
Legal Considerations while Living Off-grid
Before building, you need to be aware of all local building codes and requirements. To avoid a steep fine, be sure to research them before even picking a plan.
For example, if you’re going solar, make sure you’re in a solar permitting zone and file for your project’s approval. You’ll also need approval (aka a permit in some states) to install your own septic system.
If applicable in your state, you’ll also need to pay property taxes each year.
Insuring Your Off-grid Home
Another thing to consider when building off-grid is that you still shouldn’t forego homeowner’s insurance. The risk of fire, flood, etc. is typically just as high as if you lived in a more traditional home.
As living off-grid becomes more and more common, it’s becoming easier to find an insurer with a conventional financial institution -- some even offer specialized policies custom-made for off-grid homes.
This roomy cottage has 652 square feet, 2 bedrooms, and a covered porch! Plan #153-2041
How Much Does It Cost to Build Off-grid?
Building an off-grid home is a unique challenge. While the overall process isn’t unlike building a more conventional home, there are still special considerations to make.
Budget Considerations when Building Off-grid
When building an off-grid home, you need to plan a budget around purchasing land, building your home, and getting everything up and running.
The recommended minimum lot size for living off-grid is 1.5 acres. If you can afford a bigger plot, you should take it. A lot of this size is currently about $20,000 to $30,000, depending on where you live.
The price for building an off-grid home can change dramatically depending on the level of luxury you’d like for your home.
For example, if you plan to use limited electricity and live more rustically, prices drop significantly; however, if you want state-of-the-art eco-friendly appliances in your modern kitchen, the kitchen alone could use the entire budget of a smaller home.
It’s important to start with your budget and work backward, choosing materials and fit-outs that can easily fit within it.
A stick-frame house might cost about $150,000, but a rammed-earth home could easily add $50,000 to the price tag.
Will you use solar power? Wind power? Either is a great eco-friendly option, but the pricing can add up quickly. For example, a single wind turbine or solar panel (+ an inverter) is around $1,000. This can be enough to power one refrigerator, so you’ll need quite a few to power your entire house.
Supplying your home with a fresh water source can be costly.
If there is already a fresh water source on your property, then you might not need to drill a well, as this water can be treated and used. But if you do, creating a well on your property can be anywhere from $1,500 to $15,000 depending on the scope of the project.
Water waste from home comes in two categories. Greywater, which is from sinks, showers, laundries, etc., and blackwater, which is sewage. Both must be treated separately from each other for sanitation reasons. Expect to spend a few thousand each on these systems.
You might like to have a greenhouse, work shed, barn for livestock, etc. on your property. Before committing to each additional building, consider your budget.
Purchasing an Existing Home
Finally, if you would like the freedom and experience of living in an off-grid home, but don’t have the resources (both time and financial) to build one yourself, it is possible to purchase an existing off-grid home. There are many real estate companies that only sell off-grid properties, or who have agents who specialize in them.
Even if you prefer to build, sometimes it can be helpful to your building process to have a look at existing homes for inspiration and ideas.
This Rustic Cabin has 2000 square feet and 3 bedrooms. The metal roof is eco-friendly, too! Plan #193-1179
How Much Does It Cost to Live Off-grid?
The day-to-day costs of living off-grid are not unlike living in a traditional home, less a few bills as you are taking care of these things independently.
Consider the following when building a monthly budget
- Food (even if you grow you own, staples like oil, sugar, etc. will be purchased)
- Insurance (health, dental, vision, home, car, life, etc.)
- Gasoline (for vehicles)
- Property maintenance
- Household supplies (tools, firewood, seeds, toilet paper, etc.)
While it is possible to grow your own food in addition to producing your own energy and managing your own waste, living off-grid doesn’t completely remove you from needing everyday necessities.
A fabulous Ranch plan with 1416 square feet, 3 bedrooms, and a fireplace to help heat your home. Plan #205-1017
What are the Pros of Living Off-grid?
Living off-grid comes with some great benefits. Here are just a few.
When you live off-grid, you have more freedom over your lifestyle.
More privacy is one of the biggest draws of the off-grid lifestyle. Most who live off-grid cherish the opportunity to finally be away from their nosy neighbors, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and the other overwhelming sights, smells, and sounds of living nearly on top of each other.
Another big draw of living off-grid is how good it is for the environment. Those looking to reduce their overall carbon footprint will be pleased to incorporate things like solar panels and composting into their properties.
In general, those who live off-grid tend to live more minimalist lifestyles and create many things for themselves, like clothing, food, water systems, etc. so they use fewer resources and produce less waste.
Healthy Living Options
Living off-grid is great for your health. When the nearest fast-food restaurant is hours away, many living off-grid instead tend to eat fresh fruits and vegetables from their gardens, and meat sourced from their very own backyards.
It’s the ultimate farm-to-table lifestyle.
Additionally, it requires quite a bit of physical labor to keep an off-grid home running, so homeowners often report they are stronger and healthier than they have ever been.
What are the Cons of Living Off-grid?
Most homeowners who move off-grid love the lifestyle but are honest about the adjustment. They list the following things as cons of the off-grid way of life:
- Initial startup costs
- Responsibility of independence
- Physical demands of maintaining property
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