The Cost of Living Off the Grid

Off the Grid Solar Panel

Could you afford to live off the grid?

It’s estimated that more than a quarter of a million people have packed it up and headed for the hills over the last decade.

Once thought to be a lifestyle reserved just for the tinfoil hat crowd or the Amish, “living off the grid” is becoming more mainstream, as each year, thousands of Americans opt for energy independence.

Off-grid living, or homesteading as it is sometimes called, has come to mean different things depending on the motivation of the people who pursue it. The vast majority of these people are simply choosing to live a life of self-sustainability for environmental reasons, financial reasons, or to seek the protection of a solitary life.

But then, there are those who believe that black helicopters are swooping in on American citizens and that anarchy will prevail once the citizenry catches on.

How to Live Off the Grid

For all of these homesteaders, their first priority is to get off the electric grid and create their own renewable supply of energy. That is followed by the creation of a renewable water source and sustainable food source for total self reliance.

And, for the doomsday preppers and conspiracy enthusiasts who want to get totally off the grid, the ultimate step is to remove any and all links with identifying institutions including bank accounts, credit accounts, DMV, and even Social Security.

For now, we’ll limit this discussion to those who still feel the need to have access to an ATM or a valid driver’s license.

Across America, you can find millions of people who are attempting to reduce their exposure to the grid by reducing their energy consumption, planting gardens, and generally trying to live simpler and greener lives.

Living Off the Grid Isn’t Cheap

But, if you really want to get off the grid, it does require an almost uncommon commitment and the willingness to invest a good amount of money, which raises some questions that most people have about off-the-grid living: Is it financially viable?

What if you aren’t as wealthy as some well-know homesteaders, like Daryl Hannah (off the grid in Colorado) or Johnny Depp (off the grid on his own island in the Bahamas)? Does living off the grid also mean living watt-to-watt or radish-to-radish? Or can it pay off in the end?

Johnny Depp on his Island: “Theoretically, this place can add years to your life. Money doesn’t buy you happiness. But it buys you a big enough yacht to sail right up to it.”

Here’s the skinny on setting yourself up with a completely self-sufficient, self-sustaining life in the boonies:

Land with Unrestricted Building Codes (10 Acres)Remote locations in: Montana, Idaho, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Utah, etc.>$20,000
Energy Efficient Home (1500 sq feet)Wired and plumbed for low voltage use and water pipe heating.$100,000 to $250,000
Renewable Energy SourceWind, solar, geothermal, etc. (including battery storage and generators).$50,000
Sustainable Food Source½ acre garden; 1 acre fruit trees, farming equipment; farm animals, food storage.$30,000
Renewable Water SourceWell, rain collection, septic tank.$10,000
Total $380,000

That’s not a small amount for anyone, but assuming the cost of housing (land, development, and building) is factored into everyone’s budget anyway, we’re really looking at an additional investment of $90,000 for renewable energy, food, and water that must recovered.

In comparison, it would only cost the same household to pay around $10,000 to tie into the commercial grid.

The key to the investment return is the “sustainability and renew-ability” of these resources, because once the investment is made, there should be no further payments made towards those resources.

So, it comes down to the cost savings realized by not having to pay gas and electric bills, water bills, and grocery bills for as long as you remain in your homestead off the grid. What’s that for a family of four? $1000 to $1500 a month? That’s better than a 15 percent annual return.

Just with the electricity, if you consider the savings realized with no monthly bills, no power lines or grid link, and the federal tax credits available, the net cost or investment is close to zero. For the people who invest their heart and soul into self-sustained living, the psychic return is incalculable.

Written by Monica Clark. Monica is an editor and webmaster for, a credit card information website.

Image by Pink Dispatcher

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  1. AndyHerrick says

    *CAUTION: This is a scientific rant.*

    1) A 1500-square foot house in an affluent suburb might cost $150 per square foot. An industry standard for the average ranch or split-level is $75-$125 per square foot, an modular homes – which have come a long way – cost $50-80 per square foot. That’s counting labor. An enterprising soul with some DIY capability and an eye on Craigslist can (and many have) build an off-grid home $50,000 or less. Tiny Homes (200 – 1000 square feet) can be built by $10,000 or less.

    2) I recently talked to a gentleman who bought 10 acres in northern Missouri for $1,000 an acre. In much of the West and Midwest, undeveloped residental land sells for $5,000-$15,000 an acre. Cropland can go for even less.

    3) If a home is built to harness passive solar technology, basic geothermal heating/cooling and passive air conditioning, an off-grid energy source costs nowhere near $50,000. A 5,000 watt generator (not renewable, I admit) can be purchased used and in good condition for less than $1,000. Solar systems are much more expensive, but most are so large because they are paired with inefficient houses built around central heating/AC. The average family could set up a solar system for $10,000 – $20,000 NEW. That’s including the panels, deep-cycle batteries, inverters, converters, wires, everything. Most solar systems have far too many panels strung together with a mismatched inverter, which lowers efficiency.

    4) A sustainable food source is not usually considered to be within the scope of an “off grid” residence. I don’t know as much about ranching, but a self-sufficient garden can be grown in 1-2 acres (some expert even say 1/2 acre). Give up the beef and slaughter pigs and chicken, and the price drops even further. In some areas of the country, such as the Midwest, a seasoned hunter could provide a half year’s worth of meat from one good deer hunting season.

    5) Nature provided a FREE renewable water source. It’s called rain. No, it won’t drizzle enough to subsidize 25-gallon showers, supersize washers and flush septic toilets, but that’s why most off-grid dwellers rely on composting, air drying, military-style showers and other eco-friendly processes.

    Thousands of Americans are dreaming of a better life, a life unchained from endless utility bills and HOAs and 45-minute suburban commutes. We should foster that dream, and work together to devise new solutions, rather than being the devil’s advocate with unsupported and inflated numbers.

  2. Check out SunDrumSolar. I have the first hybrid solar panels on my roof and they are working beautifully. Saves money on electricity and oil. I should be net 0 this summer into November in electricity. I love seeing that meter go backwards. The oil company keeps asking if I am getting oil from another source. When I tell them solar, they just don’t know what to say. It’s awesome. I’m on the East Coast.

  3. Hope to Prosper says

    As soon as they create an affodable energy storage device, I suspect a lot more poeple will go off the electrical grid.  I believe in the next 20 years, there will be fuel cell type devices about the size of a refrigerator or washing machine that will cost a couple thousand dollars and be able to power a house for a week.  Two professors at MIT have already developed a couple of competing designs that may be viable.  When that happens, solar will become practical.

  4. Charged Off Chuck says

    My dad and I have a 1300 foot cabin off the grid…well kinda.  We run it on two 2000 watt Honda generators.  I can say I am a huge fan of its solitude, however, I would need to put solar on the cabin to make it 100% self sufficient.  I will retire there in 12 years and add those last few goodies…that is if we live past Dec 21:-)

  5. debtblackhole says

    I’m looking into geothermal options for our home now. I’d rather pay the cost upfront than every single month for power…

  6. krantcents says

    I would like to live off the grid.  Some day maybe I can, although I do not want to go to some remote location.  So maybe I am stuck, but I keep my costs low.