Signs You're Ready to Build Off The Grid

Living off-grid means leaving fifth-acre lots, neighbors and traffic jams behind. It also means you’re on your own when ice glazes the roads and people keep asking how you handle your sewage. Are you up to the challenge? Check out these “signs you’re ready to build off the grid.”

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You'll drive your kids miles to the bus stop

Heath Skinner and his family are building a barn house on 41 acres outside Prescott, ID, where they're 2.6 miles from the nearest bus stop. After boarding the bus, the kids must ride 40 minutes each way to school.

Heath says you have to decide what kind of conveniences—like having schools nearby—are worth giving up.

(How late can the kids be exactly?)

You'll risk driving treacherous roads

One of the biggest mistakes people make, Heath says, is moving off-grid before they're ready. “People jump first, and on the way down, they start to look and see what they’re going to land on.”

He spent years building up an online business so he can do most of his work from home because off-grid weather isn't always pretty. Harsh weather can make life tough if you have to commute to a job, or move building materials around. (It might be time to invest in a snowmobile.) 

You want to eat only foods that you shot, killed or harvested

"The city can make life simple and easy, but one of our goals is to be one degree away from our food. If we didn’t shoot it, kill it, or harvest it, we better know who did,” Heath says.

Be prepared, he adds, to give up Starbucks and make your own coffee, too. 

Farewell, Pumpkin Spice Latte. 

You don't want a floodlight within 5 miles of your place

Joe Donovan is building a 750 square-foot home in the mountains southwest of Bozeman, MT.

He'll have a long, 45-minute commute to his city job, but he's willing to make the drive. And if you can get used to hefty travel times like Donovan, the off-grid life offers up a major perk: privacy.

Neighbors and bright streetlights, no more! This is could be the solitary life you've been searching for. 

You'll buy land, sight-unseen

Joe bought his land without seeing it first. “I bought it off eBay, because it was a good opportunity," he says.

He admits he took a gamble and went for it before he knew if he could get water from a well. (A question you wouldn't have to ask yourself if you were simply looking for a home in a residential cul de sac.)

You have friends and family who'll pitch in to help

Be ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Off-grid life takes serious muscle—and probably a few extra hands. 

Off-gridders need to be able to plan and act on their gut feelings, Joe says, so they can create their own environments. He admits his home is the biggest project he’s ever tackled, and he feels fortunate to have family and a couple of good friends supporting him with time and help. 

You can live like a pioneer

“It’s very popular right now,” Joe says, “to go away from the mainstream and the rush of normal living. [Off-gridders] are going back to the way pioneers did things, with the materials they had, 150 years ago.”

You're tired of paying water bills

Kirk Wolf was tired of paying water, sewer and trash bills, so he purchased 2.5 acres of land in the Ozarks, just south of Kansas, OK. He describes his property as being in a “nature-infused subdivision of 3600 acres.”

He’ll use alternate or old technologies and methods to save money while still powering some of the things he wants, like a washer and a stove, proving you really can have it all.  

“I’m doing this way out in the country, but I want to show it can be done without giving up all the modern conveniences.”

You want things money can't buy

Kirk values experiences with his family, like taking his girlfriend and kids to play in a nearby river, over material things. “The greatest memories are not what kids get for Christmas or birthdays. They can say they remember when we dove down to get rocks off the river bottom, or when they did backflips. You’re ready to go off-grid when you want things money can’t buy.” 

Fast food just doesn't cut it anymore

“Don’t get me wrong,” Kirk says. “I love my McDonalds cheeseburgers.” But he's given up some foods and stopped eating sugar. "I felt my taste buds change. Things tasted more intense, like when a smoker quits smoking.” Off-gridders can grow and eat their own fresh foods for good health and good taste. 

You'll hang sheets out to dry, or light your place with candles and kerosene

Living off-grid, Kirk says, starts with moving away from fossil fuels, bartering for what you need, and using technology wisely, to hold down costs. “You can substitute solar panels, and passive heating and cooling vents, for example, or use your vehicle to power your phone.”  

You'll trade your alarm clock for a small army of song birds

Living in Montana is a lifelong dream for Mark and Erica Lighthiser, who have three children. They’re building a contemporary house from reclaimed materials with help from friends and family, much like a modern-day barn raising.

“Our project is located near the Yellowstone River in southwest Montana,” Mark adds. ‘We have commanding views of mountain ranges in the region and there is a lot of wildlife."

Nowadays, the birds sing them awake. 

Your kids play with rocks, sticks and sage brush

"We know we won’t have the same level of performance out of the solar array we’re running now, but we’re trading the dishwasher for a sense of self-reliance and a healthier appreciation of the things we used to take for granted," Erica says. 

Even their children have started saying things like, "I don't think we have enough electricity for that," and they're reading books and playing with things outside. 

You're prepared to choose between operating a hair dryer or having lights that work

The Lighthisers say off-gridders tend to “worship the sun,” because they need all the solar power and supplemental energy sources they can get. But they feel giving up some appliances and technology is worth it, to gain control of their lifestyle. “It’s not so much of a sacrifice,” Erica says. “It’s a feel-good thing.” 

You're counting kilowatts

Mark jokes about counting kilowatts, but he's serious about using natural resources and energy wisely. If "you have the most impressive generator around," you believe every drop of water is precious and "you think 50 amps sounds like an enormous amount of power"—you just might be ready.