Are you thinking of moving to an off-the-grid home? Ever wonder what it would be like to live off grid? Come spend the day with me. Hopefully, you’ll get be able to decide if you want to be off grid and exactly how far off grid you want to go.
Yes, there are varying degrees off grid living. My husband and I are living in the cabin of our dearest friends. There’s no running water, no plumbing, and no electric. We lovingly call their solar-powered home “The Big House.” How many questions are running through your head? “How do they?” is how I bet they all start.
Like most other homesteaders we rise early. For us it’s 3:00 a.m. J leaves for work at 3:30, so I’m up getting the coffee warm and the fire started. Even though the daytime highs are in the 70s here in the Panhandle of Idaho in April (as I’m writing this article), the night temps are still in the 30s to 40s. This makes a fire to chase off the chill of the night necessary.
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We have a wood heater in the cabin. We use it for heat and in place of a wood-burning cook stove. In the winter, I keep the fire burning all day. My Southern blood has not acclimated, and I require a fire on days when my friends let theirs die! When there’s a fire in the heater, breakfast and supper are cooked on it.
Now that it’s warmer, I feed the flames until around 11 a.m. then let it die out. If beans or peas, anything that needs a while to cook, is on the menu that day, I put them on to cook when J leaves for work and let them cook as long as the stove is hot.
Back to my morning … after putting on warm socks, the first thing I do is light the lamp. The propane camping stove is lit to heat the coffee. Who wants to wait for their first cup? While the coffee heats, I build a fire in the stove. J rises early on the weekends and builds the fire for me. I use a battery-operated headlamp to see into the wood heater to build the fire. The Pack is looking at me wanting some morning pats and a blanket until the cabin is warm.
Since moist air heats faster and holds heat longer, we keep a cast iron kettle on the wood heater. Part of building the fire is checking to be sure there’s adequate water in the kettle. Once J leaves, I make the bed by lamplight and straighten that side of the cabin.
To conserve lamp oil, I turn on my headlamp and blow out the lamp. With a boiling cup of coffee, I like mine hot, I make my way to the couch. Not before tending the fire once more.
I check the weather, read emails and respond, check social media comments and take a look at my to-do list for the day. If you’ve read my articles then you know I’m a list maker and follower! Now, I’ve got an idea of what faces me later in the day. I enjoy coffee, watch a video or two and snuggle with the Pack until the cabin is warm. It’s usually around 5 a.m. by this time so the fire gets tended, again.
The lamp is relit and I sweep the cabin. Depending on what I’m having for breakfast, I start preparing it. Everything takes longer in this lifestyle…everything! The water to wash and rinse dishes is put on the wood stove for heating. I only wash dishes once a day. I don’t usually wash dishes at night, I put them in the pre-rinse water (the rinsing water from the day before) and let them sit overnight. This saves water.
After washing the dishes, stretching and breakfast it’s time to get to work. Working from the cabin is possible because of a small gasoline-powered generator my husband bought for me. With it, I’m able to charge my computer, phone and iPad.
We get internet signal from The Big House. Without this blessing, we’d be unable to communicate with the boys or anyone else. In the wilderness, there is no cell phone coverage. We use Google Hangouts as our phone service because it works over the internet. While it can be challenging, it is workable, most days.
Everything in life comes with pros and cons. We each have to decide what we want to be able to live the lifestyle we choose and go from there. We get our water from The Big House by filling 5-gallon buckets. We fill two or three buckets every 2-3 days depending on the weather.
If it’s going to be sunny or bright for a few days we’ll get a bucket every day. This keeps us in supply and doesn’t make for such a chore. If it’s going to be rainy or “gray” as we say, we fill up all three buckets on the brightest day before the clouds set in. This keeps us from placing a drain on the solar power at The Big House.
Going to the outhouse multiple times a day can be a little inconvenient, but it does give me pause to stretch when I’ve been sitting at the computer for too long. Now I know what you ladies are wondering what I do at night; I use a chamber pot. You can find them at antique stores, online, and flea markets, but I use a simple one … a bucket with a lid. Yes, it has to be emptied every morning, but it’s better than going to the outhouse when it’s -4 degrees outside or pitch black!
On cloudy or stormy days, the lamps are lit longer. This means the chimneys of the lamps must be cleaned at least every other day to every 3 days. I use vinegar water to do this with old newspaper or brown paper bags. Trimming the wicks is done whenever I clean the chimneys or fill the lamps with oil.
Since we only eat two meals a day, I don’t have to pause to fix lunch. Cooking in this off-grid setting requires forethought and planning. At the end of every day I plan the next day using Nozbe, my list keeper. I think about the meal for the following day and determine if anything needs soaking overnight and what time I should start each thing the next day. Depending on how long or if a fire will be going in the wood stove, I plan the evening meal.
We have enjoyed whole food cooking for years so this isn’t new to me. Whole food cooking requires planning and forethought, but the rewards are worth it. Of course being off grid doesn’t mean going without processed, easy-to-prepare items. Doing without these was a conscious choice we made when we removed GMOs and processed foods from our lives years ago. What would be the point of going off grid if you still wanted to hold on to all the conveniences of the on grid world.
On laundry days, I have three options. I’m offered the use of the washing machine at The Big House, but we opt to not use it unless necessary. Why? Because they run on solar, cloudy days cut in to what they need washed, not to mention the wear and tear on their machine. I can and do hand wash when I need to. On Saturdays, we carry our laundry to the laundry mat. This can be expensive, but we combine other errands and only take what I can’t get as clean with hand washing.
To wash clothes by hand, I pretty much do what I do for washing dishes. I heat the water on the stove, add the clothes and let them soak. Scrub-a-dub-dub while the rinse water is heating. Dunk, rinse and squeeze to hang on the line. The inside line is used on wet or cold days since the stove is going and the heat helps dry them. Sunny days, they get the outside line. Since spring is officially here, I leave the door and window open during the day to air out the cabin and let in more light.
Another question I get is about shopping out here. It is different. There’s no such thing as a quick trip for us. If we just run to the post office and back, it’s at least 40 minutes. To go in to the nearest town for other errands is a 35-minute trip one way. We combine our trips to save fuel and time.
Most of our shopping is done online. UPS delivers to the local merchandise store and FedEx delivers to the local post office. We check the tracking numbers and make a trip in to get them. We place our orders so they arrive within a day or two of each other. This allows us to make only one trip, if at all possible.
As the cabin is set back in the trees, the natural light fades fast in the evening so the lamps are lit for finishing up supper, preparing J’s food box for the next morning, and bathing. Bathing is another challenge when you live in an off the grid home like this one.
We use the shower at The Big House, but not every day. On the days we don’t shower, we take what we call a Granny Brown bath. We heat the water on the stove and take turns washing “all of our importants,” as Granny would say. Because we’ve charged the iPad during the day and we’re blessed to have access to the internet, we can watch something online before bed, if we choose to.
We set the wind up alarm clock along with the alarm on our phones, just in case the battery runs down. You never know about these phones sometimes. The lamps are blown out and we get to bed between 6:30-7:00 p.m. each night.
Now this isn’t a typical day for just any off gridder, this is a typical day for me. There are many people who live in an off the grid home who are so far off grid they have no power source, no generator, no computer, no phones. They’ve made a lifestyle choice, just as we all do.
There are many people who live off grid with solar, wind, hydro, generator and any combination of these power sources. The definition of off the grid is simply not being tied to any public works or utilities. That’s it. There are different degrees of living off grid as there are different degrees of homesteading. Life is relative to you and your journey, your choices.
Decide what you want, how far off grid you want to go and take steps to get there. You may want to take baby steps and adjust as you learn how to live off the grid. As someone who went from on grid life to an off the grid home over night, I can tell you, it’s a challenge.
The biggest challenge for me was learning to live without electric lights and running water. I hardly miss the lights at all now. Running water is still a challenge for me. Hauling water, keeping track of how much you use, how you use and when you use the water requires a total mindset change from simply turning on the tap with no thought to the sun, weather or how much is going down the drain.
Am I happy with this lifestyle? Yes, there’s a freedom attached to it which cannot be understood unless you experience it. When we’re on our own homesteading land will we be off grid? Yes. We will hopefully have running water. I will feel like a queen. We’ll have to decide between solar, wind, hydro, generator or the combo that’s right for our location. Being tied to the grid is something we just don’t want on our homestead.
Is there still an outhouse in my future? Who knows!
Do you live in an off-the-grid home? How far off grid are you? Please share your tips and experiences with us.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack