Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Living Off the Grid Works


Off-the-grid Lifestyle
Open a Post Office Box if you're unable to receive mail off the grid.
Open a Post Office Box if you're unable to receive mail off the grid.
©iStockphoto.com/Jaimie D. Travis

You're excited about going off the grid now, right? You're set to get your solar panels and septic tank. You have the well driller booked and you're ready to say no to utility bills. Before you follow through on all these moves, you need to think about the lifestyle changes that come with going off the grid.

Even with solar and wind power, you'll still need to limit your use of electricity. Most people interested in living off the grid do so at least in part to live a greener life, so conserving power goes hand-in-hand with this decision. With adequate solar and wind systems, you should be able to operate most of your electric appliances and gadgets, but not necessarily at the same time. If you're using a hair dryer, avoid using the microwave. If you fire up the blender, unplug your space heater. Major electricity users like washing machines should be operated at night, when your other power needs are minimal. True disciples of the back-to-land movement wouldn't use a washer and dryer anyway. Washing clothes by hand and using a clothesline is a rustic alternative.

The same goes for your water use. With a cistern system, in periods of little rain you might need to let the dishes pile up for a couple of days or limit your toilet flushes. Some people go so far as to turn off the shower water while they lather or wash their hair. Collecting additional non-potable water in rain barrels is a great way to water plants, wash dishes and keep your pets hydrated without dipping into your well or cistern.

Energy Star appliances are the most efficient on the market and a good way to save money on your bills. Look for the yellow stickers on the appliances when you buy them and compare the ratings. In addition to saving energy, the government offers rebates on Energy Star appliances, so you'll be saving money as well. You should­ also switch your light bulbs to the energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs.

If you truly "drop out" and go off the grid in a rural area, you'll likely have no mail or garbage service available. Most people will welcome the lack of junk mail, and since you won't have any utility bills, you won't be getting any cellophane window envelopes either. You can send anything you need from a post office and even maintain a P.O. Box if you want to receive mail.

Not having garbage pickup is another consideration. This can be readily solved by recycling and composting. If you're smart in what kinds of products you purchase, you can eliminate a great deal of potential garbage as well. Grow your own vegetables or raise some chickens and goats for milk and eggs. Avoiding packaged foods will greatly reduce the amount of paper and plastic waste you need to get rid of. All your organic food waste and even some paper products can be composted and fed back into your soil. Most recycling centers also have Dumpsters for your non-recyclables. You can read more about composting and recycling in the articles How Composting Works and How Recycling Works.

You can learn more about energy conservation and other home-related stuff in the articles on the next page.