How Living Off the Grid Works

Augmenting Home Energy

Wood burning stoves are a great way to warm your tootsies.
Wood burning stoves are a great way to warm your tootsies.
Chris Clinton/Getty Images

If you go off the grid, you'll most likely need a few other things in place to ensure that you stay warm, cool and have plenty of water. Many people use propane as their source of gas. You can go all electric with your water heater and range, but that will use a great deal of your manufactured energy. Whole-house propane tanks are basically large versions of the ones that you use for your gas grill. The propane is fed into your house by pipes, just like your natural gas line, and the tank is refilled as you need it by a propane service.

Another option for heating your water is to go with a tankless water heater. For your off-grid goal, you'll need to buy a propane or electric tankless unit. They make natural gas versions as well, but you'll be on the grid. Tankless heaters don't store and heat water, they heat it on demand as you need it. You can read more about them in How Tankless Water Heaters Work. If you really want to go green, then you should look into a solar water heater. In this system, the sun's heat is harnessed and used to warm your water. You can learn more about solar heaters in the article How to Choose a New Water Heater.

Most people that choose to go off the grid also have a backup generator, just in case the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine for long stretches. These generators run on propane, natural gas, gasoline or biodiesel fuel and are only used if absolutely necessary. They can be rigged to kick in automatically if the battery power supply drops to a certain level.

Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves can help offset the energy it takes to heat your home. In fact, most homes that are off the grid depend on burning wood as their primary heat source. Electric and gas furnaces simply require too much fuel to keep a house warm on their own. You can even cook on top of wood-burning stoves. Super-insulation, which counts on airtight construction and additional layers of foam insulation, is an efficient way to maintain your home's temperature.

Another building technique that many people off the grid use is passive solar construction. Passive solar building is a design technique that uses the wind, sun and natural surroundings to heat and cool the home. There are several ways to block and remove heat, including shading through landscaping, using a dark exterior paint, installing a radiant barrier in the roof rafters and good old-fashioned insulation. Another way is through thermal siphoning, the process of removing heat through controlled airflow. Opening the lower windows on the breezy side of your house and the upper windows on the opposite side creates a vacuum that draws out the hot air.

In the next section, we'll see what kinds of lifestyle changes go along with living off the grid.