For various reasons, people are seeking to go off-grid with cabin living. You may enjoy the ultimate privacy of cutting the societal power cord or fear that collapse could render living conditions intolerable in cities and want to return to the land.
Whatever your reasons, divorcing yourself from modern society and its conveniences takes considerable planning. You’re on your own for food, shelter and all life’s necessities, including medical treatments and creature comforts.
Creating your dream life requires covering your bases. Are you prepared for what comes with this lifestyle?
Powering Your Cabin
Unless you plan on chopping the trees for your cabin with a hand ax, you’ll need power. Even folks opting for alternative heating sources like a wood-burning stove appreciate the ability to turn on a light without fumbling around in the dark for a match.
Fortunately, you have better options than ever for powering your off-grid cabin. For example, today’s top solar panels produce up to 400 watts per panel, requiring less space to run everything most modern homes include. You can calculate your current consumption to determine how many you’ll need to run everything, including the HVAC system, which is typically your biggest drain.
A Note on Batteries and Heat
Why do so many people who build off-grid cabins opt for alternative heating systems like wood stoves when solar continues to improve? Most who opt for solar remain connected to the grid, meaning they can draw traditional power if their panels don’t produce adequate amounts on any given day. You don’t have that option once you cut the cord.
Therefore, you’ll need considerable battery storage to keep everything powered when it rains or snows and your panels don’t produce enough electricity. Going completely off the grid can mean investing in as many as eight to 12 batteries and full installation of a single battery can set you back up to $20,000. The most challenging part of going off-grid with your cabin could be the cost.
Furthermore, you’ll need to consider your inverter capacity — you may require four or five to keep multiple devices going simultaneously. Most traditional homes run on a 200 amp service, whereas most inverters have a 25 to 40-amp output, hence the need for multiple units.
The HVAC system accounts for nearly half the total energy consumed in most homes. It’s also critical to life, as you won’t survive subzero temperatures for long without a heat source. Therefore, installing a wood or pellet stove only makes sense, even if you can afford a top-of-the-line solar system.
The Essentials of Life — Food and Water
The other two necessities of life besides shelter are food and water. Securing the latter is one of the most difficult parts of going off-grid with your cabin unless you’re lucky. Those with a stream or river running through their property can count their blessings, although you’ll have to test your water occasionally to ensure upstream conditions don’t contaminate it. You’ll also likely need to treat it with a few drops of bleach to make it safe to drink.
What if you don’t have such a source? Your best bet for continual flow in many regions is to dig a well. It allows you to tap into groundwater supplies, although drilling in areas like the desert southwest might require going down hundreds of feet. Such operations can get costly.
If you can’t afford a well, a less pricey alternative is to haul water. You can order large tankers of potable water delivered, although you’ll want to get savvy about conserving it to avoid frequent replacements. Tricks like reusing your dishwater to irrigate plants can help you save this precious resource.
You might need more water than you think, especially if you plan to be truly self-sustaining by growing most of your food. Those without wells will need to factor irrigation into their water-hauling requirements.
Depending on where you live, you can harvest rainwater to meet your irrigation needs. However, check with local ordinances first. Some states restrict this method of water collection, and you can get fined for having a few barrels.
Some of the saddest hiking deaths occur when people starve amid plenty. If you’re moving off-grid, learning to forage local plants to complement your garden is worth it. After all, you have to do something if rabbits devour your carrots. Some common foods found in waste areas in multiple climate zones include:
- Purslane: You can even find this drought-tolerant stuff in some desert regions.
- Mallow: No, these plants don’t grow marshmallows, but you can use the leaves like lettuce or spinach in salads.
- Elderberries: Although you can eat these berries raw, they’re frequently made into jams and jellies, and praised as a cold medicine.
- Dandelion: Elevate your green smoothie with this common “weed” chock-full of chlorophyll and B vitamins.
- Rosehips: Those large berries at the base of rose blooms are among your best sources of vitamin C.
Here’s the less-than-glamorous part of off-grid cabin living. You have several choices of how to dispose of your waste, each with varying difficulty levels.
- Outhouse: The simplest method of outdoor waste disposal is an outhouse. If you dig it deep enough, it can last for years as bacteria within the hole depletes waste. However, if you fill it up more quickly than it decomposes, you’ll need to start from scratch by digging a new outhouse elsewhere on your property.
- Composting Toilets: Composting toilets are popular choices among the boat and RV set. However, these require you to remove the end product, which requires traveling to civilization and locating a dump station for blackwater tanks. Plus, they need more maintenance than standard flushing models.
- Off-Grid Septic Systems: The ultimate in wastewater management for your off-grid build is a septic system. With such systems, you can use a standard flush toilet and minimize odors. However, this option is also the priciest and requires the most expertise, as you must perform routine inspections and maintenance to prevent damage.
Most people worry less about bathing than elimination, although hygiene is crucial. After all, you might not be anywhere near the closest hospital or maintain health insurance coverage. At the very least, keep a small portable camp sink near your bathroom facilities and food preparation areas.
However, most folks who live off-grid full-time appreciate plumbing’s convenience. If you have a well and entirely off-grid power system, you can hook up your supply line essentially the same way it would connect to traditional plumbing inlets. Those with sizable rain barrels can do the same. However, be advised that those in cold climates must take extra measures to prevent their pipes from freezing in the winter.
A Final Note on Your Health
If you’ve always enjoyed good health, you might overlook this potential difficulty of going off-grid. What happens if you fall and break your leg while out on a hike or cut yourself so deeply that you require stitches? You might be miles from the nearest medical center. How will you call for help and pay for it once you arrive at the hospital?
It’s a good idea to maintain health coverage, although doing so might not be possible if you quit your job as part of your off-grid dream. Understand the risks of going without insurance. Furthermore, it’s a wise idea to master basic first aid to treat minor injuries and illnesses yourself, including:
- The Heimlich maneuver
- How to clean and dress wounds
- How to treat shock
- How to find home remedies
Taking Your Cabin Off the Grid
Whatever your reason for going off-grid, you want to know how feasible it is. How difficult will it be to cut the societal cord and live independently?
Now that you understand how difficult it is to go off-grid, you can begin planning your escape. Few things are better than knowing you can survive on your own.