How Much Money It Takes to Live Off the Grid | 5 Hidden Costs | Off Grid Permaculture
Cost Of Living Off Grid

How Much Money It Takes to Live Off the Grid | 5 Hidden Costs

November 30, 2020

Daniel Mark Schwartz Profile Picture

Every one of us, when we first thought about going off grid, wondered how much it would cost, and whether we can really afford it. After years of researching and making mistakes myself, here is an accurate picture of what it really costs to move off the grid. And, 5 hidden costs you probably won’t expect.

The average cost of moving off grid is $101,087 with a low value of $12,447 and a high of $463,260. Typical monthly costs are between $35.42 and $2,264. These values reflect the cost of land, housing, off grid solar system, heating systems, well, septic, transportation, gardens, livestock, and misc expenses. And, are intended to give an estimate of common expenses.

While the figures above serve to give you an estimate of what it might take to move off the grid, really you need to do your own budgeting and research that accounts for your own needs and the costs in your area. The rest of this article walks you through what to look for, and reveals 5 hidden costs that almost no one accounts for when they are getting started going off the grid.

How Much Money It Takes to Live Off Grid in Detail

Cost Low Average High Reccuring Expense
Land $2,850 $23,700 $156,000 $0.42 – $245 / mo
Housing $5,000 $50,000 $250,000 $10 – $1,653 / mo
Power $1,218 $11,928 $26,460 5% / year
Heating/Cooking $50 $334 $3,500 $20 – $240 /mo
Water $3,750 $9,525 $15,300 None
Garden $600 $5,600 $12,000 0 – $200 /year
—————– ——— ———- ———- ———————
Total $12,447 $101,087 $463,260 $35.42 – $2,264/mo

Costs of Buying Off Grid Land

The USDA tracks land price averages throughout the united states for farm real estate. The most recent data shows Rhode Island as having the most expensive land at an average of $15,600 per acre, while New Mexico has the cheapest averaging $570 per acre. The average cost for agricultural land in the United States is $3,160 per acre.

Reference: https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Todays_Reports/reports/land0819.pdf

How Much Land Do You Need?

I generally recommend between 5–10 acres for a single household if you intent to grow your own food and live sustainably. However, some people get by on much less, less than an acre in some cases. While others prefer much more.

The climate where you live also very much impacts how much land you need. As well as how what type and how many animals you intend to raise. Unproductive or try areas call for larger homesteads. And pasture raising cattle requires many 10s or 100s of acres to support.

I drill in to land size considerations in depth in this article —

Finding Good Deals on Off Grid Land

Land is cheaper the farther from town you get. Being way out in the country can save you money in on the initial purchase, but will also incur additional costs. (See Hidden Cost 2). And, of course property values vary based on —

  • How desirable the property is
  • How flat the property is
  • Whether the property has water access
  • Whether the property has a southern slop
  • What type of road access, if any, the property has

Eventually I learned a bunch of clever tricks to find less expensive properties, but I ended up paying more than I initially expected

Off Grid Land May Not Be Available in the Size You Want

One huge problem I encountered when buying off grid land, is that cheaper land is generally divided in to larger parcels. While I found many properties in my area, the pacific north west, going for about $1,000 an acre, everything in that range were in large 20–80 acre lots.

All I could find in the 5–10 acre price range were much more expensive at $5,000 – $10,000 per acre. Or, otherwise they had serious problems such as no legal access or overhanging high tension power lines.

Property Taxes and Other Monthly Costs

The largest recurring cost for property that you own is yearly property tax, which ranges from 1.89% in New Jersey to 0.18% in Louisiana.

Reference: http://www.tax-rates.org/taxtables/property-tax-by-state

I exclude interest on loans because many off gridders will not have a mortgage on their properties.

Bare land rarely qualifies for mortgages, and is either bought with a line of credit from a bank or by land contract / owner carry. Interest rates vary quite a bit for lines of credit, based on your credit score and history with your bank.

Land contracts also typically have interest associated, from my research typically in the neighborhood of 12%.

You may also be liable for misc other fees levied by agreement with neighboring properties for expenses like shared well maintenance, community facilities, or private road maintenance. Once again this varies widely, and may not apply to you at all.

Even Lower Cost Options

It is possible to go off grid with creative low cost land ideas, or without owning land at all. I wrote all about a number of low cost or zero cost off grid land options in these two previous posts —

Hidden Cost 1 — Driveway Building

When you buy off grid property, there often isn’t a useful driveway in place. In most states, any driveway connected to a public road must meat certain conditions like angle, width, and visibility.

Additionally, if would like to get an address assigned, which makes you eligible for emergency services like fire and ambulance, then you will also have to comply with state codes, which usually require a sufficiently wide road with a large turn around area at the end.

All together, long driveways that meet code can be very expensive to have installed, requiring heavy machinery and large loads of gravel. Off grid driveways can cost $1,000s or $10,000s depending on terrain and length.

Housing

Housing costs are highly variable, depending on the situation you are looking for.

Low Cost Off Grid Housing

On the low end I considered options for portable shelter and temporary structures. Popular options for low cost off grid accommodations include —

  • Yurts
  • Campers
  • RVs
  • Vans
  • Tents

I myself built a yurt for about $2,000 as a first off grid shelter. But, typical costs for pre-built yurts are about $4,000 to $10,000 for a year round livable model. See here for more details on yurts —

Sustainable and DIY Housing Ideas

I estimate for most people going off grid, myself included, that they would be interested in a more permanent structure. If you are willing do some or all of the work yourself, there are a multitude of ways to build your own little cabin or tiny home.

There are also occasionally tiny house kits or prebuilt homes available in the neighborhood of $50,000. I have a bunch of ideas for DIY sustainable building in this price range here.

Standard Housing

On the high end, I suspect people will just be buying a typical home. Really, the sky is the limit here, with nothing stooping you from having a multi-million dollar off grid retreat except your budget.

Be aware that having a home built in a remote location is generally much more expensive than having one built in town. So costs may be greater than you are used to.

On the up side you have the possibility of getting a traditional mortgage, if you don’t intend to or aren’t able to pay for everything up front.

I estimated about $250,000 in home value on average, making the whole property worth about $300,000.

Monthly Costs

On the low end there will be few costs except maintenance. Moving vehicles might require registration fees / road tax as well as insurance.

On the high end I estimated a typical monthly mortgage for a $300,000 value, 10% down, $1,000 per year in home insurance, and an average interest rate. This number is just for comparison purposes. An Realtor in your area or even sites like Zillow can estimate what a typical home mortgage would be in your area.

Hidden Cost 2 — Home Insurance

Be aware that off grid homes tend to be farther from fire rescue and other emergency services and tend to have wood heat. This makes home insurance much more expensive than you might be used to. I’ve heard cases of people paying more than double what the usual rates are.

If you intend to get a mortgage, then home owners insurance is mandatory.

Otherwise, you have the option of not getting it. And, for DIY or sustainable options you may not be able to get insurance on the structure itself.

Off Grid Solar System

A typically sized 6kW solar panel installation costs from $10,626 to $13,230 after the 30% federal solar tax credit. The size and therefore cost of solar system depends on how much energy you use and how much sun you get in your location.

Reference: https://homeguide.com/costs/solar-panel-cost

NREL Photovoltaic Solar Resource Map

The above map shows average solar power production potential in the United States, as estimated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Multiply the number that matches the color scale for your region by your panel’s capacity in watts to estimate how much energy you can produce in Wh.

For more information in sizing and designing solar systems, I have written a complete tutorial —

Small Solar Systems for RV, Yurt, or Tiny Home

A smaller 400W system, about a 2 kW in many areas of the US, would producing about enough power to charge a cell phone, illuminate a few LEDS lights, and run a small fridge, and probably a few other small appliances.

For this I would recommend a Renology 400W 12V Starter Kit and two Renology 12V 100 Ah Deep Cycle Batteries. A small system like this is approximately $1200, and is a great way to get started with solar.

I highly recommend this particular set up, because they are great reliable components at a reasonable price. Cheaper Chinese knockoffs and low quality batteries just aren’t worth the hassle when you get a dud, and you ended up wasting a lot of money on something that doesn’t work for very long.

You will also need an inverter with this system, if you intend to use AC appliances. Read my full write up on this particular set up for more information —

High End Solar Installations

Solar installations in the 24kWh range cost upwards of $26,000. Systems like this would function as a whole home replacement, where you can run off grid power just as freely as on grid power.

The average home in the US uses about 30kWh per day on average, with much of this usage due to air conditioning. However, there are better ways to run air conditioning from an off grid system than just shelling out for a larger solar system.

For more information on off grid air conditioning techniques, see this article.

Recurring Costs

While solar systems don’t have a monthly cost, they do not last forever. Solar systems are typically designed to last about 20 years of service. However, solar panels loose about %1 of their productivity per year due to natural deterioration.

For a yearly cost, I’ve factored in a 5% replacement cost, that would go to replacing the system after 20 years.

Heating Costs

Heating and cooking off grid is most commonly accomplished with wood or propane. If you have access to wood, it is usually cheapest to cut it down yourself. You can also pay for pre-cut wood by the cord. But, it is difficult to beat the convince of propane so long as you don’t minding driving to town now and again for a refill

Cheap, DIY Cooking Methods

My recommendation for low cost wood fired heat and cooking are simple and cheap to build “rocket mass” heaters, or masonry stoves.

Rocket mass heaters are ultra efficient wood stoves made out of a clay and sand mixture called cob, a few steel barrels, and possibly some stove pipe. All this can be acquired and built for less than $50, and possibly free if you can scrounge up a barrel for free.

Masonry heaters are also ultra efficient designs made from bricks, typically used in Russia and the north of Europe. With plans and a little skill with brick laying, you can have one up for a few hundred dollars.

A simple “Lorena” or “rocket” stove is a cheap way to cook with wood heat. Made in a similar way the rocket mass heater, they are practically free, only need a few cheap metals parts. You can also build a traditional fired oven for baking, again using cob, for practically nothing as well.

More details on cooking and heating designs —

Wood Stoves

For heating and cooking in a small space, many homesteaders go with a small cast iron wood stove like this 900 sqft wood stove from Home Depot. Current prices at the time of writing are $330 for one of these miniature stoves.

Propane Stoves

Gas burners, stoves, and heaters meant for RVs are a good fit for many off grid homes. Small RV stove tops range from about $100 to $1,000 for higher end models with ovens. Small propane heaters are available for less than $100.

You can also graduate to typical household size propane appliances if you wish, for increased cost.

High End Wood Stoves

This Pioneer Princess Wood Cookstove from Lehman’s is an example of a high end wood stove that your great-grandmother would have coveted. Currently around $3,500 plus shipping, it is near the high end of an off grid oriented cooking and heating solution.

Hidden Cost 3 — Fire Wood

Many people going off grid anticipate cutting their own firewood, but under estimate the effort and underestimate the cost of buying firewood.

Depending on how cold your winters are, the quality of your stove, the type of wood you have access to, and the insulation of your house, you could end up using anywhere from about 3 to 10+ cords of wood per season.

Typical wood prices in my area are about $100 per cord in the spring to $300 per cord dry and delivered in the fall. This can lead to some serious expense that most people aren’t aware of.

Cutting your own firewood also isn’t entirely free. You will need gas, a chainsaw, extra chains, oil, and miles on a truck or ATV to help transport the wood.

Need a good chainsaw, see what 100s of homesteaders call their go to chainsaw…

Propane Expenses

Propane costs vary, but one RV dwelling couple recorded their monthly propane expenses to be $240 dollars in the winter months.

Reference: https://thenewlighterlife.com/the-cost-of-heating-the-rv-during-the-winte/

Water

Most off grid homesteads require the use of a deep water well to get their household water and for use with irrigation. Average installation for wells range from $3,750 to $15,300.

Reference: https://homeguide.com/costs/well-drilling-cost

Most of the cost variance in well installation is due to well depth. It is not possible to know exactly how deep a well will need to be on your particular property. There isn’t even any guarantee that you will hit water with the first hole you drill. And since installer charge by the foot, wells can turn out to be a huge unexpected expense.

For more information on wells and off grid water systems, read my in depth article —

Rainwater Collection System

Another possibly that some off gridders are using is rainwater collection systems. Most states allow rainwater collection in some form, and with an appropriately sized cistern and collection surface — usually the roof of your dwelling or structures — you may be able to collect all the water you need without drilling a well.

Plastic cisterns cost about $1/gallon. How big a cistern you would need depends on your needs and the rain patterns in your area. Short rainy seasons require larger storage capacity compared to areas with rain year round.

The articles will help you size and set up a rainwater collection system

Hidden Cost 4 — Temporarily Carrying in Water

Many people, myself included, get started off grid on a dry piece of land, expecting to carry in water for a while until things get set up. This can very quickly become an expensive practice, because you need to go do town just to get water. Sizing up your carrying capacity helps, but in the end, I spend hundreds of dollars some months just getting water.

Septic

Most off grid homes use a septic system to handle waste water. However, in some states other options exist including composting toilets.

Average installation costs for a septic system is between $3,280 and $5,040. This cost covers a typical 3–4 person home system.

Reference: https://homeguide.com/costs/septic-tank-system-cost

Alternative Waste Systems

Composting toilets make a great alternative to septic systems. The “Humanure” composting system is quite simple, and only requires a simple supplies to get started. This is the cheapest system, and you can build your own for less than $20.

There are also a number of commercially available composting toilets on the market. For a review of these and details on getting started with Humanure, see this article —

Garden

Setting up a garden can be a major expense, but is yet to developing a level of self sufficiency.

The largest costs when starting a garden are —

  • Fencing
  • Raised Beds (optional)
  • Seeds
  • Soil Amendments
  • Trees and Berries

Hidden Cost 5 — Fencing

Garden fences need to be tall enough to prevent deer from entering need to be about 10’ tall. They also need to dug in to the ground to prevent digging critters from entering.

A typical garden fence at homestead scale costs around $5,000. Most homesteaders go for a tall wire fence of this kind.

There are also lower cost methods for prevent deer which I describe in this article —

Good quality fruit trees run about $60-$80/each. Berries - $15-$20/each. If you are buying seeds each year, then a large family garden would cost usually $100 – $200 per year.

After the first few years, more dedicated permaculturists might opt for seed saving or seed sharing programs where they produce their own seeds without the need to buy additional packets every year. Planting a self-seeding permaculture food forest is also a popular option.

Other costs

For those going all out on their gardens, other costs can include —

  • Chicken coops / tractors
  • Planting field crops on larger average
  • Electric fencing for livestock
  • Barns
  • Root Cellars
  • Smoke Houses
  • Sheds
  • Raised beds
  • Drip watering systems

Once again the sky is the limit here. I estimate a readily well equipped family size garden might with raised beds, drip watering, and a nice step for small livestock might cost around $12,000 if you are prepared to do most of the work yourself.

How expensive is living off the grid?

Moving off the grid can cost about $12,000 to $450,000 for common off grid living situations. Average monthly expenses run from $35 to $2,200. This accounts for housing, heating, water, and gardening expenses, that are unique to off grid living.