While the dream of living self-sufficiently is so seductive, if you are anything like me, you might wonder is it too good to be true? With so many people looking to make the move out of the city, I thought I would give newcomers a run of what, in my own off grid journey, it really costs to live off the grid.
Is it cheaper to live off grid? Living off grid can cost just as much or more than living on the grid, depending on your lifestyle. But, instead of monthly bills you spend more in upfront costs. However, living off grid gives you flexibility in lifestyle, which allows for much lower expenses than city living.
Living off the grid is certainly not free (as in free beer), and there are many costs that someone just getting started might not expect. So, here are my top 5 biggest hidden costs while living off the grid, and one bonus expense that most people miss.
If you plan on owning land off the grid, which gives you the most freedom to live the way you want, your biggest expense is very likely to be property taxes.
A lot of people miss this fact, and assume when their mortgage (if they are buying a house), or land payments cease that they will no longer have a monthly bill for their property. This is completely wrong.
How Much Do Property Taxes Cost for “Off Grid” Land
When you own any property at all, you are required to pay property taxes, usually either yearly or every six months, depending on laws in your state.
Property taxes are determined by:
- The assessed value of your land
- State and/or county tax rates
- County services provided in your area
The best way to estimate how much you would have to pay for land you own, or land you are looking to buy, is to look up the tax records on your county’s website directly. For directions on how to do this, check out my article below:
- How to Find County Tax Records (Finding Zoning Laws For Your Property) ### How to Save Money on Property Taxes
One huge benefit of living off the grid as that you have much more control over your housing situation.
In most areas, the biggest factor adding to the assessed value of your land, and thus the taxes you owe, is the buildings on it. Smaller, low cost buildings or non-permanent structures like yurts, can end up saving you a ton of money not only in construction costs, but in property taxes as well.
For ideas on low cost housing alternatives:
Solar Panel Aging
This one hits people really hard. For many of us off-gridders, we provide for you power needs with solar panels. Unfortunately, solar panels do not last forever.
Under typical usage, a solar panel will decrease it productivity by about 0.8% per year (according to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory), although some users report loosing as much as 3% or more on average per year. Generally, a loss of 15% – 20% of overall productivity is when a solar system is considered to have failed, and will need replacing.
How Much Solar Panels Cost to Replace
Working with nice round numbers, that means you will end up *8replacing your solar panels every 20 – 25 years or so.** A relatively small solar system being about $10,000 new, you would be looking at between $33 – $41 per month in order to eventually replace that systems.
Of course, many “full house replacement” systems can be $50,000 or more, so multiply those numbers by 5 if you plan on going that route.
Ways to Save Money on Solar
In order to increase the lifespan of your solar panels, be sure to avoid the biggest decaying factors —
- Avoid excessive snow load with proper panel tilt and placement
- Ensure you panels are installed to allow for passive cooling
Heat and snow load really damage your panels over time, and a lot of beginners get those parts way wrong. For more details on how to correctly install a solar panel for optimum life, check out my free in depth off grid solar guide:
Unless you plan on living as a hermit, and never going in to town, transportation can be a sizable expense for those of us living off the grid.
While anyone that owns a car will be familiar with the general costs invoked, here are a few factors that make living in the country more expensive than living in the city —
- Much longer drive, means vehicles need more frequent replacement
- Country and dirt roads / driveways tear up vehicles more quickly
- Less frequent trips to the store means you may need a larger, less-efficient vehicle
- In many areas, more expensive 4-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles are a must in winter driving conditions
- Getting emergency maintenance or a tow will be much more costly
- Those unexpected “quick runs to the store” for time sensitive parts or supplies never seem to go away, but cost much more living further out
If you haven’t factored increased transportation costs in your off grid planning or budget, then you absolutely need to make allowances.
I think many of us off gridders really enjoy the thought of piece and quiet in the country, and the chance to shed all the city stress and distractions for a serene off grid lifestyle. To this end, we don’t really consider how boring this can get.
Not that there isn’t a lot to do out in the country, but rather all this space that we open up in our lives ends up wanting to be filled by something.
If you are the type of person that free activities like meditation, manual labor, or bird watching scratches your itch for excitement, then no need to worry.
But, what I’ve found, is that people inevitably develop a wide range of interests, skills, sports, and hobbies which are both much more fulfilling and much more expensive than a Netflix subscription.
While you may not consider these costs to be absolutely essential, for me living off grid is primary about quality of life. And, while I could restrict myself to lower cost activities, and do at times, experiencing life to the fullest is a justified cost of living off the grid.
General Upkeep aka Home Depot Runs
The first this you will probably notice one you start building up your off grid homestead is just how often things need fixed up, repaired, or replaced.
As you increasingly become more self-sufficient and capable, you will end up needing to acquire a wide range of materials and tools to keep everything going.
These expenses are hard to quantify or plan for, but if my Home Depot and hardware store receipts are any indication, they can be a significant cost.
Bonus Hidden Expense — Drilling a Well
One huge expense that so many people don’t consider when they first go off grid is the initial cost of drilling a well.
Most ares require a dwellings without municipal water to have a professionally drilled deep water well. These do not come cheap, and there is no way to know exactly how much they will cost before you drill.
In my area, fully drilled wells can cost $10,000s of dollars. But much of the cost has to do with how deep you need to drill in your area to find water. This can actually vary from property to property in the same area, just because of natural variations in geology, clay, and rock formations underground.
The other big issue is that you may not hit water at all. If you get unlucky, you may have to drill several times to find water. And, unfortunately, dry wells cost just as much to drill as wet ones. Meaning you will end up doubling or tripling your drilling costs if that happens.
For more information on wells and alternative (and lower cost) off grid water systems, head over to the full article:
Can you live off the grid with no money?
Not easily. At the very least you will have to pay property taxes, or someone will. While work trade situations are possible, you will have to be extremely creative to sustain yourself without any cash flow at all.
Is living off the grid worth it?
Absolutely. The benefits in terms of freedom, quality of life, and connecting to nature are priceless and unavailable to those connected to the relentless city way of living. And, with proper execution, you can work less and spend less as well.