I have seen this question come up so many times and there is no absolute answer to it as there are so many variables to off grid. Let us start with what you think off-grid means and what do George and Martha think off-grid means. Off grid could be you just roaming the streets with an animal, let us say a sheep or goat or a cow. you use the animal to sustain yourself by utilizing its fur or hair to make shelter or clothing. You use the animals milk to drink or make cheese to sustain you or to use as a trade to get other things you may need well that would be the most basic off-grid scenario. There are lots of people who really do this all year long.
I know most of you do not want to do this and only want a nice cabin with minimal stuff away from hustle and bustle of the city or urban life. Lets really look at OFF GRID! So if you have nothing connected to a city line like Power, Gas, Sewer or Water you are off grid, but what if you have Power? or even a cell phone to use as a connection to your blog or website? So normally if you are connected to any of the above you are grid connected. So not really off-grid as what I think a homestead is, I see tons of people call their place a homestead and they have huge homes and giant shops with 100K in tools and welders, big pricey tractors with all the newfangled attachments. Sorry, that’s not a homestead to me, I imagine the settlers and their small cabins struggling to survive and find a way to keep their family fed. That’s a homestead to me and trying your best to come up with things to manage your life and stay off the grid.
When you are off-grid many things are a huge expense, for example, Propane, its price goes up and down more than Gasoline so you have to get a big tank so you don’t have to purchase it in the winter months when it’s expensive. That will cover heating and cooking. Wood is another expense and if it’s your only source of heat you want to be sure you have enough to last through the colder months. We use about 6 to 8 cords as we have a wood stove in the trailer and a cook stove outside as well as an open fireplace wood stove in an area that is open to the elements and not insulated. Wood that is cut and split around here is around 200 a cord for the good stuff and 150 a cord for mixed stuff but when it gets later in the winter the price can go up to 300 to 400 a cord. You can also get a wood permit or cut wood on your own property but be ready to let it sit about a year or longer for more wet woods like Birch. You can burn it but it does not put out the heat as well as seasoned wood.
Solar is another huge expense but its worth it and you pay for power up front. Buy yourself 2 to 4 really good solar panels, they run around 80 cents a watt and you want 250 to 305-watt panels 305 watts for 2 and lower watts for more panels. You will then need to find a few batteries, you can buy a bunch of RV batteries or spend double and get 6-volt golf cart batteries (you will need about 16 to get started) and wire them for 12 volt or 24-volt operations. we have 8, 12 volt RV batteries and try to buy 1 or 2 each month when I get my retirement check. Try to stay away from the used stuff as batteries go to shit fast if not maintained. The golf cart batteries work really great but they are 100 bucks each and you will need 2 for 12 volts and 4 for 24 volts so its a larger expense. You can also buy a huge battery specifically for solar or a Tesla battery if you can get one or build it but then you are in about 3500 to 8000 dollars just in batteries. Next is your inverter charger combo and I would get a grid-tied not that you will be on the grid but in the winter months when there is no sun to charge your batteries you can run a small generator connected to the grid-tied charger this one switches back and forth from your solar panels to your generator. you can even buy generators that run on propane that will start automatically when the battery voltage drops. Its a complex area and don’t skimp on cheap Chinese stuff. Read up on it I had to learn on my own as I didn’t have internet back then.
Food is a huge expense, you either raise all your own animals for meat or try to hunt for some but hunting is not all year long unless you want to eat wild rabbits and small birds. They don’t have much meat and there are not enough around to feed you and a family all year or even half the year. So then it boils down to visit your local market or store and buy your meat from them (very expensive) 3 to 20 dollars a pound depending on the cut of meat. You can also buy meat by the quarter, half or full carcass from a local farmer, lots cheaper about 3.10 a pound hanging for all cuts. You could also forage for fresh plants, mushrooms, and roots. There are tons but lots of work and lots of walking is involved on top of you better know what you are picking! You can also grow a veggie garden and I use fish and rabbit fertilizer it works really good and does not burn your plants roots. Rabbit is best as chicken must be composted to get rid of acids and alkalines. Horse and cow work well too but the flavor gets into your veggies if you use too much.
Okay so you try to raise animals to eat, Rabbits are your best bet once you learn how! trust me you are not going to toss a couple rabbits in a hutch and they breed like crazy (breeding like rabbits). It’s a lot harder than that. I have been trying to breed rabbits for a couple years and it is not working too well for us. But you cant get the meat for feed compared to any other animal.
Chickens are another great thing for your off-grid homestead, you can free range them but we find they get on or in everything and poop everywhere so we prefer a coop. We found out the year before last that they were eating all of our berries we wanted to try, Huckleberries, Oregon grapes, Wild Strawberries. we wondered why they were so fat.
You can get meat bird chickens (Cornish cross or one close) too but they are really slow and lazy, so put them in a long coop that is not so wide with water and food at each opposite ends so they have to walk back and forth to eat and drink. they don’t jump to well and make easy targets for dogs we learned this and lost two sets of birds to our LGD pups. We got some great heritage breed hens and lost them to the dogs over 2 years, they laid great. We have Red Stars and Rhode island reds and Sex Links, they are barely starting to lay eggs now. Chickens are great.
Let’s say a pig compared to a rabbit, the rabbit will eat small ounce portions as a pig will eat feed by the pound daily. So is it worth it? In the long run, you will get more meat for less feed in the rabbit. On top of that unless you are willing to kill the pig and butcher it as well as cut and wrap you will have to pay a butcher to do that. This is the same for most barn animals unless you can let them graze but they can only graze in the summer if you have enough land to do that. The winter months will require feed, hay and a warm shelter out of the elements and sun.
Okay now if you have factored in your food, cooking and heating now we get to just life. You will want to have a bath or a shower and some people prefer clean clothes once in a while. If you have no power or water how do you wash your clothes as well as your nether regions? Do you go jump in the nearest pond or river and soap you and your clothes or do you get a washing machine and run a generator and pump water to wash clothes? Your back to using lots of gas and lots of water, you won’t believe how much water is wasted washing clothes until your water is in a tote and you watch it slowly disappear while the machine is running.
I will tell you Water is a huge deal, we have a cistern that is fed by a natural spring and the water is wonderful. We have no pipe going up the hill to supply us so we pump water into a water tote and bring it up to our trailer and fill three other totes we have. We use those to do our laundry, take baths and water our garden and drink and cook with. The totes hold 335 gallons of water and even times three they don’t last long watering our garden and taking baths. So having a well with on-demand water is really a necessity. So I would recommend a well to start with and maybe a large holding tank in the cabin that will not freeze. I watched lots of youtube videos and all those scams do not work all of our totes froze even with salt water bottles and heat strips around the totes. You end up with a solid block of ice under 10 degrees, maybe if they were in a shelter it may be a different story. We had trouble with the valves and had to put our chicken heat lamp on it to get it thawed enough to get water out.
Sewer is another thing you will want and unless you make a compost toilet you will have gallons of waste you will need to get rid of. You can bury a small or large nonfood or food grade tote and put a 55-gallon barrel attached to it with 30 feet of that 5 inch black plastic pipe with the holes in it for your leach line, start at 7 inches at the tote outlet and drop to 3 feet by the end of your leach line. It will work great for a small family. Throw some lime or a bottle of yeast in the tote to get it going or just do nothing it will naturally decompose in the tank. Then you need someplace to do all this, in your backyard or on a few acres in the forest, find someplace nice with privacy and hurry those places are going fast. Watch out for easements too they will mess up your day.
So it all boils down to what you want to spend you can always live like a vegan and eat all the weeds in your garden? lol, not me I need my meat! The lord did say all the fish in the sea and plants fruit and vegetables were for man and woman why would you turn away his gift?