How Much Does It Actually Cost to Live Off the Grid?
Considering going off the grid?
If you’ve been dreaming of ditching the hustle and bustle of the urban jungle for the tranquility and self-sufficiency of an off-grid lifestyle, you’re not alone. The thought of waking up to fresh air and chirping birds instead of blaring horns and polluted fumes can be hard to resist.
While this lifestyle can seem like a no-brainer for many, is it affordable? How much does it cost to get started? We’ll break down the costs of taking your home off the grid to help you decide whether joining the “off-gridders” club is a good idea.
What Does It Mean to Live Off the Grid?
Living off the grid can mean different things to different people. For some, living off the grid means leading a lifestyle focused on sustainability, while for others, it could be more extreme. But generally, living off the grid means not depending on utility companies and instead relying on your own resources for energy.
Two examples: Getting water from a river or stream nearby instead of buying bottled water or installing solar panels to generate electricity instead of plugging into local power grids.
Costs to Consider Before Living Off the Grid
The cost of living off the grid can differ depending on various factors. However, Tory Jon, Founder of CamperFAQs and an outdoor expert specializing in camping and off-grid living, said people can expect to pay an average of $500 to $2,000 per month to live off the grid.
“With the lower end assuming you’re completely self-reliant for power and food, and the higher end being a little more state of the art and comfortable,” Jon said.
Here are some costs to consider when estimating your budget for off-grid living:
The precise cost of purchasing land will vary, but these are average land prices for different regions in the U.S. to get a better idea of how much you can expect to shell out:
- Connecticut: $13,700/acre
- Delaware: $9,800/acre
- Maine: $2,860/acre
- Maryland: $9,700/acre
- New York: $3,450/acre
- Michigan: $5,850/acre
- Kentucky: $4,350/acre
- Florida: $6,600/acre
- Arizona: $4,200/acre
- Colorado: $1,700/acre
- California: $12,000/acre
- Washington: $3,100/acre
- Texas: $2,650/acre
A common problem that many off-gridders encounter, Jon said, is how difficult it is to find cheap land for a single-family or a single person.
“The cheapest land tends to be sold in bulk since most landowners would rather develop the land into profitable acreages if they were parceling it off,” he said.
So, if you see an ad for land that’s priced per square mile, know that you can’t necessarily only buy the land you need.
“You can expect to pay around $5,000 per acre if you’re only looking for one to 10 acres in states with fertile land,” Jon said.
Desert property may be cheaper, but it’ll prove more challenging to turn into functional homesteads. While you’d get a ton of solar power, the lack of water, fertile land for growing food and lack of shelter from the sun to keep your home cool are all factors that could cancel out any savings.
Living off the grid doesn’t always mean living in a tent deep in the woods. Here are a few routes you can take when it comes to housing:
1. Build Your Own Home
Jon said you can expect to pay anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 to build your own home, which is typical for a tiny home kit. But, if you want to hire professionals to build your house, expect to pay double.
If you pay cash for your off-grid home-build, you won’t have to pay a mortgage. You will, however, still have to pay property taxes. Property taxes are calculated based on the value of the property — which includes both the land and the structures on it.
Tax rates vary depending on where you live but usually range from 0.5% to 2%.
2. Purchase an Already Off-Grid Property
If building your home from scratch sounds too overwhelming, consider shopping for an already-built off-grid property on online real estate marketplaces like Zillow or Realtor.com. Find a city where you’d like to live and type “off-grid” into the keyword search bar. Then, you’ll see a list of off-grid property options.
Usually, previously built off-grid homes don’t come with many bells or whistles, but you could redesign the interior or landscape so it feels like home.
3. Buy a Van or Camper
If you love to travel but also want to live more sustainably, living in a van or camper could be a great way to transition into the off-grid lifestyle. Depending on the size, brand and amenities, vans or campers can cost as little as $10,000 to upwards of $120,000.
Even if you choose the less expensive models, “you may have to consider the costs of installing amenities and systems like a septic tank, fridge, HVAC and cooking space that you can hook up to solar power,” Jon said.
You’ll also need to consider fuel costs if you plan on taking your camper into town to fill up the water and empty the septic tank.
It’s almost impossible to live without electricity nowadays. To access electricity while living off the grid, consider installing solar panels. After solar tax credits, the cost of installing a solar panel system on an average-size house in the U.S. can range anywhere from $11,000 to $14,000.
However, if you don’t plan on using much electricity, you can install a smaller system for a fraction of the average cost.
Danny Sattar, an experienced off-gridder, said he only spent $5,000 to set up a small off-grid solar system — less than 2kW — which was enough to power a few small appliances and recharge his phone.
There are several ways to access water while living off the grid, and here are a few options to consider:
1. Dig a Well
Digging a well is a great way to access water while living off the grid and is generally cost-effective in the long run. Depending on the type of well and the quality of your soil, hiring someone to do the work for you can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000.
2. Get Water From a Lake Or Spring:
Accessing water this way is typically free but may require some effort, depending on how far away these sources are located.
Also, be sure to check with local authorities before collecting any water in this manner. Some areas may have restrictions and require you to get a permit before collecting from natural resources like lakes and springs.
3. Collect Rainwater
Collecting rainwater is another way to get water without paying for it. You can use large barrels to collect rainwater, then filter it through a quality water purification and filtration system before using it for drinking or cooking purposes. Be aware of state restrictions on how much rainwater you can collect.
A fireplace or a wood stove is one of the most common ways to heat an off-grid home. Sattar also chose this method to stay warm while living off the grid.
“The cost of installing a wood stove ranges from $1,500 to $3,000, and the amount you’ll have to spend each month for wood depends on the size of the house you’re heating,” Sattar advised.
After adopting the off-grid lifestyle, it may be tempting to completely disconnect from the cyber world and immerse yourself in mother nature. But if you make your livelihood online, staying connected is quite necessary.
If you have cellphone coverage in your area, you can get an unlimited data plan and use your phone as a Wi-Fi source. Simply turn on your phone’s personal hotspot and connect your other devices — such as laptop and tablet — to it.
If you’re in the range of Viasat or HughesNet — two of the most popular satellite internet providers — you could stay connected for between $50 and $350 per month.
Alternatives to Taking Your Home Off Grid
Frankly, going off the grid can put a real hurt on your wallet.
“Though an off-grid lifestyle can be a cheap way to live once you pay all of your upfront expenses, the initial costs can be wildly expensive depending on the location and factors such as the materials to build your home, whether you need to set up a greenhouse for your food supplies, cost of water treatment, etc.,” Jon said.
That being said, there are other ways to live sustainably without investing a huge chunk of change upfront. Here are some ways you can incorporate off-grid living principles into your everyday life.
Reducing your environmental footprint doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to the comforts of modern life and go completely off the grid. If you notice that many of your rooms are sitting empty and under-utilized, consider downsizing and moving to a smaller house.
A smaller house means less money spent on electricity, heating, water and other bills. Plus, you won’t have to spend as much time cleaning since there’s less space in the house collecting dust.
2. Updating Your Appliances
You don’t have to move to the wilderness to start living greener. You can start adopting a sustainable lifestyle by updating your appliances with Energy Star or high efficiency appliances, which use less energy and water compared to their conventional counterparts. You should also consider replacing the halogen bulbs in your home with LED alternatives that are more energy-efficient.
3. Growing Your Own Food
Growing your own food is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Not only will you avoid consuming chemical pesticides, but you can also turn kitchen scraps into rich compost to help produce healthier soil.
If you’re just starting out, focus on growing only the foods you know you’ll eat. And if backyard gardening isn’t an option due to limited space, consider joining a local community garden.
Should You Live Off the Grid?
So, what’s the verdict? Should you disconnect from the urban jungle and transition to an off-grid lifestyle? Well, the decision is entirely up to you.
Living off the grid is a great way to get back in touch with nature, embrace sustainability and save money in the long run. Though an off-grid lifestyle typically demands an upfront investment, if your budget can handle it, you could reap many rewarding and long-term benefits.
Ultimately, we all have different needs, budgets, and lifestyle preferences — so take time to consider whether going off the grid fits into yours.
Jamela Adam is a personal finance writer covering topics such as savings, investing, mortgages, student loans, and more. Her work has appeared in Forbes Advisor, Chime, U.S. News & World Report, RateGenius and GOBankingRates, among other publications.