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What It’s Like Living Off-Grid

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In the summer of 1980, my wife, three-month old son and I moved “off-grid”. We loved living in San Francisco but wanted to live a simpler, more independent lifestyle…

By Greg Seaman Posted Jun 9, 2009

In the summer of 1980, my wife, three-month old son and I moved “off-grid”. We loved living in San Francisco but wanted to live a simpler, more independent lifestyle, and so we bought a small cabin with land on a rural island in the Pacific Northwest. Since there were no services to the island, our home had no electricity. Residents of the island had to create their own electricity or do without.

Now here I sit, almost 30 years later, with the kids grown and their rooms empty, and with some time to reflect on our experience living and raising a family off-grid. But before even considering the challenges and solutions in dealing with our energy needs over the years, one observation seems to leap out: how little things here have changed. We’ve done very little over the years to enhance our energy needs, aside from installing two solar panels last year to power the computer I’m using to write this article. (Alongside my computer on the table here is a kerosene lamp, and a candle for added light.) This lack of change is testament to the feasibility of off-grid living, and my vision for the upcoming years is to keep things pretty much the way they are.

But keeping it simple hasn’t always been simple. We had to learn alternate methods of preserving food, how to build things without power tools, how to cook on a wood stove, how to clean diapers without a washing machine, entertain ourselves without TV, and accept that many common tasks can take longer and be more difficult without electricity. Here are the main challenges we encountered in living off-grid, and how we managed with them.

Lighting

The biggest difficulty we had living off-grid was, and continues to be, lighting. Our home has two small propane lamps over the cooking areas, but we use them sparingly because we have to pack in the propane tanks, and propane is expensive. Our general room lighting is by kerosene lamps, which give off marginal quality light and fumes if the wicks are not carefully trimmed. We also used candles, and are lucky we didn’t burn our place down. We arranged the furniture to make best use of available natural light from the windows. Over time, we adapted our habits to the natural light patterns in nature, e.g. you don’t stay up till midnight reading a novel.

We tried solar power for lights but found that when we need light the most, in winter, there was the least amount of solar energy available. The development of LED bulbs is promising, however, because they require much less energy. Today, we use little ‘clip-on’ book lights with small LED bulbs which are powered by rechargeable AA batteries. These are very efficient and have made things easier and safer for reading and for small task lighting. Our son Ben is installing indoor fixtures for LED area lights which we’ll be testing this winter. We also use LED headlamps when going outdoors at night.

Refrigeration

I remember being at the dock with my wife one hot summer day and seeing a tourist sipping a drink on the deck of his yacht. My wife looked at the drink and said “Looks good!” The tourist said “Well, come aboard and I’ll fix you a drink.” “Oh” my wife said, “I was referring to the ice cubes, not the booze!”. He then proceeded to his on-board ice-maker and gave us a sack of ice. As we hurriedly rowed home before it melted, we thought it curious that his boat had more modern amenities than our home.

Life without ice, or refrigeration, takes some getting used to. No ice cream in summer, no cold beer, no easy way of dealing with food leftovers. But this is only in summer; the rest of the year we have our pantry which keeps things cool and preserved long enough for our needs. Most of the food we eat is fresh from the garden or the sea, or preserved in jars in the pantry. A few years ago I bought a half-sized used RV refrigerator which runs on propane. We use this in the hottest weeks of summer or when guests arrive; a 20-lb propane tank keeps it running for about 3 weeks. But I don’t like running this appliance with its little pilot light flame so close to our cedar house. Ideally, we would use a solar powered refrigerator, but they are very expensive.

Washing Clothes

The only way I could get my wife to participate in an off-grid lifestyle was to help her with the menial tasks which modern appliances were designed to handle. So I enthusiastically set up a cast iron bathtub out in the garden with a fire underneath, propped up an old-fashioned washboard, and started washing the baby diapers by hand. After a few sessions of this I gave up. You don`t need the details – it was too much work and they didn`t get clean enough. (Our neighbours would dye their diapers yellow to make them look a little better.) After trying a few other ideas, we settled on taking our dirty clothes to the Laundromat each time we would go off-island to the nearest town. This worked well, and was a great chance to socialize with other islanders who were doing the same thing. However, it meant we had to own more clothes, and buy more diapers, since it could be as long as a month between trips to town. Today there are very efficient mini-washers which require very little energy to run, and this is a solution for some people who live off-grid.

Cooking

To our constant delight, cooking ‘off-grid’ seems to deliver the best tasting meals with relatively little work. We use an old-fashioned wood cookstove which is as easy to use as a modern gas or electric range. And besides providing an ideal cooking surface and oven, the stove also provides us with hot water via the water jacket in the firebox. The cookstove is an Elmira Oval, and it reaches 350 degrees within 20 minutes.

Our home also has a wood heater, and in winter we use this for cooking. It has a large flat top which can hold 4 or 5 saucepans. We’ve become adept at cooking on this heater, thereby saving the firewood needed for the cookstove.

For quick hot meals, or a cup of tea before the stove heats up, we have a small two-burner propane stove similar to those used for camping. We use this in the summer during fire season.

Food seems to be center of life here, and when the cook is at work there is a tangible reverence in the air. Our cookstove is at the heart of our family life – we love to hear the crackling fire and whiff the scents from the oven curling through the room. And is there any smell more wonderful than fresh baked bread?

We realize that cooking with wood is not ideal from an environmental perspective, and we look for ways to be more efficient when using the cookstove. We may prepare several meals at once, we almost always eat together, and we use only well-seasoned wood. We’ve also learned to be patient in off-grid cooking – water doesn’t boil as fast in winter.

Building

Before we moved to our island home, an old man gave me his collection of antique hand tools, which have since been put to good use. Learning to use hand tools was fundamental to getting anything built or fixed, since we did not have a generator to run power tools. Fortunately I had the benefit of learning from an old-timer in the community who was skilled in woodworking using only simple, common hand tools. Through his example, one could see that many carpentry jobs could actually be done as fast or faster than by using power tools – as well as safer, quieter, cheaper and more satisfying. But this was not the case with all jobs. If a long board needed to be perfectly ripped or planed, I would carry it to a neighbor who lived about a mile away with a fully powered workshop.

An invaluable tool for building has been the chainsaw. Besides being essential for cutting firewood, the chainsaw is very handy for many carpentry/building tasks. All the beams and timbers used in rebuilding and adding on to our house were cut with a chainsaw. Also, there are building methods which we used, such as post and beam construction, which lend themselves more to chainsaw/hand tool methods.

There have been some downsides to being limited to hand tools. While some tasks are done quickly using hand tools, most projects do take longer without power tools, and the finished work is not as perfect. I’ve been building my 1200 sq ft home for 29 years and it’s still not done.

Entertainment

Living without the TV, movies and video games while raising children was not a problem. We had board games, crafts, musical instruments, books and all sorts of natural learning materials. Every night my wife would read a book out loud for an hour. Playing together in the evenings was special family time, and the kids never asked for TV.

After we had been living off-grid for seven or eight years, my father-in-law brought us a small black/white TV with a 12v battery. It felt like an intrusion at first, but the only channel we could get showed reruns of Sesame Street, which we found entertaining and instructive for our younger child. This didn’t last long however, since taking the battery to the store for recharging became too tedious. Eventually we broke down and bought a small Honda 350 generator, about the size of a toaster, but it didn’t run right. So we had it repaired and it worked a few more times then quit again for good. In retrospect, we went to a lot of work and expense, and waste, for a few Sesame Street shows.

It seems to follow that when children create their own games and play, they’re more likely to use their own imagination and develop independent thinking skills later in life. Being able to raise children with our own values, and without the distraction of electronic entertainment, was one of the main reasons we wanted to live off-grid.

In conclusion

Our experience living off-grid is neither unique nor stereotypical. Although our community has no electric service, different homes have different degrees of self-generated electricity. Some people have wind generators, others have solar arrays or micro-hydro runs on small streams that provide their power needs. Some residents have big TVs, washing machines, freezers, power tools and all the amenities. With recent advances in efficient appliances and technologies, “off-grid” living can be the same as living anywhere else. But for our family, we felt there was more to be learned by building things by hand, creating our own family culture, and trying to live a little more at the pace of nature. By keeping things simple, we had to rely on each other more to put food on the table and to get things done, and this helped empower the children. As young adults today, I see they are resourceful, independent and confident.

So if you are thinking of living off-grid, I suggest you start simple, and gradually ‘power up’ if needs increase. And as you evaluate future electric needs, keep in mind what you may be losing as well.

After all these years, our home is still not finished, but every board has a story to tell.

 

Greg Seaman, the founder and editor of Eartheasy.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

    You're right Phil, there are some downsides. No ice cream in summer!
    Seriously though, if we were living close to people who had electricity and all that goes with it, we might feel like we were missing out on things. But being in a remote location makes it easier.
    Many of our chores take longer and are harder to do without power. But we are in good shape as a result and we enjoy the simple things.

  • jeremy

    my congratulations from palma de mallorca spain,

  • Willa Grant

    Thank you for your article- I am planning to retire “Off grid” & I am trying to be realistic about what that will be like. I really liked the kerosene lamp & the computer picture!
    Regards

    • Rancher Dawn

      All I can say is "BRING MONEY". The start up to "live -off-grid" is not cheep. The gadgits that are needed to "log" are numerous. Just for starters a good wood cook stove can run almost 3K when it is all said and done. A James Washer is $600. Don't forget the the extra lamp oil and wicks………… it is never ending.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

        You're right about the cost of a wood cookstove. But many people in our community use old woodstoves they have refurbished themselves.
        The first five or six years we lived off-grid, we managed to get by for under $4000 per year. But even raising $4000 was a lot of work!
        However, I would say the costs of living off grid are considerably lower than living in town.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

    Dawn, I agree entirely. Living off-grid is a lot of work, but living in a beautiful natural environment is the payback. Some days are tougher than others but there's never been a day when I regretted this lifestyle.
    Living without electricity was not that much of a problem (but my wife might not agree). Lighting was the main challenge but now we have efficient LEDs that run off our solar panels.
    Have you seen the show Victorian Farm? It shows how they managed a big spread like yours, and yes they had oxen with yoke borrowed from a neighboring farm. In our community, a friend had a Jersey cow which produced so much milk that it paid off the cow. And all the free cowpies make the best fertilizer. And the grass gets a free cut. Still. it's a lot of work to milk a cow every morning.
    I have to go fix the fence – it's cold and dark but has to be done now. There's a perfect example fo the lifestyle!

    • Rancher Dawn

      Greg, Yes to all the above. It is a beautiful to drive up our River Road here on the Oregon Coast, inside a National Forrest, I wouldn't trade it for any thing yet, it is not for everyone. We lived in Alaska for 10 years which sort of got me ready for farm living. I am not a "country girl" to say the least. I have had to learn how to live "off the grid" and now, like Eddie Albert (Green Acres), I wouldn't go back for a million bucks. Had to learn how to can, garden, run the sawn mill and drive a tractor but it can all be done. I am living proof.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

        We have a lot in common Dawn!
        When my wife and I made the move to 'off-grid' we thought we were prepared. Looking back on it now I realize how little we knew. We made every mistake in the book and have a lot of funny stories to tell. But , like you, learning to garden, fix things, build our home and boats, store food and such have given us a real sense of security and empowerment.

  • tammy

    I really admire what yall do . it is amazing to hear your stories. I thought I was more or less ready to go off grid but now i know im not. ive lived for 10 years with electricity, ac, heat , everything. but ive kept my costs low with two boys and a husband, we manage to live on $6,000 a year. I traded a car for an old trailer house and used free wood crates to fix it up. me and my neighbor grow a garden that feeds 7 on a daily basis. I just wanted to wish congrats to all who have made the jump and survived. lol

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      Thanks Tammy. I hope this article has not discouraged you from trying an off-grid lifestyle. I feel this lifestyle has contributed greatly to our family's sense of security and well-being. The off-grid life is not for everyone, but you sound like the type that adopts well to thrifty, independent living. I also have two sons, and living off-grid, I think, has been very good for them. Even as young children they felt empowered with a sense of purpose every day, because we need each other to make it work.

  • Rancher Dawn

    Hi Greg and everyone who has a mind to "OG",
    Our latest project went smoothly. We finally got in our "Bakers Choice", wood stove. The Amish are the BEST at making high quality, functional "OG" products. Am wondering do you know of anyone here in the Pacific Northwest who makes washer/wringer machines that are powered by hand-crank? I do have a Wonderwasher but it is small, as you might know. I would be interested in something that could really take some volume. Also, Greg, have you heard about the SOLAR GENERATOR. if so, do you have a certain company that you might suggest to us. If gas were ever to dry-up or get so expensive that we cannot afford it we might all be happy to own a solar-gen.
    Thanks for your on going help.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      Hi Dawn,
      I agree with you about the quality of Amish products – your Baker's Choice will last a lifetime. And isn't it pleasant to experience real quality in a product that is designed to last!
      As regards the washing machine, we like the Wonderwasher, and have a number of friends who use this for washing clothes. Yes, it is small, which is why it is so efficient. I do not know of any local suppliers of hand-crank washers, sorry. We've been through the wringer (sorry, couldn't resist the pun)with the logistics of washing clothes, and found that larger machines require too much power. In the end, we opted to send our laundry to a laundromat. The cost is low, and the only thing is we need more clothing to accommodate the delay when sending out the wash.
      The 'solar generator' is just a solar panel, charge controller, and a battery with an inverter in a compact unit. We use the same system but bought the components separately. I prefer this because the cost is lower and the system is easy to expand if we want more power in the future.

      • Rancher Dawn

        Greg, Nice to hear back from you. Can you elaborate a little on the solar set-up that you have to run your gen-set. Do you use a "regular" gen, gas type? How did you make the hook up? I would like to know more about how you did this. We really need to be thinking about what life might be if gas goes up to 6-10 bucks a gallon. We would really appreicate your help.
        Well, I guess WonderWasher it will be until I can find a crank-wringer. Amish is the way to go!

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

          Hi Dawn,
          Our alternate (solar) power setup is independent of a gas generator. The system is very basic: one solar panel which leads to a small charge controller and through to a battery bank. We have two deep cycle batteries. An inverter is connected to the batteries which converts DC to AC, allowing us to power a few AC items such as my computer, a few LED lights, and a small battery charger which recharges the battery for a handheld drill/screwdriver. Our refrigerator runs on DC, so it is also connected to the batteries (bypassing the inverter). There is almost zero maintenance, except to ensure the batteries have enough water every few months.
          We also have a small 750 watt gas generator which is my backup in case the batteries get low and there is no solar power. In these cases, not often, I run the generator to a battery charger which keeps the battery bank topped up. I would estimate that we use less than a gallon of gas per month on average (more in winter, less in summer).

  • Danielle M

    Thanks for ths inspiration! Living on a homestead off-grid has been a dream of mine and your example shows it is possible. I would like to learn more about your experience raising children in this environment, since I plan to have a family. Any ideas would be welcome, thanks.

  • Nanna

    Hello! living "off the grid" sounds like a typical everyday lifestyle of some Native Americans in rural areas. I know this because my grandmother is one of them. Just a few weeks ago electricity finally reached her house. The cool thing is she still uses her oil lamps:)
    I have spent most of my summers and school breaks, helping her haul water, tend to the animals, pick wild herbs and some veggies and loved it! We would go into town once a week and get blocked ice which lasted a week. She had a shade-house where she kept a regular-sized ice chest, huge water barrels, a bread box, and hung her salted meat.
    I read your problem having no fridge. .. i may have a solution for you… A house that I had the chance to visit had a fridge, but it wasn't your traditional fridge.. this fridge was built into the house! on the coldest side of course. It was like a pantry, but only difference is it had two holes in it from the outside. One on the top the other at the bottom. The cool air comes in at the bottom and the hot air goes out the top.. It worked pretty well for this individual and it might work for you.:)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      Thanks Nanna,
      The pantry at your grandmother's place sounds similar to what we have used – a 8' x 8' cool room attached to the north side of the house with screened openings for ventilation. This provides the basic refrigeration we need for most of the year. However, we cannot freeze things or keep fresh milk cold enough for safe drinking in summer. It has worked for us for 30 years, but needs rebuilding this summer. The cedar shake roof is rotting in spots, and mice have found their way in.
      We do have problems with freezing in winter, which can ruin our storerd fruit. During a cold snap we have to pull the boxes inside which is a lot of work. Our new cool room will be better insulated so that during cold snaps we can leave a kerosene lamp on in the cool room to maintain a minimal temperature to prevent freezing.
      Since this article was written, we have purchased a DC powered refrigerator which we run with solar power. The unit is very efficient and uses less power than a 60 watt lightbulb. Now we can keep garden produce fresh longer, and the large chest-style unit is mouse proof, another bonus!

  • memy

    Its easy to make bucket loads of ice any time. It requires and 5 gallon bucket, small oxygen cylinder, 10 pound propane tank, some pipe, a needle valve, a ball valve, some water, some ammonia. Pipe the two bottles together with the ball valve inserted and a bypass pipe for the needle valve. Fill the larger propane tank with water then add ammonia to fill the oxygen bottle (all valves closed). Now palce oxygen bottle into bucket filled with water and "crack" the needle valve open. As the ammonia hits the water it will be absorbed and as it evaporates from the small tank it will freeze the water solid. Some times you can get two bucket loads of ice per run. Break the ice off the cylinder…. Now to regenerate the ammonia, place the larger tank into a bed of coals, and the smaller tank back in a bucket of water. Open the ball valve, close the needle valve. The heat will drive off the ammonia back to the smaller tank. Once the larger tank is 200 degrees F stop before you steam the water out into the other bottle, close the ball valve and let it all cool; you are ready for the next days ice making.

    • Jim

      Very interesting!!! Do you by chance have any pics of your setup?? Thanks in advance for your time.

      Jim

  • DanD

    So, how exactly do you get your food? Do you garden it or hunt and fish in the wild?

    From what I understand it take 4000 square feet of garden per person to grow enough food using intensive organic gardening.

    As to the food storage, seems like canning is to much to do and using the old lacto-fermentation methods to store food would be easier.do.

    Last question, what do you to make money? How much does it take? What products do you have to buy? Ok, so last few questions.. So many more.. as we are moving towards off grid using 16000 square feet of garden, producer gas from home-made charcoal to run a engine to pump water and generate power for tools, humanure composting ect ect ect.. Would love to talk to you..

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      Hi Dan,
      For food, yes, we garden, hunt, fish. We used to keep chickens, both egg birds and meat birds. We have access to clams and oysters. We also go to town and buy things to augment our diet.
      For the garden, 4000 square feet sound about right. I would suggest you keep the garden small-ish and expand as you need.
      We found canning not too difficult, but I can't speak for my wife who did most of the work.
      Money? At first I did odd jobs like fencing, carpentry, whatever. Then I got together with a firend who had a generator and shop, and we started a wood working business. I stayed with this for 20 years ..a very modest income but enough to make ends meet.
      Today, this website provides a living for me and my family.
      If you have questions, email me at greg@eartheasy.com

  • Andrew Sullivan

    That's Just so Beautiful,. Very good pictures & Amazing post.

  • guest

    I built a house and I put in 12 volt lighting with warm white LED bulbs. The bulbs with 72 leds are good for indoor use.

  • Greg Seaman

    My experience living off grid taught me that keeping things simple can lead to a better life while also reducing my family's impact on the environment and its limited resources. I wasn't trying to suggest that everyone move off grid. I appreciate your comment because you seem to understand this. People who live in cities can benefit from living more simply and efficiently, connecting with nature where possible, and feeling they are part of the solution to the environmental challenges we face.
    I have had requests to write a book about our family's experience, and perhaps my wife and I can take this on in the near future. We have lots of stories to share. But the reason I don't put more of this type of content on the site is my concern that readers will feel the site does not relate to their urban or suburban lifestyles.

  • Jimmy51a

    Wow what a scene, simply amazing.I would love to have a house at a place like that.

  • Cori Ruthstrom

    what a wonderful article, greg, thank you for sharing! we are currently in ohio and planning to go off-grid in the southwest as soon as we decide on the land. we are very excited and have looked into everything from tents to earthships and everything in-between! lol :) i was wondering if you home-schooled your children? i would like to do this for mine and would appreciate any advice you might have!

    again, thank you for your brilliant post! this one totally speaks to me.

    • Greg Seaman

      Hi Cori,
      Our community has a small school with only 2 – 3 classrooms, so we couldn't expect the teacher to cover all the material needed to keep a kid on par with town school students. As parents, we wanted our kids to have the option of going to university if they wanted. To do this, we had to identify what they were missing and teach them ourselves. So we did part small school and part home school.
      I see kids entirely home schooled and they seem to do fine. We sent our kids to the small community school because of the social aspect. Our home is off the beaten track, so very few other kids would drop by. The school provided a valued social outlet for the kids.
      If you have any questions feel free to email me at greg@eartheasy.com I wish you all the best in your new adventure.

  • Curious

    Thanks so much for this article. Living off grid is a dream of mine and while I haven't fully started realizing it yet, reading inspirational articles like these helps. One question I have though, is do people who live off-grid still hold down regular everyday jobs? Originally when I imagined living off grid, I imagined a very rural, remote setting where the practitioners did not hold down regular jobs but instead survived completely on their own, or bartered with other off-grid locals, etc. Now I realize I could be completely wrong. What about taxes? Medical bills? Do you still go into an office every day?

    • Greg Seaman

      Well, there's a range of lifestyles. Some people have jobs (the postmaster, the road maintenance guy, a couple teachers,….). Most people seem to do a hodgepodge of things like growing their own food, fishing, hunting, doing temporary jobs, some go off of a few months to do jobs then come back for the rest of the year. There's bartering and sharing, even a free store. And some people live pretty much in the bush off the land as best they can. It's a mixed bag.

  • Quentin

    Super !

  • arghya narendra

    GREAT. I am indonesian, and in my country even in my village, people have forgotten about nature wisdom and being green. in my country people in general praise technology. and from your article, I can understand new way of thinking and give me new prespective about what live about. thankyou…. it is very usefull

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks Arghya. In the words of the singer Joni Mitchell, "You don't know whayt you've got till it's gone…."

  • Kevin

    are there any resources out there on how to learn carpentry by hand or where to find usable old carpentry tools?

    • Greg Seaman

      The best place to find old hand tools is flea markets. The skills are best learned by practice.

  • Jon

    Has your son ever "resented" you for growing up this way? we have two kids (6&8), we canceled cable T.V about a year ago, so far no complaints because there is still the internet. I have found that we are spending less time recently watching junk on the internet, nothing seems to be of much interest anymore. We live right outside Was D.C( in a upscale neighborhood), we have two chickens, a duck, and some fruit and vegies growing. So like I stated at the begining, did you son ever "hate" the way you raised him, feeling like he missed out on "normal life" At the moment this is the fear i have for my kids, I would love to live Off the grid as much as possible, but not at the cost of having my kids hate me.

    • Greg Seaman

      This is an interesting question. My kids were born in an offgrid setting so it's home to them, and they love it. As adults today, they get along fine in the city, but will move back to the country before long to settle down,
      Your situation is different. I think that younger kids need their parents attention, teaching, and guidance as much as possible, and an off grid lifestyle can bring this. Your kids will need to maintain some technology so they can interact with anyone their age, but they may find themselves empowered and enriched by learning to live independently. They may enjoy spending more time with you and learning from you. Give them adventures they can't experience in their old home town. I think that with your guidance, they may come to love the change.

      • Ben 'The Son' Seaman

        I loved it! Plus the skills I learned are unique among my friends. When we go hiking/camping/fishing etc I am completely comfortable and capable with all aspects of it, whereas many of my friends are not. Living off grid definitely instills confidence in your abilities. But my dad did a great job of letting us learn on our own, and teaching us in a way that lets us develop our skills.

    • Debra

      When my children were young and the 6 o’clock news was getting too graphic with heinous crimes being described we decided to disconnect from cable TV to protect our home from allowing that trash into it and have lived over twenty years without it. My six children never missed it. They are all grown now and have so appreciated the environment we created for them and realize how much better adapted they are to adult life. We also taught them to work around the house ans so they stand above their peers in work ethic. Today they thank me for how we’ve raised them.

      • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

        Your brief comment says it all. Thank you.
        I share your sentiment entirely, and one of the main reasons we moved off grid was so we could raise children without the barrage of information typical in modern living.

  • Tina

    Thanks for your post Greg. I think the key here is living a simple life style. Many people these days are looking to get back to basics.
    You and your family are an inspiration!

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks Tina. I agree about keeping it simple.

  • Caroline

    I love your website and your helpful articles. My boyfriend and a couple of friends of ours have decided to buy a piece of land and set up our own sustainable lifestyle in the South of Spain, because we believe it's the best way to live. Your articles are very encouraging and make me look forward more to our future adventure :)

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks Caroline!
      It would be interesting to hear your observations as you explore your new lifestyle. Maybe you will send us an article from time and time and we can post it to this blog.
      I wish you well and hope you enjoy the lifestyle as my family and I have.
      Greg

  • Helen

    You know, I was just looking for a natural remedy for apple tree fungus problems, and after a lot of interesting trawling through relevant info, found your site and oh my goodness, how heart-warming and exciting it is. I'm the (increasingly elderly) mother of 3 young adults, living in suburban cheek-by-jowl land-of-the-bland territory on the Gold Coast in Australia. My younger son is a keen and increasingly adept organic gardener, heavily into permaculture, sustainable solutions of all sorts, and intends eventually to establish exactly the kind of lifestyle you describe. What's great is that you've actually done it, thus proving it's possible, and that really there is pretty much no excuse not to give it a go, specially if you're young. Your children are so blessed to have had the luxury of a real childhood untrammelled by status anxiety and all the superficial narcissism that characterises our times. It seems to have worked: you've produced young people who clearly have a strong and positive sense of self, gosh what an amazing gift to give them. Beats the hell out of $500 running shoes or a stupidly expensive car or whatever.
    Sorry this was so long, I didn't have time to make it shorter. *grins*
    You guys have a truly impressed and respectful new fan. love, Helen

    • Greg Seaman

      Helen, thank you for your comments. I read them out loud to my wife sitting nearby, and she says hello and thank you as well.
      Your son has every reason to succeed in his lifestyle adventure, especially with his affinity for gardening. Young people of a certain age do need a lot of socializing, but when they're ready to settle down maybe with a partner or group of friends, then I think a simpler, more self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle is ideal. And as you noted, it is a wonderful lifestyle in which to raise a child.
      It bears reminding that this lifestyle takes a lot of work, especially compared to living in town and working a job. But the work is of direct benefit, it is creative and satisfying, and it keeps you in sound mind and fit body.
      I hope your son takes the plunge when he ready!
      Warm regards, Greg

  • Willowarchway

    We were just trawling through some sites when we came across yours and thought 'wow' someone else is living how we do! We built a wooden cabin with wind and solar for our power.It's only a small system, but it does us.We also use oil lanterns for lighting and we wash our clothes in the bath! Actually they come out cleaner! We started our building project 5 years ago and started to write a blog about 3 weeks ago in the hope that it might help people see that it is all possible(with alot if hard work!!) LJ

  • Emily

    I’m a young wife and mother of a 7 month old boy. I’ve been becoming increasingly more interested in living off the grid, and have started to research it when i can across your wonderful site, i have already learned so much from Eartheasy! I was wondering what else your family lived without while living off the grid, just electricity? what about indoor plumbing, health insurance, a car?  

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      Hi Emily,
      Our wood cook stove has a water jacket in the firebox, so when the stove is on the hot water tank fills up. We have a very simple 1/2″ copper plumbing system that leads from the water tank to a shower, a sink and the the kitchen sink. I drain the system during a freeze.Our approach towards health care is to stay healthy. Living in a natural environment and being very (very!) active has enabled us to stay healthy. We had a great book Taking Care of Your Child which enabled us to diagnose and treat most childhood illnesses. That book saved us much anxiety, it is worth its weight in gold.Our place is water access, so we come and go by boat. Most of the time we use a dory and row to where we need to go. Our home has no road to it. I could have put in a road but I don’t want to disturb the natural beauty and don’t want to contribute to fossil fuel use any more than necessary. If we have to go further than we can walk or bike, then someone on the road will give us a ride. People are very helpful and I think they appreciate those who try to live without a car.Greg

  • Singlefin70

    i have just started living off grid myself in the uk,its the best thing ive ever done,i love reading about others,i dont miss anything at all ,im just a bout to start my own blog when im back from my vacation,thanks for your blog..

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Clever idea, I like it.
    We have since bought a DC refrigerator that runs on solar. It is a full size chest model and only draws 40 watts, so we can run it on a single panel and a couple batteries.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Good luck with that. I hope you get the chance to return to the simple life you so appreciate.

  • Laura

    We use pin lights and we have lights all year long. We bought deep cycle marine batteries and we take them in and out for charging with solar. We have a inverter that powers the pin lights. We run a radio on it and a charge our drill battery on it. You have to figure what you use before you run it till the thing beeps and says “I am almost empty!!”  We charge the batteries with a few solar panels 30 Watt and our 64 Watt (one hooked to each. We have 4 batteries so we can have two charged and two getting  charged. The pin lights will last a week if we just used them for lights. Our place isn’t totally built yet, so the battery sits on a stool and the pin lights are strung like Christmas lights in areas we use the most. We use a 13 Watt compact florescent sometime a few at a time. I like the light to read by. I hope this gives you some new idea. 

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Many of the luxuries we North Americans strive for take the best years of our lives to achieve, and in the balance they are simply not worth it.
    The benefits of off-grid living can be enjoyed anywhere. It just takes a commitment to live more simply and look to ways of becoming more self-sufficient.
    Thank you for your interesting comment.

    • Phoenix

      Time lost to what matters…working for things that are meaningless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KP330 Jeremy Hood-Daniel

    Your essay on sustainable off-grid living was fun reading. My wife and I lived for about 4 years beside the sea about 3 miles away from the electric lines, when we were first married and, as for you, washing and refrigerator was a problem, until we got a -hand propane fridge and used the gas for cooking as well. We had a 12v wind turbine for lights and radio (cb) for communications, and we had a small boat and outboard so we could get fish from our pots, until we watched someone steal the pots in weather too rough for us to put out in. Currently our house in the town we live in has a 1kw turbine and 1800watts of solar panels, so we dont get the power cuts that bother everyone else. Our farm up on the mountain will eventually have a solar/wind hybrid system as well. Cheers
    Misty Mountain Herbs

  • colgateCarmelita Visagio

    This might sound dumb, but how do people living off the grid buy things and have $$ to use for the rest of their lives? Do you all work or just saved a bunch before you decided to live like this?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      That is indeed the challenge! There are some folks who work and save a bundle before moving off-grid, but this is not the common profile. People often do a variety of things to earn money rather than having a single job. Service jobs (firewood, repairs, carpentry, child care, etc.), crafts which can be sold to visitors or at craft markets, selling garden and farm products ….Some people like myself have online businesses. In the past I was in a small woodworking business. There is a culture of thrift – little is wasted, people share and pass on things so there is less need to buy, we try to enjoy the gifts of a clean natural environment in lieu of the enjoyments of town which cost more money. We try to live well with less and I think people are proud of making ends meet without too much waste or impact on the environment.

      • colgateCarmelita Visagio

        That is great, thanks for the reply. Wasn’t sure how people actually started this way of life. Sounds challenging but also rewarding!

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    You and your wife sound like good candidates for the off-grid lifestyle. And I agree wholeheartedly that you should start small. (and then try to stay small).

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Very interesting comment and questions.
    My intention in moving to a simpler life was to raise a family in a natural environment, be able to spend time with my kids, and try to live with a minimal environmental footprint. But it was important to also give the children the freedom to choose any lifestyle that appealed to them. We wanted them to have a good educaation and all the options that offers for future life choices.
    Today our children are grown and living in town where they have an office and employees to run this business. But they aspire to simpler lifestyles in nature, as they were brought up, once they have the financial coundation they feel they need.
    It is common for young adults to leave our community to explore the many interests in town. Some return to a simple life once they find a mate and are ready to settle down, others go on to a different lifestyle.
    Our sons were visiting recenty with several of their friends from town. It was interesting to hear their friends express interest in finding similar lifestyles for themselves as they see in our off-grid community.

  • melloe

    Thanks! I suspect some of the electricity related problems you have found modern technology is solving to some extent. I have one question about the schooling of your children, which I did not see any comment on.

  • sandra

    would like to know how much money do you need to start fresh? If all you have is land and nothing else. How much does it cost to build your own log house? How much does it cost to put in a solar system? What all do you need to start fresh?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      If you know where you want to settle, ask some locals about the availability of local materials for building. We started out with just $3000 in savings and used natural materials, recycled materials from houses that were being demolished, and we lowered our standards to suit our situation, knowing it would take longer than most people to get a decent home built.

  • Megan

    My husband and I want to do the exact same thing… we want to move to an island as well… what island did you move to?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      It is our policy to not mention the name of our island out of respect for other islanders who value their privacy. You can email me at greg@eartheasy.com and I will be happy to share more information through private email.

  • Tim norton

    Brilliant greg, thanks for the site, and this post in particular, it’s the real details that count in helping us all actually see the change playing out.

    I’ve experimented with living in a campervan for several months this year with my girlfriend, parking next to beaches and rivers and waking up to birds, running and swimming to start the day. It’s been a good intro and I’m now converting a van to a campervan as a mobile base before finding some land to stat growing food on and building a living community with others.

    I’ve been intrigued for years an and just sorted building a geodesic dome as a home and greenhouse as it’s the strongest structure that uses the least building materials and mimics natures spherical origins, we’ve used free and fast growing bamboo for the structure for this 1st one, there’s only so much one man and family can do, but wondering, have you looked into domes?

    I’m from New Zealand, and tour site was linked to by an official smarter homes website here, which is great to see.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      Hi Tim, Thanks for your comments.
      Yes, we have seen a number of domes go up all about 30 years ago when there was an influx of young people with new ideas and lots of energy. I think one is still standing. In our wet climate they succombed to leaks, since there were so many facets and seams in the construction. But in a dry climate, domes are great. Very strong and a nice shape to the interior. (I live in an octagon – sort of dome-like.) Good luck and send us a post to show your progress.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Humbled by your comments Tim.
    My son Aran was in Indonesia last year in part because he entered a Tuk Tuk cross country race (not a good idea) and to give away LifeStraws in Panang (a good idea) where there was a flooding disaster. He was impressed with the friendship and sense of sharing everywhere he went. Makes you wonder what all our wealth has really brought us.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

    Thanks Shane. My wife has been keeping notes and says she is going to write a book about our experiences living off grid. It would be a fun project because we have so many stories (usually about our own mistakes as young and naive homesteaders.)
    If you are considering this kind of lifestyle, please feel free to email me with your questions. I'm happy to help if I can. greg@eartheasy.com

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you’re the right person for the lifestyle. Good luck to you.

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