We live in a world of infinite possibilities and opportunities. If our great-great-grandparents were alive today, most of our jobs, the way we live, our gadgets and how we get our food, our news and our entertainment would seem like something out of a science fiction novel to them.
With all these amazing progressions we’ve invented and built for ourselves over the past 100 years or so, we have created a standard of living the human race have never experienced before. Convenience is at an all time high, we have the world's information at our fingertips via the internet and most of us living in modern, western countries are far richer than any of our ancestors ever were or could have been.
Medical /Science is helping us live longer and highly mechanised and optimised food production techniques means many of us have never known famine or hunger like in the Great Depression or the Irish Potato Famine.
With all these modern conveniences and knowledge it would seem right to assume that we would be happier and more prosperous than ever before, right? Wrong.
In developed countries the World Health Organization reports that suicide rates have gone up 60% in the last 50 years and rates of depression have increased across all age groups and all countries.
Not only has modern living affected our mental state, it’s making an impact on our physical health as well. With obesity levels at an all-time high in Australia and around the world the human race is fatter and more unhealthy than ever before.
We have more than we could ever need but it seems as we have more choice, more excess and more information about everything we could ever want to know, we’re becoming more and more miserable!
If more is making us miserable, Is it any wonder that people are moving towards a simpler way of life?
This is the paradox of living in the modern world. Technically we live in an age that on paper should be amazing but more and more people are finding themselves feeling lost, out of touch or unmotivated about their way of life and communities.
As the great Tyler Durden from the movie Fight Club says, “The things you own end up owning you” and “You are not your job, you're not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You are not your f*%king khakis.”
As more people start to realise that modern living can move us away from a feeling of happiness with their lot in life, a connection with nature and the world around them, they’re looking for alternatives and changes to their lifestyles. Now this doesn't mean a complete overhaul of your life or returning back to caveman days – it simply means changing some of the habits, mindsets and technologies in your life to help make a positive difference to your lifestyle, your family, your health (both mental and physical) and the earth.
Many people come to the conclusion that a simpler life – an off-grid life, can help them get back in tune with nature, the seasons, day and night and their Circadian rhythms. Growing food, creating things, recycling and reusing and reducing your consumables, saving water, energy and moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle is a sure-fire way to move your life in a direction that will breed meaning, happiness and fulfilment.
Moving your life towards an ‘off-grid’ lifestyle may conjure up images of barefoot, tie-dye wearing, peace, love and mung bean types, but that's where you have it all wrong. Modern off-grid living can combine all the conveniences of modern life as well as getting us closer to a more sustainable lifestyle that relies less on consuming the world's natural resources and focuses on self-sustainability.
This may seem like a new idea, but it's not. Karl Heinrich Schaible said in 1878 in his An Essay on the Systematic Training of the Body -
“The destiny of man is not only to exercise his intellectual and moral faculties; he must also act, resist, struggle, through the medium of his body.
Our modern civilization, with all its contrivances and instruments, that work and act for us, seems to have caused a great disregard and neglect of the powers of our own limbs. But, if some unforeseen event throws us out of reach of our appliances; if we have to struggle with physical agencies, as cold and heat, with fatigue, with the elements, with animals, or with our fellow-men; then we lack that courage and confidence which, as Montesquieu says, is but man’s consciousness of his strength, and we succumb powerless.”
With this idea in mind, many people are moving towards an off-grid lifestyle, a more self sustainable lifestyle and the first place they typically start is with their homes. Here are some ideas to help you move your lifestyle to a more sustainable, self reliant, off-grid direction.
Off Grid Power Generation
This is where most people tend to start as there are many available options for those wanting to produce power either through the use of generators, wind or solar power. Off grid power is most likely to make the biggest impact to your standard of living (particularly if you live in very cold or very hot climates) and to your carbon footprint. Here’s an outline of some of the options.
Off grid generators
Most generators are used in off grid homes purely as a backup power source should your other method of gathering power fail (as good as solar and wind is getting, you will still have days or even weeks without enough sun or wind to charge up your systems). Off grid generators can be put into two categories – petrol powered and battery powered.
Petrol Powered Generators
There are two main types of petrol powered generators widely available on the market today – unleaded petrol and diesel powered generators. There’s a fair amount of difference between the two so if you’re wanting to do some in-depth research, take a look around the web as there’s lots of information available, but to give you a rough overview.
Typically used when power requirements from the generator are infrequent. They’re cheaper than their diesel counterparts and typically have a smaller capacity. If you only plan on using your generator every now and then, this might be a good option for you.
If you’re looking at relying on your generator for higher loads and longer periods of time, a diesel generator is a great option. More expensive than a petrol generator, but incredibly reliable, these are great if you’re using some type of solar system with battery storage capacity.
Solar Power for Off Grid Homes
Living in Australia, it makes sense to harvest energy from the sun that beats down relentlessly on our roofs. Solar power technology is improving every year with some amazing leaps and bounds being made in the last ten years. There is a wide and varied range of products available on the market today so it would be advisable to speak to a few different solar panel manufacturers and installers to get an idea of your power requirements and how many solar panels you might need.
If you’re wondering about the solar rebates in your state take a look at the links below.
National Rebate program
Australian Capital Territory
Wind Power for Off Grid Homes
I know that thinking about windmills might conjure up images of old rusty shearing sheds, swags and cattle stations, but wind power is certainly proving to be worthwhile pursuing if you’re really looking to add to your natural power capabilities. Wind power is a similar concept to solar, in that energy is created either by the sun, or in this case by the wind. The energy produced goes through a conversion process and is then stored in a battery or storage device to power your appliances, heating, pumps, etc.
There are a few different types of turbines on the market, vertical and horizontal and each of them have their own applications. Depending on your power consumption and your home’s setup will vary the options available to you but wind power (combined with solar) is a great way to ensure you’re getting the most of what Mother Nature already provides to us for free (wind and sun).
If you’re wanting to see a wind turbine system ‘in the wild’ there’s loads of YouTube videos of different types of setups, but one of the better videos is below. Check it out.
Off Grid Water Harvesting
Once you have power and energy, the next most important thing is to ensure you have a decent water supply (although some would argue this should be number one on the list!). There are a variety of ways to harvest water and as it becomes a scarcer commodity, people will start to realise just how precious our available drinking water is.
The first thing you’re going to need is some water tanks. There are many reputable water companies all around Australia, but it’s wise to first talk to your local council to find out about requirements and regulations and then move on to talking to a few different water tank companies.
There’s a variety of different types of water tanks on the market from plastic moulded and timber tanks through to steel or concrete. The type of soil your home is built on, your water requirements (how many litres you need to store) and your budget will ultimately decide what type of tank you can install.
Before you dive into purchasing water tanks for your off grid home there’s a few things you need to think about:-
- Positions of tanks (water doesn’t run uphill)
- More than one tank? How will you transfer water
- Will you need a water transfer pump?
- Will you need a mobile water tank for watering plants and trees?
- Will you need to update or install more downpipes, guttering, etc?
It’s worth noting that if you’re harvesting rain for your off grid home you will want to ensure your gutters are clean and regularly maintained so you’re able to get as much water as possible when the rains do come.
If you’re installing a water tank you’ll want to talk to your local council as they are usually the ones that determine all the rules and regulations for water tank installations. Here’s some handy links to help you out.
Queensland local government directory
New South Wales local government directory
Victoria local government directory
Australian Capital Territory local government directory
South Australia local government directory
Western Australia local government directory
Tasmania local government directory
There’s also the option to have dams dug or sink a bore, but if you’re going down that road it’s advisable to contact your local council first, then an expert in your area to assist you.
Off Grid Food Production
This is where things can really start to get fun. It’s great to reduce your power consumption, conserve energy and use solar and wind power to produce your own energy. Collecting water from the sky is satisfying, but nothing is quite so satisfying as preparing a healthy, pesticide free meal for your family with food you’ve grown in your own garden.
Obviously everyone's food production requirements will be different. Some people have a lot of land for fruit trees, nut trees and large gardens. Other’s have more modest spaces to use to grow their own food. No matter how much space you have, there’s always a range of investive solutions to get your gardens growing and producing fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
If you’re looking at producing your own food it’s also worthwhile doing some research about ‘heirloom’ vegetable strands as many of the mass produced seeds you get from places like Bunnings etc won’t enable you to use the seeds from the plant you grow to create a continual cycle of healthy vegetables.
Some of the vegetables that many off grid homes grow are:-
- New Zealand Spinach (also called Warragul greens)
What you grow will be determined by your space and growing methods (in the ground, hydroponic, etc) and there are many excellent websites around outlining how to create wonderful gardens in pretty much any environment and space.
Even if you can’t install solar power, wind turbines and water tanks, growing some or all of your own food helps your family, your budget and moves you one step closer to a more sustainable lifestyle.
Off Grid Waste Systems
Here’s where we can really help you out. If you’ve gotten this far in the article, congratulations! We reckon that composting toilets are one of the best off grid human waste systems you can get your hands on and we have a huge range of composting toilets available – no matter how large your family.
If you’re wondering what type of system you need, take a look at our blog post Composting toilet types – self contained vs split systems or give us a call on 07 3889 6144.
Off Grid homes and Communities
Of course converting your current home into an ‘off-grid’ home can become expensive and difficult if you’re plugged into the system so many people opt to purchase land and make a start on their off-grid lifestyle gradually, adding a shed, building a more eco-friendly home over time with all the requirements for off-grid living and then moving in when feasible.
The other option is to simply purchase a home that’s been set up for off grid living and go from there but be warned, living off the grid isn’t something you can simply walk into and start if you’re not used to that type of lifestyle. Being practical and self sufficient can be challenging and at times downright frustrating, so working your way up to this type of lifestyle is always going to be the more moderated and level headed approach.
There are also many off-grid communities popping up around the world. These are a great way to get involved in a community of like minded people, even if you wanted to go and visit one to get an idea of how everyone has their own personal setups.
Whatever your plans are to get off the grid, there are things you can do right now, from as easy as growing some of your own herbs and veggies through to setting up your home so you’re not dependant on power companies or municipal water facilities at all and everything in between.
No matter what stage you’re at, becoming more self sufficient, recycling and thinking about ways to reduce your footprint on this earth is always going to be appreciated by Mother Nature.