To many in the mainstream, people who choose to live off grid are nuts. Weird. Crazy. Crackpots.
“Why would you choose to live like that?” The young sales hustler in the mall asked my wife that question yesterday in the middle of selling her a number of face creams and such.
My response would have been to answer a question with a question: “Why would you ask a question like that of a prospective customer? Are you bonkers? Didn’t you ever take any sales training?”
Pam, however, used a different question. “Have you ever had a power outage?”
“Sure,” he nodded. Everybody has power outages now and then.
“Well, we haven’t.”
That stopped him, but my redhead wasn’t done yet. “We haven’t had a power outage, or an interruption in our water supply, or any of that. When we want to do laundry, we just fire up the generator, and–”
“Wha–you have a washer and dryer?”
No, she should have said, the Indians stole the set when they burned the wagon train.
“Sure do. Front loaders. Have you ever gotten irritated with one of your neighbors, or had the neighbor irritated at you? That we’ve had happen, but the neighbor–he’s the nearest one–lives nearly half a mile away. Lots of mesquite trees and other stuff between us. We’re not in each other’s faces.”
That’s about as far as the mall conversation went. When Pam reported it to me this afternoon, though, it made me think. Perhaps a few readers might like to know the benefits of living off grid, just the day to day benefits, not the radical in-the-future survivalist benefits.
Because there are some, as she indicated.
Let’s tally up a few.
1. The freedom to do your own thing. If you’re content with living the way others decide you’re going to live in houses somebody else designed, with neighborhood and city rules all over the place, be my guest. I’ve been there, done that, but it’s not my happiest way to go.
For example, on our 20 off grid acres in southern Cochise County, one mile north of the Mexican border, I’m free to decide how to design and build our own living quarters as well as how to install our own amenities such as the tank shown in the above photo. For the past several years, we’ve gotten by just fine with a tower mounted 500 gallon tank. The outflow pipe was subject to freezing during a colder than usual winter, though, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone: Up the storage capacity to 2825 gallons and stick the outflow pipe underground where it will never freeze.
They don’t make tanks designed for both (“hybrid”) above ground and/or below ground installation, but the Bushman looks strong enough to do what we want it to do. Just because nobody else does it that way is no reason to hesitate if you live off grid, and I really, really appreciate that freedom to create whatever I want to create.
2. Endless opportunities for photography. Oh, sure, you can take pictures uptown, too, but people in congested places (like towns) don’t like you pointing cameras at them all that much. I once snapped a couple of photos in our local shopping mall–the same one where Pam went shopping yesterday–and promptly found a burly mall rent-a-cop at my elbow, politely explaining that picture taking is not allowed in the mall.
Out here, off grid and away from the madding crowd, the gourd in the top photo didn’t complain a bit when photographed, nor did the water tank or any of the other prime picture models.
True, the grackle in the next photos was on grid in the Walmart parking lot. There’s no accounting for tastes, but remember, it’s a grackle.
Curiously enough, I’ve never seen anyone else taking pictures of birds in the Walmart parking lot. It seems there’s a strong possibility that living off grid has sharpened my eye, my appreciation for the endless photographic opportunities that surround us.
3. Peace and quiet and relative lack of light pollution. From our acreage, standing outside, we can occasionally hear a Border Patrol vehicle or neighbor driving by on the dirt street a hundred yards north of the Border Fort, but that’s about it. Even some other off grid dweller’s gasoline powered generator can only be heard as a distant, barely audible murmur–and most of the time, not even that.
The song dogs (coyotes) make themselves known at times. Once in a while, as happened two mornings ago at 3:50 a.m., owl hoots that are not made by owls announce the not so distant presence of a group of illegal immigrants trekking northward through our property, led by their own two legged coyotes.
But for the most part, all is quiet.
Cochise County regulates yard lights in the country, so even we few off grid dwellers keep it relatively dark. We use nothing but flashlights for outside lighting and can thus see more stars than most, listen to the quiet of the night or even, for the most part, the day.
If you love the hustle and bustle and noise of compacted masses of humans, the quiet of the countryside can be unnerving. For us, it is healing, brings us strength to meet the challenges of each new day, extends our lives and makes those lives worth living.
4. Water supply. This benefit to off grid living comes in two parts, the knowledge that water will be available and the knowledge of the water quality.
We have our own well. It pulls from a deep aquifer, 325 feet below the surface of the Earth. There is at least an eighth of a mile between the well and any other well or any septic system, even our own. As a water source, it’s about as pure as you’re going to get without expensive filtration procedures.
Not that we use it for drinking at this time. For that, for now, we haul water from filtration machines on Highway 92, ten miles or so from the house. But we have used it in the past and could do so again, should the need arise. We do have a high end filtering system in a storage shed, and even a water still.
In the meantime, we add a splash of bleach to each 500 gallons of water we pump, just to hold down the bacterial growth in the tank, but nothing else. In order to affect us negatively in any way, the entire aquifer would have be tainted.
As for having a consistent water supply, nothing can beat our setup. When the storage tank needs to be filled, a 5,000 watt generator (which is stationed near the wellhead) is fired up. At our present usage rate, a year’s worth of water could be pumped using no more than ten gallons of fuel, fifteen at the outside.
We’ve yet to meet the city dwellers who can be assured of ample water for no more than the price of filling their family vehicle’s gas tank just once annually.
5. Reliable power. Pam and I, like most people, have lived on grid. Power outages, as she referenced in her conversation in the mall, happen to everyone subject to the whims of the national power grid. We’ve had a number of episodes in earlier years where the power went out in bitterly cold winter weather and the temperature inside the home was dropping nastily by the time the power came back on.
That never happens here. At this point, we have a combination of power sources. AC electrical juice is provided by either a 10 kilowatt portable solar generator or any of several portable gasoline powered generators we keep on hand for various purposes. If gas were suddenly rationed or even completely unavailable, we’d still have lights, TV, and computers up and running from the solar unit (as they are running now).
Our home, built with 17 inch thick walls and called the Border Fort for a reason, is a piece of cake to heat in the winter. No added heat at all is needed for much of the year due to the home’s design (and our southern Arizona location), but even in deep December through February, a single wall mounted ventless 20,000 btu propane heater is enough to keep our living space above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The fridge, also, is propane fueled, as is the kitchen range.
Yes, a propane shortage could impact our situation, but not easily. The U.S. has an extreme abundance of natural gas and its propane relative. They’re drilling for more as we speak. Beyond that, we keep enough spare tanks on hand to keep everything running for at least an extra month, or longer if it’s not the dead of winter.
Can the city dweller say the same? We never could. Electrical outages shut down our in-town furnaces immediately; the fuel was there but the thermostat had no juice. Off grid, none of our chosen appliances require any source of electricity at all, even batteries. (The range is equipped with battery powered strikers for the burners and the fridge uses batteries for the interior light, but neither of those is essential.)
Once, decades back, I remember a town where the gas (not just the electricity) did get cut off, and for quite a while at that. There’d been a rupture in the main city supply line–somebody whacked into the line with a backhoe, if memory serves.
When it comes to utilities, we’re better supplied and safer, living off grid.
6. No power bills. If we don’t have the money to pay the power bills, no worries–because we don’t have any power bills. True, if we had no money for propane or gasoline, we might have to do without for a while, but so what? We’d get through it, one way or another, and when we came out the other side, we’d still be debt free with no collectors trying to skin us alive.
7. Enjoying the Wildlife. By and large, my wife and I both get along with animals better than we do with people. We’re not exactly antisocial–when we do get out and about, we talk to folks and that sort of thing. But out here, we get to (for example) watch wild desert cottontail rabbits partake of the sliced carrots we leave in a bowl for them to enjoy every evening, right outside my office window. The bird varieties are endless. There are more critter tracks to study in our front yard than I saw on the Montana ranch where I grew up.
Our love of this aspect of living off grid cannot be overstated.
8. Home invasions. These days, this is not a small issue. By home invasions, we’re referring to criminals crashing through your front door, sometimes killing you. Some of those criminals are official and some of them are officials. Phoenix, Arizona, bore the dubious title of Home Invasion Capitol of the Nation, last time I checked. Beyond that, consider the case of Jose Guerena.
On May 5, 2011, Cinco de Mayo, a SWAT team knocked in the front door of Jose Guerena’s home in Tucson and riddled him with bullets. It was a bad shoot, a very bad shoot. Jose was a Marine who had served in Iraq. After completing his term of service, he’d gone to work in a local mine. He was, supposedly, the enforcer for his family’s drug running business–which was bogus. The man’s record was clean, there were no drugs or even any paraphernalia found in his home, nothing, nada, zilch.
He left behind a pretty young widow and two young sons who, I strongly suspect, are unlikely to ever trust or like the po-lice in any way.
The cops were there to–supposedly–“serve a search warrant”.
In that same Guerena family, a young couple had died something like ten months earlier in another home invasion, by invaders who did not wear badges.
There are home invasions reported every year in the small city of Sierra Vista, 20 miles from our property, where we do most of our shopping. It’s the “in thing”.
Living off grid, we reduce the likelihood of suffering a home invasion in four powerful and interwoven ways:
1. Hardly anybody knows where we live or how to get here. Our home is not exactly a target of opportunity.
2. Having the freedom to choose Option B of the Owner Builder Amendment in this county as long as we owned at least four acres, I built for defense. The earthbag centers of our home’s walls will stop an AK-47 bullet cold, and there are other features of the structure that will slow down anyone attempting forced entry. Slow them down long enough for us to respond appropriately, depending on the nature of the attacking entity.
3. Should the unthinkable happen, we can see them coming. There’s only one way in to this place. It’s not like a city street, where traffic can spin-whiz around the block. (Which also pretty much eliminates the possibility of a drive-by.)
4. Visual impact. Any “professional” invader will think twice before selecting the Border Fort as a target in the first place…and then he’ll go elsewhere. At a glance, if you’re looking for vulnerability, this place is not it. I’ve looked at it myself, from every angle, and thought, “Yep. This is not a place I’d want to tackle, given any other choice.” And that’s a good thing.
You can’t build a house in town that is clearly a fort without stirring up the folks who give out the building permits as well as half of your easily disturbed neighbors. Off grid, it’s not an issue.
9. Cheap land. When we went off grid in Montana in 1999, where we lived for three years until I had to get back on the road as a truck driver to make us a decent living, we were able to purchase 20 acres in the mountains for $500 down and $500 per month on contract. Then when it was time to leave my Colorado trucking job in 2009 and move Pam back to her old stomping grounds, I was able once again to locate an off grid acreage for…$500 down and $500 per month.
If you own land, you’re not homeless. The home might be a car, a tent, a hole in the ground–but it’s your ground. We’ve spent a lot of money on this place since then, after our finances miraculously improved (long story involving inherited mineral rights), but in both cases–Montana and Colorado–going off grid was the only way we could have reasonably survived the hard times.
10. Just plain old elbow room. Neither of us much likes having neighbors living so close they can see in your bedroom if you forget to lower the shades. Pam’s stress related disabilities are much more debilitating when we live in town. I can survive close quarters better than she can, but my relief at escaping the “neighbor crunch” is no less heartfelt than hers. In fact, both of us would prefer to live where not even a distant housetop could be seen, which means our present off grid environment is not nearly remote enough. (It will do, though; we’re not planning on moving any time soon.)
In Summary: Basically, why some people choose to live off grid involves a love of the peace and quiet, a love of relative wilderness and elbow room, less oversight by nosy government, and improved chances of both comfort and survival–now, not just when doomsday comes around.