Complete Guide to Off Grid Living for Beginners

Complete Guide to Off Grid Living for Beginners

Today, many people are considering alternative ways of living. Concerned with sustainability, preparedness, and self-reliance, many are turning towards living off grid and enjoying the numerous benefits of this lifestyle.

As rewarding as off grid living is, there’s a considerable learning curve to navigate, particularly in the beginning. But don’t worry, this is the complete guide to off grid living for beginners, and we’re going to discuss everything you must know to start disconnecting your life and becoming more self-sufficient today.

Living Off Grid – What Does That Mean?

Off grid living is a lifestyle based around self-sufficiency and sustainability.

When you live off grid, you’re disconnected from public utilities like electric and water. Instead, you must rely on renewable means to create your resources.

For a thorough explanation of what off grid means and what exactly off grid living is before you start learning about how to live this way, read this brief post first.

Why Live Off Grid?

Most people take for granted that you’re just supposed to live in a house or apartment, and they never give much thought to the electricity, water, or other resources they use.

It’s easy to take such things for granted when they seem to simply show up in your home and you have no part to play in providing them for yourself.

However, we know today that the electric grid is outdated and overtaxed. We’ve seen the effects of natural disasters, pandemics, lockdowns, fear, and shortages.

Many people have decided that it’s risky to be reliant on a system that suddenly seems so fragile, and so they’re taking a more active role in providing for their own needs.

When you live off grid, you’re disconnecting yourself from some of that risk. Power outages don’t affect you anymore since your electricity isn’t tied to everyone else’s. If there’s a natural disaster, you’ll have better chances of survival since your water, electricity, heating, and other basic needs aren’t reliant on the power grid or city water supply.

For some, the allure of the off-grid lifestyle is more about reducing their environmental impact by living more sustainably and responsibly. Since you’re using renewable energy sources, your carbon footprint is much smaller when living off grid.

The truth is, there are many reasons to live off grid, and we don’t have space to fit them all here. So, check out the 12 outstanding advantages of off grid living if you’re looking for another great reason to choose this lifestyle.

How to Start Living Off Grid

In order to start living off grid, you’ll need a place to get started and a home to take off grid.

There are two main routes you can take. The first option is to purchase land and create an off-grid homestead. The second path you could take is to move into a mobile tiny home, like an RV, campervan, or travel trailer.

Neither way is right or wrong, but they’re quite different, so you ought to know what you’re getting into ahead of time.

The good news is that most of the setup and execution of either style of off grid living is essentially the same. But if you’re looking for information specifically regarding living off grid in an RV, then be sure to check out my off grid RV living guide, which covers some RV-specifics not mentioned in this article.


For static off grid living, you’ll need to purchase land. On this land, you can either build a tiny home or a full-size home, or you can park a trailer or mobile home of some type on your land to start living their quickly.

The advantage here is that you can continue to add on to your initial building, making it larger with time. Additionally, you’ll have land that you can cultivate into a garden and edible crops, and you can even install a well for an endless supply of clean water.

Mobile Off Grid Living

For mobile off grid living, instead of purchasing land, you’ll be purchasing an RV of some sort. You’ll be living in this RV full time, but you won’t be married to any particular plot of land, so you’ll have the freedom to roam around and see what adventures and beauty the world has to offer, and there are many places where you can boondock for free.

On the other hand, you’ll miss out on the extra space that a static off grid homestead has, and you can’t grow any crops, but you can have a beachfront home one week, and a home in the pine-forested mountains the next.

Living Off the Grid Requirements

Regardless of which way you choose to go, a mobile off grid lifestyle or a more static one, you’ll have to setup the same systems to keep your life running. Here are the most essential items that you must take care of before you can truly be self-sufficient living off grid.


Shelter is one of the most basic of all human needs. If you’re going for a mobile off-grid lifestyle, then your RV, van, converted vehicle, trailer, or whatever you’re driving is your shelter.

For anyone purchasing a piece of property for off grid living, you’ll have a lot to consider here. Your shelter can range from a tent, to a tiny home, to an off-grid mansion. Of course, costs will range accordingly.

Your shelter simply needs to keep you safe from the elements and any potential threats. A tent might be ok for a short time while constructing other accommodations, but it won’t be a satisfactory living space for long.

Once you have shelter, you can start adding the other off-grid necessities to it.


Technically, you don’t need electricity to live off grid. In fact, by not having electricity at all, you’re ensuring that there’s no way you can be hooked to the grid.

But come on, we all know that you can’t possibly have the same quality of life without electricity. If you forego power, you’ll be casting yourself back into the dark ages.

So, that makes electricity the number one concern for any off-grid abode, whether it’s built with sticks and bricks, or it’s affixed to a set of wheels.

As you might have guessed, solar panels are the go-to for off grid electricity.

You can’t just slap some solar panels on a van or building and call it a day though. If you did, you’d only have power during the day, while the sun is shining.

Naturally, we want power at night as well, which means we’re going to require some sort of storage device, also known as a battery.

We’re not talking about a bunch of little AAA or 9V batteries here, or even one of those old school Baghdad batteries. Instead, we’re looking for something called a deep-cycle battery, as these are designed to withstand the continuous charging and discharging cycles that any off-grid power source is guaranteed to go through.

Arguably, the battery bank is the most crucial component of any solar setup. Though your solar panels are absorbing energy from the sun, it’s your batteries that store that energy so you can use it when you need it.

There are several types of deep cycle batteries perfect for this sort of task. Batteries for relatively small off-grid power banks start quite affordably, but the batteries you’ll need for a high-voltage system are extremely costly.

Solar panels and a battery bank comprise most of your solar system, but you also need a charge controller to take the energy from your solar panels and use it to charge your batteries.

As if that’s not enough, you’ll also require an inverter, which will convert the 12-volts of energy stored in your batteries into 120-volt power that standard electronics can use.

Once your solar setup is complete, you’ll have nearly limitless energy, completely renewable with no negative effects on the environment.


As one of the most pressing of all human needs, water is obviously one of the foremost concerns when considering an off-grid lifestyle. So, you might be wondering why it’s number three on this list after electricity. Primarily, that’s because you’ll need electricity if you want running water of any kind.

Any home that’s hooked to the grid will have water pressure because the whole system is pressurized. But when you’re off grid, you have to pressurize that water somehow, and the way to do that is with an electric water pump.

With an electric water pump hooked up, you’ll be able to have running water anywhere in your off-grid home or RV, and a single water pump can supply water to multiple locations.

Of course, pressurizing the water is only one part of the battle. First, you have to get water there to pressurize.

If you’re building an off-grid homestead, then a well is the best way for you to supply it with water. Unfortunately, wells are quite costly to have installed.

In rural areas, you’ll often be able to find high-volume water dispensing stations that pump water from a well for a dirt-cheap bulk water price that you can cart back to your property.

This can be a great way to get water for your off-grid home, but you’ll need some type of water-carrying device. 55-gallon barrels on a trailer is a low-budget way to get it done, but you’d be better off permanently affixing a large, caged water tank to a trailer.

Should you be lucky enough to have a lake, pond, or stream on your property, be sure to check the laws before using any of the water. Riparian rights often guarantee you use of the shore and access to the water but forbid you from removing water. At the least, you’ll probably need a permit. You can always build your own pond, but that will also require a permit.

Don’t forget about harvesting rainwater. It’s legal in many states, and in some regions, the rainfall is significant enough for you to cover a large portion of your water use with collected rainwater. You will need to treat if you want to use it for drinking.


In the most temperate parts of the US, it’s possible to get by without any heating or cooling. That doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be comfortable though!

To me, off grid living means still having a modern, first-world quality of life, so, I’m not sacrificing my comfortability.

When it comes to off-grid heating and cooling, as in most areas of off grid living, you’ve got a few options.

Let’s start with heating.

The go-to heat source for most people who practice off grid living is propane. It’s affordable, easily accessible, and works great for powering heaters.

Many RVs will have ducted heating systems built-in that run off the main propane tank. For those who are building their homestead or living in converted vehicles, you’ll have to install a system yourself.

A ducted heating system is a possibility but is only really necessary if you have a large living space.

Smaller spaces like converted vehicles and tiny homes should do fine with a single heat source.

Compact propane heaters make great options for these small off-grid dwellings. The Mr. Heater Buddy is one that I’ve had great success with, and it’s available in a few different sizes to fit various-sized homes.

Though propane is the most popular choice for heating, there are other options, such as diesel. Diesel heaters must be vented to the exterior of your living space, but they’re extremely effective, putting out tons of hot air, and they’re very economical.

For anyone in a diesel van or RV, diesel heaters have the added benefit of being able to run a line from your fuel tank and power the heater straight from there, even if the vehicle isn’t running.

The downside to both propane and diesel heaters is that you’re still somewhat reliant on the grid. If you lose access to fuel, then you’ll lose the ability to heat your home.

However, there’s one more option available that’s truly off-grid, and that is a wood stove.

Wood stoves must be vented to the exterior of your home. They must meet also meet all local codes.

Completely off grid with practically no operating cost, wood stoves are my favorite choice for heating an off-grid home.

Now, let’s talk about cooling.

Being cold in the winter is awful, but sweating and steaming through a summer is no more enjoyable by any measure. Therefore, you need to give plenty of consideration to cooling as well.

Personally, I try my best to avoid the hottest areas during the summer, heading to higher elevations and cooler temperatures. This a great option for anyone practicing mobile off grid living, but if you’re building an off-grid home on property you’ve purchased, then you’re going to be there for all the seasons.

The first two lines of defense for keeping your off-grid home cool are insulation and ventilation.

Well-insulated walls are absolutely essential for any off-grid home, whether it’s an RV, house, or converted vehicle.

Insulation will help to repel the sun’s rays while keeping the cool temps inside.

Good ventilation will keep the air moving and fresh, preventing the heat from building up.

I’ve found powerful ceiling vent fans to be the best way to provide ample ventilation to any off grid living situation. With two fans on opposite ends of the home, one can be set to pull air in while the other is set to expel air. This will keep fresh air blowing through the house, keeping temperatures low and comfortable.

But fans alone can’t always combat the heat. Sometimes, your only hope is to get some air conditioning.

RVs, campers, and vans can enjoy rooftop mounted air conditioners, but these are generally difficult to power without being plugged into the grid since they have high-power requirements. Thankfully, these vehicles can head to cooler climates.

In an off-grid homestead, you’ll be better off with window units. They tend to be much more efficient than other types of air conditioners, offering better cooling while using less electricity.

With enough solar panels and batteries, you could run the air conditioner on your solar setup. Some smaller window units use just 500 watts of power, which could be covered by solar panels during the day and supplied by battery overnight. That said, for most setups, it’s probably better to get a generator for the air conditioner and only use it when it’s really needed.

Bathroom and Waste Disposal

One of the most psychologically difficult aspects of off-grid living for beginners is often disposing of their waste.

Look, we all have to use the bathroom, and when you’re living off grid, it’s up to you to dispose of all the waste that builds up since there’s no sewer to flush it down to.

One option, and probably the best option for those in an off-grid home or tiny home that doesn’t move, is to install a septic tank. In some places, a septic tank can be as low-budget as two 55-gallon barrels and some pipe buried into the ground. Laws vary from county to county though, so don’t make any plans or start digging until you know the laws in your area.

Having a septic tank feels no different than being hooked to public sewage.

Another way to deal with your waste is to make or purchase a composting toilet. You do have to be careful though, as regulations can make it tricky to use one legally in some states.

Even in a mobile off-grid setup, composting toilets are still used rather often. They don’t require water and they’re not odorous. Essentially, they function like a waterless cassette toilet.

Speaking of which, cassette toilets are another option. These tend to be better for van lifers since they require regular emptying, but so do composting toilets.

A cassette toilet is a portable toilet with a waste-holding tank built-in. They hold between two and five gallons of waste on average and are very easy to empty into any toilet, or even by digging a hole in the ground and burying the waste, if there are no other ways for you to dispose of it.

Another option strictly for RVs and vans is a black tank to hold your waste mounted underneath the vehicle with a toilet inside. These are great, but you’ll pretty much have to empty the tank into a sewer at a campground.

Replenishable Food Sources

Most people would consider you off-grid if you used renewable energy and didn’t get your water from city plumbing or drain your waste to city sewers. But if you really want to be self-sufficient and completely disconnected from the grid, then you need to produce your own food, either by hunting, fishing, growing, or raising it.

Producing your own food can be one of the most difficult aspects of off grid living for beginners. Unlike replenishable energy, creating replenishable food is primarily about your skills and the equipment used to do it comes second. With solar, for example, it’s more about your equipment than your “solar skill,” but you’re not going to grow anything if your thumb isn’t at least a little green.

Of course, gardening and farming aren’t the only ways to get food when you’re living off grid. You can also hunt, fish, trap, raise livestock, raise chickens for eggs, gather mushrooms, and more.


Ultimately, off grid living for beginners is so difficult because it’s not as much about what you have as what you know and what you can do.

For example, let’s say you purchase a few solar panels, a charge controller, and a couple of batteries. Does the voltage on all three match? What size wires do you need now? Can you set the entire system up?

What about your water system? Can you wire up the water pump, connect all your hoses, prevent leaks, and trouble shoot any issues that arise? Or, maybe you bought an RV and it’s done for you already. What will you do if a hose bursts and you need to repair it, or there’s a leak somewhere and you have to find and fix it?

Off grid living can be a very rewarding lifestyle, but you’ll need a good assortment of skills before you attempt to live this way.

If you’re the kind of person that always fixes your car when it breaks, repairs appliances at homes, and enjoys working on difficult projects and creating things with your hands, then off-grid living might be a great fit for you.

On the other hand, if you tend to call for help whenever something goes wrong, then you might want to strongly consider whether this lifestyle is the right fit for you. If you decide that it is, then you’ll need to spend some time learning those valuable DIY skills before jumping in.

FAQ – How to Live Off Grid

Hopefully, you’ve found the information you needed in our beginners guide to living off the grid, and you’re now prepared to head to the backcountry and start your own homestead for living off the grid. But before you do, briefly read the following answers to these frequently asked questions, as they’re extremely common for folks new to the lifestyle and might preemptively answer some questions you’re already curious about.

How Much Money Do You Need to Start Living Off the Grid?

If you’re industrious and already have some tools and a good number of DIY skills under your belt, then you can start living off grid for just a few thousand dollars. That would cover the cost of a livable vehicle for a mobile off grid life, like an RV.

The other way to live off-grid would be to purchase property and build a shelter to outfit with basic off-grid necessities. Rural property can be purchased for dirt-cheap in some areas, so you could still feasibly begin an off-grid lifestyle with just a few thousand bucks.

How Can I start Living Off the Grid with No Money?

If you’re dead broke and looking to live off grid, then your best bet is to look for an RV or van that someone is giving away. Sometimes, you’ll find such deals on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace if you look diligently. Once you have an RV, it might require some work since you got it for free, so, hopefully, you’re handy with some tools and have a variety of skills!

What Are the First Steps to Living Off the Grid?

If you want to start living off the grid, then your very first step is to start learning the sort of skills that will be useful off grid. This includes electrical skills, construction, auto repair, farming, hunting, fishing, and more. For those already imbued with the necessary skills, your first step is to get a piece of land to build your off grid home on, or purchase an RV and install solar on it to live a mobile off grid lifestyle.

How Do I Start Preparing to Live Off the Grid?

The best way to start preparing to live off the grid is to learn the important skills you’ll need once you are living off grid. Skills such as construction, electrical, vehicle repair, gardening, fishing, hunting, and many more industrious skills will be vital for an off-grid lifestyle. After that, the best preparation you can make is to save up until you can afford a property for an off-grid home or an RV for a mobile off-grid lifestyle.

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