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Howdy from a Californian thinking of living off-the-grid comfortably.  RSS feed

 
Rose Gardener
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This retired newbie is intrigued by off-the-grid living. This is my thoughts so far:

-I would like it in a temperate area, no snow and plenty of sun all year around.
Either close to a natural source of water like river or lake; or allowed to tap into aquifer; or have direct access to sea water; (there'r small scale desalt for home).
-To be close to medium sized or large city.
-Somewhat affordable land.
-Objective is to live in relative comfort with indoor climate control (AC) powered by solar, and well pump also powered by solar. A house about 1800ft2 with all modern electric conveniences, also powered by solar.
-Also to grow vegetable aquaponically, and fruits (Citrus + grape) with well water.
-Perhaps some chicken for eggs. But no goats, cattle or pigs.
-Happy to buy and store grain, nuts, oil, etc., So perhaps not totally off-the-grid.

Being an Californian, this is what I have come up so far:

-Somewhere in SoCal low desert, near Palm Springs. Plenty of sun, 10 acres for $100k or so. Guess I need like 2 acres?
-If I could spend $50k for land, $50k for solar, then $150k or so for the home, by California standard, it's "cheap".
-Water may be the tricky one, plenty of aquifer in Coachelia Valley, even hot springs. But heavily regulated.

Quite sure that I have missed quite a few things. Thoughts?
 
Su Ba
pollinator
Posts: 979
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Hi Rose! I've been living off grid for 11 years here in Hawaii. My own solar electric system cost me $20,000 and no way could it even come close to powering your dream home. So could $50,000 do it considering you plan on a well pump, air conditioning, all modern conveniences (freezer, spa/hottub)? Perhaps it is something to check out.

I have no knowledge of California land or climates, so I can't any suggestions there.

My suggestion to people who contact me wanting to emulate my lifestyle as far as off grid systems is.......learn and practice to use less before making the commitment. We thought we were doing pretty good on conserving prior to moving to Hawaii. Boy were we in for a shock. Since we were in a sink or swim situation, we learned in a hurry to cutback and live without. We are now very comfortable with our system and have no intention of returning to the grid.

 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 428
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Hi, Rose. I've lived off the grid for 15 years and you can't fool Mother Nature!! Su Ba is right about the expense of solar. The sun may be free, but the cost of the equipment to make it work is very expensive. So is living off the grid. If it rains, or is cold and windy, dark out, and something goes wrong, you have to go out into it and fix it.

There are legal issues now about the difference between leasing solar panels through a solar company (big sales pressure because the laws could change, and being stuck in a 20-year contract) and owning the panels. Be sure to research what is happening in Arizona regarding leasing panels for 15 or 20 years and selling power to the grid. it's not working well for the homeowner. Look at the terms of a 20-year lease for panels, it's not really in your favor.

And the rules of real property still apply, location! location! location! If you haven't bought a lot of rural land, you may not quite find the right one the first time, so you want to be able to sell it without difficulty. so don't just think of the place as somewhere you love. It needs to be somewhere other people would like, too. You will want it to be easily accessible for gravel trucks for the driveway, not too shady, not too close to neighbors with barking dogs, a southern exposure for passive solar heating, not too far from groceries and a drug store. Make sure they deliver mail on your road, and that the mailboxes can't be broken into. That's the *where* of it.

The "what" of it you can change, like the style of the house, home improvement, as long as the foundation is solid and it's not invaded by tree roots, including the septic lines and tank. Those need to be free and clear. If there's a lot of ground water, especially in the winter, a basement can be a problem.

Water, water, and more water is the number 2 important thing. Don't let any real estate person tell you there's water there, or that everybody else has it (implying you ought to), or that you could harvest enough fog to water a garden. You'll probably end up with a well, which requires a pump that has to run 24/7, and that's expensive for electricity. Pumps need replacing on occasion, and they aren't cheap. If the well caves in and swallows up the very expensive pump it might require a new well, also very expensive. It might be a good idea to have a water tank or two, and it might be required for fire regulations.

So try to get a legal house on a legal lot with a tested well that has a lot of gallons per minute in the fall, when water is the lowest. It can be exhausting always keeping track of the levels of the well, the levels of the solar batteries, the levels of the septic tank, the gravel on the driveway, the hornets in the ground, the flies and gnats on the composting toilet, the raccoons getting into everything,

Hopefully you'll like your neighbors, because they are your safety net. Our old friends came once out of curiosity, after that they were full of excuses about how far away it was.

You'll also need a cheap hardware store that is extremely well stocked within 30 minutes. There is nothing worse than needing to take up a half a day on the road just to come and go from needing DIY stuff.

Then you can slowly detach the dwelling, add solar, but you'll need to learn about electricity, DC and AC types of power. We downsized our refrigerator and it's on a timer. We have a coffee pot that has a thermal carafe that shuts off the second it's done. We don't vacuum or use the printer if it's not a sunny day. You don't want to take the batteries down below half, so they will last a long time, and monitoring them is a constant thing, as well as maintaining their water levels.

Isolated places can be exciting in the summer, but in the winter they are sometimes exhausting, especially for the retired. If there are dirt roads involved, having a winch on the vehicle is important for pulling the vehicle out of whatever mess it might get into. Ice can form on shaded parts of roads that is surprising.

In California the fire department has to be able to get very big, very heavy trucks to the dwelling, turn them around and pass each other on the driveway, so there has to be large open spaces near the dwelling, 100-foot circles, and pullouts on the driveway.

If there is an old wooden bridge, or low spot in a creek to get over, to get to the house, the propane truck won't cross it, and fire department will require a new one to code. They might even red tag the dwelling until it is accessible. You won't want to spend $50,000 on a span of iron for a bridge that's to code. When property sells it triggers these kinds of code updates, that's why the preivious owners could live there without these conditions being enforced. So thinking that, well, it's been this way for 50 years, it ought to work for me.....doesn't work.

It's complicated, but if are a hard worker, a good learner, and want to be having a daily life that involves lots of taking care of basic needs, mud, bugs, snakes, bees, rodents, high fences around gardens, and wonderful wild animals, beautiful surroundings, it can be very satisfying.

 
chad Christopher
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Location: Pittsburgh PA
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I think that focusing on proper building techniques, could drastically reduce your needs for conventional cooling methods. And the investment would or could, last longer than investing in alternative power. Not to mention matianence. Water, that's trickey. I don't have this problem, tons of rain, and have never gave it much thought. In fact, with projected climate changes, if true, we need to focus on preparing for large rain events in my region.
 
Dillon Nichols
pollinator
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Location: Victoria BC
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One obvious way to bring the costs down would be a smaller house, built in a highly energy efficient way. How much space do you actually need? Perhaps some of it that you are not sure about could be added later, if it proves essential, to keep initial costs down?
 
Li Lee
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Have you looked at the news? The whole southwest is going into an extended Dust Bowl worse than the first one.
If I were going to go totally off grid I'd go to the Bank of the Mississippi where there is plenty of rain, no building codes, Obamacare.
Personally I prefer Earthshelters, but I just saw an advertisement for a 30 acre pecan orchard and house for $160,000 and see there
are a lot of other established possibilities available. Shipping is cheaper by boat.
 
Rose Gardener
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Thanks all for responding, with your input, let me re-caliber a bit.
 
Kat Green
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How discouraging! I started reading this thread thinking that I already own the land described! I have grid power available on my 40 acres in Cochise County, Az so, I will be connecting to it for certain now but I can still cut down my usage. I can still solar heat my water, passively heat and cool my home and convert a freezer to a refrigerator to save on my usage and practice rain water harvesting since I am too old to be affected much by global warming. I still have no building codes to worry about. I am about 10 miles from Home Depot and the county maintains the road 1000 ft away. So all is not lost. I just wont be 100% perfect but I never have been before.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 428
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Kat, don't get discouraged. The news makes everything sound much worse than it is. Political interests are trying to point the finger at the competition, and blame is flying everywhere, and that's what gets on the news. There is a good possibility that because the ocean has warmed up the rain will go back to having enough rain the winter of 2015. There is no evidence that the drought will never stop, but the news wants to terrify everyone. Quite a few places got almost normal levels of rain even this past winter. The majority of water in California that is supplied to major cities comes from dams, and that's one big source of water that has to be shared. It is lower than usual, and with all the housing that's being built, and adding water users to the system, that is not the drought's fault, it's not organic gardener's fault, it's not food producers' fault. There are big powers that want to take out their competition by distorting the situation.

Your situation sounds great. Did you know about the lawsuits in Arizona about leasing solar panels as compared to owning them? It's looking like leasing them is just being a middleman for a business, which makes the homeowner a business there therefore taxable. Plus the 15 or 20 year leases are a very bad deal. The power companies have made it so that buying back power happens at different rates depending on the time of day. Plus being stuck with old technology, like 10 or 15 year old panels, is not a good idea.

So absolutely go off the grid, buy your own panels, especially if you are in an area where the power goes out a lot in wind storms. If you are comfortable knowing about DC power and AC power, deep cycle batteries, and how it all works, and you don't mind keeping track of it, it is very satisfying to use. But do research the solar panel lawsuits so you'll know what's up.
 
Kat Green
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I am not really discouraged but I do think that my electric usage could be made so low that it would not pay to install solar. I may just let the power company worry about it. I did pick up a small gas powered generator this weekend for emergencies and to power my tools when I build. This is not a green solution I realize but it is cost effective for my situation. If I do go solar, I wont be providing power to the grid or leasing.
The land in my area is going for about $1000 per acre for 4 acres plus. Plenty of land available and 15-18 inches of rain per year. I am hoping to harvest rainwater for all of my needs. My usage now is 1000 gallons a month and I can see that can be reduced. I also picked up a old time camper toilet that uses only 1 quart per flush (non-electric) for $3 at the same yard sale.
I think that I have most or all of my fixtures and appliances now and even the steel frame for my house and barn. These items have been collected from yard sales, thrift stores, craigslist, and eBay, etc.
My goal is to complete my project for under $35,000 including the land cost. I will start as soon as the land is paid off next May. I got a great deal at $500 per acre. There are 3 decent size cities within 10-20 miles and the fire dept down the street. There is a river 3 miles away. For now, I am stuck in CA getting my current house ready to sell and I am learning so much from Permies.
Rose, I suggest that you consider outside of CA. Just like so many other things, CA has commercialize green homesteading by wrapping it with red tape. With your budget, you could live like royalty in some areas. Good luck to you.
 
Rose Gardener
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Kat, any suggestions?
 
Kat Green
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Cochise County, Arizona near Sierra Vista and Bisbee (Bisbee is the coolest!). Douglas is also near but too close to the Mexican border and is more desert then I like. Tucson is about 1 1/2 hours away and is a beautiful artistic city with lots of things to do.
I used Zillow.com to find my land and highly recommend real estate agent Dick Schutt (502)495-0751. He is also licensed in CA. In Cochise County, if you have 4 acres or more, you can go with the owner builder option and only have to get the septic approval (with a licensed person to plan the septic system which is about $600 and includes that part of the permit cost, $5000 complete or so if he puts it in for you) and the electric system will be checked for compliance. This doesn't mean that you have to get your hands dirty. You can be your own general contractor and hire tradesmen to do the work. Other than that, you can build anything you want up to 30 feet tall and as wide and as long as needed and use whatever materials you desire. They will tell you that you are still expected to conform to accepted codes but they wont inspect for it. They encourage diversity and creativity in building. The permits total to about $1000 with an additional $100 for each outbuilding or a guest house for a senior relative or a park model trailer (Aug 1996 or newer) for that relative.
I also used Accuweather.com to follow the weather, Bing Maps to check locations and Citi-Data.com for other info. Rainlog.org for precipitation info.
There are also occasionally existing off-grid homes available for sale.
One unusual thing is the border crossing into and out of Arizona. Surprised me but not a problem. I was just worried that I had forgotten my dog's rabies cert but they didn't ask. It is like crossing the border into Mexico or Canada. They are checking for fruits and vegetables coming in and illegals going out. Drug sniffing dogs included.
People are overly concerned about the illegals. You wont see them. They are just like scared animals hiding from view. If you stumble upon them, smile and wave. Just leave them alone or put in a toll booth!

Hope this helps.
 
Kat Green
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Rose, another place you might want to check out is Aquanga, Ca. Reasonable prices, typical building laws for Ca and perfect all year round weather. It is in Riverside County.
 
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