We have all had to disconnect from regular society in the pandemic to some degree. Some of us can envision a time when, even after life gets back to normal, we will work from home more, commute less, and maintain family rituals like quiet meals around the dinner table. Working from home, a long-coming evolution of the American workplace that Covid-19 spurred along, means you can locate your home almost anywhere that makes you happiest (like the Kiedaisches did; we tell their story below).
At a crossroads like this, between the old normal and the new, you might even consider "getting away from it all." Those who have followed this impulse to its end live off-grid, disconnected from public services like water and power. It's certainly an adventurous lifestyle, and plenty of reality TV shows document the folks who live it in places like rural Alaska. But off-grid living isn't the simple life—it's downright hard work!
What are the benefits of living in the country, of supplying your own water and power, of raising your own food? And can you reap these benefits without becoming an oddball they might make a reality TV series around?
The Benefits of Living Closer to Nature
We could all rattle off a few benefits of green living to ourselves and the planet, but did you know that living among green is tremendously beneficial as well? Surrounded by greenery, people are calmer and think better. This lends a new definition to green living.
Even a view of nature is better than nothing. One study found that people living in apartments with views of concrete reported higher levels of aggression than those in identical buildings with a view of trees.
Ah, the power of trees! Dappled sunlight is as relaxing to humans as soft music, and the shade cast by trees reduces the greenhouse effect. Trees remove up to 60% of particulate pollution at street level, to name just one way they clean the air we breathe. To get closer to nature without leaving your current digs, greenify your property with plants and trees, especially where you will see them every day.
Off-gridders report satisfaction from breaking their reliance on grocery stores. What is often a necessity to them can become a hobby for you. People with hobbies enjoy less stress, better health, and more sleep. You can grow a vegetable garden, keep chickens for eggs, and start a stash of canned goods. You don't have to live far away from a market to become less dependent on it. In case of emergency, having your own store of healthful foods and water will bring you peace of mind.
Off-gridders pride themselves on their low carbon footprint and energy independence. Solar is the smart choice for renewable energy, and you can generate solar power almost anywhere on earth. Unlike wind and hydropower, the sun is always there. Solar panels can even harness sunlight through snow thanks to the way ice crystals convey light. If you want to gain some energy independence like off-gridders, start with solar.
“The technologies of convenience are making our spheres of exploration and experience smaller.”
Whether it's locating their home in a place that makes them happy, taking up gardening, or carving out some energy independence with solar, people can reap the benefits of off-gird living without going all the way.
You Don't Have to Go All the Way
Complete self-sufficiency isn't always the goal of people interested in living the off-grid lifestyle. For example, they might be keen to generate their own electricity, either by necessity or to save money, but they are glad to stay on the city water service. In their mind, the grid encompasses all the ties and dependencies of modern life, not literally the power and water companies. The grid is urban streets, fast food joints, neighbors pressing in from all sides. The grid is the Matrix, like in the movie. When these people fantasize about living off-grid, it's more about quiet, privacy, and space than total self-sufficiency.
Jean and John Kiedaisch, profiled in Popular Mechanics, are what that magazine called casual off-gridders. When the couple moved to rural Vermont, where it would have cost $18,000 to connect their property to the power company, they opted for solar instead.
"You become very aware of how much electricity you need," John told the magazine.
Jean added, "You’re in such closer communication with your house. It’s hardest in midwinter, when it’s dark and cloudy. You’re running around turning off lights in the living room because you’re in the dining room. Summer is a piece of cake. You can wash the dishes as many times you need, take showers, do laundry."
"It’s peaceful. The quietness here, 24 hours a day, is a very supportive environment," said John. "I didn’t come as a homesteader. I wasn’t going to have a cow and a bunch of chickens and pigs. But I was looking for a place to be rooted.
"We upgraded our PV system over the years, added more panels. When we first started, we had an eight-by-eight-foot square. Anybody thinking about solar these days will say that’s a cabin-size system. But we ran our entire house on it. There’s a lot more professional knowledge available today, and the technology is light-years away from what it was."