Tired of high energy bills from providers? Or simply want to live more eco-friendly? Taking all your utilities off grid is a hippy dream shared by many. It’s entirely possible, although certainly not as convenient. It could also cost a lot of money initially in some cases, although these costs are likely to made up in the long run since you’ll never have to pay a bill again. Such a project can be done in stages, or you could choose to take the plunge and do it all at once. Whatever the case, here are some of the options worth pursuing when taking your water, gas and electricity supply off-grid.
The most traditional way of obtaining water off-grid is to build a well. This involves digging below the water table allowing you to use groundwater. It may not be ideal if you live at high altitude, as tunnelling down far could be costly. Wells were traditionally hand-dug, but nowadays they can be easily drilled.
Another option is to use rainwater. This can be done by collecting water in rain barrels or a roof drainage system. Such a strategy does rely on having a regular supply of rain – a dry spell could result in a drought.
A lot of plumbing is likely to be required which can be costly. You’ll also need consider pumps as supplied by companies such as Davey Pumps, especially if water is required to flow uphill. Some form of purification will also be needed if you’re using this water as a drinking supply – this remove any algae and chemicals from water that could make you sick.
You’ll need to work out a way of disposing of your wastewater. Most people link up their sewerage to a septic tank, the contents of which then get collected on a regular basis. You may be able to recycle your greywater (wastewater from baths, showers, washing machines and sinks – but not the toilet) and use this for gardening and flushing the toilet. A greywater recycling system is expensive to install but could help to preserve your water consumption. Use specialist companies such as Aquaco to install these recycling systems.
The cheapest way to say goodbye to mains electricity is to embrace renewable energy. Many people are now fitting solar panels onto their home’s roof as a way of generating power. Solar panels cost a fair amount to install, but you will make your money back in the long run. Contrary to popular belief, the sky doesn’t have to be clear to generate solar power – even on a cloudy day solar panels will be able to generate energy.
If you live in a windy area, you could alternatively buy a home wind turbine. Micro-roof mounted turbines are the most popular option, although these tend to only generate small amounts of electricity compared to a pole mounted wind turbine.
If you live on a river, you could also buy a micro-hydro. These are small hydroelectric generators that use the flow of the river to produce electricity. Compared to other renewable sources, micro-hydros don’t produce that much power, but could be ideal for complementing solar panels in the winter or a home wind turbine on a still day.
For those that are concerned with renewable energy, you could consider buying a gasoline generator either as a main source of power or as a backup for when renewable sources aren’t generating enough energy. There are large scale gasoline generators available and small portable ones. This isn’t a cheap source of energy, but could still be an option for those committed to going off-grid.
To conserve electricity, it could be a good idea to buy energy-efficient appliances. These can be identified by an Energy Star rating. Refrigerators, washing machines, electric ovens, tumble dryers and air conditioning units are likely to consume the most amount of power, so look for energy efficient options here. Lighting can also use up a fair amount of power – if you currently use standard incandescent bulbs it could be worth swapping these out for LED lighting or halogen bulbs which consume less power.
Most people cutting themselves off from mains gas opt for LPG (liquid petroleum gas). Whilst this is the most efficient method of off-grid heating, it can often be twice as expensive as mains gas making it unsuitable for those wanting to save costs. It’s also not from a renewable source making it inappropriate for those wanting a green approach.
Biomass boilers as provided by companies like Windhager are a more clean method of heating. This relies on burning dead plant materials for heat. These boilers cost a lot to install, but you could make a nice return in the long run depending on the size of your property.
Another option is to use electricity to heat your property. This electricity can be obtained through renewable energy or a gasoline generator. As you will be using more electricity, you may need to buy a bigger generator or install more solar panels, which could raise initial setup costs.
The fourth option is the most traditional and involves using wood burning stoves or coal fires to heat your property. This can be a cheap heating source, although may not be as effective as other heating sources as heat is likely to dispersed throughout the house unevenly. Wood burning stoves and coal fires also cannot be used to heat water.
A good combo could be to use wood burning stoves for main heat and then an electric boiler for water. Insulating your home will obviously help to keep any heat in longer. This could include loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, double glazed windows and possibly even underfloor insulation and pipe insulation. You should also look out for cracks in walls or gaps beneath doors in which heat may be escaping (and drafts entering).