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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

City Living Vs Living Off the Grid

I manage or am a member of over 70 different blogs. One of them is a pet project of mine entitled "Project Gridless".

The concept behind Project Gridless is to explore options for living off the grid. Typically "living off the grid" refers to the electricity grid, which means having a home which either:

A) has no electricity.

or

B) runs off your own solar, wind or hydro power sources.

However going off the grid can also have other meanings: Off the garbage grid, off the waste disposal grid, and so forth. No sewers and no garbage collection.

My parents' farm for example isn't attached to any sewer system. It has its own well for water and its own septic tank for sewage waste. As long as my parents' farm has electricity they can manage their own water supply and waste.

Garbage is a bit more difficult to deal with. There are after all so many different kinds of garbage a household produces:

A) Food waste, which in the case of my parents is usually fed to the cats on the porch or dumped in a compost bin.

B) Wood, which for my parents is usually burnt either in a wood furnace, burnt in a campfire while roasting marshmallows and hotdogs, or chopped down into little pieces with a wood chipper and then used for gardening.

C) Metals. Go on a junk pile and can be sold to metal collectors who pay $$$ for metals.

D) Plastics. This is the trickiest part because where my parents live there isn't a lot of recycling done. You have to PAY to dump plastics at the local garbage dump and in theory those plastics are then collected and recycled and the local municipality makes a chunk of cash off charging people to dump their plastics and also charging recycling companies to collect the plastics. I think it is an irresponsible and unfair practice to charge people just to dump their plastic garbage and it leads to people dumping their garbage illegally on public property (which means the municipality ends up having to clean it up anyway to prevent harm to local wildlife).

Some "off the gridders" prefer to recycle their garbage into making their house bigger and more insulated. This takes effort, but can certainly be an option for those people willing to try.

Electricity is the biggest challenge when going off the grid. Solar and wind power is becoming cheaper and it is possible to get enough energy that way to supply your household if you don't run the TV and AC all the time. Minimal lighting, small energy efficient appliances / computers and you can get by very easily. How you figure out your laundry is another matter all by itself. Washboard and clothesline maybe?

If you have water flowing through your property you could also get electricity via an undershot water wheel and a generator.

The real challenge of having your own electricity sources is not the electricity itself but the battery system. The battery system is what powers everything when its night, when the wind is calm, etc. The batteries aren't cheap so they take up a sizable chunk of your budget if you try to get off the electricity grid.

Then there is a matter of architecture...

It is possible to have a house specifically made for living off the grid. But expect to pay a bundle for it. There are quite a few architects interested in the topic of off-the-grid housing, but even so they don't work for cheap.

However there are some bonuses for being completely off the grid.

#1. You don't have to pay for a converter for trying to share electricity with the grid. Those things are hugely expensive and not worth the effort.

#2. You pay less land taxes for being off the grid.

#3. No more electricity bills! Huzzah! (With the rising costs of electricity in North America you might be surprised how quickly you get your investment back.)

#4. Government subsidies for buying solar and wind power for your home or business.

However there are a number of disadvantages of going off the grid...

#1. You couldn't really do it living in a city unless you made the choice to eat out constantly (or become a raw vegan) and you'd have to be really creative about solving your sewage and waste problems (to say nothing of laundry).

#2. You would be giving up the lifestyle of living in a big city. Not being able to explore downtown, go shopping whenever, go see a movie whenever you felt like it...

#3. Convenience and laziness. Going off the grid is not for lazy people. Its a lot of work to get everything up to spec. Eventually you will be able to relax again, but if you're the type of person who doesn't finish what you start then its recommended you don't try this. Try something small if you want to give yourself a Do-It-Yourself goal, like knitting a sweater or fixing a bicycle.

Living in a big city (especially downtown) is really about convenience. You can walk to places. Things that are moderately farther away can be reached via subway, bus or bicycle. You don't even need a car and when you do need a car for long trips you can just rent one.

Speaking for myself I could go either way. Getting off the grid and going back to nature has its appeal, but I am not certain I could give up city living. Pros and cons either way.

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