Close up of a solar panel

 Living off-grid involves cutting oneself off from mains energy and water suppliers, and providing one’s own energy and water supply. A few examples of ways to live off-grid include:

  • Generating one’s own energy through solar panels, home wind turbines, propane tanks or biomass boilers.

  • Harvesting water via a well or rainwater collection system.

  • Building a septic tank or cesspit to dispose of one’s own waste

Off-grid living can be better for the environment and can often save money in the long run. But it’s not always a realistic option for everyone. This post delves into the feasibility of living off-grid.

Consider your energy and water consumption

Off-grid living is harder for households that consume large amounts of energy and water. This is because you need to invest in much bigger systems to harvest enough water and energy for your needs.

If you’re already conservative about your electricity usage, you may find that you’re able to get away with a lower kW solar panel system. This is likely to be more affordable and won’t take up as much roof space.

Similarly, you won’t need as large a well or as large a rainwater collection system if you don’t use too much water. Bigger households typically use more water.

Understand the installation costs

Installing off-grid utility systems can be very expensive. It’s important to understand the costs and your budget.

Solar panels can vary in cost depending on how many you install and the type of solar panel you choose. To power an entire home without any mains support, most households will need a 5 kw system that can cost about £8,500 and £10,000 to buy and install. It could also be worth hiring a qualified level 2 electrician to install a solar meter. You’re likely to recoup costs after 15 years. 

Drilling a well can meanwhile cost between £10,000 and £18,000 on average depending on the width and depth, while a rainwater harvesting system can cost between £2,000 and £3,000. A septic tank can meanwhile cost between £3,700 and £5,300 to install. 

Going DIY can save you money but you need to make sure that everything is installed properly.

Determine whether you have the space and planning permission

Features such as wells and septic tanks may not be possible to install on many properties due to the location and limited outdoor space.

Planning permission is always required for septic tanks and cesspits due to the smell they create (in the case of cesspits) and method of drainage (in the case of septic tanks). They are typically much better suited to rural locations where it is easier to get permission. 

Wells typically do not require planning permission, however are not feasible in all locations. Ideally, your property needs to be situated within 500ft of the water table. While it’s possible to dig a well deeper than this, it will cost you a lot of money. The ground quality will also affect the cost.

Most home energy systems do not require planning permission or too much space to install. Solar panels are typically installed roofs and don’t require planning permission unless they protrude more than 20cm. Home wind turbines do require planning permission and often require a lot more space (although can also be placed on roofs).

Factor in the extra maintenance

Off-grid utilities can also require a lot of maintenance. This can cost a lot of money and could be an added hassle compared to using mains utilities. 

For example, septic tanks need to be regularly pumped and inspected to keep them working efficiently. Wells also need to be serviced regularly to ensure that water is not contaminated and that there is no damage to the well.

When it comes to energy, propane and biomass systems need to be constantly refuelled and serviced to keep them working and to keep them safe. This can work out much more expensive than a mains boiler system. Solar panels are much more low-maintenance and are one of the few off-grid options that will save you money in maintenance.

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