If you are planning to live off the grid and you require modern amenities like lights, refrigeration, and electricity, then you will probably need a solar system and battery storage. A system can be simple, like the one designed for the Zulu Queen or it can become quite complex. Typically speaking, simple systems (small)  require more lifestyle changes. That’s because, in general, we have become accustomed to using energy thoughtlessly. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not preaching or scolding. I am just saying most people (me included) don’t give a lot of thought to turning on a light, taking a hot shower, or firing up the A/C, not to mention using big electric hogs like hair dryers and toasters! All this is provided to us city dwellers on an “as needed” basis from the grid. Bottom line: if you want electricity and you’re not connected to the grid, you need solar and you have to pay for it up front.

Another item we take for granted is water. If the city does not provide water you must provide for yourself. A person can get water from different sources, depending on your location and need. I carry water in to my cabin in the mountains because we only stay there for a few days at a time, and it is by a creek.

For full-time use, you need full-time water.  Water can be trucked to a cistern which gets buried in the ground. Ot that same cistern can be filled by a well. Also remember that the city treats water. Raw water needs to be filtered. There are gross micro-organisms which live in most water sources, and they must be removed.

Cooking and heating are not that difficult. The fuel supply is your biggest consideration, depending on what you think is most convenient and accessible. Some examples would be propane, wood, denatured alcohol, or kerosene.

Finally you have to think about the waste we produce as people. if you want to be off-grid then you have two choices: a septic system or a composting toilet. Septic systems require more construction and some soil analysis. Composting requires installing a composting toilet and maintaining it. Both topics are more in depth than we can cover here. One thing I like about composting is that you deal with waste directly without extra infrastructure. And it saves on water use.


Written by Sam Austin. Sam holds a Master’s in Architecture from the University of Colorado-Denver and has been practicing architecture since 1992. He specializes in residential design and has completed more than 200 homes in the Boulder area and beyond. For 17 years, he has designed beautiful modern custom homes and is renowned for his use of reclaimed materials.