Have you ever wondered: how much does it cost to live off grid? Can I save money by going off grid? This post goes over all the real live expenses associated with off-grid living and will help you determine if living off the grid is feasible for you depending on your financial circumstances and lifestyle.
Throughout this post, I cover the costs of various elements of living off-grid: land, shelter, getting water, energy sources, septic, composting toilets, greywater, gardening, and greenhouses. I also include how much our land, house, and off-grid systems cost. Feel free to skip to any section below.
Table of contents
- Reliable Water Sources
- Water Storage Systems
- Renewable Energy (Solar & Wind Power Systems)
- Composting Toilets
- Grey Water System
- Monthly/Annual Off-Grid Living Expenses
For my partner and I, living off grid was a way to lower our living expenses, and to eventually become self-sufficient. We’ve only been at it for 9 months now, so I’ll definitely update this when we’re more established, but I figured it was worthwhile to share the initial setup costs of off-grid living. So far we’ve spent around $106,000 to establish our off-grid home.
Off-grid living means a lot of things to a lot of people, but for the purposes of this post, I am referring to living without traditional electric, water, and sewage hookups. Meaning you are not living hooked up to the cities electrical grid, water supply, sewage system, and you’re growing some of your own food.
|Low Cost||What We Paid||Average Cost|
|Land||$6,000||5 acres included w/ house||$25,000|
|Shelter||$2,650 (a 5m canvass tent with a deck and wood stove)||$85,000 (we pay this through a mortgage of $590/month)||$150,000|
|Renewable Energy System||$1,000||$16,500||$30,000|
|Water System||$650||$850 (most of our system was already included in the cost of the house)||$5,500|
|Septic System||$1,500||included in our house cost||$6,350|
|Garden||$50||$2,700 (most of this cost was for fencing in 1.25 acres of our land, a greenhouse kit, and hydroponic system)||$2,500|
|Total Cost to Live Off-Grid||$12,250||$105,650||$222,850|
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Land is the first thing you’ll need to live off-grid. You can always rent land, but this post covers the costs of owning your own land, how to find it, and what to keep in mind before buying land.
How much does off-grid land cost?
You can buy 1-2 acres of land almost anywhere in the U.S. for less than $20,000.
Typically land ranges from around $500/acre to $100,000+ /acre. The cost depends on how close the land is to services and a town, how tree covered the land is/how good the soil is for growing crops, how well maintained the roads are (and how many months of the year you can access them), the views, if there is existing water or power sources on the land, etc. In the specific region where we ended up buying our house, land costs about $2,000 per acre (there is no electric or water hookups, decent high desert tree coverage, great mountain views, and we are located about 7 miles from a town and an hour drive from a city).
How much land you’ll want is up to you, and really depends on your budget and future plans. If you don’t plan on having large livestock (e.g. goats, sheep, cows, horses), you can easily get by on one acre.
For our purposes, we wanted a small house, and eventually wanted to raise chickens, goats, have a small orchard, a greenhouse, a guesthouse, a garage/workshop, room to build a small glamping resort, and some buffer land to separate us from any neighbors. So we ideally wanted 5 or more acres.
On our search for land (in 2020) we looked across the U.S., but mostly focused on Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Our budget was $20K and we wanted at least 2 acres. Surprisingly, we found A LOT of land options in our price range! We even found a few plots of land with over 10 acres for under $30K that already had grid power running to them.
We used Zillow as a starting point to gauge the price of land in any given area, and then called realtors (listed on Zillow) to find unlisted land and get more info on local restrictions and services, and then we arranged to visit our favorite properties.
Here are some real life example of U.S. land for sale on May 10, 2021:
- 10 acres for $19,500 in Republic, Washington
- 20 acres for $17,777 in Madeline, California
- 5.37 acres for $15,000 in Beatty, Oregon
- 40 acres for $20,000 in Rawlins, Wyoming
- 5 acres for $15,000 in Hartsel, Colorado
- 5.52 acres for $7,000 in Ramah, New Mexico
- 10 acres for $18,500 in Williams, Arizona
You can watch our journey to buying land (in the video below) and see some of the plots we looked at in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, and see how much they cost.
4 things to do before buying land anywhere
- Check the state, county and subdivision rules and restrictions for what you are planning to do on the land (e.g. having livestock, composting toilets, greywater systems, living off-grid, living tiny, etc.)
- Make sure you know the cost of getting water on your land (discussed in detail under Reliable Water Sources)
- Check the property taxes in your state, county and city (this is an ongoing expense that could play a role in how expensive your land is)
- Check the tax incentives for renewable energy in your state (this could make a big difference in the cost of installing your energy source)
After a few months of searching for land to build a tiny house on, running into multiple legal and regulatory obstacles, and adding up the costs of excavating, clearing land for a driveway, building a septic system and so on, we ended up buying an existing small off-grid house (with most of the hard work already done). Depending on your circumstances, I highly recommend this option, because the cost of building an off-grid house adds up quickly, and getting a mortgage can make it more feasible if you don’t have the cash on hand.
For reference: We bought our 760 sqft house on 5 acres for $85,000. This cost included 2 bedrooms, 1.25 bathrooms, an existing septic system, a driveway, electrical hooked up to a gas-powered generator, and a 1200 gallon underground water cistern with a water pump already hooked up to our house.
Learn about How to Finance an Off-Grid House. Also, check out my list of Things to know if you are considering getting an off-grid tiny house.
In general though, you have a couple options for shelter:
- Traditional House – $75,000+
- Building a House Cost: $100 to $500 per square foot (depending on materials and custom builds)
- Labor makes up about 40% of the build cost, so the price could differ dramatically if you plan to do it yourself
- You can also find small existing off grid houses/cabins for $80K+ (we found a few on our search)
- Tiny House – $15,000+
- Cost: $35,000 to $120,000 already built or $15,000 to $30,000 to build it yourself
- A tiny home is typically under 350 square feet and built on a trailer that is mobile (but other than that, the quality is the same as a traditional stick house)
- Earthship – $150,000+
- Cost: $150 to $225 per square foot
- An Earthship is a sustainable house made out of natural and recycled materials (it requires skilled labor)
- Note: a study found that Earthship owners stand to lose up to $34/sqft in the resale of Earthships
- Manufactured Home – $42,000+
- The average cost nationwide for a single wide mobile home is: $51,371
- Single wide is 600 to 1,300 square feet, and generally includes one to two bedrooms and one to two bathrooms
- RV – $10,000+
- Cost: New Recreational Vehicles will cost from $35,000 to $300,000
- This cost doesn’t include vehicle registration and license plate fees
- You can find used RVs for $10,000+ (or sometimes less)
- Van/Camper – $6,000+
- New custom builds can range from $19,000 to $80,000 (not including the cost of the vehicle)
- Used camper vans can range from $10,000 to $80,000+ (depending on milage and quality of the build)
- DIY Van Build: You can buy a used low top van for as low as $2000 dollars and do a build for less than $3000 (I know people who bought a used van and built it out for less than $6000) you can also get a camper high top installed for as low as $5000+
- These costs don’t include vehicle registration, license plate fees, and insurance
- Yurt – $5,000+
- Cost: $5,000 to $50,000 (depending on the size, level of insulation, and base materials used)
- Tent – $500+
- You can buy a 4m/13ft round bell tent for $470 or a 5m/16ft bell tent for $570 on Amazon or Ebay
- You can also buy a 320 sq ft platform tent for around $1,500 on Ebay
- However, you’ll want to place your tent on a deck to make sure it doesn’t get ruined, make it last A LOT longer, and to create a level shelter (a basic deck big enough for these tents will cost $1,500+)
- You’ll probably also need a stove to heat the tent and cook (tent stoves start at $150+)
Reliable Water Sources
When you move off-grid, it typically means you are not hooked up to a city’s water system, so it is very important that you know what your source of water will be. Whether that’s an existing well, natural water source you can pump from, the potential for a rain catchment system, or a nearby source for you to haul water from or get it delivered.
To determine how you’ll get your water, you’ll need to know if there are any natural sources of water (streams, creeks) on your land or nearby, how far down the water table is (for wells), and how much rain/snow your area gets annually to decide if rainwater catchment is feasible.
Note: the harder it is to get water, the cheaper the land and properties will probably be. So if you are willing to work for your water (like we decided to do), you can probably find cheaper off-grid land or homes.
Digging a Well
If you plan to drill a well, find out how deep the water table is in the area, and get a quote before you buy your land, so you know what you’re getting into. The average depth of a well is 150 feet deep. The price of a well and the installation ranges from $25-$65 per foot (for a complete system and installation depending on how difficult the terrain is), for a total cost of the whole system ranging from $3,000 to $60,000+. The average cost of digging a well in the U.S. is $5,500 for an average depth of 150 feet. Those estimates include the cost of drilling the well, a well pump ($300-$2,000), the plumbing ($250-$2,500), and electrical work ($500-$1,500).
You’ll also need a water storage tank which can range from $300 to $5,000+ depending on the size and quality. You’ll probably also need a water treatment system ($300-$3000), permits, and potentially a water heater.
Note: The quality of your soil can significantly impact the cost of drilling a well, and the cost can also differ by state:
- California: $25-$50 per foot
- Colorado: $20-$40 per foot
- Montana: $25-$45 per foot
- Washington: $30-$50 per foot
- Wyoming: $30-$50 per foot
Rainwater Catchment Systems
Rainwater collection, also known as rainwater catchment or rain “harvesting” can be an affordable and sustainable water source. If your area gets a lot of precipitation, you should be good to go solely on a water catchment system. You can also use rainwater catchment supplementally in combination with another method of getting water.
Note: Colorado is currently the only U.S. state where it is essentially illegal to collect rainwater. However, since 2015, you are now legally allowed to have 110 gallons of rainwater storage in Colorado.
How much rainwater can I collect?
For every inch of rain that falls over 1,000 square feet of collection surface, you can collect approximately 550 to 623 gallons of rainwater. To estimate the amount of rainwater you could collect in one year, you can take the square footage of your collection surface (e.g. your roof), divide by 1000, multiply by 550, and then multiply by the average annual rainfall for your area.
Easy Rainwater Collection Formulas:
1″ of rain x 1 sq. ft. = 0.550 gallons (this is on the low end)
1″ of rain x 1 sq. ft. = 0.623 gallons (this is on the high end)
For example: In an area with 10 inches of rain/per year, if you have a 1,000-square foot roof, and all that water is directed to your harvesting storage system, you can collect at least 5,500 gallons of water per year.
How much does a water catchment system cost?
The average cost of a rainwater collection system costs $2,500, but it can range from $200 to $21,000. Tank size and whether you choose an above or underground water cistern are the two biggest price factors in a water catchment system.
We paid less than $500 for our entire rainwater catchment system. We had one rain barrel already and bought a second for $150 (amounting to 110 gallons of water storage) and we spent about $350 for the rain gutter supplies and tools (aluminum gutters, downpipes, elbows, stoppers/end caps, crimper tool, sealant, metal snips, hidden gutter hangers, and downspout outlets). We purchased the rain gutter tools and supplies at Home Depot, and the rain barrels at Tractor Supply and Amazon.
I cover the costs of bigger cisterns in the Water Storage section of this post.
Hauling Water & Water Delivery
The cost of water is different everywhere, but from my experience, water hauling costs range from 1 cent to 25 cents/gallon (if you haul the water yourself). Water delivery costs on average are about 3 times more than the cost of local water. So if water costs 1 cent/gallon, then getting water delivered will typically cost about 3 cents per gallon in that area.
If you are hauling your own water, keep in mind that you’ll need a portable water container and a truck (or trailer) that can handle the weight of water (a gallon of water weighs 8.34 lbs). So if you are hauling 275 gallons of water, then your vehicle needs to at least be able to haul 2,293 pounds (over 1 ton). A decent used truck is going to cost at least $10,000. New trailers cost $850 and up.
Hauling water is the method we use since Colorado has strict restrictions on rainwater collection (plus our area only gets about 10 inches of rain per year), and our land is rocky and at least 1000 feet above the water table, so drilling for a well would have been ridiculously expensive (~$65,000). We haul our water from a community well less than half a mile away that sells water for about 3 cents/gallon. Alternatively, there is a local water delivery service that charges 10 cents/ gallon to deliver.
We paid $300 for a 275-gallon Intermediate Bulk Water Container (because they are easy to transport) at Tractor Supply (you can also get these used for typically half the price (check Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist), and we haul our water in a Ford F-150. We usually do two trips at a time, every 2 weeks. So we pay about $30/month for water. This works for us since it is so close. If our water source was further, we would have considered buying a trailer and a larger cistern to handle a larger water load and the ability to haul more water at a time.
Water Storage Systems
Whether you are hauling water or using rainwater harvesting for your water source, you’ll need a sufficient water storage system with containers for holding the water (e.g. a tank, cistern, or a chain of barrels or other containers). You’ll also need a water pump and plumbing ($100+) to your house and a water filter. You can find a decent water pump for about $250. We use a 1HP Drummond Shallow Well Pump. You can purchase a whole house water filter for $150 and up. We use an iSpring 2-stage filter in combo with a 50-micron sediment filter.
How big of a water storage system does an off grid home need?
I would say having at least a 500-gallon water storage system is necessary for an off-grid home, but this really depends on how many people are in your home, what you are using water for, and your water collection method.
The average U.S. resident uses 82 gallons per day (2,460 gallons/month) according to the EPA. However 20% of that can be eliminated just by using water-efficient fixtures and appliances (e.g. low flow faucets). Additionally, if you use a composting toilet or a WaterSense toilet, only do laundry or dishes when you have a full load, and water your garden or landscape more efficiently, you can save a ton of water!
We (a house with two people and two dogs) have a 1,200-gallon underground cistern that lasts us about a month with conservative water usage. We use our water for drinking, cooking, doing dishes (without a dishwasher), showering (2-5 times/week), flushing two inefficient toilets, one bathroom sink, and doing a load of laundry once a week.
We also have 110 gallons worth of rainwater storage (that we also capture snow in), which helps us with watering our plants/garden.
That being said, I lived in a van for over a year with only 20 gallons of freshwater storage, and that could last me 2 weeks if I was conservative with it. Keep in mind that I didn’t use it for showers or laundry, and I had a composting toilet.
How much do water cisterns cost?
Above-ground water cisterns can cost about the same as rain barrels. They range between $0.50 to $4.00/ gallon. Most standard plastic Polyethylene water storage tanks cost about $1.10/gallon though. For example: a 550-gallon tank costs about $600, a 1,100-gallon tank costs $1,200, and a 3000-gallon tank costs about $3,300. Just make sure your tank or cistern is made out of materials that meet the FDA specifications for safe storage of potable water.
Underground water cisterns are dramatically more expensive for both materials and installation. Excavating costs alone can cost from $50 to $200/ cubic yard. The whole system can cost more than $12,000 (depending on the size and quality of your soil).
Keep in mind: Depending on your climate, you might need either an underground system to keep your water from freezing in the winter, or you can use alternative methods to keep an above-ground system from freezing (e.g. a bubbler, or insulating your tank).
So theoretically, you could pay $1000 for an entire water storage system that includes a 500-gallon above-ground cistern, water pump, water filter, and plumbing (if you plan on getting water delivered). Depending on your water source method, the initial price will go up from there as discussed in the sections above.
Renewable Energy (Solar & Wind Power Systems)
For a completely off-grid power system, you will need at least one solar panel and/or wind turbine, one inverter, and one battery. An extremely small and basic alternative power system can cost you as low as $1000. From there you can upgrade your system by adding as many solar panels and/or wind turbines, and batteries as you need.
Depending on your energy needs, the size of your home and family, how you choose to mount your panels or wind turbine, and if you do the labor yourself, an entire off-grid energy system could range between $10,000 and $40,000.
How big of a system you need really depends on your energy usage, which is largely based on your heating and cooling methods for your home, and how energy efficient your appliances, windows, and lighting are. You can work with your local renewable energy company or find various formulas online to calculate this amount.
If you are looking at an off-grid house without a current electricity source, and you don’t have the funds to install a solar or wind system on hand, it might be beneficial to negotiate the cost of a renewable energy electric system into your mortgage (this is what we did).
Additionally, if your home or land is close to or already connected to the power grid, you can actually make money off your renewable energy system by selling any excess power back to the grid. You can also lease solar panels which will save you a lot of money upfront. Some energy companies even offer lease to buy programs.
The average U.S. home would need 6kW of solar panels to power their homes. As mentioned above, we power our small home on 2kW with no problem and have plenty of excess power.
You can get a 100 Watt solar panel for as low as $80, and an inverter for as low as $200. You’ll also need a charge controller, adapter cables, mounting brackets and other miscellaneous things depending on your system. The cost will vary depending on how you mount your solar panels (roof mount, ground mount, or on a pole). If your shelter is a camper, RV, Tent, Yurt, or tiny house, I recommend Renogy’s Solar Power System Starter Kits. Batteries will likely be the most expensive part of your system.
For reference: Our ground-mounted 2kW of solar panels and 6,400Ah battery storage system cost us $16,500.
Our Solar Electric System Cost Breakdown for our 760 sq ft house:
- 6 x 325 Watt Canadian Solar Panels = $1,290
- 16 x 400Ah AGM Centennial Batteries = $7,440
- Magnum Energy MS4448 PAE Inverter & Remote Control = $2,000
- Magnum Energy MMP175-30D Mini Panel Breaker = $650
- Outback FM60-150VDC FLEXMax 60 Charge Controller = $400
- Ground Mount & all other miscellaneous materials = $1230
- Labor & mileage reimbursement for our contractor = $2,200
Our power system runs a 4.3 cu ft washer, a 14 cu ft refrigerator, a 1 HP Drummond Well Pump, a big-screen TV, an internet router, a Macbook Pro laptop and a desktop computer (running most of the day), 2 ceiling fans, all of our LED lights, and charges our phones and cameras. We’ve never gone below 80% capacity in our batteries (even in the winter).
Note: We use fans and windows for cooling (we don’t have an AC unit) and we use propane for heating our house, a water heater, and running our cooking stove/oven. We spend about $600/year to fill and rent our 500-gallon Propane tank to run those 3 appliances.
Previously, while living in my van full-time I lived off of 320 watts of solar panels and a Goal Zero Yeti Lithium Power Station (an all-in-one battery, inverter charge control with plug outlets). This system cost me less than $2,500 and ran a small energy-efficient refrigerator, my water pump, fan and LED lights, and charged all my devices.
Small residential wind turbines can cost between $1,000 to $5,000 for every kilowatt of power capacity. A 1kW (roof-mounted turbine) can cost about $2,000 and produce 1,759kWh/year.
Whereas a 1.5 kW pole-mounted turbine could cost approximately $8,000 to $12,000 and deliver around 2,600 kW over a year depending on your location and wind speeds. However, I have found 1kW wind turbine kits on Amazon for as low as $1,000 (they don’t include the mounting pole though).
People using a wind turbine as their primary source of electricity, typically install between 5 to 15 kW of wind power capacity, which can cost from $15,000 to $100,000.
Using wind turbines for your primary power is only really advised and worth your while if you live in an area with an average annual wind speed of at least 9 miles per hour. You can check the wind speed of an area on various weather websites.
Deep Cycle 12 Volt 100Ah batteries cost from $200 to $500 each and can last from 3-15 years (depending on the type).
Lithium batteries are the most expensive option, because they have the longest lifespan, require zero maintenance, weigh less, and take up less space. Then there are sealed lead-acid batteries, which can have lifespans up to 10 years, and don’t require maintenance. There are also basic flooded lead-acid batteries, which require maintenance and don’t last as long as other batteries, and these are the most affordable option. Finally, there are saltwater batteries now on the market, that are the most environmentally friendly, mid-range cost, but they are a relatively new and untested product.
A comfortable sized battery backup system with no maintenance would cost about $7,000.
Renewable Energy Tax Credits
Whether you install or expand on an already existing renewable energy electric system (wind or solar energy) for your off-grid house, you can get a federal tax credit for the amount you spend on the system (this includes materials and labor). A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the amount of income tax you owe. Some states even offer additional tax credits or other financial incentives, so make sure to check and calculate these reductions into the cost of everything.
The standard for wastewater treatment in an off-grid house is a septic system. A septic tank is typically an underground chamber that holds the wastewater long enough for solids to settle at the bottom and oil and grease to float to the top. The liquid waste is then filtered out through a drain or leach field, where it will naturally leach through the ground.
There are various types of septic systems, and a range of materials you can use, which will affect the cost. You’ll need to check with your local ordinances to see what kind of system, size tank, and permit fees are required for your area and home size. Septic systems can last from 15 to 30 years and can cost from $1,500-$20,000 to install. The national average cost of installing a septic system in the U.S. is $6,350.
The biggest cost factor is your soil. If your terrain is rocky (and hard to excavate) or your soil doesn’t drain well, your septic system will cost more.
Here is a helpful calculator for potentially determining the cost in your area: Home Advisor Septic Cost Estimates. But it’s probably best to ask your realtor and/or a local septic contractor for an estimate.
Composting toilets are a great sustainable and water-saving solution to your black water waste. They also break down human solid waste into usable fertilizer and compost. I highly recommend urine diverting composting toilets, because they are much simpler and safer to salvage and transition your waste into two separate products without creating nasty bacteria and harsh smells. Theoretically, if you have a composting toilet, you don’t need a septic system, and you could instead do a greywater system. However, most counties have restrictions and regulations on this, so check your local ordinances to determine what will work for you.
Self-contained, waterless, urine-diverting composting toilets cost $925 and up. I personally have used my Nature’s Head Composting Toilet in my tiny home on wheels for over 2 years and love it! If the toilets in our house ever break, I fully intend on transitioning to compost toilets.
With the combination of heat, aerobic bacteria, oxygen and time, you can turn your poop into compost.
Warning: human waste needs to compost for at least 4 months to 2 years before it’s safe to use. It is highly recommended to NEVER use it on edible plants, due to the small chance that dangerous bacteria is still alive in the waste.
You can speed up the composting process to 120 days, if you add lime to your poop compost bin and let it sit undisturbed (without adding new material). Without lime, the time frame varies from 6 months to 2 years (according to various sources and depends on the level of heat the waste is exposed to).
For your liquid toilet waste (pee), you can use it directly as fertilizer after you dilute it with water.
Quick Formula: Dilute 1 part urine to 10 parts water for trees and plants in the growing stage. Dilute 1 part urine to 30-50 parts water for use on potted plants. The Permaculture Research Institute has more guidance for using urine as fertilizer.
Alternatively, if you’re on a very tight budget you could build a DIY composting toilet for $100 or an outhouse. Again, your county probably has restrictions on this, so it really depends on your situation.
Grey Water System
A greywater system is meant to capture the wastewater from your shower, bathroom sinks, dishwasher, and washing machine (basically everything but your toilet water) and allows you to re-use that water for things like watering your landscape/yard or flushing your toilets.
The cost of greywater systems can vary dramatically depending on how complex your system is, and whether or not it’s installed during the construction of your home or afterward. The national average cost of a greywater system is $2,500.
A very basic system allows you to recycle your laundry water for your garden. A laundry to landscape system can be as affordable as $300 (if you are just running the water outside and not storing it). Note: you should always use eco-friendly biodegradable soap in these systems. We use Dropps Sustainable Laundry Detergent Pods.
A more complex system would gather water from all of the safe greywater sources mentioned above (not just laundry), filter it, and then store it in a large water tank so it can be recycled for use in a garden and for flushing toilets. This requires more plumbing, a storage tank, and a pump. These whole-house greywater recycling systems typically cost between $1,000 and $4,000 but could cost up to $20,000. It all depends on if you’re doing it yourself, how much water storage you need, and how much excavation is required.
We installed a simple above-ground laundry-to-landscape filtration system for less than $400 (you can check it out in the video below). Basically, we installed plumbing so that the wastewater from our washing machine goes into a 55-gallon rain barrel, and then we can use it to water plants. We are also in the process of making a reed bed in a stock tank, so that we can filter the water, even more, to make it safe for watering our edible plants.
DIY Grey Water Laundry System Supplies:
- Rain Barrel or other Water Storage Container – $50 and up
- PVC Pipe -$15
- P-Trap – $13
- PEX Tubing – $100
- PEX Pipe 1/2 inch (to reduce from 3/4” to connect to washing machine outlet box) – $25
- PEX Pipe Tools Kit – $40
- PEX fittings $16
- Ball Valves – $16
- Washing Machine Outlet Box – $22
- Washing Machine Hoses – $13
- For natural filtration system:
- Mesh tarp – $20
- Rocks & Dirt (optional: reeds, charcoal)
Keep in mind that if you live in a cold climate, you’ll typically want to bury your pipes and greywater storage tank underground below the frost line. Or you can do what we did, and install a greenhouse with a heater around your water tank so that the water doesn’t freeze in the winter.
Many sources will tell you that you need about an acre (~4,000 sq ft) of land to be able to produce enough food to feed one person. However, it really depends on your diet and the type of farming/gardening you intent to do. For example, the authors of The Self Sufficient Backyard live on 1/4 acre and only use 1,020 square feet of land per person to produce all their own food.
Seeds can cost about $100/year for a family of 4, but you can also save seeds once you start gardening, which will save you money after your initial planting. We personally have spent less than $50 on 33 NON-GMO heirloom seed packets (which includes 30,000 seeds from 33 plant varieties).
If you want berry bushes, grapes, fruit and nut trees, the cost will range from $5 to $100+ depending on the size of the plant when you buy it. We bought several berry bushes at Walmart’s nursery for $5/each and we bought small apple and pear trees for $15 at Tractor Supply.
Many seeds do much better starting their growth in germination trays ($20) indoors or in a greenhouse during the germination phase. This is especially true during colder months. We use a propagation kit like this one ($46)
Irrigation is the process of artificially applying water to land to assist in the production of crops. You’ll need to irrigate your plants for them to grow, which can be as simple as manually watering them with a hose (this is what we do), or it can be a complex automated system. You can get a 100ft garden hose and nozzle for as low as $30.
Composting is free and it will save you money on fertilizer and reduce your household waste by diverting food scraps from your garbage bin and landfills. You can simply start a compost pile somewhere in your yard, but it is much easier and less messy to have it contained in an easy-to-mix manner. You can find 40+ gallon tumbling compost bins for as low as $70.
If you’re gardening outside, you’ll probably need a fence to keep critters out. This will cost $500 and up (depending on the length, height and material used). Chicken wire/welded fence combos with t-posts will likely be the cheapest option. It’s about $77 for 100ft of welded wire fence (48in tall) and $60 for 150ft of chicken wire (24in tall). 5 ft t-posts cost about $3.69 apiece and a T-post pounder is about $35. So if you space your posts about 10ft apart and use a 4ft tall fence, you could fence in a 500 square foot garden for $845.
We spent about $1200 fencing in 1.25 acres with a 5 foot tall welded wire fence with 7ft T-posts and 8ft pressure washed wood corner posts. We installed it ourselves which saved us money on labor.
If you’re in a colder, windy, or dry climate, you’ll probably want a greenhouse to grow your food or at least to grow your seedlings inside of a protected shelter. You can build one yourself and/or buy a simple greenhouse kit starting at $100 and sturdier ones ranging from $700 to $30,000 (depending on the type, materials, and size). We personally paid $600 (on sale) for a Palram Hybrid 8′ x 4′ Lean-to Greenhouse (pictured above) which is made out of an aluminum structure and polycarbonate panels. This also helps us keep our greywater system warm in the winter.
You can also use hydroponics, vertical gardening, and aquaponics inside of a greenhouse (or outside) as a way to save space, water, and resources.
Hydroponics is a type of horticulture that involves growing plants without soil. Instead, you use a growing medium (e.g. coco coir, peat moss, etc) and add mineral nutrient solutions to the water. It also requires a small amount of power to run a pump and timer so that it can be a completely automated system.
Advantages of Hydroponics:
- Typically uses 10x less water than traditional gardening
- Production increases 3x to 10x in the same amount of space
- Crops can be produced twice as fast in a well-managed system
So far we’ve been experimenting with a Farmstand by Lettuce grow, which is an all-in-one self-watering hydroponic vertical garden. It literally only requires 5-minutes of maintenance once a week, you can grow up to 36 plants in 4 sq ft, and it takes 95% less water than traditional gardening. Plus, the farmstand comes with everything you need (including a 20-gallon water tank, pump, timer, nutrients, and a pH test kit). It’s also made out of recycled ocean plastic, and for every ten purchased, they donate one. They range from $350-$650 (depending on the size).
There are cheaper hydroponic kits for sale, like the two below, or you can build your own. But I personally did a lot of research before purchasing my Farmstand and it truly seemed like the best quality all-inclusive deal on the market for that price range.
This kit doesn’t include the self-watering system or water storage tank so you’d have to purchase a pump, plumbing, a tank, and nutrients separately.
This all inclusive kit can grow up to 20 plants, and includes a 16 gallon water tank, plant food, timer, water pump and pipes.
Monthly/Annual Off-Grid Living Expenses
- Internet: chances are if you are off-grid, you won’t have access to standard internet connections/providers. We use Viasat for satellite internet and pay $110/month
- Insurance: Most states require you to have auto and health insurance, and the cost will vary depending on your circumstances. We also have home owner’s insurance and pay $635/year
- Property Tax: this will vary depending on where you live, how big your house is, and how much land you own. We pay about $330/year in property tax for our house and 5 acres
- Fuel: you’ll still need to pay for fuel for your vehicle and potentially a backup generator. We also use propane to heat our house and run our stove and water heater. We spend about $600 on propane and tank rental/year
- Food: until your garden and or livestock are producing a sufficient amount of food, you’re still going to need to budget for groceries. Even after you have your farm/garden setup, you’ll probably still need to buy a few basic supplies/food staples to supplement your diet.
- Trash: you’ll most likely need to haul your trash to a transfer station or dump, which costs money. We dump about 100-gallons of trash (2 small trash containers worth of trash) every two months for $10 ($5/month)
In conclusion, once your home and systems are established, living off–grid is cheaper than living in a traditional house and lifestyle since you are eliminating most typical monthly living expenses. Renewable energy is cost-effective in the long run and eliminates monthly electric bills (but it’s more expensive upfront unless you are leasing your system and still partially connected to the grid). Living off the land and producing your own food is cheaper than purchasing food at the grocery store (but it takes more maintenance, time, and upfront costs). But most importantly, living smaller will save you A LOT of money on your initial home cost and general living expenses (whether you’re off grid or not). The bottom line is that how much your off-grid living setup will cost depends on how many luxuries you want to be incorporated. You can definitely live off-grid very simply in a basic shelter for less than $15,000 (e.g. tent, yurt, or camper) or you can live in a more traditional home off-grid for under $200,000. It’s all up to you and your comfort level and needs.
So hopefully this post helped break down all of the expenses and answered your questions about how much it costs to live off-grid. Feel free to ask questions in the comments or share your own experience with off-grid living.