Living Off the Grid, (or Close to it) Urban Style

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urban living off grid

Admit it, you have been thinking about it. Off the grid living.

Late at night, at the end of a long day, you have pictured your life off grid. Images of Little House on the Prairie come to mind. Maybe you ponder becoming a long bearded man living in the mountains, content to be a hermit.

You are not alone in your thoughts, as more people are choosing an off grid lifestyle. Some are able to escape the noisy concrete city and move to quiet acreage in the Midwest or another idyllic country setting. However, for many, like me, work and family obligations make that impossible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our best to live as off the grid as possible.

Living off grid is defined as being self-sufficient of municipal utilities, such as water, natural gas, electricity, sewer and trash services. Choosing to live an urban off grid life is possible and does have many advantages.

One advantage is knowing that you and your family can be prepared and will be able to survive quite well when a disaster happens. Many have been able to save money on their utilities and purchases. Others have found peace and confidence in their new learned skills along their path to grid-less-ness, but do not conjure up a romanticized version of happily churning your own butter and building an outhouse. Off-grid living, whether urban, suburban, or rural, isn’t the easiest choice you’ll ever make!

Urban living off-grid

The type of home in which you are living determines, in large part, the extent to which you can go grid-free. If you are in a home with a yard, it is easier to become more self-sufficient. Apartment life can accommodate a degree of off-grid living, just in a smaller scale.

An advantage for both types of homes is that everything you normally need in the course of a day or week is close to home. Walking or biking around town provides great exercise and saves money on gas, vehicle maintenance and insurance. Bikes can be inexpensive and easy to repair. A wagon or cart can be added to the back.

Public transportation, like the bus system, can be very economical. Try the various methods of transportation your city offers and know what works best for you. Look into monthly passes, if used regularly, it may save you money. Pay attention to where you go and its location. Combine trips, shop in your local neighborhood and learn of new activities in your community for your family. Libraries, parks, swimming pools, local colleges and recreation centers offer free or low cost entertainment and activities. All of these options will allow you to not be reliant on your gasoline/diesel powered vehicles and the supply of fuel into your community. It will also help you to save money.

Being independent of all utilities may not be possible, but minimizing usage and creating your own electricity can be. Solar panels are one alternative and can be installed on various types of homes. Be aware that an entire house solar system will be tied to the grid and will be vulnerable to the effects of an EMP, should that ever occur.

Another way to save money and energy is to minimizing your electricity usage. Some easy suggestions are:

  • Unplugging everything that isn’t currently being used. This will help you realize what you rely on the most and then find ways of coping without that appliance, electronic, or whatever.
  • Learning about simple solar systems, requiring deep cell batteries and solar panels
  • Turning off lights. Try to go for 48 hours without using any lamps or electric lights of any kind. This will help you figure out what kind of lighting you would need in a grid-down emergency.
  • Throwing on an extra layer of clothing on in the winter
  • Hand washing clothes
  • Hanging clothes on a clothes line
  • Insulating your attic
  • Wash dishes by hand
  • Close unused air vents
  • Swap regular bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs

An off-grid “washing machine” like the Wonderwash is one way to make laundry day a little easier without requiring any power. When reviewed, here’s what we found

Benefits of the Wonderwash
1.  Manually operated / NO electricity.
2.  Compact design, but surprisingly large capacity.
3.  Uses very little water and detergent
4.  Washes and rinses quickly and completely.
5.  Easy to assemble and use.
6.  The cylinder, lid, and handle are a solid design.

1.  The base does seem a little rickety, but if it breaks my husband assures me he can build a new base without too much trouble.
2.  Despite the surprisingly large capacity, you will NOT fit a queen or king size quilt or comforter into this machine.

On a family camping trip we put the Wonderwash to use. We heated river water, added very little laundry detergent, put in our clothes, and tightened the lid to create pressure inside the tub.

After a two-minute spin, and due to my impatience, I skipped using the drainage tube and simply dumped the water out of the top.  We quickly wrung the clothes, returned them, filled the tub with warm clean water and gave it a second spin.  The entire process took 45 minutes. The clothes came out remarkably clean. (Reminder — We were camping on a river in the mountains and my youngest son has an aversion to cleanliness. The Wonderwash actually got s’more goo out!)  We line dried and wore the clothes the next day.

Going off-grid with your water and food supply

We need to use water for cooking, cleaning and washing, we just need to be wise about our water usage. Whether your water comes from a well or the city, less is better. Try some of these simple methods to reduce your dependence and cost of water:

• Short showers, maybe shower at the gym. A 5-minute shower can save you up to 1,000 gallons per month.
• Have a 5 gallon bucket in the shower to hold any water that is running while you find the right temperature for your shower. Use this water for plants or flushing the toilet.
• Keep a clean dishpan in the kitchen sink. It will hold the running water you use when washing hands and rinsing veggies.
• Use this water for your garden or washing dishes
• Install water saving shower heads, faucets and toilets
• Use a rain barrel system to collect water for your garden

Begin to minimize your dependence on grocery stores by growing your own food as much as possible. Start small with just 1 vegetable and 1 herb. If the plants don’t seem to be thriving, try using more or less water, a fertilizer (consult a nursery), but be sure to make notes. Growing food to any large extent is extremely difficult and can take years to master.

Apartment balconies can hold pots for vegetables and you can build vertical growing systems. In a home, you can plant in flowerbeds, allot a spot in your yard for a garden or add containers for additional space. Learn how to vertical garden and utilize the fence and exterior walls of your home. If you do not have the space to garden, consider community gardens. The are a low cost option and give you an opportunity to know your neighbors. Another option is to arrange with a neighbor that, in exchange for the use of their backyard for your garden, you’ll give them a percentage of the harvest and cover the cost of water, fertilizer, seeds, mulch, and the like.

Choosing to become more self sufficient and rely less on the grid can be an overwhelming thought. It is a lifestyle choice, a commitment to use less, save money and prepare. Take these suggestions and implement them into your life one by one. You will find more money in your budget to stock up on food and other emergency supplies for your family as you implement urban living off-grid. Maybe this will increase your savings so you can get that acreage in your favorite rural countryside.

*Check with city and county codes before going partial or off-grid.

Wonderwash review contributed by Cindy Larson.

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Erin Foster is mom to 5 kids. West Georgia is home where you can find her reading, camping, enjoying a play and on any adventure she can do with her family. Along with a B.A. degree in Emergency and Disaster Management, she has an EKG technician and nursing assistant certificate.

7 thoughts on “Living Off the Grid, (or Close to it) Urban Style”

  1. We didn’t have an air conditioner in one of the apartments where we lived before we got our house. We had to rely on alternate means to regulate the temperature – we opened up all the windows in the early morning to flood our place with cold air, and then closed them and covered them with curtains when it began to heat up during the day. This kept the cool air in and the hot air out – the curtains kept out sunlight, but they also helped to keep out the heat (this was an attic apartment in a desert climate).

    We have an air conditioner now, but by employing these simple tricks during the summer, we’ve managed to keep our electricity bill down and still stay cool.

  2. Yes!! We run our laundry water through our garden and have a wood burning stove. Our bathroom sink drains directly into our toilet tank allowing me to shut off the city supply of clean water to flush thereby saving $10/ month!!!

  3. Lots of great points. I would suggest instead of compact fluorescent bulbs using LED bulbs. These used to be more expensive than CFL’s but are now price-competitive; they similarly conserve electricity (i.e. a 65 watt-equivalent LED only draws 9.8 watts) and have a longer life, resist vibration better and have no hazardous mercury inside. Their light is also closer to incandescent than the CFL’s and have no flicker. I have a routine of picking up one LED bulb every time I food shop, and am almost done replacing all of my incandescent and CFL bulbs.

  4. Sometime in the spring when it feels like spring instead of summer, I turn off the circuit breakers for my baseboard heat. I’ve found that it does make a difference! I leave them off until it starts feeling like winter again. (I always wear sweaters in the house)

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