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To begin, I need to state that every build is different and every situation is unique. It would be impossible to cover every possible case scenario for building off the grid. Hopefully, I will be able to lead you in the right direction in getting started, or at least give you some new ideas.
Building off the Grid: Getting Started
Have you ever dreamed of a life without monthly electric and water bills or a mortgage payment? We did. As a matter of fact, we just recently made the jump of leaving our urban life to follow our dream of living off-the-grid. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a huge bankroll to make our dream a reality.
I would love to be able to say that we had well thought out plans, a budget set in place, and did all of our background research before we made the jump. Furthermore, I would love to tell you that I had friends that moved off-grid that shared all of their wisdom with us beforehand. That would have been great; unfortunately, none of those things happened. In reality, the only true statement is we didn’t plan a thing. Mistakes were our number one life-lesson, and past experience was our roadmap. Lucky for you, I’m here to share all of our infinite wisdom, so you don’t have to walk in my footsteps, which is a good thing, because I lost my flip-flops in the mud months ago.
Before you get Started
Do you want financial freedom? Are you tired of being told what you can and can not do on your own property? Then you are probably one of the thousands that are looking into Off Grid Living.
Before you give your two weeks notice and put your house on the market, there are 12 Things You Must Do Before Moving Off The Grid.
#1 Make sure Everyone is on Board. Are you planning on moving off the grid with other family members? Making an enormous life-changing decision, such as this, isn’t something to be taken lightly. Read More Here
Life off-the-grid should mean freedom, right? No rules and no one telling you what you can and cannot do, right? Unfortunately, wrong. While it’s true, living off the grid IS freeing and there is a peace about this life that you won’t find in any other place, it isn’t without its rules. We still have to pay taxes and we still have to abide by the local laws, which means building codes, permits, inspections, and fees.
Do people do what they want anyway? Why, yes, yes they do. Should you? Not really. Let me explain why. Say you own a bunch of land in the middle of nowhere and want to build an off-grid cabin. You didn’t get a building permit or even think you had to, then years down the road you had a falling out with a neighbor. That neighbor then decides to play dirty and calls the building inspector, and the building inspector comes and decides your house doesn’t meet code. After that, your house could be condemned and deemed as unsuitable for living or for resale. It’s a crappy thing to do, but it does happen. As a matter of fact, we have a neighbor that refused to go by the codes, so their house was condemned and they burnt it down in an act of protest. They now live in a tent, which isn’t exactly an off-grid dream come true.
A Land Without Laws
Depending on where you live, the local laws will greatly affect your ability in building off the grid. Some states and countries have laws against living off the grid. Before you start drawing plans or hiring a contractor, make sure to check with your local building department if it is legal to build off the grid.
Some areas, like mine, do not have building and zoning laws. Of course, living in an area like this has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, we can build what we want, and on the minus side, our neighbors can too, and that’s not always a good thing. Fortunately, we love where we live and the freedom we have to live off the land.
If you are in pursuit of land to start your off-grid dream then I highly recommend looking for areas without building and zoning laws.
Legal Building Materials
In addition to finding out if it is legal to build off the grid in your area, you will also want to ask the building inspector if it’s legal to use the building materials you want to use. For instance, in some areas, it is illegal to use green lumber in building your off-grid home. In those areas, you’re only allowed to used kiln dried lumber that has been stamped by a licensed lumber mill. Another issue you may run into is that they have never heard of the type of house you want to build. In which case, you will have to present your building inspector with all of the research on your building material.
When we were researching areas to move to, I called the building and zoning departments in those areas. You would be surprised how many of them never heard of a lot of alternative building materials; therefore, they didn’t have any regulations set in place for what we wanted to do. That’s when we realized we needed to find an area without laws already in place concerning things such as that.
Building Off The Grid On A Budget
We didn’t have a job that we were moving to after selling our coastal home. All of the money we had from the sale was all that we would have for the foreseeable future, so we needed to make every dollar stretch. We lived a frugal lifestyle for years prior to moving and pretty much mastered the ability to recycle just about anything, including building materials.
The key to building off the grid on a budget is patience and adaptability. You can either buy all of your windows all at once at a big box store and have them match perfectly, or you can buy them here or there over time. They might not match perfectly, but you’ll save thousands. The same principle applies to all of your building material.
You can buy all of your lumber from a lumber yard where it’s nice, straight, dry, and all the same color, or you can mill your own logs one by one, let them dry, use different trees, and have free lumber, but it’s not always so straight or matchy-matchy.
Watch Our Build From Beginning to End
We were blessed with the opportunity to document the building of our off-grid Smoky Mountain Homestead for the Discovery Channel and the DIY Network/HGTV. We used many of the tips and tricks I talk about in this article, that of which includes sawing our own lumber, recycling old barn tin salvaged from construction sites, and more. You can find out how to watch our show here.
Frugal and or Free Building Materials
When building an off-the-grid home or any construction project on a budget, it’s best to have a storage area for building materials and supplies. Like I mentioned above, frugal building means you probably won’t be able to get all of your building materials at the same time. You’ll need a place to store everything until you’re ready to build.
Some ideas you can use in building the structure of your off-grid home or cabin would be:
- Milled lumber from your land
- Straw bale building
- Earthbag building
- ICF concrete forms
- Recycled material from old barns or buildings
Other Budget-Friendly Building Materials
In addition to budget-friendly framing materials, you can get a lot of other items you need for building your off-grid home on the cheap. Such as:
- The discount section at lumber yards. We bought our sheetrock for $2.00 a sheet which is normally $15.00 a sheet because it was slightly damaged.
- Classified Ads. Windows, doors, cabinets, and hardware can all be found in local classifieds.
- Demos, floor models, or wrong orders. Check with local lumber yards or building material stores, and ask about their used displays or mis-orders. I’ve bought brand new windows for less than fifty bucks this way.
- Dumpster diving at construction sites. ASK FIRST. I don’t want you to get arrested and blame me. Seriously though, contractors have to pay to haul construction debris to the landfill. Most of them would be more than happy to let you take their waste off of their hands. We have found many hidden treasures in construction dumpsters. Things like insulation, plumbing supplies, wood trim, nails and more can be found this way.
Building off the grid is one thing, but you may also want an energy source. Living off-grid has its own benefits and rewards. Depending on which level of off-grid living you choose, discovering the best renewable energy source for your homestead can be of the utmost importance. There are many reasons people choose to be off-grid. The most obvious is the saving of money on monthly power bills. Without a doubt, deciding on which renewable energy source that’s best for you is a big decision.
To read more about what energy source will be best for your new off-grid cabin, click here to learn more.
Do you have any tips to share for building off the grid?