For some, off-grid living simply means disconnecting from public utilities.
For others, off-grid living means living a completely self-sufficient life where you provide for all of your needs – including power, food and medicine – but use modern technology to help you do so.
For yet others, off-grid means living a primitive lifestyle that is without any modern technology.
Regardless of what off-grid living means to you personally, it’s going to require a significant investment of time and money.
Here I’ll go over the cost of off-grid living plus what you need to get started.
Cost of Off-Grid Living
Unless you are living a completely primitive lifestyle, going off-grid will probably cost more than you think. The main initial costs include land, the home, and outbuildings, a power system, well digging, septic, and equipment.
A rustic off-grid home on cheap land might only cost $10,000-$20,000 to initially set up if you do most of the work yourself. However, most people end up spending at least $100,000 on their off-grid property and home.
If you want to be able to live self-sufficiently off of your land or make a profit from it, you’ll need higher-quality land, larger acreage, and more complex systems, so expect to spend at least $200,000.
Note: These prices were taken from numerous off-grid forums where real people discussed how much their projects cost them. The costs vary drastically depending on location, the technology used, etc.
Recurring Costs of Off-Grid Living
Even once everything is set up and running, there are still many costs that come with off-grid living. Some of the recurring expenses you may need to pay include:
- Property taxes
- Pumping out the septic tank every 1-3 years
- Replacement parts for equipment
- Declining solar equipment efficiency
- Fuel for vehicle
- Wood for heating
- Insurance (property and health)
- Equipment/machinery rentals
In general, these costs are cheaper or comparable to what you’d be paying if you were grid-tied. However, they can often take people by surprise.
For example, you might be surprised at how much more gas you use for your vehicle now that you live somewhere remote and regularly need to haul supplies. This is why it is essential to have a source of income while living off-grid.
What Do You Need to Live Off-Grid? (Including Cost Breakdown)
Land is the most basic requirement for off-grid living. Unfortunately, finding suitable land usually isn’t easy. If you want to live off the land – such as by having a garden or raising livestock – you’ll need to find land that is large, water-rich, and fertile enough to support these activities.
Depending on where the land is located, it might even be illegal to go off-grid on it. Laws may require you to connect to the municipal sewage system, prevent you from diverting water, limit the number of chickens you can have…
These laws are usually determined on a local level, so it takes a lot of digging to determine what you can legally do on your land.
For more info, read:
Cost of Land for Off-Grid Living
According to the USDA Land Value survey, agricultural land prices in the USA average $3,160 per acre in 2020, which is the same as in 2019. Cropland was valued at $4,100 per acre, and pasture land averaged $1,400. Remote land which isn’t already cultivated typically costs much less. Many people are able to find land for their off-grid property for $1,000 per acre, especially when buying 30 acres or more.
Keep in mind that, in addition to the actual cost of buying the land, you will probably have to pay many other land-related expenses, such as:
- Land survey
- Clearing land
- Pouring foundation
- Soil tests
- Permits and inspections
States with Cheapest Off-Grid Land
Not surprisingly, land in California and the Northeast USA is costly. An acre of farmland in California averages $8,400. The states with the cheapest land (average of under $2,000 per acre for farmland) are:
- North Dakota
- New Mexico – New Mexico off-grid laws
In Nevada, for example, I was able to find 20 acres of land plus a small home (in need of renovation) listed for sale at just $7,300.
Many places are now giving away free land to attract new residents and combat population decline. This is particularly true in the Plains States like Kansas and Nebraska.
The downside is that most of these free lots are pretty small. Many of them are located close to cities or towns, which means that strict zoning laws are likely in place. You might not be able to carry out the off-grid projects you are dreaming about.
Most people may imagine a rustic cabin in the woods when they think of off-grid living, but there are many options for off-grid homes. Unfortunately, some of these options aren’t always legal.
For example, most counties don’t allow people to live in tents, yurts, or RVs for more than a few weeks of the year (yes, even on your own land!).
Tiny homes often fall into a gray area in the law, though many states are becoming more permissive. Likewise, alternative building methods such as straw bale and mud-brick homes are still illegal in many places because they don’t meet building codes.
This goes back to what I mentioned before about it being illegal to live off-grid on some land. Before buying any land, make sure you carefully research local laws to be sure you can legally build the type of home you want.
Cost of Building an Off-Grid Home
The cheapest options for an off-grid home are used RVs and shipping containers. You can get one for $2,000 to $5,000. A-frame homes are also inexpensive and can cost as little as $3,500 to build. Log cabins are more comfortable, relatively affordable, and there are even DIY kits you can buy for approximately $25,000 to $50,000.
Surprisingly, straw bale homes and other alternative building materials can be expensive, mainly because of the complex permitting requirements in many areas. You might spend $90,000 on a straw bale home. But I read of one man who built his own for $10,000 with everything installed.
Tiny homes and other pre-fab homes are becoming more popular, and there are a lot of options. Some of these are designed with off-grid living in mind. The prices start at around $25,000 for a basic off-grid tiny home to $350,000 for the ZeroHouse, which includes solar, built-in compost toilet, and other high-tech off-grid systems.
Don’t Forget the Cost of Pouring a Foundation
The cost of pouring a foundation for an off-grid home can be astronomical – especially if you live somewhere remote and need to hire workers. Because of this, it sometimes makes sense to buy property that already has a building on it. It might not be the home of your dreams, but renovating the existing structure can be much cheaper than pouring a new foundation.
The average American family uses over 300 gallons of water per day. Because this water comes from the tap, most people don’t think much about it. But, when you have to supply all your water while living off-grid, it can be a considerable challenge.
If there is limited water on your land (which is the case with most states in the West), you’ll have to take drastic measures to reduce water usage. This could make it impossible for you to grow certain crops or raise livestock.
In addition to supplying water, you’ll probably also want hot water. Solar showers and solar hot water tanks are an easy off-grid solution for the summer months. In cold months, you’ll have to be more creative, such as rigging up wood-heated water tanks and bathtubs.
For more, read:
Cost of Drilling a Well
Most people living off-grid get their water from wells. The cost of drilling a well varies drastically, even within the same county. Expect well drilling to cost $1,500 to $15,000 for 150 feet.
If you need to dig very deep on challenging terrain in a remote area, the cost may be even higher than this.
For this reason, it usually makes sense to buy a property that already has a well on it. You can even re-drill the existing well to make it deeper, which is cheaper than digging a completely new well.
For more, read:
- Best manual hand well pumps
- How to install a hand well pump
- How to install a powered shallow well pump
Rainwater Harvesting Costs
Simple rainwater harvesting systems are very cheap. You may even be able to get free rainwater barrels from your local government. If you want to install a simple rainwater system that can be used indoors for non-potable water, expect it to cost $1,000 to $3,000.
While it is possible to live off-grid without any power, it isn’t convenient. You’d have to do things like haul water from your well by hand instead of using an electric pump. I can think of a dozen other homesteading chores that are a better use of my time!
Also, remember that it gets dark quickly in winter. Without power for light, you would have to stop working when the sun goes down. Sure, you can use candles for lighting but, unless you raise bees, you’ll have to buy wax. Wouldn’t it be easier to use your renewable power source?
Solar, wind, and hydro are the primary sources of off-grid power. Even with these systems in place, off-grid living still means learning to conserve. You probably won’t be running AC much in the summer, nor will you be using high-energy appliances like a hairdryer.
It’s a significant lifestyle change but one that many ultimately enjoy for simplifying their lives.
For more, read:
Cost of Off-Grid Solar
It is possible to get a very simple, small (under 1kW) off-grid solar system setup for $4,000.
To live comfortably (but in an energy-conscious way), you’ll probably need to invest $20,000 to $30,000.
This will allow you to have enough power for computers, off-grid internet, and AC in very hot weather. If you install most of the system yourself, you can get the costs down to about $13,000.
These are very crude estimates of solar power costs for off-grid living. If you live somewhere with a lot of sun and can position the solar panels well, the costs will be much less.
You can also get your solar needs down by investing in propane appliances, passive solar water heaters, and other appliances.
5. Waste Treatment System
This isn’t something that people like to think about, but it’s one of the most important parts of going off-grid.
Don’t assume that you’ll just be able to dig an outhouse on your property to deal with waste. Even in places with lenient off-grid living laws, outhouses are usually illegal. If you live close to a sewage line, local or state law may require you to hook up to the municipal sewage system. Otherwise, the law will likely require you to install a septic tank.
Many places are now starting to allow composting toilets and incinerator toilets (though you usually need to have septic installed). Because you won’t have to pay for services like septic tank drainage, these off-grid toilets allow you to become more self-reliant.
For more info, read:
- Guide to off-grid sewage disposal options
- What is a composting toilet?
- Modern outhouse designs
Cost of Septic and Other Off-Grid Waste Treatment Systems
Almost all states and local governments require you to have a septic system to live on a property. The price of installing septic is typically $3,000, but this can get up to $8,000 in some areas.
Many areas are now allowing alternative waste treatment systems, such as composting toilets. You might even be able to have your septic tank size requirements reduced if you use a compost toilet. The catch is that you will probably be required to use an approved composting toilet (not a cheap DIY one), which starts at around $1,700.
When it comes to heating an off-grid home, you have many options. These include:
- Active solar heating
- Electric heaters run on solar, wind, or other renewable energy
- Propane heaters
- Biomass heating
- Other fuel heaters (kerosene, diesel, gasoline…)
For most people starting with off-grid living, wood stoves or propane heaters are the most sensible options. However, you still have to think about all the work and/or money that goes into these systems. Are you able to get firewood from your property? Or will you have to buy wood or propane?
Cost of Wood Stove and Wood for Heating
A simple wood stove with installation typically costs $1,000 to $3,000. If you need a more complex wood stove that can also heat water, expect to pay up to $7,000.
As for the amount of firewood you’ll need per season, a well-insulated home in a cold region usually requires 3 to 10 cords per heating season; a cord of wood costs $100 to $300, so expect your heating costs to be anywhere from $300 to $3,000.
If you have forestland on your property, you could cut your own firewood. However, this isn’t free. You will need equipment like chainsaws, an ATV or truck and maybe hired help.
Also, consider the amount of time it takes to process your firewood. If you have a high-paying job, it might make more sense to buy firewood than spend the time processing it yourself.
7. Security and Fencing
Security isn’t just about keeping thieves off your property. It is about protecting yourself and your property against numerous threats. These may include:
- Harsh weather
- Natural disasters
- Wild animals
Bears, for example, are a big problem in many parts of the USA. For example, my cousin in Upstate New York has big issues with bears getting into her compost.
Cost of Security when Living Off-Grid
When it comes to securing your off-grid property, fencing will probably be one of the most significant expenses. While you can build free fences out of scavenged materials like pallets, these don’t hold up well against wildlife.
A lot of off-grid dwellers end up installing electric fences powered by solar panels to keep deer or predators like coyotes or mountain lions off their property. To fence in a garden and orchard with an electric fence, expect to pay $3,000 to $4,000.
Other security expenses are cheap. For example, a friend kept having her chicks get carried off by hawks. She was able to solve the problem by hanging DIY netting above the chicken run. It wasn’t expensive, but all of these small costs – and the cost of all those lost chicks – add up.
One of the common-overlooked aspects of off-grid living is healthcare.
Even if you are fit and healthy, you’ll still need a healthcare plan. And, before you romanticize the idea of treating all injuries and ailments with natural medicine, consider how many people in the past died terrible, agonizing deaths from infections that are now easily cured with antibiotics. (I love natural medicine, but there is a time to see a doctor!)
Aside from all the typical infections and diseases that might strike, there’s also a higher risk of injury when you live off the land (chainsaw accidents, anyone?).
If you live in the USA and don’t have good health insurance, those medical bills can quickly bankrupt you. Make sure you have a plan in place for how you will get treatment and pay for it.
While it is certainly possible to live off-grid without a vehicle, having one sure makes those random trips to town and hauling gear back home a lot easier.
The catch is that having a vehicle means a lot of additional expenses. At the very minimum, you’ll need to pay for insurance, gas (unless you want to make bio-diesel or get a solar vehicle), and maintenance supplies. There are also expenses like driveways to build, spare parts, and repairs.
If you aren’t too far away from civilization or live very primitively, you could get away with just a bicycle with a trailer hitched to it for hauling supplies.
These buildings might include:
- Animal stalls
- Chicken coops
- Rabbit cages
- Bad-weather shelter for animals
- Dog houses
- Animal food storage
- Milking area
- Root cellar
Some of these buildings are cheap to build and easy to do as a DIY project. But, especially if you live in a harsh climate, you might need more complex outbuildings for keeping animals and supplies safe.
Living off-grid usually means producing at least some of your own food. However, the romanticized idea of living entirely off the land is a bit unrealistic.
Unless you really like eating cabbage, potatoes, and apples, you’ll probably still be buying a lot of your food. Producing food comes with costs, and you’ll also have to pay for preserving supplies.
Costs of Growing Your Own Food when Living Off-Grid
According to the National Gardening Association, a home vegetable garden cost an average of $238 and produced $677 worth of food, meaning a plus of $439.
Presumably, a larger-scale garden would have an even larger financial plus. And, if you saved seeds, grew your own seedlings, and used homemade compost instead of store-bought fertilizer, costs would be even lower.
Despite this, growing your own food will still require a significant investment. Raising animals for food requires an even more considerable investment and has a high learning curve. There’s never a guarantee that you’ll succeed at your endeavors either.
Below are just some of the costs for growing/raising your own food:
- Pest control
- Renting tractors and other equipment
- Irrigation systems
- Food preservation supplies
- Animal feed
- Coops, cages, and barns
- Medicine and vet visits
There is an insane amount of knowledge that goes into living a self-reliant life. You’ll suddenly find yourself thrust into the role of electrician, plumber, doctor, pest control, engineer, seamstress, welder, soil surveyor, calving veterinarian, and arborist, to name just a few.
The more you know, the more self-reliant you will be.
You can gain a lot of knowledge for free but also set a budget for learning – such as for buying books, taking courses, going on trips to visit off-grid properties, and maybe even an apprenticeship. These investments will pay off by reducing the number of costly mistakes you make when starting.
13. Supplies and Tools
It takes a lot of different supplies and tools to live off the grid safely and comfortably. Not all of these are completely necessary. However, by investing in certain supplies, you can reduce your dependency on other resources. For example, if you invest in a good hand-crank washing machine, you won’t need as much solar power.
For this reason, it is wise to make a list of all of the supplies you will likely need to get started with off-grid living. If you aren’t raising animals or farming, then you won’t need as many supplies.
Likewise, if you are content with hand-washing your clothes (which is no fun in winter) and taking cold showers (also not fun in winter!), then your costs will be much lower.
See a complete list of off-grid equipment here.