There are arguably many necessities of life. Food, water, oxygen, light, shelter, clothing, etc. Some will argue we need love, companionship, physical activity and so on and so on. However when reduced to the absolute basic needs of life we find there are actually just four.
Food, Water, Shelter and Clothing.
We already get sunlight from that burning ball 93 million miles away we call the sun. Oxygen is already in the atmosphere and we do not have to go looking for it. Love & companionship? We are always looking for that huh? The four basic necessities of life are needed before we can attempt to find others so we will stick with those for the purpose of this article.
Living “off the grid” does not mean living like a hermit as some would think. In fact, most people who live “off the grid” are actually quite sociable. Keep in mind we ALL lived “off the grid” not too long ago. According to Wikipedia, “The term off-grid refers to not being connected to a grid, mainly used in terms of not being connected to the main or national electrical grid” and “The term off-the-grid (OTG) can refer to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.”
Living “off the grid” does not necessarily mean going back in time and giving up on the modern world as the Amish do. This has been a general misconception in the mind of the public when one hears that someone is living or going “off the grid”. It also does not mean someone is trying to hide from law or the IRS. If you are reading this article then that means you either are or you are thinking about living “off the grid”. At the very least you want to reduce your carbon footprint or simply be more self sustaining.
To live “off the grid” you need to address how you will acquire and more importantly sustain the four basic needs of life. Decisions must be made on how you will become a self-sustaining entity. You will effectively become your own utility providing your own water and energy. Perhaps you may even go as far as to make your own clothes and grow your own food. Of course let’s not forget you will need to build your own shelter. A common misconception is that those who live “off the grid” live in shacks.
Without shelter, you cannot sustain the other three necessities of life effectively so this should be your first order of business. Determining the type of shelter you need is predicated on who is going to be living there. If it is just you then things are much more simple, however if you are planning to move an entire family “off the grid” then you will want to consider their needs as well.
Ask people what is the minimum number of square feet you will need per person and you will get some varied answers. Ask someone who served in the Navy on a submarine and then ask anyone else and you will get the idea. As a general rule of thumb, a single person requires about 250 to 300 square feet. Yes, you can reduce that amount but you will find that number is about average. You will want to add about 100 to 150 square feet for each additional adult, 75 square feet for children ages 3 to 12 and 50 square feet for an infant. So for a family of 2 adults, one teenager and child of say 10, you can estimate a needed area of about 525 to 600 square feet or roughly the size of two 40’ shipping containers. If you are a fan of “Tiny Houses” then this number can be cut in half.
Here is a handy chart showing you the cost and dimensions based on shipping containers as shelter.
Water and Food are really on about the same level of necessity but water gets the edge on the priority list. The good thing about water is that it is fairly easy too acquire and store. You also do not have to store it inside the shelter itself so it will not take up precious square footage. There are many ways to gather water but first you must decide the purpose of the water and then you can decide on how much and where to store it. Water to drink and cook with is far different then water needed to grow plants with or even bath in. A quick search of OffGridWorld.com and you will see there are many articles showing you how to build water collectors, purifiers and even water heaters. One article will even show you how to collect emergency water with nothing more than a plastic bag.
So how much water will you need? Water needs very greatly depending on climate, age, activities and more. The charts above are estimates based on an average family in a normal climate. While living “off the grid” you will undoubtedly be conserving water, which will greatly change these numbers.
So what is for dinner? Well here, there are so many options to consider that it can be an article itself so we will suggest a few ideas for you to consider depending on the number of people you are trying to sustain. Hunting is always an option but for the purpose of this article, we will stick to gardening tips. To get higher yields you will want to garden using wide rows. The assumption here is you are in a climate that facilitates a normal vegetable & fruit garden. It is important to grow what you like to eat however; you must consider how much room you will need for each type of plant. A good rule of “green” thumb is about 200 square feet per person but if you can get that up to 400 square feet per person you will be living very comfortably off your garden.
Here is a handy chart, based on “per adult”, that will show you some of the most popular plants and how many to grow.
This is a last priority simply because it is truly a personal decision as to how far to take this living “off the grid” thing. However in the interest of covering the four basic needs we will suggest that you take into consideration what your clothes are made of. The most sustainable material is cotton. It is natural and very sturdy especially when used in denim. Stay away from man made materials if possible and when practical. Also, consider making clothes last longer by doing the following. If you have a shirt that is stained, consider dying it using natural coloring. If you have ripped jeans, turn them into “daisy dukes” by cutting them off to make shorts. Got holes? Try patching your clothes using the material you just cut off to make shorts! Need a belt? Go “Jethro Clampett” style and use hemp rope or leather. As you can see, the possibilities are endless.
Although electricity, running water, plumbing and various other things are not a necessity of life one could argue that they have become at the very least needs. Living “off the grid” does not mean living without electricity, television, hot running water, refrigeration, air conditioning or even the internet.