You’ve probably been planning your retirement for a while now and with retirement comes a whole checklist of must’s.
You’ve probably dealt with the 401(k) and maybe even decided to stay a few years extra on the job to maximise your savings. You’ve calculated weather your income will be enough to maintain your desired lifestyle – over and over again. You’ve made adjustments to all your plans and have probably accepted the fact that a downsizing of your home will be in order.
With all the bills pilling up and the demands on our monthly pay checks ever increasing, many people realise that it’s time for change. A big change that will take off a lot of the financial strain they’re experiencing as well as help them retire sooner. This change is indeed possible and this is what going “off the grid” has done for so many families and couples. It’s quite simple really - without all the utility bills and troubles of modern life people can go back to basics and live a full, independent and simplistic life. One of the greatest things about an independent off the grid lifestyle is that it sparks creativity and resourcefulness. You may find that once your off the power grid you'll be inspired to start growing and producing your own food. This is obviously more for those individuals who want to take it a step further but if you’re going to be self-sufficient why not go all the way? When people hear the term “living off-the-grid” they immediately become overwhelmed. It seems like a task designed only for those living out in the middle of nowhere of those who have a bit of extra money, some specialised knowledge and a lot of extra time on their hands but, in fact living off the grid can suit almost any type of person if they have the will to stay committed to the process.
There’s no doubt about it, building an off the grid home can be expensive but it’s well worth if it means that you can retire in a meaningful, comfortable, self-sufficient and environmentally friendly way. Most people view retirement with dread, worrying not only about their income but also about what they’re going to do with all that extra time on their hands. Retirement doesn’t have to be “the end” of your productive years - it can be the beginning of an absolutely delightful new adventure. Off the grid to most means not being connected to the city’s electrical grid but rather generating their own electrical power. This is probably one of the most important aspects of it but there’s a lot more it. Families living of the grid do not rely on ay municipal services such as water, sewage, garbage removal and gas supply. They basically are self-sufficient in all aspects of production, consumption and removal or reusing of food. The best place for a completely off the grid home would be a remote area where there are limited codes regarding sewage, water and building.
To begin your journey to self-sufficiency you must first do the necessary research to establish if you are truly willing to put in the time, effort and resources that it will take. I suggest that you make it your business to find someone who has gone through the process and have successfully become independent of the grid and municipal utilities and find out as much as possible from them. You will probably avoid many of the mistakes they’ve made and save a lot of time and money. There are also many great books available that can help you learn about everything. You also need to decide exactly how far you want to go. Do you want to get off the electrical grid only? Do you want to do away with the water and sewage services too?
If you’re really keen on doing this than your going to also have to start doing a bit of self-study. You need to learn about electricity, generators, motors, plumbing, water and sewage systems and a whole lot more. This sounds a bit intimidating but even if you decide not to get off the grid you'll save a whole lot of money on plumbing and electrician services because you'll have gained the knowledge to do some basic maintenance and repair tasks yourself, a dream for any retired individual.
Some benefits of off the grid living include; saving on utility bills or removing utility expenses completely, generating a profit from reselling the excess power generated, being self-sufficient and not dependent on the over-stressed municipal utility services, contributing positively to the environment by significantly reducing your carbon footprint and being able to lead a cleaner, more creative life. It’s definitely not for everyone because choosing an off the grid lifestyle may entail moving to a new town far from the city, particularly in states or areas where there are strict laws governing what you may and may not do. You may think that going off grid is best suited to the young because of the sheer amount of work that it will take but this is no longer the case. With modern technology at your disposal you can set up an off the grid home that will take minimal effort to maintain and work. In an effort to get off the grid you need to ensure that you are debt-free - which is a critical part of preparing yourself for a comfortable retirement anyway. Make sure you’ve paid off your home, your car and you have some supplemental income be it from a retirement account or from any investments you’ve made over the years because truth is even if you are living off the grid you still need some money to survive, but you'll need less than you’ve ever needed before.
So let’s first take a look at a home that would be considered completely off-the-grid and self sufficient. Firstly, you have to find a way to generate electricity and this is mostly done with windmills or solar panels or a combination of the two. This is a very efficient way to generate power but minimise any negative environmental impact. We all know that income from our retirement fund can only go so far but apart from downsizing and saving why not invest the money to get your home off the grid now? It will certainly save you a chunk of your income in the future and if your home is fully paid off by the time you retire, you'll be living comfortably with money to spare. You may have to move to a home that will be in the optimum area and position for you to get off the grid completely – by disconnecting from the city’s electrical grid, water and gas supply and the sewage system. Many people that want to get off the grid decide to buy a piece of land and build a home from scratch to maximise the amount of energy they can derive from solar and wind energy generating systems, develop a water and sewage system and even grow their own food.
To stop relying on the city’s electrical grid for your power supply most people install solar panels or wind turbines to generate power. A couple will rarely require more than a standard residential home wind turbine or solar panel system to provide them with adequate power. Conducting thorough research on all your options is crucial because you have to make the right purchase decision which means you have to ensure you'll have enough power year-round as well as have backup power should a mechanical issue arise for whatever reason. Now, let’s talk about generating power and getting off the city’s grid.
So how do solar panels actually work? The sun’s energy which comes in the form of particles called photons strike the solar panels during the day and then is converted to Direct Current (DC) electricity. This electricity will then flow to what is known as an inverter that will then convert the DC electricity to Alternating Current (AC) electricity, which is standard type of electrical power used in most homes. The AC will then flow from the inverter to the homes electrical service panel. You can install a tracking meter to monitor the output of the solar system as well as the consumption. There is obviously no sun during the evening so any excess electrical power needs to be stored up during the day. This is a simple process whereby the excess electrical power is fed back into the grid and your electrical meter will “spin backwards”. Depending on which part of the world you live in the electrical company may buy this excess electrical power back from you, this is a fantastic way to then earn a return on the system you purchased and eventually even generate a profit from it. At night the electricity you need to power your home will come from the main grid however if your system generated excess electricity during the day you won’t be paying for the power. This is called an “on-grid” solar system because you are still connected to the city’s electric power grid. This is probably the easiest and most affordable way to go, particularly if you’re not interested in going completely off the grid”.
Now let’s take a brief look at a home wind turbine system. The wind turbine will convert the kinetic energy of the wind into electricity power. The spinning blades or rotors of the turbine the drive shaft supporting them and this in turn will then be converted from a low speed to a high-speed rotation in a gearbox. A generator will then use the energy from the spinning drive shaft to produce electrical power. This power is converted from AC to Dc and is stored in a battery that will provide a stable output or the power generated can, as with the solar system be fed back into the grid. A wind turbine system is not ideal if you live in a highly populated area where buildings and trees can interrupt the flow of the wind. Many times a residential wind turbine will not be able to produce enough electricity for your home unless you live in an open area where wind conditions are optimum. Contacting a specialist that can evaluate your home and power needs is a critical step that will enable you to make the right decision for your home and both solar and wind turbine systems can be combined to maximise the amount of electricity generated for your home.
Finding a source of water is also a critical step f the process, if you’re buying a new home then you will have to ensure that there is a source of water. This might be in the form of a professionally drilled well, a shallow well, a rainwater catchment or a cistern tank. You have to check which meet state and regulatory requirements as; for the most part rainwater catchment cannot be used for anything more than farming and cleaning purposes unless it’s treated to make it safe for general household consumption. There are other ways of supplementing your household water supply and this includes rainwater barrels and streams located in close proximity to your home. Bear in mind that all these systems will require that you use power to run the purification systems. For your sewage, or “black water” a septic can do the job but a buried leach field and an open-air lagoon will be required. Many people choose to use the municipal sewage system because of the very strict rules imposed by governments with regard to waste disposal.
Growing you own food is another facet of a complete off the grid lifestyle and you need to ensure that you have enough space to grow your own fruits, vegetables and herbs and raise animals for meat, milk, cheese, eggs and such. You need a lot of skill to be able to produce, store and manage your food supply but as I've mentioned before if you're willing to go all the way you'll reap the rewards. Another important part of living off the grid is learning to barter with other people who are also leading a similar lifestyle. We simply can’t do everything ourselves and you may still need to call repairmen, buy oil and food stuff that you are unable to produce yourself. By learning how to barter with others you can minimise and sometimes completely remove the need to purchase things or pay for services. For instance you could trade meat and other perishables for oil and wood.
If you think that this is a whole lot more than you’re willing or capable to deal with in your retirement then I suggest you research off the grid communities. This makes a lot of sense since you will be able to trade resources and skills and you will have a lot of support. This community will create a sustainability that one single family or couple cannot possible manage on their own.
Since this is all a lot to take in, particularly if your just an average Joe and don't have much knowledge about self-sufficient off the grid living I suggest that you begin by doing as much research as possible and begin implementing some “green” habits in your home – use less electricity, recycle, start a vegetable patch and consider disconnecting from the power grid. These changes will have a very significant impact on your expenses and slowly but surely you may find yourself ready to go all the way. How far you choose to go is up to you but if you want to free up some cash to fully enjoy your retirement nothing beats reducing utility bills and getting out of the consumer–orientated mindset.