There’s something primal about homesteading—the ability to provide for yourself and your family without relying solely on the supermarket for food and even the local utility company for heat. If living off-grid is part of your homesteading goal, start by planning out your options.
Whether you’re already on the land and planning to convert or you’re looking into land options, putting systems in place for partial homesteading or full off-grid living involves taking inventory of your assets and implementing the most appropriate tools for your situation.
Figuring out how to power the lights on the barn and home, keep warm in the winter, and run appliances will involve alternative energy sources if you can't plug into a municipal power system. There are a few basic options, and what’s right for you depends heavily on your location.
The most common, easily available, and cost-effective system is photovoltaic panels. With solar panels, an inverter, and batteries for storage you can likely provide power for all your household needs. You can have a professional come in for the installation or tackle it yourself. You can even build solar panels from components if you want. This is a great way to improve the system gradually over time without a steep upfront cost.
You’ll need to evaluate how many and what type of appliances you want to run. For example, if your water heater runs on propane, you can eliminate that consumption from the equation. For an average 2,000 square foot home, you’ll need 12-18 solar panels, along with the storage and conversion system that goes with it.
If your home is located on the windswept plains, a wind turbine may be the answer for your energy needs. Calculate the average wind speed in your area. Monitor it through the seasons for the best results. You can then configure a system that works for you, but note wind turbines need a lot of space and they work more efficiently on hilltops.
A river or even a creek can support a hydroelectric system on your property. This can be used as a primary or supplemental option.
Another option many people overlook is geothermal energy. It’s a quiet and clean alternative but can be expensive to install. Geothermal systems capture the heat from the Earth’s core. While there are a variety of ways geothermal can work on nearly any type of land, it’s an investment that is more efficient in some areas (i.e. near volcanos or hot springs) than others.
All of these renewable options provide energy without pollution or reliance on fossil fuels. However, if green energy isn’t your primary concern, you can garner energy from generators on the property. You will need to store gasoline on the property as your fuel to keep generators running.
A stationary propane tank is another option for homesteading power. Most home systems can be equipped to run on propane. Again, it’s not a completely self-sufficient option since you’ll need to rely on a company to refill the tank periodically.
In a community of homesteaders and off-gridders, you may also be about to partner up with neighbors for a community power grid just for your local area. This gives owners control over how the energy is sourced and used.
It’s likely that your answer for homestead power is a combination of these options and not all your energy needs have to be met with a single source. For example, even if you’re using a central propane system, you can rely on single solar-powered devices for the front gate, landscaping lights, and to heat the livestock water.
Electricity isn’t the only utility you’ll need to plan for. In fact, water may be an even more important consideration. Again, you’ll need to evaluate the potential sources on your land. A lake or river is an obvious source that can be filtered and pumped for use.
But if you don’t have a surface water source, you’ll likely need to go underground. A deep well with an electric pump can provide a lifetime of water. You may also use a solar pump or other option. If you have water closer to the surface, you may even be able to dig a well by hand. You can haul water instead of relying on pumps or just use that water source for the livestock.
Rainwater is a free and readily available resource in many areas. Collection is easy, especially off house, barn, and shed roofs. Metal roofing is the most efficient but just about any roofing material is safe for water collection. Rainwater can be used to water plants, flush toilets, and do the laundry. Just be sure to treat it for consumption.
If you have no other water source you can use a reservoir for storage and pay for a water delivery service.
In addition to sourcing water, you’ll want to consider your sewer needs. A septic tank is off the municipal system, but it does require occasional service and emptying. Another option is to landscape using a natural sand and carbon greywater filtration system. This type of system filters water from the home and can be used to feed a pond or as a source for animals. Composting toilets are a popular option for handling black water.
When planning your systems, incorporate passive energy techniques such as large south-facing windows that provide natural sunlight in the winter. Design your home for energy efficiency with attention to insulation, double or triple-pane windows, energy-efficient appliances, water-saving faucets and showerheads, and the right building materials.
Also consider the watering needs for your garden and implement efficient techniques such as partner planting and intercropping. With a lower consumption, you’ll be able to rely less on the public grid and more on your homesteading solutions.
Tip: As a final note, know the regulations in your area. Look into restrictions regarding the types of systems you can use and make sure the county will sign off on the plan you have in mind.