The term “off the grid” refers to living a lifestyle that is mostly, if not completely self-sufficient, not relying on one or more public utilities. According to a 2006 article in USA Today, approximately 180,000 homes in America are already living the off the grid lifestyle. When considering living this way, there are many factors one should consider. Let’s discuss two of those factors today – composting toilets, an affordable way to go “green” while using less or no water, and the pros and cons of solar energy.
1. Composting Toilets
In 1992, Federal plumbing standards passed a requirement stating that new toilets could not use more than 1.6 GPF (gallons per flush), which was a huge step in the right direction towards effective water preservation. Prior to the 1992 Federal requirement, toilets were using 3.5-7 GPF. That number is staggering! On the high end (7 GPF) the average American used 12,775 gallons per year, whereas, on the low end (1.6 GPF) the average American used 2,920. Even at 1.6 GPF, we can do more to preserve the water we use every day.
Dictionary.com defines composting toilets as “a human waste disposal system that utilizes a waterless or low-flush toilet in conjunction with a tank in which aerobic bacteria break down the waste.” Composting toilets have been around for centuries and have worked extremely well in many different cultures. Sawdust covers the material, which, in turn, creates what are known as air gaps for the aerobic bacteria to then break down the waste into the bin at the bottom of the toilet. After the process is completed, you can then safely remove the material and spread it back into Mother Nature. Some people will use this for their gardens, or flowers, et cetera, which is commonplace for those living the “off the grid” lifestyle.
Composting toilets are not just a practice for those living in smaller houses or for what some would call “the hippies” – they are 100% safe for the environment, can be used in traditional sized houses and for your average every day person. Here’s an example of an affordable composting toilet.
2. Solar Energy – Pros and Cons
In The Tiny House Movement – Part 2, I presented the idea of using solar energy as a means for powering your tiny house or even traditional-sized home. While I feel this is a great idea, unfortunately, it may not work for everyone. Let’s discuss a few pros and cons to solar powered homes.
A. HOA (Home Owners Association) – The dreaded Home Owners Association. Some HOAs do not allow solar panels to be fixed to the roof of standard-sized homes or in certain parts of the yard. If you live in an area that has an HOA, then I would recommend having a meeting to express the need to reform that policy.
B. Cost – For those who have a larger home, you may want to consider the initial cost of setting up a solar panel system for your electricity needs. Take a look at your past year’s electricity bill to see what your average payment has been and then your 1-year total. It may take a few years to make up for the initial cost, so you must decide if the payoff will be worth it or not.
A. Cost – Using myself as an example, my past three electricity bills for a 650-square-foot apartment have been around $120 a month, which I feel is outrageous. At this rate, my annual bill will be around $1,440. I am planning on building a little home this fall, as the term “tiny house” is reserved for homes smaller than approximately 220-sq-ft, that will be around 460-square-feet. The initial cost for my solar panel system will be around $2,000-3,000. That being said, within two years I will have my system paid for in terms of the money saved by being “off the grid”.
B. Durability – Solar panels have been known to last over 25 years, and require very little maintenance. According to altE Store, “Many of the first solar panels produced in the 50s are still in use today.”
C. Tax Credit – Who doesn’t love a tax credit? For homes or businesses with solar panels installed from January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2016, the IRS will give you a 30% tax credit off the cost of the system!
For information on what type of solar panel system you would need, costs, or questions, contact altE here.
These are just a few of the pros and cons to living an off the grid lifestyle. We are all familiar with the term “different strokes for different folks”. With that being said, I would encourage you to take this advice with an open mind and consider how you might make this work for you and your family.
What concerns do you have with living an “off the grid” lifestyle? Have you known or do you know something that is currently living this way? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!