With soaring power bills affecting many Australian households, the idea of living “off the grid” holds a considerable appeal. But what does it really involve, and would it work for you?
With advances in environmentally friendly technology, living off the grid doesn’t have to mean a tent in the forest and water dipped from a stream. Whether you want to become completely self sustaining or just reduce your power bills, there’s an option out there for you. Here are the main things to consider.
Solar panels are becoming more and more efficient, meaning that you don’t need as much roof space as you once did in order to power a household entirely from the sun. If budgets or space are severely limited, though, consider getting just a couple of panels for a solar thermal solution that gives you free hot water.
Using solar means adjusting some of your household rhythms to make the most of the sunlight hours, such as running appliances during the day instead of overnight, but it can save you a bundle. An extra option is to invest in batteries for power storage, which allows you to go fully off grid or insulates you against prolonged power cuts.
Australia has sunshine in abundance, but in many parts of the country water is a far scarcer resource. Weaning yourself off mains water will depend very largely on where you are and how much space you have.
If you’re looking to build a new house, rural areas are the way to go. Look for access to fresh water from a stream or a dam on the property, or for plentiful groundwater that you can tap via wells. If you’re fortunate enough to have such access, remember that you’ll need pumps to get the water where it needs to be.
If buying a piece of land isn’t an option, look at your rainwater supply. Does your area receive regular rainfall? Consider investing in tanks that are big enough to catch and store that rain over the dryer months. If you intend to use rainwater for consumption, rather than just a grey water system to water your garden, you’ll also need a filtration system.
We wouldn’t discuss them in polite society, but every household needs a system for removing waste products. There are commercially available septic systems on the market that mean you aren’t reliant on the public sewer system, but be aware that many councils will require you to get approval before you can install an onsite wastewater system. In rural areas, it is more common for properties to already have a septic system in place as many areas are not on a sewer line.
Another option for those who wish to live self sustainability is a composing toilet, which transforms human waste into garden product. It’s not for everyone, but can have some real benefits if you’re up for the switch.
Once the province of fringe-dwelling iconoclasts, off grid living has become increasingly mainstream. With new technologies on the market, and growing concerns about the sustainability and costs of public utility systems, the concept is gaining wider appeal. For many, too, it’s an investment for the future as set up costs are off set by lower or non existent utility bills.
If you’ve considered going off grid but been daunted by the prospect, why not talk to some of the experts in the field to see how attainable it really is.