Living off the grid in the UK - What you need to know
We live in an advanced technological age. And while that has a host of benefits, it means we’ve become heavily reliant on energy supplied to us by big corporations. One solution, which more people are embracing every day, is to cut yourself off from this centralized hub.
Whether you’re conscious of the impact you're having on the environment, want the independence of sustaining yourself, or just like the idea of moving away from a busy metropolis to somewhere more remote, living off the grid is one potential option.
In this short guide, we’re going to discuss exactly what this looks like for the everyday person, as well as the advantages, challenges, costs, the best way to optimize your experience, and whether or not it’s a viable solution for your energy requirements.
What does living off the grid mean?
In short, living off the grid means that you won’t be hooked up by pipes, wires, or cables to any form of external energy source. You are completely reliant on supplying your own energy, which will most often be drawn on from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, or hydropower.
Ironically, it’s the advanced technology that modern society offers which makes living this more antiquated lifestyle easier than ever before. Developments to these sustainable energy sources – which allow them to be easily attached to homes – have meant that cutting yourself off from major utility services is now more practical.
However, it’s been far from perfected just yet – with anyone adopting an off-the-grid lifestyle needing to make a number of sacrifices in order to manage on their own.
What are the advantages of living off the grid in the UK?
Living off the grid is an extreme step, so it’s important to weigh up whether it’s the right move for you or not. Let’s explore some of the positive aspects of taking this measure to see if they would provide a real benefit to your day-to-day life.
- A positive environmental impact. When you make the switch to off-grid living, you’re making a commitment to reducing the amount of fossil fuels you’re using. By proxy, you’ll also have the positive byproduct of reducing your greenhouse gas emissions, helping to protect the environment.
- Independence from corporations. Some people feel, understandably, uncomfortable about how much they have to rely on big name energy suppliers. Being tied into a contract where prices can be hiked up at any minute isn’t ideal. This kind of lifestyle means you can cut those chains and achieve real independence.
- Peace of mind through security. The security which is afforded when living a self-sustained lifestyle can provide major benefits to your mental health. Freedom and responsibility are often cited as one of the most important aspects of a healthy mindset. You’ll have both in abundance with this kind of lifestyle.
- Long term money saving. What’s more, you’re likely to save money on your energy bill, at a time when prices are continuously being increased by major suppliers. Beyond the cost of installation, energy, water, and food production will be incredibly cheap for anyone cutting ties from the rest of the world. Just remember upfront costs are incredibly high. You’ll need to commit to this style of living for a long time to experience any kind of saving.
What are the challenges of living off the grid in the UK?
But while it has advantages, it would be wrong to suggest off-grid living doesn’t pose dilemmas for those wanting to engage in a more self-sufficient way of life. These vary from large upfront costs, to issues with consistently being able to power your home. Some of the more pressing include:
- Upfront costs. While there’s definitely money to be saved on your energy bill in the long term, it can take a very long time to reach the point where you “break even”. The upfront cost of installing your chosen energy production system, as well as additional units like battery storage and heat pumps, can reach into the tens of thousands.
- Struggles with energy production. In darker months, or even just in certain corners of the UK, it can be hard for a home to produce the energy required to keep it powered. This is never a concern when connected to the grid, as you’ll be able to draw on their power during any of these bleaker periods. While a battery storage unit can subsidise these losses to an extent, it isn’t a foolproof method.
- Pest control. It may not be something you immediately associate with solar panels – but it’s quite common for pigeons and other birds to make their nests inside the panels themselves. This means you’ll either need to add protective wiring in the installation stage, or reach out to pest control in order to have them removed. Both can be costly.
- Inconsistencies between homes. What’s more, it’s difficult to accurately understand what off-the-grid living might look like for someone until they get a full assessment from an installer. Factors like which direction your home or garden faces, the part of the country you live in, and the angle of your roof all play a big role in both the cost of installation and the effectiveness of your solar array.
- Sacrifices. Naturally, you should expect to make a number of sacrifices when transitioning to this kind of lifestyle. You may find there are a few days when you’re wrapping up warm at home, without a consistent heating source.
How to live off the grid in the UK
There’s no one way to live off the grid. Everyone’s experience is going to be unique. That said, there are certain beats to this kind of lifestyle which will need to be followed to maximise success. Let’s take a look at some of the most important factors to consider.
Finding the right kind of property
Choosing where and how you want to live is a really important part of off-grid living. While there’s a chance your current home might be adaptable, it’s common for people to move to a location which is better suited for this kind of lifestyle.
- Build a home. If you have the financial resources available to you, you could consider constructing a home with the built-in purpose of living independently. This is a luxury for most, so don’t worry too much if this particular option feels impractical. That said, selling your old home can go a long way to fronting the cost of the build.
- Tiny house. As the name suggests, these are usually the size of a living room, and are portable, meaning they can be moved in accordance with your own living needs. You’ll need to adopt a minimalist approach in order to fully adapt to these kinds of spaces.
- A cabin. Whether you choose to go whole-hog and build a cabin from scratch, or inherit one which has already been built for you, these are another solid option for an off-grid lifestyle. They’ll often be a little ways off from a town or city, which makes them great for finding nearby water and food sources.
- A shipping container. While it might sound like an extreme step, shipping containers are proving an increasingly popular choice for those looking to protect the environment. The nature of a container means no trees are cut down in construction, while energy sources are easily attachable to the side of the container itself.
As we’ve discussed, off-grid living is a big commitment. These examples highlight how much of a change to your regular lifestyle it would be to transition to this self-sufficient form of energy generation.
Deciding on the type of energy you’re generating
Perhaps most importantly of all when it comes to a life spent away from the grid, you’re going to have to decide what kind of energy supply you want to rely on for power. There are a handful of options out there, but some of the most tried and tested would be:
- Solar power. Arguably the most popular option for those living off the grid, solar power has come a long way in recent years. Utilising the natural power of the sun, solar panels are easily attachable to most kinds of off-grid living accommodation.
Modern standards in solar energy production mean that you won’t even need all-day sunshine in order to have enough power for your home. They’re also cheaper to install than ever before, and require very little maintenance once they’re up and running.
- Wind power. Domestic wind turbines have been made more efficient since the turn of the century. They’re now smaller and quieter, but may still require planning permission to be installed. Their major benefit is that they are able to continuously produce power no matter the time of day.
- Hydroelectric power. In order for this form of power to be an option, you’ll need to live near a running source of water. While a more complex and circumstantial form of power, those lucky enough to have access to hydroelectricity will soon reap the rewards of using it.
- Hybrid power. As the name suggests, this form of power combines two, or even three, of the other common generation methods. They’re highly efficient, but more complex and expensive to install.
Solar energy setups are by far the most common used by those living off-grid. They are also the easiest form of power to substitute for the grid if you do decide to remain in your original home.Otovo make finding a solar panel installer quick and easy. Find out more here.
Work out how you’re going to heat your home
While you may choose to draw energy from the sun, wind, or rain, you’ll need an additional device in order to be able to actually heat your home. There are a variety of methods available to you to keep you nice and toasty throughout those cold winter months.
- Ground-source heating. As the name suggests, these types of pumps are installed in the soil outside your home. They use electricity to pump heat around your home, as well as heating water stored in a hot water cylinder. They’re quiet (often no louder than a standard fridge), easy to install, and don’t take up much more room than an air conditioning unit would.
- Air-source pumps. Working similarly to their ground-based cousins, air-source heat pumps convert air into heat, by first absorbing it into a fluid. This fluid passes through a heat exchanger into the pump itself, where the temperature is raised. This heated water is what warms the home. They’re a similar size and emit the same noise levels as ground-source heating.
- Biomass boilers. These kinds of heating systems work in a very similar way to traditional gas boilers, but use sustainably sourced wood pellets instead of fossil fuel to be powered. It must be noted that these kinds of boilers are traditionally much larger than gas options, as they need more room to hold the larger volume of fuel.
Water and food sources
For some, living off the grid doesn’t just mean generating your own energy – it’s a commitment to cutting ties with everything which links you to modern living. If you want to embrace a completely self-sustainable lifestyle, here are some extreme measures you can take to thrive.
- Build a well. While you can technically build a well yourself, it’s best to turn to a professional for support. Once it’s been constructed, you’ll be able to utilise a natural water source which hasn’t been contaminated by external pollutants.
- Rainwater harvesting. This is another clever way to take advantage of a natural water source. You can collect it in barrels, or even have your roof slanted to naturally drain and catch any precipitation. Make sure to check if rainwater harvesting is permitted in your area, and, if it is, whether you need to filter it first before use.
- Growing food. Cultivating your own produce is what our ancestors did for millennia. You’ll be able to grow vegetables relatively simply on a small plot of land, and you could even consider branching out to grow fruit. For the particularly brave, rearing livestock for meat is even an option.
Practical advice for living off the grid in the UK
While we’ve explored the ins and outs of off-grid living, there may still be aspects you want to understand more about. If you are brave enough to make the switch away from the grid, here are some top tips for optimising the experience, and making sure you’re getting the most out of the lifestyle.
- Back up your energy with a battery. If you have a particularly efficient means of generating energy, it might be the case that you don’t use all of it in one day. This is often the case with solar energy in the summer, or wind energy in autumn. Having an independent battery unit to store energy that isn’t utilised means you can turn to it on days when things are a little more barren. Just be aware that this will be an additional upfront cost.
- Be conservative with energy usage. Relying on your own self-generated energy is bound to leave you feeling a little nervous. That’s why you should take whatever steps you can to reduce the strain you’re putting on your supply. Some good steps would be to insulate your walls, use energy-saving light bulbs, and position furniture in your home to naturally reduce heat being lost.
- Make location a priority. You’re going to be very reliant on the world around you when you choose to cut yourself off from the grid. For that reason, finding an area which is going to properly sustain your needs should be at the top of your priority list. For example, if you’re going to be relying on hydroelectric power, you’ll need to move near to a running water source.
- Plan your finances before you commit. While living off the grid has a long term financial benefit, the immediate funding of this new type of lifestyle could set you back a lot of money. You’ll need to sit down and work out if you can afford to make the initial commitment to sustain the lifestyle in the long run.
- Don’t rush into off the grid living. Along a similar line of thinking, make sure to sit down and work out if this kind of living arrangement is one that will be practical for you (and your whole family) heading forwards. There are a lot of sacrifices which must be made to successfully convert to an off the grid way of life.
What are the costs of living off the grid using solar?
One of the areas where living off the grid saves you the most money in the long term is in the use of solar energy over traditional suppliers. While a stigma was once associated with this form of power supply, modern advancements have meant that harnessing the sun to provide energy in a home is more viable than ever.
Looking at one of the sunniest parts of the country, in the county of Kent, our data suggests that in the first year of solar usage alone, a household with four photovoltaic panels could save as much as £464.10.
From there, the next few years will see annual savings of:
- Year 2 – £473.38 (saved that year)
- Year 3 – £482.85
- Year 4 – £492.51
- Year 5 – £502.36
You could also save a further 3% off your total energy bill by cutting ties with the grid. National Grid electricity transmission costs account for a small chunk of what you have to pay energy suppliers on an annual basis. In 2021-22 this would have represented a £20 saving across the year.
It must be noted that this style of living means that homeowners also won’t be able to sell any excess energy they produce back to the grid. Most four-panel units which are attached to the grid could make as much as £150-£200 back on an annual basis.
What’s more, you’ll also need to factor in a host of additional costs. We’ve looked at how much a home might save using four panels – but the reality is that you may need anywhere up to ten or even twelve to be able to efficiently power a home, even when connected to the grid. While this means net savings in the long run, it adds greatly to the upfront installation costs.
And, if all that wasn’t enough, you’ll also have to factor in the costs of installing and maintaining a battery storage unit (to use in months when you generate less power through solar energy). This can reach into the thousands.
Solar energy continues to be more affordable than ever – but cutting ties with the grid means a lot of the benefits of using solar power are negated (at least from a financial perspective).Find out how much a solar installation might cost you
Should I go off the grid?
Living off the grid provides a sense of freedom that’s hard to find in our very modern and commercial world. It also helps protect the environment, as you’ll place less pressure on the limited resources the Earth has to offer. For that reason, it’s definitely not something to be totally overlooked.
However, the practicalities of adopting this kind of lifestyle currently outweigh the potential benefits. From a financial perspective, while costs might be cut down in the long term, initial setup could range into five-digit figures – with homes needing to install backup battery storage units, anywhere from four to twelve solar panels, air or water source heat pumps, and ensure all units are pest-proofed.
Aside from the hit to your wallet, the inconsistency and irregularity of your energy supply means it can be unclear what power supplies might look like one day to the next. For young families, this can be particularly stressful.
What should I do instead of going off grid?
The best solution? While it’s always a good thing to keep sustainability at the forefront of everything you do, adopting a solar approach which keeps you tied partially to the grid is the perfect blend of both worlds.
This setup allows you to generate your own energy, but also makes it easy to tap into an additional reserve when needed. You’ll also be able to sell your excess power back to the grid, and probably won’t need more than a traditional four-panel array to get started.
Make sure to reach out to Otovo to find out more about how solar energy could be the perfect green solution to your energy needs.