Living entirely off-grid seems like a pipe dream for most people: it’s expensive, a lot to organise, and difficult to do with a family. But is it as challenging as people think?
Despite all these setbacks, there are currently 25,000 homes in the UK living off-grid. The main appeal of this lifestyle is how cheap the homes are to power, and how eco-friendly they are to run. So, if you want to join the thousands of families sourcing their home energy independently, check out our step-by-step guide to going off-grid below.
What’s on this page?
What is off-grid living?
Living off-grid is when a household becomes entirely energy independent – in other words, no longer reliant on the UK National Grid. The grid provides most UK homes with warmth, electricity, and hot water.
Off-grid homes often supply their own power by investing in renewable energy, such as solar panels and wind power.
1. Make sure your property is suitable for an off-grid lifestyle
Whether you’re buying a new house or adapting your existing home, you need to consider the type, size, and location of the property. All of these factors will determine whether going off-grid is accomplishable.
The size and type of property
Put simply: the bigger the house, the bigger the bills. Therefore, sourcing your own energy will be more achievable if you have a smaller property.
Many people that consider living off-grid opt for the simple life, floating around canals on a quaint houseboat. Although canal boats themselves aren’t cheap, you can easily make your money back by sourcing your energy from roof-installed solar panels.
Of course, canal boats aren’t the only option you can go for – bungalows and motor homes are also smaller properties that you could consider. So if you’re going off-grid, make sure you pick a suitable-sized property.
Location of your property
Although it’s possible to live off the grid both in residential and rural areas, sourcing your own energy is more viable in rural locations.
Rural areas are much more suitable for off-grid homes for two good reasons:
- You have more room for renewables – No matter where it’s going, green tech – such as solar panels, wind turbines, and generators – will need a lot of space to be effective
- No complaints from neighbours – If you have either a wind turbine or generators in a residential area, you might have to deal with a stream of noise complaints
Where are the best places in the UK to go off-grid?
We are lucky enough to have fields upon fields of countryside in the UK, which means there are a lot of great places you can set up your off-grid camp.
The best area for your new home will depend on which energy source you choose. For example, if you’re considering solar power, you’ll be better off in the south of England; for wind power, Scotland will be your best bet (or anywhere near the coast).
2. Figure out how you’ll power your home
There are so many different energy options out there, but ultimately, most off-grid homes opt for renewables. Although the initial investment costs for renewable technology can be rather high, you can make your money back through the savings on your energy bills. In some cases, you can even sell any leftover energy back to the grid!
The most popular source of energy for off-grid homes is solar power. What a lot of people don’t know is that there are two types of solar energy: solar photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal. Solar PV panels absorb the sun’s heat and convert it into electricity, whereas solar thermal panels transform the sun’s energy into heat for household water.
Both solar options are extremely efficient, but solar PV is the more popular choice for people going off-grid. So, how much could you save by going solar?
Data from Energy Saving Trust
If you’re moving to an area that won’t work well with solar, there are other options too. Domestic wind turbines can be installed either on your roof or in an exposed area of land. Depending on which turbine you go for, it could end up covering your energy bills, though this will vary depending on your location.
If you live in a residential area, wind turbines won’t be very effective, and will end up costing you more money in the long run.
If neither of these options suit you, why not look into biomass energy? Biomass involves burning agricultural waste or woody materials to heat water and produce steam, which then spins a turbine and creates energy. But again, this source of energy comes with its difficulties, and can be quite high maintenance.
Since other options can be quite temperamental, it’s easy to see why solar panels are the apple of many homeowners’ eyes.
3. Decide how to heat your home
Heat pumps are the most efficient way to heat an off-grid home. These electric-powered pumps extract heat from one place and transfer it to another, keeping you cosy throughout the winter.
There are two types of heat pumps available for homeowners: air-source pumps, and ground-source pumps. Both work in exactly the same way, but source their heat from either the air or the ground.
If you don’t have enough space for heat pumps, biomass boilers can also be used to heat off-grid homes.
But which energy source will save you the most money? Find out below:
Ground-source heating savings
Air-source pumps savings
Data from Energy Saving Trust
As you can see from the charts, ground-source heat pumps can save you the most money on heating, with air-source heat pumps trailing behind closely. Biomass energy, on the hand, can actually lead you to lose up to £671 if you’re swapping from an A-grade gas boiler.
5. Can you go off-grid with a family?
Absolutely! There’s nothing stopping you and your family from living life off the grid – except the small matter of money.
The cost of a typical solar panel system is around £6,500 – but if you have a large family, you’ll want to install even more panels, which could mount up to £8,000. Plus, on average, heat pumps will cost you around £6,000-£8,000.
Already, the installation costs of heating and electricity have ramped up your starting price to around £12,000 – £14,000.
This price tag is often the reason why families aren’t successful with their off-grid adventure. However, if you can fork out this initial installation sum, then going off-grid can still be a realistic goal for you and your loved ones.
6. Top tips for going off-grid
- Plan ahead – There’s no denying it: going off-grid will cost a lot at the offset. If you work out the finances beforehand, you can paint a more realistic picture of your new home
- Back up your energy – Despite the many benefits, one of the downsides to renewables is the risk of running out of energy. It’s a smart idea to invest in generators that can store the energy for colder months, cloudy days, or even just overnight
- Be energy conscious – The thought of sourcing your own energy can be quite unnerving. Put your mind at ease by reducing energy around your home – insulate your walls, use energy-saving light bulbs, and be smart with where you put your furniture. It all adds up!
- Explore the different types of solar panels – If you’re thinking about going off-grid in a mobile home, check the different types of solar panels out there. If you have a canal boat or camper van, flexible solar panels will be more versatile than regular panels
- Look into the legality of it – Although it is legal to go off The National Grid, there are certain things that you’ll need to double check. For example, if you’re building your own off-grid home or adding additional renewable tech to your existing home, it’s important to look into planning permission
Going off-grid: what’s the verdict?
In our eyes, going off-grid is an exciting adventure. It may be a bumpy journey, but by the end of it, you’ll cut down on your household emissions massively, and be able to say goodbye to over-priced bills.
However, for some people, the initial expense of going off-grid is enough to put them off the idea.
But we’ve got some good news – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing! By installing just one form of renewable energy in your home, you can be less reliant on the grid, and still look forward to smaller bills.