Thursday, 04 September 2014 00:00

Off Grid Comparison Costs

energy costs, alternative energy, alternative energy costs, off gridDoes living off grid cost more?

I’ve been wondering how all of these off grid lifestyle changes add up for costs compared to how I lived before. By lifestyle changes, I mean living off the grid compared to living on the grid.
Remember I define living off grid as supplying my own sewer, water, and power. It may mean other things as well but those three things are the most common criteria. Did I save money by switching from on grid to off grid or not?

First of all, let me be clear - we can’t make a perfect comparison. That would be impossible. Just take solar power vs. public power for instance. Every single power jurisdiction in the US charges a different rate for their product so my comparison would vary according to what part of the country I lived in. The same goes for sewer and water costs around the country. They vary considerably depending on where you live.
It also depends on what kind of home you build and the size of it. Propane or natural gas costs also vary depending on your location.

So how can I make a cost comparison between on grid and off grid living? I can look at my own circumstances in a very simple way and at least get an idea about the above question of costs. I am a professional estimator by trade so I know the difference between exact comparisons and simple comparisons. I’m not doing this exercise for accounting purposes but rather just to get an idea of what MY circumstances are and how WE came out cost wise by making this change in our lifestyle.

I live in a well insulated home in the Eastern part of the state at an elevation of 4200’. A relative of mine lives in a similar size home in the western part of the state at sea level. So already we have a discrepancy in elevation which is a big factor in this exercise. That’s okay, just take that into consideration when reviewing the numbers I am about to share with you.

Both on grid and off grid homes are 1400 square feet.

Here is a simple list of MONTHLY COSTS:

OFF GRID                                                                                             ON GRID
Solar Power  $73.00                                                                         Public Power  $48.00
Propane  $46.00                                                                                Natural Gas   $88.00
Water  $38.00                                                                                    Public Water  $37.00
Sewer  $21.00                                                                                    Public Sewer  $40.00
TOTAL  $178.00                                                                                  TOTAL  $213.00

This is not an exact comparison. It does however give me an idea of where I stand cost-wise by going off grid. Even though this is not an exact comparison there is a lot we can learn from it.
My deductions from this simple comparison:
1. It would not have been economically feasible to go with solar power without the 30% Federal credit.
2. The reason propane is so much less than natural gas is because I heat with wood and the other house uses a furnace so this cost difference makes sense. It will also vary either way for either home depending on where you live and what your fuel costs are. We heat more than the other home due to our elevation so I think this cost would triple if we also heated with a furnace.
3. The water is comparable but if you get into a deep well (over 250’) the off grid cost is going to go way up.
4. I have a very simple septic system which is about 5 years old. The new regulations have already raised septic system costs for three bedroom homes by about 25% so these costs are closer than they look here.

 Over all it probably cost more to go off grid with modern sewer, water, and power systems but it is nice to know that by going off grid we didn’t spend much more money and these two columns of costs will vary a great deal depending on where you live. If I have these same off grid costs in an area that charges more money for power, fuel, sewer or water, then it could easily be more cost effective to be off grid.
There is one other thing I like to consider in this exercise. We know that by going off grid we have cut our use of natural resources considerably. It just seems to be a natural byproduct of the off grid lifestyle so if we can stay in the “ballpark” cost wise and at the same time lower our need for natural resources. I would have to declare that “cost effective”.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works..

 

Published in Off Grid - Misc

Featured

  • Our Home Design Features Part 1

    Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. Since I seem to struggle with my memory more and more I thought it would be nice to list them out along with a little explanation of them. Most of them are explained in detail on prior Blogs. Roof overhangs – our eave length is calculated to keep the sun out of the windows in the summer which helps with natural cooling, and let the sun in during Read More
  • Our Home Design Features Part 2

    Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. This is the second installment of features. Part 1 was published last week. See Part 1 Insulated cold frames – on the south side of the house we put in raised bed insulated cold frames. We have grown fresh cold weather type vegetables as cold as 18F with nothing to heat them but the sun. They are attached to the side of the house which never freezes. Plug Read More
  • I Built My House for Extreme Weather

    I went to work in the family commercial construction company in the early 1980's and by the end of the decade had worked my way into the office as a project manager. Commercial construction is entirely different than residential construction. For one thing, everything is engineered - structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers all take a part in the design of commercial buildings. It wasn't long before I discovered the term "100 year storm". Many structural designs and mechanical designs were based on the 100 year storm (I'm over simplifying for the purpose of this article). Things like concrete foundation design and Read More
  • 1