Going off-grid

Hot water on demand. Lighting at the flick of a switch. Ice in your drink on a hot day. Could you give up these little, often taken for granted luxuries? Rachel England meets three people who did and have never looked back


A slow, frustrating commute to work. A day spent in front of a screen answering phone call after phone call. A trip to a painfully bright supermarket to wait in line to purchase expensive, pre-packaged food, and then the same trudge home. Perhaps there will be a mortgage bill waiting on the doormat.

Living off-gridIt’s little wonder that this reality is prompting more and more people to forsake the norm and up sticks to an off-grid lifestyle. It’s estimated that over 25,000 people in the UK live off the grid, and nearly 200,000 individuals in America (a figure which has jumped around 33 per cent a year for nearly a decade). Opting for houses, huts, boats or campervans – static or mobile – disconnected from the electrical grid that we all depend so heavily on, people are embracing a slower-paced, more earthy way of life.

Indeed, it’s easy to associate off-gridding with environmentalism, but as Nick Rosen notes in his book How to Live Off-Grid, people are opting for this lifestyle for many reasons ranging from rising energy prices to the threat of terrorism or, increasingly, post-consumerism. ‘A kind of mentality is growing in the UK and other Western countries’, he writes. ‘Many of us feel we have too much stuff, too many gadgets, too many choices. We want to simplify our lives…’ In the same vein, rising house prices are progressively cited as a catalyst for those seeking out alternative habitats; the UK has become one of the world’s most expensive countries in which to buy a house.

But thanks to the availability of new technology, making the jump is becoming increasingly feasible; more powerful batteries and more efficient solar panels and turbines, coupled with innovations like wireless broadband, give means to, as Rosen comments, ‘live luxuriously in the middle of nowhere’.

Of course, this definition of ‘luxuriously’ is likely rather different to the widely acknowledged notion of ‘luxury’ that most would hold. Ultra-convenience and extravagance are out, but the arguably richer pleasures of self-reliance and total freedom are in.

Perhaps these are luxuries that we’ll all be privy to one day. As Rosen observes, the power grid in its present form has only existed for 80 years, and could well prove a temporary phenomenon. Water, on the other hand, has been around for longer, but advances in technology mean that anyone can install his or her own water treatment facility, essentially negating any serious dependence on the national water grid.

However, as liberating and ecofriendly as moving off-grid is, it’s not easy (unless you have a very serious bank balance and a team of labourers at your disposal) – the three people below will attest to that. But they’ll also attest to the improvement in their quality of life, and the trade-off between hard work and happiness falling consistently in their favour. We asked each of them if they ever regretted their decision to escape the rat race, and without missing a beat they all responded with a resounding ‘no’.

To read about our three interviewees’ experiences of going off-grid, which includes giving up cash, living on a boat and doing without any power at all for nearly thirty years, subscribe below.