Off-Grid? No Way - I LOVE Technology!
We do not have garbage pick up – we have been given permission to drop off our garbage at the bottom of the road. Half the time, we miss our garbage day, but that’s not an issue because we generate a relatively small amount.
Septic is a touchy issue – we bought the place with the understanding that there was a working septic system. Turns out it was a couple of 45 gallon drums that had been buried in the backyard and never emptied during the past thirty years.
While we were getting organized to replace it with a proper system, winter hit. Hard.
During that harsh winter, our septic failed completely. Amazingly, it has not been as bad as we thought it might be, but we’ll be happy when it gets fixed.
In the summer of 2015, we will be having a gray water system and a composting toilet installed.
Our long-term goal is to minimize garbage enough that we no longer need to use the garbage drop-off. That goal might be a long way off, though.
Technology and Living Off-Grid
When I was thirteen, my grandfather told me that I would never be able to have a mountain homestead like the one in which he grew up. That was because, he said,communication, power and access to medical assistance are kind of important.
He was right.
I would not want to live anywhere that I could not communicate with other people,run lights at the very least and have access to medical assistance.
During our first year on the homestead, we huddled behind the house with our cell phone, trying desperately to find a signal while blowing on our fingers to keep them warm. I can remember being terrified of an accident happening that would require prompt medical care on one of those days when we couldn't find a signal anywhere. And, while I do enjoy candles, sometimes you still need to do dishes after sundown.
Things are very different today, two years into our off-grid homesteading adventure.
Cell phones – We just have plain flip phones (Yes, you can still get them - the Source Canada has "voice and text phones"). We first tried to live without any phones, but it became clear we couldn't do that for safety reasons.
The best price we could get for putting in a landline was $15,000.
We decided we didn't want it that badly. Cell phone technology means that we can live where we want and still communicate with the world. This would not have been possible when I was a teenager.
Cell phone booster – I love it, love it, love it.
This is fabulous for anyone who lives in a cell “dead zone”. It seemed expensive, and we hummed and hawed, but I’m so happy we spent the money on it. It’s made by Zboost and available at The Source Canada. We installed it on the back of the house, at a spot where we usually found a signal (if I were standing on my toes and facing the right direction!), and we now have wonderful phone service in the house.
This is part of the cell phone technology, making it possible for phone service to reach places where it could not in the past.
As a note – having the cell phones and the booster means that we can access 911. We live in a province that has air ambulance, and the local fire departments have 4 wheel drive ambulances.
With four young children in our home, communication is vital for safety.
Satellite internet – For far too long, I bucked against this, certain that it would be outlandishly expensive for far too little bandwidth. But after talking with every other internet provider and pleading for them to service this area, I finally realized it wasn't going to happen. There are some places where you just can’t get regular internet.
I am so happy that we finally caved in and got the satellite. We have 50 GB of data transfer per month, which is not much compared to the unlimited packages we could get in town. And when the rain is coming down very heavy (which happens fairly regularly since we’re in Nova Scotia), we lose our signal. But most of the time, it works perfectly.
Laptops – Of course, laptops use much less power than desktops. We use them sometimes to watch videos, too. No – we don’t have Netflix or anything like that, simply because our satellite connection doesn’t stream very well. Having the laptops, and having them connected to the internet, is enough!
LED lights – This was the first bit of technology that changed our life up here.
Going truly old school was never really an option since I have a severe allergic reaction to lamp oil and kerosene.
Our small solar array is not enough to power regular lights. An LED strip on the ceiling is unobtrusive and allowed us to light entire rooms. There’s nothing like a year without whole-room lighting to make you realize how important it is.
Eventually we’ll change the light strip for better quality LED lights like this one, but for now, these work well and use just a trickle of electricity.
Solar panels – These and the related technologies allow us to have electricity in a place where it would not have been possible a few decades ago.
With the price of renewables dropping, this is becoming affordable for everyone. Solar panels are not a stand-alone item – there’s a whole system of inverters, batteries and more. Home Depot, and many other building supply outlets, make it easy to put together a small system like this one for 400 watts. (We managed on a 160 watt system for our first year and have upgraded to a positively decadent 910 watt system!)
And we are using so LITTLE of the amazing technology that now makes it possible for people to disconnect from the grid. We will be adding our composting toilet this summer, and a very modern wood cookstove.
So there you have it – it is quite possible to live off-grid AND still use some technology. In fact, technology makes it possible to live off-grid and have a good life.