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What I Learned Living Off The Grid

It’s a follow-on to these posts:

I’m purposely writing this while never having read a single thing about the ins-&-outs of living off grid; i.e., away from municipal electric, gas, water, and sewer services. Instead, I went and just did it for 5 days, and rubbed elbows with people in a remote—mostly American and Canadian expat—community in Los Zacatitos, at the tip of Baja—some of whom have been doing it routine for as long as 30 years.

…There are real women here—not spoiled, brat-girl-cunts in woman-like bodies—who’ve been making the 1,000 mile drive from San Diego to Los Cabos by themselves twice per year for 15+ years. One of them will be my immediate next-door neighbor (I’ll be gladly looking after her home, truck, and stuff until she gets back in November). And, before Alexa even gets back to the border, she’ll have already driven from northern Minnesota. By herself. And, no: No Dyke. 120 pounder. Has a boyfriend; an electrician, and you should see the beauty of his wiring work for her dual AC/DC photovoltaic system. …I love women. WOMEN. Not punks, cunt-girls claiming the title. Get it?

Moving along, some now have off-grid homes that fetch $200,000 and more in the R/E market. And, even millions. In the US, people are installing huge banks of photovoltaics to feed back power to the grid while in high demand whilst they’re off in a cubicle. My brother recently installed one and it works great for an on-grid home in that application. What I didn’t realize is that in off-grid, the equation changes from lots of panels to lots of batteries—and just enough panels to charge them. Gotta have lots of sun though. No problem.

The best way to begin thinking about off-grid living is to imagine a fully self-contained travel trailer. In this respect, people have been doing it for decades in relative comfort (just small scale, with a view towards conservation of resources). Way back, however, such excursion was typically limited to a few days at best—unless you have access to a water fill-up, a generator to recharge batteries, and someplace to dump your shit.

Once you have that thinking down, it’s all matters of scale, in principle. And now, with photovoltaics or “solar panels,” it can scale into homes worth millions—and a panel or two is almost standard equipment on any trailer now, in order to recharge batteries. …Several off-grid, villa-style homes down there are on the market for up to $5 million. The owner of the place I’m renting is looking to sell, and it will likely be listed at $220,000. Bea and I will consider, once living there, whether we want to participate in that offering ourselves.

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Los Zacatitos

Now, blow your mind. All three of these projects by the Campos Leckie Studio architects (in the true sense of arTchitecture) are in Los Zacatitos.

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Zacatitos 03. Running On Battery

Zacatitos 03 is my landmark to turn left up the road to my place, 300 yards up the main road.

While monthly water delivery into ~10,000 liter cross-connected tanks, gas delivery into a propane tank, and a septic tank with a leach field are no-brainers to me, it’s the electrical that’s epiphanyesque. All those other things must scale to demand too; it’s the electrical that only recently has made this so very possible as a total living situation, opening up billions of sunny acres worldwide to human habitation far enough away to keep out the fucktards, while the State seems happy enough to leave everyone to work disputes out on their own, which is my preference. Maybe no island is needed.

It changes you, when the cops are only 45 minutes away. Maybe you become a wee bit more polite.

Let’s delve into the basic electrical problem.

Electricity is measured in terms of amperage, voltage, and wattage. Amperage (amps for short) is a measure of the AMOUNT of electricity used. Voltage (volts) measures the pressure, or FORCE, of electricity. The amps multiplied by the volts gives you the wattage (watts), a measure of the WORK that electricity does per second.

Think of it this way: Electricity flowing through a wire is like water flowing through a garden hose. The amount of water that can fit through the hose depends on the diameter of the hose (amps). The pressure of the water depends on how far open the faucet is (volts). The amount of work that can be done (watts) depends on both the amount and the pressure of the water (volts x amps = watts).

See? Tradeoffs. Where have you heard that before? In the typical off-grid scenario there’s one essential given, or constant: 120V alternating current. The other two—amps and watts—are up to you. Want to power a single 120V light? Easy. One car battery, one solar panel, an inverter (DC to AC) and you’re done. Like I said, it’s only scale from there.

It get’s interesting from that point and begins to expose a wee bit of what you take for granted. You want to blow dry your hair in the morning while the coffee machine is making your cups? Well, without doing calculations, that few minutes of convenience is going to cost more amps and wattage than everything you spent in terms of lighting and entertainment from dinner to bedtime the night before.

Watts are the big problem, because it’s a kinda calculus deal, where rate of expenditure is part of it. It’s no problem how much you’re using. The problem is how quickly you require it. Accordingly, in the small systems, no blow dryers or coffee makers (heating elements in general are enormous watt hogs). For the former, it’s hot and arid. Relax. Your hair will dry. For the latter, learn how to make the best coffee ever with a French Press or a gas-stovetop espresso contraption—and boil some water on another burner, to make it an Americano. BTW, the refrigerator is gas, too.

Zac’s Bar & Grill has to have a big system to do this and plus, a generator for when things turn south due inclement weather or an equipment breakdown. 20 seconds of vid. Notice that tables are candlelight. Just one more reason; only, Angel and Paul—the owners—have to do it right so they can be open 7 nights per week, from 1PM to 8PM.

Is your appetite wet, yet? How about the greenies, who would force the world, rather than live by some element of example and tout it? Make no mistake. I do this because I wish to inspire, never force or get people to do my forcing.

So now, let’s get to the practical experience. I had zero issues. It was like being in a dry-camping travel trailer, only with a relatively unlimited supply. But, the house is designed in such a way that it’s hard to overuse. One thing that was interesting in contemplation? The entire rest of the world could go dark and my light switches still work.

…You notice lots of light switches. Good for electrician tradesman. See, you don’t want a switch turning on a bank of lights. If it’s cloudy, maybe just one. If sunny, maybe you can go all out and flip 3 or 4. Get it?

Water is the other thing you’ll use at night. You hear the small pump turn on when you open a faucet and the pressure switch gets tripped. Oh, my. No city water pressure. And on that score, I can’t see much of a material difference in cost, between having tucks haul out water to fill the tanks, and the State granted monopoly that pipes it in. You can have a water heater too, gas. One here, but I didn’t bother when a windy night blew out the pilot. Better to go tankless, on-demand anyway, something I had exclusively in my Japanese house from 1984-89 (and my ’01-’05 San Jose house I installed myself) and is what probably got me thinking of the insanity that is insatiable demand, way back then.

Consider the tradeoff: use zero gas when not running hot water, but take a 12-hour hot shower if you want vs. scale. That’s all. Fucking scale.

But I’ve yet to really show you why all of this could be important. Sure, you can have this on the grid, but you can have it off the grid for a lot less effort and expense. Do the accounting. You might be able to do it now. Here’s a quick 30-sec vid beatrice took her first morning waking up to the birds, the natural alarm clock.

With off-grid living, we’re going to pay $650 per month for this place. Yes, you have to have some means, but even scraping by, you can make it work.

What’s hilarious in Zacatitos, is that you have multi-millionairs and folks pissing in buckets, all having a common, very important cord. Nobody talks about their money means because this is a level playing field on many levels and nobody really cares.

…The day I arrived, one long-term resident had a fire break out in his woordworking garage (spontaneous combustion, likely). Rich and poor gathered to fight it and put it out.

The fire department is only 45 minutes away.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

29 Comments

  1. Dave on April 30, 2015 at 03:13

    Fucking paradise.

  2. Steve on April 29, 2015 at 18:02

    Cities used to be built in places where there was lots of water. But as solar power becomes more economical, the advantages of being in places with lots of sunshine grows. But sunny places often lack water, which is still pretty important. So it makes for an interesting dilemma.

    As for your situation: I imagine it gets warm, but a dry heat(?). If you are able to get by in shorts and t-shirts, probably manageable without air conditioning, which is a big electricity hog. However, most urban areas in the south (Miami, Phoenix, LA, etc.,) didn’t really become attractive and populous until AC was widespread.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 29, 2015 at 19:33

      AC is a dilemma in itself. For me.

      As I’ve told others down there who give dire warnings about moving down in summer, I’ve spent months in both Thailand and PI during summer monsoon. No AC.

      While adaptation is a bitch, it’s better than being reliant on artificialities. It’s amazing how you can adapt quickly to to the added bugs, heat, humidity.

      Been almost 30 years since I did it, so we’ll see. I’m an earthling, so ought to be able to manage.

    • John on April 30, 2015 at 06:45

      I grew up on the outskirts of Tucson, where the outdoors looked very similar to the pictures you posted. We did not have AC, but did have Swamp coolers, which worked great during the dry months, but where useless during the rainy season of August. I remember not minding the heat so much (and actually quite enjoying it sometimes). I remember the first time I went to the Vegas strip, even though it was about the same temp as Tucson (about 105 or so), I was miserable outdoors. I’ve also noticed the same sort of miserable feeling in Los Angeles in the high 90s in recent summers. I think Urban density has quite a bit to do with how well you can tolerate the heat. Having the ocean right nearby probably helps a lot, too.

      I’ve been thinking about planning a trip to Cabo in the heart of July, just to see what the worst of the heat feels like.

    • John on April 30, 2015 at 06:57

      Also, you could get a cooling vest. I’m been using the Cool Fat Burner for some cold exposure while I watch TV in the evening. I think that’s the same one Tatertot uses.

    • John on April 30, 2015 at 10:06

      I spent 4 months in Romania. Split both over Summer and Winter. No AC, though they have those wall mounted heating units.

      It was damn hot trying to sleep during the Summer, and lots of mosquitoes flying in the open windows. Still, every time I mentioned having AC in a home the people looked at me like I was crazy.

    • JD on April 30, 2015 at 15:51

      When I first moved to Vegas I lived in a shitty downtown apartment/duplex built in the 40s that had a swamp cooler. I had just moved from Minnesota, so acclimation wasn’t a factor. Only time it bothered me was when I was home on the weekends when it was 118 outside. But even then it was only 1-2 of the peek hot hours and I would take a cold shower and be fine. My electric bill was only about $20ish more in the summer than other months. When I moved into a 1500 sq/ft house with central AC the summer bills were over $300 more per month.

  3. Stuart on April 29, 2015 at 20:08

    The wife is now visiting her sis in San Filipe in a ex-pat gated community way north of you. She also did a glider kite ride. She says it is quite warm now and her sis tried staying in July but left the next day as they had no air conditioning and it was too hot!
    I hope the prices of a solar install is a lot lower now as my neighbor has 4 panels with a battery system on a home brew setup he did a few years ago. He smiles and brags as it cost him $20,000 and he saved $1 a month of his electric bill!
    Look into a piped solar water heater on the roof, but retrofitting a house can be expensive unless you do it yourself.
    Are you neighbors keeping self protection devices, you know what I mean!

    • Richard Nikoley on April 30, 2015 at 07:11

      That doesn’t make much sense, Stuart. There’s no reason to do batteries if you’re on the grid—unless power outages are a big concern. Batteries are for being off the grid and because of the design limitation, inexpensive by comparison to the large banks of panels people instal who are on the grid.

      My brother installed two large banks on his house in Placerville, CA last summer and his electric bill went from $300 to near zero, and that with an AC unit cooling a very large house.

    • Stuart on April 30, 2015 at 10:39

      He is on the grid in town. He has a battery bank, an inverter to provide aéc. He has 3 panels now that I see it and typical month electrical is $100 here. His sytstem must be 5 years old now. One has to watch ones consumption as he even ran his batteries down one time. Just heard on PBS they are waiting for Muskès lithium ion batteries to drive cost down so an install gets to $5000 which they donèt predict until years from now. I had a old generator 1850 watts that I gave away was not worth the noise and not enough power. Still worth looking into to see if it is worthwhile as it is mostly well off people according the broadcast that are now doing it despite the cost. My old neighbor in Florida turned his aéc off despite the 90% humidity and just got used to it with windows open, he had good screens. Ièm going to try drier Arizona for next winter.

  4. Wenchypoo on April 30, 2015 at 09:02

    I’ve been interested in getting off the grid, and have been reading about it for some time, but the book authors always seem to come down to designing homes and energy plans for (what seems to me) to be a wasteful lifestyle: blow-dryers, curling irons, and dishwashers for the females, large flat-screen TVs and computers for the guys, and let’s not forget the central heat & air, and vacuum cleaner for the carpets! I can’t help but think the lifestyle I lead right now would be more energy-efficient than that of the typical off-gridder.

    It seems very much like these particular people have merely taken their current lifestyle and just found an alternative way to fuel it (albeit with banks and banks of expensive batteries and solar panels). Why not just pare down the current lifestyle AS IF you were dependent on the limited energy you’d get from a bank of batteries and maybe 1 or 2 solar panels?

    To do this, I’ve explored Amish lifestyle books to get clues. My summation: electricity and water brought into the home is a CONVENIENCE. If you aren’t prepared or willing to pay the cost for that convenience, then learn to do more with your own 2 hands. Now I don’t exactly haul in my own water, but I learned to live while using much less than before; same for electricity, since solar panels and conversion to DC power is out of the budget, I learned to use much less power than before.

    Living in Italy for a time also taught me some things, like how to live without a vacuum cleaner (they have tile floors), window screens (they have none), a dishwasher (unaffordable to many), a dryer (only for the rich), and A/C (they have thick plaster walls, and don’t need it). Plastic garbage bags come from the farmer’s market, but not the 33-gallon or kitchen garbage size, but the ones they put your purchases in (they make so much less thrash over there, it can be done this way). I’ve mimicked this with store bags lining a plastic 5-gal. pail, and trash goes out once daily. Paper towels? Cut-up dish towels, washable and reusable. All our one-use items have been “alternatized.”

    I’m more or less ready to go off-grid in my head–I just need the infrastructure and the money to pay for it. Most won’t do it, because they’d lose out on their convenience–convenience that allowed them to become energy hogs in the first place. They’d have to get out of their Laz-E-Boys and put down their smartphones, and actually move to get things done!

    • Richard Nikoley on April 30, 2015 at 15:01

      Right on Wenchy. Nailed it. Yep, last thing I want to do is try to live off grid at the same consumption level as on grid.

      Yep, France taught me to hate carpet except like throw rugs, and screens. No screens. Ovel idea: bugs fly in, they fly out.

      If it ever got to be a real problem there I’d just get a bug net for sleeping. Also, the system will accompodate a small fan to set by the bed. I’ve always found that to be plenty.

    • Dr. Curmudgeon Gee on May 1, 2015 at 21:43

      alternatized? XD. that’s how people used to live.

      Americans are most wasteful people on earth. the rest of the world probably think what we think normal here as “alternatized” XD

      i agree that a lot of green house projects just tries to duplicate the same wasteful lifestyle; it also probably makes people more wasteful cause now the energy is free.

      (this is probably the reason i dislike Tesla (the car) it tries to solve a humongous problem by a humongous solution)

  5. John on April 30, 2015 at 10:11

    Guns are illegal in Mexico, correct? You cannot bring your weapons with you?

    • Richard Nikoley on April 30, 2015 at 14:46

      John, no, just restricted. Basically, all my guns except my 40 S & W would be legal to possess in the home.

      Sticklers are that you have to be a citizen or legal resident. Also, any import or transport requires a specific permit in advance. Only something I’d tackle if after this six month trial period, we decide to seek legal residency, as the visa one gets upon entry is good for only 180 days at a pop.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 30, 2015 at 14:47
    • John on May 1, 2015 at 11:16

      Thanks for the link, I just googled quickly before asking and the first reference said they are illegal.

  6. Reid on April 30, 2015 at 11:28

    Richard,

    I thought this article was very fitting. Be sure to watch the second video. Maybe your next adventure will be in a yurt.

    Cheers.

    http://www.citylab.com/housing/2015/04/i-dont-believe-in-paying-rent/391853/?utm_source=nl_daily_link2_043015

  7. JD on April 30, 2015 at 16:10

    What about cell phone service and ISP? Zero or janky internet connection is the one thing that would keep me living on grid.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 30, 2015 at 18:21

      JD:

      In terms of cell, I’m porting my AT&T number to Google Voice and will just get whatever prepaid SIMM offers the best deal here in the States. In Mexico, I’ll get a TELCEL SIMM and they have pretty decent voice and data packages. Don’t get service at the house, but a few minutes drive away I do.

      Internet is better than Comcast here at home. It’s one of those rooftop, line of site wireless setups to an antenna on a nearby mountaintop. Works good, Skype, Netflix, etc. A bit pricey at $700 per year, up front.

      So, with Internet I’ll have my same U.S. Phone number if I have Google voice open. When I leave the house, I can forward to the Mexican number and Google only charges 5 cents per minute.

      So, all sorted.

  8. edster on April 30, 2015 at 17:50

    Hi Richard, are you aware of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) that is kicking in this year? You might want to drop your US citizenship quickly!

    • Richard Nikoley on April 30, 2015 at 18:25

      Easter, yea, aware, but I really don’t need a MX bank account. I’ll simply keep a good amount of Pesos and dollars around (you pay for water, gas, vegetable and fresh fish deliveries in cash) and use the ATM card to get more.

      I really dislike having to structure stuff for tax purposes.

  9. Stuart on May 1, 2015 at 18:31

    Ièm meaning to order this one.

  10. sassysquatch on May 1, 2015 at 04:32

    Keep those nice doggies away from those pesky rattle snakes.

  11. Carl on May 1, 2015 at 10:01

    I’m sure the nearest Body By Science training studio is at least 45 minutes away…. So where is the squat rack and barbell set? No worries about rusty cast iron in that climate, for sure!

    Regarding guns: if you can’t carry outside the home, any concerns about being forced down in a remote area while flying

    • Richard Nikoley on May 1, 2015 at 10:07

      I’ll be taking along the battle ropes and a set of kettle bells.

      I’m very active, there, just naturally. I have a strange affinity to the ocean and would rather swim and snorkel it than just about anything. I can snorkel for hours without even noticing.

      In terms of guns, life is a set of tradeoffs. This place is very isolated. That’s top tier. Would rather live there with no guns than in the heart of a cop-abused inner city with an arsenal.

  12. Todd on May 1, 2015 at 15:46

    French press coffee.

    That’s something I’ve been wanting to get into for a while now, but have yet to take the time to learn all about it. This could spur me to get on it sooner rather than later, as I take the philosophy of living more simply to heart. That and I keep hearing french press coffee kicks the shit out of your average coffee brewer.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 1, 2015 at 16:13

      There is an elegance to it.

  13. MissMcGillicuddy on May 3, 2015 at 13:39

    Just go onto Sweet Maria’s and order yourself a Clever Coffee Dripper – excellent coffee, perfectly simple.

    Anyway, if you decide to go for residency, what would be the basis? retiree?

    Do you have a mail forwarding service?

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