In the previous post about Living Off The Grid, Hawaiian Style, I talked at length about the unaffordability of mainstream housing in the islands, at least when it comes to buying something. Which leaves renting or going with something off the grid and/or tiny. When one goes off the grid to live, there are three main things one will want or need in order to make it work. I’m not going to get into the full nuts and bolts on these three things, there are plenty of resources you can look up online, but I will give a general overview of each.
Number 1 is power. Unless you want to go full Tom Hanks, chances are you are going to need to generate some sort of electrical source of power for all your toys. Assuming you are someplace where the big power grid is not available or not needed, then you will need to consider some options on how to create electricity. As it were, there are two very easy and affordable sources which anyone can make use of, namely, solar and wind.
Having lived on a boat for lo these many past years I got to see a lot of workable set ups for generating power on a boat not involving fossil fuels, shore power, or generators. A decent sized solar array along with sufficient batteries will provide more than enough power for an average sized sailboat. By the same token it will work on a house of most any size. The trick is to be someplace where the sun actually shines. Someplace like, oh, perhaps, Hawaii.
Wind generators work equally as well and make a good back up to solar when the sun ain’t shining, like at night. Because most of the time the wind is blowing, a simple wind generator will supply plenty of power.
Having set up solar and wind, it’s a simple matter of having sufficient storage batteries to supply your needs which brings up the other end of this equation, which is setting up your place of residence to use as little power as possible. This is where you learn what you can live with, and live without. Some things are simple like using LED bulbs for lighting or propane for cooking. Others can be more difficult like going without air conditioning or microwave ovens. Cutting back on the big power using appliances will reduce your need for electricity, but what modern conveniences can you live comfortably without? These are important decisions dependent on how much power you can generate and how much you will use. The more you can use less of, the less power you will be dependent on.
I personally found I can do without a lot. One winter back when I was on the boat in the marina from hell, my entire electric bill for the month came to $0.09. All I did was recharge my iPhone and MacAir, doing my cooking on a propane grill and using an ice box. (Ice was cheaper than power but a pain to get). The point is, I can do without a lot of the average power hungry appliances and conveniences we take for granted. If you can learn to do so, it could make power generation a lot more better.
Number B is water. Funny thing, humans need water to survive. We need it to drink, and we use for many other things, like laundry, cleaning, showering, and the like. So if one is to have a place to live off the grid, and away from the big water utility, one is going to need to find a source of water from someplace. If there are no springs nearby, nor streams, creeks, nor rivers, and you can’t drill a well (in Hawaii, all you will hit is lava), then there is only one other place to get water from…the sky. It’s the big blue thing with the clouds over your head. Look up. Go outside first.
Catching water from said sky is actually pretty easy. Your little house has a ready made surface capable of catching the water, it’s called the, ‘roof’. From there, some spouting runs into a catch tank of some sort, then it gets filtered and piped into your home. Very easy to set up and again, if you are careful about your use, you should have plenty of the wet stuff to fill your needs, provided of course, it rains enough to fill your tanks. Without rain, you are going to be making many a trip to the nearest water source with a arm full of storage jugs, which is something you probably really don’t want to do.
And number three, is waste. Namely, the stuff which comes out of you and goes into the toilet. Chances are, if you are where there is no grid power and no grid water, there is no grid sewer. So what to do?
One option is to go with a holding tank of some sort. When said holding tank is full, you take it to a dump station, if you can find one, or arrange for a sewer truck to come and pump out. In the Keys, they have implemented a nice fleet of pump out boats who go around every week and pump out the holding tanks of the boats. It’s an excellent system and has gone a long way in cleaning up the waters. But if no pump out service is available, another more better option is a compost toilet. A compost toilet is quickly becoming the way to go for a lot of off grid living. It’s cleaner, uses virtually no water, and the waste can be reused as fertilizer.
So, in review, if one were to go off the grid within the confines of what is needed as stated above, one would need a place where there was a lot sunshine, some wind, plenty or rainfall, and have the ability to compost waste. As it happens, just such a climate exists in Hawaii.
If you go to the east side of Maui, south of Kahului, you’ll find exactly the type of climate you are looking for. Lots of sun and wind, adequate rainfall, moderate temperatures year round negating the need for ac or heat, and the ability to even till the land and use your compost to fertilize. But, land on Maui is not cheap. Go south to the Big Island, and it’s a different story.
On the Big Island south of Hilo on the east side before you get to the active volcanoes, there are lots of acreage off the grid. And a lot of it is being bought and built using tiny houses and other off the grid options. Again, lots of sunshine, trade winds, plenty or rainfall, and tillable land. And as for affordability, imagine being able to buy a plot of land and build a small self sufficient cabin on said land, for less than the price of a new vehicle. Would you like to know more? Next post.