Building a house off the grid comes with a lot of challenges, and there are a lot of small things that you will most likely overlook. You can simply not compare building a house off the grid and a house that will be connected to the grid, both of them come with challenges but arguable building an off grid house is a lot more difficult. The logistics of building an off grid house can get extremely complicated and expensive, especially if you build the house in a remote area.
Building a house off the grid tends to be fairly challenging, but even if you build in the middle of nowhere you still have to abide by the local building code. You have to pick carefully in which state you build the off grid house and decide how you will build it, what kind of materials you will use, and how will you heat the house. In addition to this, you should take advantage of the incentives and rebates for solar power as these will reduce the costs of building the off grid house significantly.
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Most people who live off the grid want to do it as frugally as possible, and the vast majority of off gridders do actually build their own houses. The main reason why so many people choose to build their own off grid house is to reduce the cost. The good news is that the overall costs of building an off grid house or cabin are a lot cheaper than building a traditional house, the bad news is that you will pay a lot more for transportation if you want to build the house in a remote area.
Building a house tends to take a fairly long time especially if you are doing most of the work. This is why a lot of people who build their own off grid home move to the location while they are building the house. Usually, they will set up a small temporary shelter, but for far too many people these temporary off grid shelters become more permanent, and oftentimes people will live in these shelters for a couple of years before being able to move into their house.
Even if you are building your off grid house in the middle of nowhere you will still have to abide by the local building codes, although how strict these are depends on the area where you want to actually build. On the other hand, there are a couple of states and counties which do not actually have building codes, for more information check out my recent article States and counties with no building codes ( Top 8 ).
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Build the house in a state where living off the grid is easy
Living off the grid is a lot of hard work, and the last thing you would want is to work extra hard just because you have built your off grid house in a state where the taxes will make it almoust impossible to live comfortably. Living off the grid is legal in all states, but there is a catch, some states make it extremely difficult to live off the grid, some have high property taxes, and some make it extremely difficult to harvest rainwater.
You have to really inform yourself what are the pros and cons for each state for living off the grid, in terms of climate, ability to generate power, the possibility to harvest rainwater, and what kind of crops you can actually grow. The good news is that I have already done all the research for you, so check out my recent article Best states for off grid living ( 1-50 Best to Worst ).
Decide the type of off grid house you want to build
Generally speaking most off grid houses tend to be relatively small, this is mostly to reduce the costs of heating the entire place during the wintertime. There are a lot of different types of houses which are excellent for off grid living like cottages, tiny houses, and regular houses. The type of house you should build will be mostly determined by your needs, the bigger your family is the bigger your house will also be.
Decide how you will heat your off grid house
How you will heat your house will determine what kind of construction materials you can use. There are a lot of options when it comes to heating an off grid house, but the vast majority of people use a wood stove. If you want to build in an area where the winters tend to be fairly harsh then you need to properly insulate the house, and this is something on which you do not want to cheap out.
Think of the way you heat your home as an upfront investment, if you use a wood stove then you will have to buy firewood every year. The good news is that if you insulate your off grid house properly then you will not need to spend that much money on firewood every year.
Choosing the right building materials for an off grid house
When it comes to building an off grid house one of your biggest expenses will be the cost of the materials. Today you can virtually build a house from whatever you want, although for off grid living you have to be extremely careful what kind of building materials you use. Before deciding what kind of materials you will use to build your house you have to consider the local climate, some building materials are better for keeping the heat trapped inside while others are better for cooling off the house.
If you want to build the off grid house as cheaply as possible then you can use cob, earthbags, and adobe although it isn’t really recommended. Ideally, you should build your off grid house either with wood or with bricks. You can find a lot of prefabricated houses which are relatively cheap, but generally speaking, these are only an option if you live in an area with mild winters.
Calculate the costs of transporting the materials off the gird
As you are already thinking of building your off grid house you most likely have chosen a suitable plot of land. Most off grid homes are in rural areas, and this makes the cost of transportation significantly higher. In addition to this if the area where you want to build doesn’t actually have road access then the costs of transportation will be higher than the actual cost of building the house.
If you want to build the off grid house in remote with little to no road access then you have two options, either build the house yourself or hire a company that specializes in building houses in remote areas. There are a lot of reputable companies that build houses in remote areas, although they tend to be fairly expensive.
Decide who builds the off grid house
When building an off grid house you have two options, either you build it yourself or you hire somebody to do it for you. Which one you should choose depends on your budget and your skills. If you do have the skills to build a house and you are on a tight budget then you should consider building the house yourself. On the other hand, if you have no building skills and you have some extra money to invest then you should hire some people or a company to build the off grid house.
Most people will fall somewhere in between, with a tight budget and with very few skills which they can use to build a house. Some people manage to pull it off this way while others get to a brick wall and their house will never be finished. Even if you do not have experience in building houses but you do know how to work with wood then you will be able to manage alone. Building a house is not that difficult, although it is a lot of work and if you do not know how to do it properly then you will make things a lot harder for yourself in the long run.
Building season for off grid houses
Most areas have a building season, this is why you do not see houses being built in the middle of the winter. Different states have different building seasons, and you have to know when you can build the off grid house. In the southern parts of the country, the building season is all year round mostly because the climate is fairly mild and winter temperatures rarely go below freezing. On the other hand, the building season in the northern parts can be fairly short, only a couple of months at best.
Generally speaking, the building season starts in early spring, although it mostly depends on the local temperatures. You have to make sure that you have all the papers in order before you start building the house, and as some of these documents can take months to get, you should get them before the building season starts. Some legal papers can take months to be approved, and a couple of months can mean a delay of an entire year if the building season is short in your area.
Off grid houses have to respect the local building codes
Even if you build an off grid house in the middle of nowhere you have to follow the local building codes. Make sure to check with the local authorities what permits and documents you need to build off the grid, as the requirements to build off the grid will be different from one county to another. Some people who build an off grid cabin or house do not have the necessary paperwork to do it legally, some of them get away with it while others face some serious consequences, for more info check out my recent article Consequences of building without a permit ( Top 6 ).
On the other hand, the good news is that there are a couple of states and counties which do not have building codes or they do not enforce them. Although just to be on the safe side you should always ask the local authorities what papers will you need to build an off grid house.
Road access to the off grid property
Far too many people forget one vital aspect of building an off grid house, which is the logistics of transporting the construction materials. The better the road access is to the site the easier it will be to transport the materials, on the other hand, if the road access is fairly bad or nonexistent than you will have an extremely difficult time building the off grid house. The further the location is from a road the harder it will be to build.
Building a house needs a lot of materials, and if the road access isn’t good for large vehicles then you will have to use smaller vehicles to transport all the materials which will increase the costs. In this case, you should take a look at the local forest roads, as these can handle the weight of large vehicles and with some luck, you might find one that is close to you.
Off grid power incentives and rebates
There are some states and counties which offer fairly generous incentives, not for building an off grid house but for generating power with renewable energy. All states have the Federal Tax Credit which is a percentage of the total cost of solar panels or wind turbines. Some states are better for generating power with solar while others are better for wind power, but the good news is that you can use the incentives and the rebates to reduces your costs significantly.
In addition to country-wide incentives such as the Federal Tax Credit, you will also find state rebates and incentives, and in some counties, you can get additional rebates and incentives. Before starting the construction you should ask the local authorities what kind of solar or wind power incentives and rebates they offer and how you can get them.
As you can see building a house off the grid is not that complicated although there are a couple of things which you definitely need to take into consideration. Your budget will mostly dictate what kind of house you will build off the grid and more importantly where you will build it. Just keep in mind that off grid houses do have to abide by the local building code, even if you build it in the middle of nowhere.