Off The Grid, Power, Water and Logistics - Some pros and cons

My Sisters have built a cabin and will try to live off the grid. Well, actually they will HAVE to live off the grid because in order to get electric service from the street, they would need a building permit. There is power and cable at the edge of their property. There is no water and people have it delivered or use catchment, primarily for toilets or irrigation, however with treatment others drink that rainwater. I would not.

They purchased 3 acres in the largest housing development in the U.S. which is 10,697 acre lots above the highway and 1200 one to three acre lots below, so about 36 square miles. There are miles of roads up and down with many lots not built upon. Population total for the areas, about 5,000 people :slight_smile: There is a lot of lava from fairly large to gravel. Houses range from very nice houses professionally built to shacks. Weather is fairly warm and tropical and varies as you travel from sea level to 5,000 feet elevation.

Essentially, they built the place from watching Youtube videos. I guess hey COULD get a permit if an architect created plans based upon what they currently have. Many of the places near them are non-permitted.

Our island is a microcosm of weather and you can choose what you want. They are located near the southernmost point in the U.S. where we have lots of wind. Yesterday for example, they had winds above 10mph for about 19 hours with an average of 15 mph and gusts up to 36 mph. There also is solar but they get lots of clouds too.

Because the wind blows day and night we are going to look for a primary wind generator that also has a solar ability. Even though they get wind most of every day, if the generator breaks or what have you, they would still have some generation from the sun. Since they can generate electric with at least 8 mph breeze and they exceed that, their need for battery storage is smaller. They also have a small gas generator for emergencies, however gasoline is pretty expensive and they will be quite a distance from Costco. Getting parts quickly here can be an issue. One issue I have heard is that for wind generation you need a well-built system. Cheap blades or alternator can cause squeals and other noises which might drive you crazy. Also they are only a few miles from the ocean so salt corrosion can be an issue. Luckily there has never been a hurricane hit that location but they do pass by. The wind was a real issue trying to get plywood on the roof and not have it fly away. You wait for the wind to drop to nothing and hope it stays that way for 30 seconds or so as we shoved plywood from inside through the rafters onth the roof.

I have a neighbor who designed his electric system so that he can run most of his house from solar. He created his own battery system using good cells from discarded rechargeable battery packs and laptops. To hear that it sounds cobbled together but is quite industrial looking. He has meters and data on performance, etc.

The girls have cellphone coverage, but recently Verizon’s tower seems to have taken a hit and coverage at their cottage took a nosedive. They are considering cable internet once they get the power situation addressed.

Personally, at my house many miles north of them, I have county water, electric, cable internet, a generator that uses both gas or propane and am closer to Costco. I also have 80,000 gallons of standby water (from rainfall) for irrigation. However in event of a water outage, I figure I can flush the toilet for 6 years with that storage.

For them it has been a challenge to build the place. Plywood flooring (3/4 in tongue and groove) went from $30 to $130 during COVID. Supplies dwindled and we had issues getting many things. Luckily they are living at my house so they were not stuck with no roof or side walls down there. Lowes has truck deliveries but their one lumber delivery truck broke down and their estimate was 2 months to get parts. I ended up filling my truck with wood and plywood and made multiple trips down there making deliveries. Granted, in places which are not remote islands, some of these issues are not a problem.

I am able to help some but our ages range from 50’s to 70’s.

Do they have the ability to dig a well? That could help with water if 1) they are allowed to, and 2) depth of the water table (or if there even is one). The further you have to dig, the more costly a pump.

I would recommend getting as much battery backup as they can afford.

They should also at least investigating the cost to connect with the local utilites.

They cannot dig a well for water. It is lava rock with no water table and there are cesspools all over. The EPA is requiring the removal of cesspools in the next 20 or so years and a conversion to septic tanks. That conversion will cost most homeowners $20,000! We don’t have thousands of septic tanks standing by, few installers and fewer people with the money to pay for that change.

At the Catholic Church where I volunteer, the graves are all above ground (in concrete) because we cannot dig easily (remember Steve McGarrett on Hawaii 5-0 saying ‘we live on this ROCK’)? There is a county well up the mountain (well… up the volcano) managed by the County, but the pump is broken for the next couple of months while they await repairs. Water haulers in the area will have to fill up 20 miles away and bring it down. Catchment water is fine if purified for washing and flushing but people tend to drink bottled water or non-water based beverages :slight_smile:

So for electric you must have a building permit even for a temporary pole. The line from the street can be no longer than 30 feet onto your property or else you have to pay manuy thousand to have a pole on your land. A neighbor of mine has a utility pole on his property for electric, cable and telephone. Rights are granted for the utilities to access his land to repair, etc. In the girls case, I suggested a utility shed and a temp pole for electris. We can then run our own 4x4’s to attach the power on our side of the meter to their cottage.

Buildings are above ground whenever possible. This allows airflow and keeps them from falling aprt during earthquakes.

The cottage is only 1/2 built at this time. It has a nice ocean view and view of the southern-most point of the U.S… That cottage is equal in latitude with Mexico City so we truely are ‘Southerners’ compared with y’all.

In the tropics it’s pretty common to use rainwater catchment systems for household water. With a metal roof it’s easy to channel the water to a cistern and then pump it up to an elevated holding tank with a small sump pump. Most Pacific islands have a porous volcanic rock layer which makes finding water aquifers iffy and very localized. Most mountainous Pacific islands in the Polynesian Triangle have a wet side and a dry side. On the wet side in a relatively remote site it would probably be the cheapest and easiest alternative. For low-lying islands it wouldn’t make any difference.