Going Off The Grid Once A Week

Caught a post recently about “off the grid” living over at Five Cent Nickel, and the author had an interesting idea I’d like our family to adopt.  His arrangements sound a lot like ours.  Like us, he found it nearly impossible to live off the grid 100% of the time when you are living in the middle of a neighborhood.  If we were out in the country it might be just as much of a challenge, but at least there we would have more room, and more freedoms to try to pull it off.

off the grid vegetable garden
Photo courtesy of Southern Foodways Alliance

Still, suburban living is no excuse for not finding creative ways to become a little more self-reliant.  So beginning tomorrow, each Saturday morning we’ll throw the breakers to the “Off” position (all but the circuit controlling the refrigerator and freezer) and go 24 hours without power, intentionally.  Obviously, we don’t want our food to spoil as that would not be very frugal.

To prepare for such an experiment, I’ve been trying to brainstorm the pros and cons of going off the grid once a week.  Here are a few of the obvious ones, and a couple that seem like minor annoyances we can work around.

Pros of an Off the Grid Saturday

Lower utility bill. Not sure how much lower the utility bill will be, but I’d like to think not running the air conditioner, computers, lights, televisions, etc. 14% of each week would have some positive effect.  Because laundry will still need cleaning we’ll probably use the washing machine, but not the dryer, opting instead to line dry clothes, or use a drying rack.

More family time.  I imagine without me being huddled around a computer, and the kids parked in front the Wii, we’ll find more family time to spend together.

More outside time.  As a family, we’ll probably look for ways to escape our dark house and get outside for some fresh air.  It would do us all to get outside more, particularly on the weekends when we aren’t cooped up in school or the office.  We can spend the afternoon gardening, playing basketball, and take a leisurely stroll or bike ride through the neighborhood.

Cons of an Off the Grid Saturday

Resetting clocks on oven, microwave, radios, etc. This may seem like a minor thing, but resetting the time drives me nuts!

The heat. I’m jealous of those that live places where they don’t need air conditioning.  I live in the south, and here air conditioning is a must. Not only do the temperatures climb near the triple in the summer, but the humidity is unbearable. 90 degrees here is sweltering compared to 90 degrees in drier climates.  For this reason, it might be tough to go without AC (and ceiling fans) during the hottest months.

After giving it some thought, we could probably leave the electrical panel alone and simulate not having power by turning off the air conditioner at the thermostat, keeping all electronic devices off for the day, and not using lights. That way we can still make use of ceiling fans, not worry about killing power to refrigeration devices, etc.  Now I just have to sell this idea of living off the grid once a week to my wife and kids.  And that could prove to be the toughest part of the entire experiment!  I’ll follow up next weekend to let you know how it goes.

Comments

  1. After going powerless for nearly three months in 2007, my son and I learned what we do and don’t need for electricity. Off the grid is easy for us now. We even went two months without water service (separate time, but for the same reason, inability to pay the bills). It makes you so much more aware of how wasteful you’d been. How many times you turn on a light when you don’t really need too. How often you turn on the air conditioning when you could adjust quite well to the heat without it. And our bodies do adjust, even if it is uncomfortable for a bit. You learn other ways to cool off. Wet a towel in cold water and place it on the back of the neck, and you’ll cool off quite nicely.

    We learned what foods could be stored and eaten without refrigeration, and without cooking. We ate a lot of fruit and veggies, walking to the local farmers’ market every other day for fresh produce, because we couldn’t buy a weeks worth of produce and store it in the fridge.

    I learned how to make a solar oven (power first went off for us in August 2007, summer was still going strong), and cook using that.

    I’m back on grid now, having worked to put myself in a bit better of a financial situation (though not much, it’s still week to week). But the awareness is still there.

  2. I think it’s great that you’re doing this as a regular family project.

    One thing about dealing with the heat. It’s been shown scientifically that it takes your body two weeks to make an adjustment to high heat/humidity. Two weeks is about how much time it usually takes for the weather itself to transition from cool to hot. Over that time, our sweat glands become more active, the circulation patterns in our skin change, and other adjustments are made. But it only happens if we actually expose ourselves to summer weather. If we let our bodies make this transition instead of blasting the AC at the first hint of summer weather, we’d be more comfortable and sleep better in hot weather. After all, hundreds of millions of people around the world have no choice in the matter, yet somehow they lead lives that aren’t sheer misery. It might be something for you to think about if you plan to live once a week without electricity.

  3. Hey Frugal Dad,

    After participating in Earth Hour last year, our family thought this would be a great idea, too. We thought we’d go powerless every Sunday. Of course we never did follow through, but you’ve just re-inspired me. :) It’s also a good way to figure out if you’re prepared for emergencies. There are lots of little things you don’t think about that become very obvious when you are without power. Looking forward to seeing how you make out with this!

    Alissa

  4. Wow! Going off the grid entirely is a big challenge but it could be fun. Plan your laundry for another day and that will eliminate your washer/dryer problems. As far as a/c, open the windows at night, close them in the morning and draw the curtains. It will keep the house cooler. If you are spending a lot of time outside in the heat, it will still feel cool inside. You will also find that it doesn’t feel as hot outside if it isn’t quite so cool inside.

  5. Awesome idea! Please think of using a whole post to discuss the conversation you’ll have with your family. That, to my mind, is one of the big obstacles to get these types of experiments off the ground. You have to get them involved and into it as well.

    Good luck!

  6. Glad you mentioned the clocks – that’s exactly what I was thinking. I don’t know if pulling the breakers is really necessary though. Just declare a no TV, computer, AC or lights day and you should have 90% or your usage covered.

  7. About air conditioning – it works by getting rid of the humidity in the house. Once it gets the humidity down, it’s easy for the system to keep it down. But once you turn it off and open the windows, it has to start all over again. That’s not very efficient.

  8. Sorry dude, AC is NOT a must. Millions of people in the world live without it and even your area went without before it was invented. I’ve lived in both hot and cold climates and found it is easier to stay cool in a hot climate than warm in a cold one. I’ve found it is cheaper to stay cool in a hot climate than warm in a cold one. Staying warm almost always requires some kind of buring of resources. I much prefer the warm to hot climates.

  9. Great entry!

    My other half and I have talked about doing this same thing. Actually, I did the talking and he did the looking at me like I’m nuts. I really want to try to do this and even if we did it every other Sunday instead of every Sunday that would be good. We’ve lived without AC many times (we’re in TX) and there are several things that help deal with the heat – cold showers, draping a wet towel or cloth over the head, drinking a lot of cold liquid, especially water, and good old fashioned sitting in the shade. :) I look forward to reading more from you about this.

  10. If you do not turn off the circuit unplug everything. Anything plugged in, even if off, still pulls a little electricity (especially cell phone chargers, microwaves, etc.)

    I wonder how much money this will save. I think if anything it will encourage family time.

    But I think a better way to do this is commit to things like not using dryer at all most months. I hang my clothes outside from March-Nov. I do use dryer in winter months and if it rains more than 3 days in a row. This saves me alot and is better for my clothes (dryers are hard on clothes.)

    Also consider switching your house to all or almost all cloth instead of disposable (paper towels to rags, tissues to hankies, napkins, to cloth-which I see at yard sales all the time, disposable diapers to cloth, etc.) These are very green and frugal choices and alot easier than they sound. It is so nice to wipe my face with cloth after dinner instead of paper. My kids easily took to the switch as well.

    Let us know how the no elctricity day goes, especially in regards to your bills. Thanks!

    -Becky in NJ

  11. Great idea! I did an entire day when it was Earth Hour and it was actually quite nice. I agree that selling the idea to the wife and kids may prove to be a bit of a challenge, but I’m sure they’ll entertain you.

    Good luck with the experiment! It should be a great time.

  12. I’m thinking of doing this myself after reading the same blog you did at Five Cent Nickel. Selling it to my wife will be a harder chore. We may need to stock up on candles too.

    I’d be interested in a follow up blog about the reactions by your wife and kids and what a “typical day” off the grid consisted of.

  13. With our nasty wind storms out here, we lose electric too often as it is :) So yes, I am very very prepared for it.

    Rather than resetting all those clocks, yes, it would be almost as efficient to just unplug some things, and then not use the rest. Then see how long you can go without plugging them back in!

    Or …. you could just go camping for the weekend.. (not the RV/generator thing, but real tent camping :) The Ocala National Forest is great!

  14. I would respectfully point out to those who say that AC is not necessary and that many live without it, that many do but also many have serious health problems and every year, many die because of no AC. (In cities, suburbs, country and globally.)

    It IS a necessity for some people–and I would say, that if you work, commute via public transport, and do ANYTHING in high heat and humidity, you need it to just breathe at times.
    (I worked a month in Florida in the summer once. My co-workers, healthy young guys, fainted on several occasions from the heat and humidity!)

    And the fact that people live without it, doesn’t mean they should. (I’ve visited Louisiana and Florida during hot, humid weather. You NEED AC. You can’t do anything. You can’t think straight and you just can’t function. Mentally or physically. It’s awful. And if you’re ill, it’s life-threatening.)

    We live in a big city apartment. Not very big (under 600 sq feet). The apartment’s interior temperature in the summer, once the heat starts up, is around 86 degrees, even with ceiling fans and room fans)

    Even with AC, it doesn’t go much below 78 degrees.

    We’ve tried to NOT use AC and only do so when we literally cannot breathe. Since we work from home, it’s an issue at times. Too much heat and we literally can’t think straight.

    It’s a cost issue as well (we literally cut back on food to be able to afford the AC).

    But one of us now has a health condition and getting hot (affects circulatory and respiratory health) like this is no longer an option.

    I think a one-day a week energy conservation effort is doable in addition to unplugging as much as you can and seriously evaluating what you really need in terms of electronics, etc.

    Again, as someone said, turn off and unplug the TV, entertainment stuff, appliances (prepare all food in advance and make sure it doesn’t require reheating, if you can). We even do line drying in our small apartment for a lot of things. Better for clothes and our budget as well as being green.

    However, I would much rather that we could find ways to generate solar energy, along with conservation, to deal with issues. It’s part of wanting to be more green and to reduce the huge Con Ed costs for KWH. (Ironically, we reduced our KWH usage by over 50% and we are still paying almost double what we used to pay, due to increases.It’s a no-win situation.)

    It would cut costs and save resources.

    We’ve lost power over the years and I will say that if that is life off the grid, I’m not interested.

    And I’m not going to apologize for using AC. I’m glad it’s an option, albeit an expensive one.

    I’d love to also find ways to power our computers through non-electric sources.

    Self-reliance is a beautiful thing, where feasible, but given the infrastructure of places where most people live, the options are limited.

  15. Mother Nature helped us “go off the grid” for almost 2 weeks when Hurricane Isabel hit! We were prepard in some ways but obviously had not thought thru the hundreds of dollars for fresh food in the refrig. I think trying life without electricity brings many benefits.

    1. It breaks one’s dependence on “things”.
    2. It can prepare you for those “unforeseen” times when weather or other circumstances takes electricity away.
    3. It helps one to “re-set” their internal clock i.e. going to bed when dark & awaking at break of light.
    4. Short of cardio-pulmonary problems, few people NEED A/C. I do not agree that A/C is a need; the remark by IRG about living in FL & the need to have it. My 68 y.o. husband grew up in FL without A/C for most of his life & he did just fine. He played high school sports, helped work in the orange orchards & many times worked outside in the heat. No fainting or compromise in thinking. One’s body can & will acclimate to heat; it is not always pleasant but it can be done. A/C is a luxury & yes I LOVE it, but if I had to live without it I could. As an RN, hospitals operated for years without A/C & frankly, good fresh air would do many patients a world of good!

    Great post….I’m looking forward to exploring this…

  16. As a 6th generation native Floridian – that’s 6 generations in SW Florida – we did FINE without A/C from 1840 to 1970. People really can live in SW FL without A/C. Really! No A/C in the schools and we all played outside! When we got A/C in the house, it was one room – and it was more to keep the no-see-ums out of the house than heat.

    Actually, native Floridians usually say they would be happier if the A/C had not come to SW Florida – that way only the natives would be living there :) And we could have our paradise back to ourselves, without the A/C and tourists :)

  17. The AC debate is interesting. Because of the extreme temps we are getting here in southern Australia, even old-timers who lived decades without air-con are having it installed. This summer just past, our town had its two hottest days on record. One was a full 2 degrees (Celsius) above the record which is an unprecedented rise. Normally temps top each other by partial degrees only.
    So the climate is becoming more difficult to endure for many.
    On the flip side, all of the extra air conditioners cooling more houses, not to mention bigger houses, have put an enormous strain on our energy supplies so throughout the summer we also had rolling power-outages. Power companies switched off supply to whole suburbs at a time for several hours. We didn’t know when it would be cut and had to be prepared.

  18. I think this is a cool (or a hot) sounding experiment.
    Is this your penance for going back to extended cable? :)

    But seriously, you’d have all the above listed pros with none of the cons if you’d cut cable.

    Best of luck, hope this goes well.

  19. If it’s too hot in the south, we have agreeable four-seasons weather up in the midwest. We do run the AC from time to time but nowhere near the amount that I ran it when I did a six-month assignment in the Florida Panhandle.

  20. This is a nice idea. Many of your thoughts are really easy to do more than once a week. Air dry your clothes on a line or clothes drying rack year round. Always turn lights off when you are not in the room. Turn off the small appliances and the electronics at the surge protectors.

  21. We are doing an off the grid day in Milwaukee and others WI’ers are joining us. I have found what is nice about this is doing it when you know others are doing it too. We are also focusing on Saturdays. Some from Friday eve to sat eve, some all day Sat. The idea is that people can all power down or go off the grid to the level that they are ready, I think once you start you want to try more. we also started a POWER DOWN face book page if anyone wants to join and invite their friends too.
    we have also been thinking about doing A WEEK with our community, planning projects doing PR etc. Has anyone ever heard of something like this?

  22. A week is too long for the freezer and refrig to be down without running the generator….
    And without a wood stove, it’s difficult to heat water for bathing.

    As we are ALWAYS prepared here in the Pacific NW for a few days duration without power, as it happens so frequently, I don’t think I’ll need to experiment. I already know what it’s like and how to get by without elec. I just worry about the freezer after 1/2 a week or so… but have started canning more meats rather than freezing them, just in case.

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