Time for an up-dated version of this page. March, 2023.
These are some of the things I use living off the grid on a daily basis. I will only suggest things I recommend. Please understand that in most cases I did some research. In some, I took advice. Others were pure chance and still others were gifts. I do not aspire to the ‘best’ of everything but rather to what will do a good job and be reasonably priced in the doing. I have not always been right but I have been right much of the time.
Many of the ‘recommendations’ below have hyperlinks so that you can see what I am talking about. Even tho the hyperlinks are often used to provide a commission should you buy from them, that is not why the links are there. In fact, I don’t get any commission whatsoever. They are there for illustration purposes only. Actually, I have found that most products have better deals than those offered by Amazon (the first sponsored links I have employed).
For instance: if you choose Makita brand tools (the better brand), you can usually get a 40% discount from their local distribution depot on ‘rebuilds’. Rebuilds are virtually new and come with the warranty. And then, of course, there are always ‘specials’ at Home Depot (Rigid and Milwaukee most of the time). I have pretty much shifted over time to Rigid tools. They are NOT the best but the batteries are ‘lifetime’ and battery replacement is expensive with other brands. In other words, the tool is being recommended first, the brand of tool is being recommended second and the place-to-buy it is pretty much left to you.
Just be realistic – brand name tools are not ALL the tools you will ever need. In fact, 50% of all the ‘tools’ you will buy will be those you never heard of before. I just bought a set of rivet-nuts, fer Gawd’s sake! Half my hand-tools are weird like plumbing wrenches, adjustable wrenches, adjustable sockets, blades, belts, filter removers, gear-pullers, flare tools…..the ‘little things’ eventually outnumber and even outweigh the brand name tools that you KNOW you will need. Tip: you can never have enough tape measures and pencils. Those things are just NEVER nearby when you need them. Same for funnels.
But first; a quick list of normal everyday things that you may as well chuck out right now. Big electricity consumers include anything with a heating element. Toaster, electric stove, hair dryer, clothes dryer, curling iron, space heater, iron, that sort of thing. Fuggedabout that stuff. Major exception now in 2023: I have the MOST efficient refrigerator now. Gone is the propane fridge. LG and a few others make fridges with digital linear compressors. They are so efficient that a few solar panels can easily keep up.
Generally speaking you still want to use electricity on only a short-term application basis as much as possible. Even a table saw drawing 240v can be turned on for a minute of cutting and then shut off. That’s efficiency.
OK, on to the good products vs some of the bad……………..
Honda gensets and pumps. I am pretty familiar with their range of gensets from 2000 watts to 6500. After your needs pass the 6500 watts stage, I would seriously consider diesel. Any Japanese diesel (Kubota, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, etc.) is good. My choice would be Yanmar. They make a great 7500 watt genset. That being said, we have survived 20 years with small Honda gensets.
When we had a fire up the way a few years back there were three types of pumps employed in the effort to extinguish it. Only the Honda pump worked right away and one of the others never got working at all. Honda pumps seem to still work after a long term of sitting but others need to be used a lot to keep them working.
As of this writing OUTBACK make the best inverters. By a fair margin. OUTBACK inverter and charger and charge controller. Great product. Prices are too high but they are worth it. And, in a way, that has not changed except that there are others on the market that are as good.
Batteries are a HUGE deal and, at this writing, more innovation is on the horizon. Still, as of today, LiFePo4 (grade A) cells are the logical choice. Way better than any lead acid battery but likely soon to be ‘overtaken’ by Sodium Ion batteries. Keep an eagle eye on CATL batteries – a massive Chinese battery maker that is always cutting edge. However, this old suggestion still holds: buy ordinary deep cycle heavy-duty batteries for the first three year period. Forklift or golf cart batteries. I bought 12 8Ds. L16s are likely a bit better. Learn how to live with and keep alive that cheaper, sacrificial set. Then, when you have a handle on how to do that chore (each user has a different impact on their batteries), invest in something that has at least a two year history. Battery experts say, “Batteries don’t die. They are ‘murdered’ by the owner.” So learn on cheap ones.
Off-the-grid ‘connectivity’ to the internet (which is getting back on the grid in a way) is tough. Satellite is the normal way but service providers (in Canada) anyway are not as good as they could be. It is expensive. It can be somewhat unreliable at times and, face it, satellite technology is not the kind of thing your typical DIYér can master easily. This is a technology that defies being independent. I am on the Xplornet Service. Still not urban-cable quality but almost good enough. In fact, it is good enough to download a movie – impossible the old way. But we will live with it for awhile before making a recommendation. 2022 the government laid a cable up the coast for a hard internet connection. But, so far, there it sits. Getting wet. Doing nothing.
Recommending Costco is a no-brainer. But we use Costco a bit differently than most people. We really do use the benefit of the BIG AMOUNT with which to stock up on staples. A lot of people would laugh at buying a blue barrel full of cheap shampoo. I did. But now getting in a two-years supply of such everyday items really makes sense. I am not recommending Costco so much as recommending buying in bulk and preparing a storage facility to receive that bulk. You should also be prepared to repackage. A two-gallon tub of salsa will go bad before you get through 25% of it. You are going to have to learn to re-pack into sterilized jars that are more quickly used up.
The storage of all this stuff should not be in your house. The cost of a residential building per square foot is high – especially OTG. The cost of a good storage facility is low. In fact, if at all possible, getting a recycled shipping container is a great way to have cheap storage. Hard to beat $10.00 a sft for very, very secure storage.
I am a big fan of Pacific Energy stoves. Wood stoves. They are efficient, reasonably priced and local to us (Duncan, Vancouver Island, BC). Given that most stoves are big, heavy and need replacement parts, being local is a plus. But these are also very efficient burning stoves as well. And a few of the models are even attractive. Most are the ‘black box’ style but some are pretty. Always buy a stove properly sized – not too big. A bit too small is better than a lot too big.
Do not even consider a composting toilet unless you build it yourself. Those that are mass manufactured are poorly built, expensive and don’t work in temperatures lower than 50 degrees F. Waste of time in Canada. Don’t get me started on the SunMar story. In the old days, homesteaders used to build 4x6x6 (or so) boxes out of Cedar 4×4’s. A pipe would run to the buried-and-surrounded-by-gravel box. And the box would have a lid. That box would ‘seep’ into the surrounding soil and the solids would sink. THAT was their septic tank. And there are still some of those working well after 75 years. Yes, I know…rules, blah, blah, blah. But if you are a two-three-month a year user, consider it.
I now have a Stihl chainsaw. Medium-to-smallish. And it is great. It is reliable and always up to the task I have at hand. I have to recommend it. Real men buy Stihl. And real men also prefer larger chainsaws. For reasons of insecurity and inadequacy, I am tempted to buy a larger Stihl but, really, the16″ bar has been great. Logically, tho, I should have two chainsaws. So, we’ll see where that goes. I have been looking at the bargain that is a Makita chainsaw – if their reputation carries to that tool, it is a great buy. We also carry an electric chainsaw in the car because we have to drive out through forest that is wind-prone to falling down now and then across the road.
I have had just about every brand of tool you can think of and they are much the same. Plus I have at least two of them. But, of all of them, Makita seems to emerge as the best. Rigid is the cheapest due to the cost of batteries.
Buy a chopsaw on it’s own little stand. All the brands sell chopsaws-on-stands. Go 12-inch with the extension cutting (like a mini radial arm). Then build bench extensions to the arms that the stands have attached. This will be the center of your building activities. Building will go 500% easier with that simple workbench/chopsaw combination. And buy two or three extra blades. I have six. Change and sharpen often (I could write a how-to if there is any interest). I like Freud blades.
You need ropes, blocks, blocks and taykles, come-alongs, winches and the like. Lots of them. If you have more than a few extension cords you are still short. Don’t buy the Home Depot crap. Buy 25 and 50 foot sections of heavier, rubber, construction-site cords.
OMYGAWD…..nails and screws………………..so much to say, so little time. Basically buy heavy-duty and buy everything you can (different sizes and such). Buy in bulk. You will need them (we went through 12000 deck screws and will still buy more!). The best way to think about nails and screws and bolts and such is that you will have to be your own hardware store much of the time. You really need to ‘stock up’ with stuff even if you don’t see an immediate need.
I now have a Yamaha 50 outboard on one boat and a Tohatsu 40 on the other. They have been perfect. Can you imagine that? A perfect outboard?! But Sal had a Suzuki and it was almost perfect, too (they didn’t install the zincs properly and the carbs are touchy). I think they (Japanese brands) are starting to get a handle on outboard design because only the two-strokes still seem to have issues. And two-strokes are all but obsolete. Do not buy a used two-stroke for any reason other than back up and even at that, you are getting less reliability. I also really do not like Mercury outboards. Waste of time and a helluva lot in repairs.
Getting a boat is something rarely thought out rationally. Less than it should be, for sure. People and boats fall in love. A boat is a very, very personal purchase. But I would advise against any of the lightweight aluminum. And that includes all of them. They either pound or leak or are tippy or all of the preceding. Frankly, I hate ém. Heavy aluminum (welded instead of riveted) is OK but unnecessarily expensive. If you are getting a boat to get you to your site, get one big enough for four people and all their luggage plus food. You may have more people or you may think you will have less……..whatever……..pick one big enough to schlep twice what you think you will. Trust me. Given the price of fuel, I would advise a displacement hull for the building stages. When everything is built and done, you may wish to add a zippy runabout but at the building stage, you will be carrying heavy stuff all the time and nothing zips when heavily laden.
We have a gas stove from the forties. A Wedgewood. It’s a beauty. They don’t build ’em like that anymore. So, I advise finding one like that and getting it ‘restored’. It will cost a lot but it is worth it. Even tho a wood-cooker is romantic as hell, it is impractical in moderate to warm climates. It is May and we have no wood burning. Waddya do? Those who have woodstoves either keep them going too long into the season or else they use Coleman propane. I suggest that you go restoration gas stove and re-jet for propane. Works for us.
I am a convert to metal roofs. We have the invisible, interlocking seam-type. Hasn’t leaked a drop, seems as good as ever and reduces fire risk (a much bigger issue when you are living off the grid). Just remember when you are building that having a square roof is more essential when you are using metal. Build the structure from the ground up very precisely.
This year we bought a cheap little Homelite woodsplitter. Homelite is now, I believe, another Chinese mfgér’s brand. I paid $400 for it. With some modifications to the legs and the switch, I have made this unit work well for us. We now do the woodsplitting and stacking all in one step and save half our time and effort in the process. I am currently against buying Chinese-made junk and I am sure to have that confirmed but so far, so good. It is a delight. So, in this case, I am recommending a small splitter rather than the manufacturer – tho I admit that that is not fair. So far, it has done yeoman’s work and the price was minimal.
You need flashlights out here. On the water. In the forest. And, even in the house sometimes. LED flashlights (and headlamps) are, of course, revolutionary. Brilliant in every respect. But each year some manufacturer comes out with a better one.
We use Retevis (RT29) walkie-talkies. Huge help. They allow us to work around the site and still be in touch. Important when building and handy when the people are nearby but still out of line-of-sight. They have HUGE distance and the sound is clear and crisp. Retevis is a bit less user friendly than say, Motorola, but it is so much better otherwise.
I love the barge that does our BIG deliveries. The 3-member crew of the barge (run by Inlet Navigation out of Campbell River and Menzies bay) are great guys. Real human beings. They come and drop their load and we ‘kill’ a few minutes cracking jokes and bein’ guys. Saying stupid stuff and laughing at ourselves and the world around us. It’s good.
Been awhile since I added to the list but I want to add ‘fuel tanks’. Ya need one. Maybe several. We have a large propane tank and a gasoline tank. Saves a helluva lot of hassle, time and stink-in-the-car. And, remember, you need to ‘fuel up’ something all the time.
Get a big water tank or two…I am thinking of adding a third. 1100 gallons will only keep you going for a month with judicious use. I want 3000 gallons. I have 2000.
If you are living rural and a long way from others, you will likely use a 4×4 vehicle now and then. And it will not be insured. It will be a beater that is used to drag logs and push rocks and generally be treated like a rented mule. The wreck-of-choice out here is either a Toyota SR5-framed unit or a Chev of some make. Don’t worry about getting a ‘fuel pig’ because you will put on virtually no miles. Yes, it is inefficient but you are only going into the bush now and then for a mile or so. Think: tractor. If you are going to go further, get an ATV or a small Nissan or Toyota pick-up.
Get very heavy multi-ply tires. With a spare or two.
Right now I think solar panels are a bargain. About $1.00 a watt. I paid $5.00 a watt less than nine years ago. I suspect that some of the rumoured breakthroughs in technology are coming soon and so they are blowing out the old innefficient panels (around 15% efficiency) before building up their inventories. The new panels are touted to be 20% and up to 45% efficiency so consider that when making your purchase.
Here’s a weird one – rubber boots. We all need boots and those of us on the coast also need rubber ones as well as heavy logging-type boots. And most rubber boots are junk. Chinese-made $30-$50.00 boots are not worth the money. Weirdly, money is NOT the criteria for determining good value though. Not when it comes to rubber boots. Sometimes a $40.00 Canadian or American made brand will do just fine for a long time. $200 English Wellies are too expensive and silly. Look for something in the $50-75 range made in Eastern Canada or New Zealand.
Gloves are essential. Buy a bunch o’ those leather gloves at Costco. Or something, anyway, when you are building. I sometimes cut off the ends of the fingers – I really like fingerless gloves for working in. Slivers, sharp metal pieces and even just sharp sticks cut and slash you all the time. I have gloves all over the place and I still get cut when I fail to put ém on.
I can’t work with a tool belt slung on my hips. Too awkward. So, I recommend hanging the tool belt from suspenders. Then it is comfortable enough to wear. You may feel differently. Women usually have the hips for wearing them. They don’t seem to prefer the suspenders.
Staying with clothing…we are fans of MEC. Mountain Equipment Co-Op. Not so much for the price, selection or even the cachet that outdoor clothing has achieved in these modern times. I just like the company. I like the way they do business and I like the fact that the employees are also owners and generally are proud of their work. MEC is a good corporate citizen and, if you are going to rail against BIG INDUSTRY & BUSINESS (as I do now and again) you should at the very least acknowledge those who do things right or at least better than most. MEC is high on that scale.
Yes, MEC charges market rates, makes profit and sells Chinese made goods. But that is the system we have and they are simply doing well in it. The good part is that they are eco-conscious, worker-sensitive and genuinely service oriented. Plus I usually like the staff I meet. MEC is on my list of endorsements.
I have a small 120 VAC, 20 amp welder. The smallest they make. But what a treat! Mine is a Lincoln. Miller, it seems, is better. Hobart is in there, too. The rest (I think) are cheapies but I really don’t know. But my Lincoln is great! Do you need a welder? I dunno. The further away from town and the more you want to do, the more you need a welder. But I didn’t need one for 60 + years. Mind you, I was missing out. Really. It is great. Even tho the welder is small, it can do a lot. You may have to pre-heat the metal if it is thick (with a propane torch) but with that concession, you can do just about everything an amateur DIY’er needs. I am pleased.
I’m a regular reader of your blog but had not noticed this link when did you post it?
I forget. A few months ago. Figured I’d start to list useful products. Things I need and use. Hope it helps.
Really good info. We live on the grid, but I try live off the grid when I can. It is so satisfying not to enrich Hydro and the like.
Still going through your posts, so you may have covered this question: how do those with medical conditions cope with health care when living off the grid?
Thanks. Should have checked this page a long time ago. Sorry. Just added a bit and noticed your comment. As for medical stuff, we do what everyone does – go to town. But I have also found that I tend to address many more things at home than I used to. I burned myself badly a year or so ago all along my inner leg from ankle to ‘junk’. Pretty bad. Even had a nurse visiting at the time who advised emergency care and then called her sister, a surgical dermatologist. Everyone freaked. But, really…what are they gonna do? Not much. So, I just bathed the burn regularly in boiled (and cooled) salted water every day for a few weeks and left the rest of the time for air-drying. It healed perfectly. Not even a scar. The point: stitches, small- even-medium burns, minor traumas can all be handled at home. We have a big first aid supply. And we have neighbours in case of emergency situations. But the biggest change is being more careful and taking care of lots it myself.
All good information and an enjoyable style.
I’d differ to say that occasionally, two-stroke outboards can be dependable (depending on their make and quality of care) and inexpensive alternatives (especially when free).
I agree that one must be careful to avoid injury and illness, and having a good first-aid kit (maybe carry one in your back-pack if out in the wild all alone) and more extenive medical supply kit (with someone who has some decent training and common-sense) is essential.
Thanks, much appreciated.
Question: how much, in total, did you moving “off the grid” cost? And how much does it cost in maintenance? Kind of a ballpark figure for those of us considering doing the same thing, to see if we’re dreaming or planning. Or if you’ve already posted that then my apologies for not seeing but could you point me towards it please? I realize that each person’s solution to “off the grid” will have different costs, but I still find it useful to compare.
You need to have the house and land bought and paid for with all the systems functioning (that took us $300K and 3 years) and you need to be so far away that taxes on it are very small (’cause you get no services). You need a tough, simple, reliable 4×4. Maybe a boat. Then you need to live and the average couple around us lives at $2500 a month. We are at about $3000. But I am still doing ‘projects’ that require some supplies. And we drink store-bought wine more than they do….so that gives you some idea. Much, much less than the city.
Thanks for the reply and the email! Much appreciate the advice. Of course, the reward for good advice given is to be asked for more advice. 🙂
Next question: why are you so dead-set against off-grid freezers? Other sites, for instance, agree with Sundanzer’s claim that their 225L chest freezer can be run from a 75 watt solar panel and 2 golf cart batteries. Even with a 100% “marketing lies and damn lies” factor, that’s only a 150 watt panel and 4 batteries. That doesn’t seem excessive? What am I missing?
Although I’ve found refrigeration and freezing to be overused in North America (for instance, unwashed eggs will last just fine for 2-3 weeks in a simply cool room, and proper beer is enjoyed at room temperature, but that’s another debate), it’s still really useful, so I’m loath to abandon it when we go off-grid.
Basically 225 liters is just not big enough to do any good. I am not against freezers. I have one. But it is propane and hard to find. I am looking for another. I would go solar (and still might) because I have plenty of that kind of power in the summer and I need the freezer less in the winter anyway. We may go ‘electric’ to supplement the propane one in summer – that makes sense.
It’s nearly impossible to find educated people
for this topic, however, you sound like you know what
you’re talking about! Thanks
Thanks for the support but – just for the record – the only thing I really know is that I am learning all the time. More to the point, ‘the times, they are a-changing’ and that means more learning still. I.e. What I knew about solar panels, I had to re-learn ten years later because there are more products and the panels are cheaper. Something I thought I’d never have to learn about (welding) is a new challenge for me lately. Bottom line: there are few real experts and those there are are limited by their regions and their interests. For real, real, real basic knowledge it is hard to beat the OOMs at the Librum (Old Order Mennonites Library).
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Good day to you both.Heard you interview on N.W.98.Ran down to my local library big fan of the library.When the new book arrived I was e-mailed that my copy was ready for pick up.Delighted to hear that they had ordered 3 copies of your book.Would you mind if I asked you some questions as the arise while I am reading ? Inspired John
Go for it, John. Happy to mislead the innocent.
Well, any comment is appreciated and, if you wish to add a full post, please just send it to me by way of the comments page and I’ll vet it for content. I am not really into censorship and I certainly wander off topic but I do have a faltering moral compass that I try to follow. You understand.
Thanks for finally writing about > Off the grid-friendly itemsan ongoing list | Off the Grid
Living < Loved it!