The Guide to Off-Grid Homes

As energy costs and home prices continue to rise, more Americans are choosing to live off-grid. According to one estimate, more than 250,000 people in the U.S. have an off-grid lifestyle. While the potential cost savings are certainly attractive, technology and interest in tiny homes, shipping container homes and other energy-efficient housing alternatives are allowing families interested in sustainable lifestyles to move to off-grid living.

— What is an off-grid home?

— How are they built?

— Off-grid power options.

— Where are off-grid homes more common?

— How much does an off-grid home cost?

— How difficult are off-grid homes to run and maintain?

[Read: The Guide to Home Renovations.]

What Is an Off-Grid Home?

The definition of an off-grid home varies depending on who you ask. “An off-grid home is one that’s disconnected from public utilities, making them more or less self-sufficient,” explains Bailey Carson, home care expert at home improvement network and information company Angi. “This means they don’t rely on public sources for water, power, heat, gas, etc.”

For others, off-grid living requires even more self-sufficiency. “There is also an extreme version of off-grid living where people live without technology and grow their own food, becoming completely self-sufficient,” Carson adds.

How Are Off-Grid Homes Built?

“Off-grid homes can be built in a variety of ways, depending on what you plan to use as your water and power sources,” says Carson. Two common choices for an off-grid home are shipping container homes and tiny houses.

“Most of our clients use these units in off-the-grid applications,” says Tony Lopez, founder and CEO of Alternative Living Spaces, a company that creates luxury tiny homes out of shipping containers. “You can add solar panels to the roof of the container and set up the property with off-grid water and sewage.”

“Shipping container homes can be outfitted with solar panels and rainwater capture mechanisms, making them sustainable, off-grid options,” Carson says. Tiny houses are another good option as they require less power and utilities than larger homes, she adds. Trailers, houseboats, cob houses, sheds, micro cabins, beach shacks, bus houses or even prefab tiny houses can be converted for off-grid living.

Off-grid homes also have several common features, such as solar panels, composting or incinerating toilets, tankless hot water heaters, attachable greenhouses, green roofs, rainwater collection, or wells and septic systems. However, the features that you use in your off-grid home could also impact the building process. For example, Carson explains that if you choose to use a well and septic tank system for your off-grid home, then they will need to be installed before the home can be occupied.

[Read: 10 Best Real Estate Podcasts to Listen to.]

Off-Grid Power Options

There are several methods of energy production and storage for off-grid living. While they’re expensive to install, solar panels are one option that can provide power and heat to your home. “They reduce energy bills, earn tax credits and rebates, are better for the environment and can potentially increase your home’s value,” states Carson.

Because the amount of available energy depends on the home’s power systems and storage, this means that many off-grid homeowners must also adopt sustainable living strategies to increase the efficiency of their homes. For instance, a few days of cloudy weather could cause you to run out of stored energy with a solar energy system.

Generators are another popular choice, but they do require some sort of fuel source to keep running. Other options include wind turbines or hydro-powered electricity.

“In sunnier areas, people will rely more on solar power, while they’ll opt for wind if they’re in — no surprise — windier, more open areas, or hydropower if they’re near a running water source,” says Carson.

The type of home may also affect your power options. “When (shipping container homes) are off-grid, we typically recommend using a combination of solar and propane to provide proper power to the unit,” explains Lopez.

Where Are Off-Grid Homes More Common?

You can live off-grid almost anywhere, but some areas are preferable to others. There are also several factors to take into account, like weather and climate, land prices, property taxes and other legalities.

“Off-grid homes are more common in more rural areas where there is affordable and available land, access to fresh water, temperate climates and low property taxes,” Carson says. “Some states are also considered more off-grid friendly than others, based on laws, building codes and regulations around collecting rainwater that either support or restrict off-grid living.” She adds that there are many well-known off-grid communities located in New Mexico, Oregon, North Carolina, California, Missouri, Virginia and New York.

According to a HomeAdvisor study, these are the top 10 states where off-grid living is most popular:

1. California

2. Colorado

3. Arizona

4. Oregon

5. Hawaii

6. Florida

7. Alaska

8. Utah

9. New Mexico

10. New York

[See: How Much Will Your Remodel Cost?]

How Much Does an Off-Grid Home Cost?

The cost to build a home

depends on its location, the size of the home and its features. According to Carson, costs you may need to consider include the land, construction materials, labor, water and a water collection system, power generation and storage systems and any necessary landscaping.

If you’re building an off-grid tiny house, the average national cost is about $45,000, with most people paying between $30,000 and $60,000. If you compare that to the current national median home price of $401,000 in March 2023, then it’s easy to see the significant cost savings.

However, the house cost doesn’t show the whole picture. The cost of land, building permits and taxes, amenities and your home’s energy systems still need to be factored into the total price.

While upfront costs may be high, a big benefit of off-grid living is the long-term savings potential. Off-grid homes rely on alternative power sources and can be more cost-efficient than traditional homes.

“Depending on where you live, this can save over $1,000 per year. People in off-grid homes also tend to live more minimalist lifestyles, which can save them money in other areas as well,” Carson notes.

If you’re considering a shipping container home, another cost benefit is durability. “The corten steel exterior and extensive structural elements allow shipping containers to be nearly natural disaster-proof,” says Lopez.

Keep in mind that financing an off-grid home will be different and more difficult than regular home financing. Off-grid homes cannot be financed using traditional mortgages, so you’ll need to look for nontraditional home loans. Some local credit unions and banks may offer these. For example, VSECU, a Vermont credit union, offers mortgages specifically for off-grid homes.

How Difficult Are Off-Grid Homes to Run and Maintain?

Off-grid homes typically require more work compared to those that are on-grid, but how difficult an off-grid home is to maintain depends on the home’s systems and how far off the grid you want to be.

For example, Carson says that while solar panels are relatively easy to maintain, growing and making your own food requires more time and energy. Also, when you’re not relying on public utilities, you are responsible for managing your own water, power, heat and gas sources.

More from U.S. News

15 Secrets to Selling Your Home Faster

Which Architectural Style Should Your Home Have?

Home Renovation Comparison: How Much Will Your Remodel Cost?

The Guide to Off-Grid Homes originally appeared on

Update 05/25/23: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Federal News Network Logo

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up