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Friday, June 2, 2023

Urban Off Grid Living: Practical Ways to Become a More Independent City Dweller

 Original Article

Late at night, at the end of a long day, you’ve pictured yourself living off the grid.

Perhaps images of Little House on the Prairie come to mind. Or maybe you ponder becoming a long-bearded man living in the mountains, content to be a hermit. (Did anyone else watch Grizzly Adams?)

You’re not alone in your thoughts, as more and more people are choosing an off grid lifestyle.

Some can escape the noisy concrete city and move to quiet acreage in the Midwest or another idyllic rural area. For many like me, work and family obligations make that impossible.

However, that doesn’t mean urban off grid living is beyond our reach. On the contrary, we can increase our self-reliance by learning practical ways for how to live off grid in the city.

image: people in community garden because urban off grid living

How can you live off grid in the city?

Living off grid is defined as being self-sufficient of municipal utilities, such as water, natural gas, electricity, sewer, and trash services, raising your own food, etc.

While you may not be completely independent in every aspect, it is possible to become more self-reliant.

One advantage of adopting pieces of this lifestyle is knowing that you and your family can be prepared and survive quite well when a disaster happens.

For example, many have saved money on their utilities and other purchases. Others have found peace and confidence in their newly learned skills along their path to grid-less-ness. In many respects, it parallels the idea of suburban homesteading.

Can you live off grid in the suburbs?

Same answer as above. Yes, but maybe not as fully. The focus for how to live off the grid—whether it’s in the city proper surrounded by concrete or in the ‘burbs where you may have a little more room—should still be on identifying ways to be less dependent on government services and local/global supply chains.

However, off-grid living isn’t the easiest choice you’ll ever make, whether urban, suburban, or rural. Hopefully, you’ve not been conjuring up a romanticized version of happily churning your own butter and building an outhouse, although versions of these are possible.

Let’s take a look at how to live off the grid in the city.

Urban Off-grid Living

The type of home is important

The type of home in which you are living determines, in large part, the extent to which you can go grid-free. It’s easier to become more self-sufficient if you are in a home with a yard.

Apartment life can accommodate a degree of off-grid living, though, just on a smaller scale. Think container gardening versus raised beds and five-gallon buckets versus 55-gallon rain barrels.

More sustainable transportation

An advantage for both types of homes is that everything you normally need in the course of a day or week is closer to home.

  • Walking or biking around town provides great exercise and saves money on gas, vehicle maintenance, and insurance. Bikes can be inexpensive and easy to repair. A wagon or cart can be added to haul items.
  • Public transportation, like the bus system, can be very economical. Try the various methods of transportation your city offers and learn what works best for you. Look into monthly passes; using them regularly may save you money.
  • Pay attention to where you go and its location. Combine trips, shop in your local neighborhood, and learn of new activities in your community for your family. Libraries, parks, swimming pools, local colleges, and recreation centers offer free or low-cost entertainment and activities.

All of these options allow you to be less reliant on your gasoline/diesel-powered vehicles and fuel supply to your community. It will also help you to save money.

Decreasing power grid dependence

Being independent of all utilities may not be possible, but minimizing usage and creating your own power can be.

Solar panels are one way to create your own electricity. They can be installed on various types of homes. Be aware that an entire house solar system will be tied to the grid and vulnerable to an EMP’s effects, should that ever occur.

Another way to save money and energy is to minimize your electricity usage. Some easy suggestions are:

  • Unplug everything that isn’t currently being used. This helps you realize what you rely on the most. Then find ways of coping without that appliance, electronic, or whatever.
  • Learn about simple solar systems requiring deep cell battery system and solar panels. Apartment people, consider how you might incorporate solar energy into your lifestyle. Think outside the box.
  • Turn off the lights. Try to go for 48 hours without using any lamps or electric lights of any kind. This helps you figure out what kind of lighting you would need in a grid-down emergency.
  • Throw on an extra layer of clothing in the winter to stay warm.
  • Hand wash clothes.
  • Hang clothes on a clothesline.
  • Insulate your attic.
  • Wash dishes by hand.
  • Close unused air vents.
  • Swap regular bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs LEDs.
  • Try non-electric ways to stay cool in hot weather.

Going off-grid with your water supply

We use water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and washing. Long-term drought conditions in the western half of the U.S. and other parts of the world reinforce the need to be wise about water usage. Less is better whether your water comes from a well or the city.

Try some of these simple methods to conserve water and reduce the cost of water as a result:

• Short showers, maybe shower at the gym. A 5-minute shower can save you up to 1,000 gallons per month.
• Have a 5-gallon bucket in the shower to hold any running water while you find the right temperature for your shower. Use this water for plants or flushing the toilet.
• Keep a clean dishpan in the kitchen sink to hold the running water when washing hands and rinsing veggies. Use this water for your garden or for washing dishes.
• Install water-saving shower heads, faucets, and toilets.
• Collect rainwater.

Increase your urban off grid food security

Here are a few ways to begin minimizing your dependence on grocery stores.

Grow your own food as much as possible.

Growing some of your own food is an important part of urban off grid living.

Start small with just one vegetable and one herb. If the plants don’t seem to be thriving, try using more or less water or a fertilizer (consult a nursery), but be sure to make notes. Growing food to any large extent is extremely difficult and can take years to master.

image: growing basil and marjoram in containers for urban off grid living

Apartment balconies can hold pots for vegetables, and you can build vertical growing systems. Plus, if you don’t have a balcony, there are many edible (and medicinal plants) you can grow inside on a windowsill or with grow lights.

Sprouting is also a great option for apartment dwellers or others in small spaces. It doesn’t require outside space at all and very minimal inside space.

In a home with a yard, you can plant in flowerbeds, allot a spot for a garden, or add containers for additional space. Learn how to vertical garden and utilize your home’s fence and exterior walls. Dwarf fruit trees might be an option for you.

If you do not have the space for gardening, consider community gardens. They are a low-cost option and allow you to know your neighbors.

Another option is to barter with a neighbor who does own property. In exchange for using their backyard for your garden, you’ll give them a percentage of the harvest and cover the cost of water, fertilizer, seeds, mulch, and the like.

Keep chickens

Chickens aren’t an option for those in apartments, but if you like eggs and have a little bit of outdoor space, consider a small brood of laying hens. It takes less space than you might think to keep chickens. I know of a suburban house that used a previously wasted strip of lawn beside their driveway to build a coop and run.

Chickens are a commitment, though. Be sure you understand what your signing up for. And check your local laws, of course.


If you have room outside, use a composting system. If you don’t, a worm bin is a great indoor option. Let those red wriggles turn your scraps into compost for the food you grow. It’s not quite a closed system, but it’s closed-er. (I made that word up.)

image: urban off grid living by composting with worm bin with tea spigot

Here’s another composting idea for homeowners who want to level up their urban off grid living. Install a composting toilet in your home.

Why are you looking at me like that? Yes, it can be done.

And it’ll get you off the city’s sewer system, if you’re on it. It’s vulnerable to power outages if any part of it requires electricity, although in many cases, you can still flush it if you’ve got water set aside. A septic system is similar. Find out what you’ve got so you know how to approach power loss.

Focus on skills

As in suburban homesteading and completely off grid living, skill-building is crucial. Here are some to consider:

Off Grid Urban Living for Beginners: Where to Start

Don’t expect to suddenly become an urban off grid superhero. Be realistic. Think about what off grid means for you and which aspects are most important to you to try to incorporate.

Then, start with something small. Taste success. Then choose another idea to implement. Be flexible. Perhaps you need to tweak an idea to make it work for you in your unique circumstances. That’s okay! Remember, achieving any measure of grid independence is a process. Take it one step at a time.

Video: Living off the Electrical Grid in Washington, D.C.

Fed up with fight the electric company over their bill, this couple decided to not buy the product anymore. They chose to shut off the power.

Note: We can still learn from their urban off grid accomplishments even if we disagree with their worldview.


Choosing to become more self-sufficient and rely less on the grid can be an overwhelming thought. It’s a lifestyle choice, a commitment to use less, save money, and prepare, regardless of whether you’re in rural or urban areas.

Choosing to live off grid in the city lets you benefit from the city amenities that you enjoy without being so tightly noosed to its vulnerabilities.

And a bonus? You’ll find more money in your budget to stock up on food and other emergency supplies for your family as you implement off-grid urban living.

Who knows? This may increase your savings so you can get those acres in your favorite rural countryside.

In what ways have you tried to incorporate off grid principles into your urban lifestyle?

*Check with city and county codes and zoning restrictions before going partial or off-grid.

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