The dream of living in a cabin in the woods is becoming a reality for more people as housing costs rise, and the digital nomad life allows for flexible living situations.
The type of off-grid appliances you should buy will depend on your needs, as some people will use their land for vacation purposes, while others want to live there full-time.
It will also depend on the structure, and what kind of systems have been built-in already.
The main ways to power an off-grid site are solar panels or propane. There are other power sources like wind, hydro, and geothermal energy systems, but they haven't been integrated into mainstream appliances like the other two at this point.
The type of off-grid appliances you should buy will also depend on whether you have a structure that's already been designed for certain types of off-grid appliances, or if you are in the process of designing and want to see what the different options are available.
Whether you're sleeping in a tent, yurt, or cabin, there are a few staples that anyone living off-grid will appreciate. From practical to luxury, these are some of the best off-grid appliances to consider adding to your site.
Having a fridge is an unnecessary item for anyone who wants to camp or live off-grid for a short amount of time where a cooler can suffice. However, it's an absolute must for anyone who wants to live off-grid permanently.
An AC refrigerator is your typical fridge that you would find in regular homes. Unlike propane fridges or DC fridges, they don't have to be defrosted, and are much cheaper if you get a modest unit.
They won't use a ton of electricity if you get an Energy Star model and come in smaller "apartment" sized options for tiny home or cabin kitchens.
The downside is that you will need an inverter to run one of these, and if you weren't planning on using solar panels or other electricity-generating systems, then it won't work. If you are, then you may have already factored in the cost of an inverter that converts DC power to AC so any regular appliances can be run with solar energy.
Inverters range between $200 and $2000 depending on the size of your power system, so if you can afford the bigger inverter up front, you'll have free, clean energy to run an everyday appliance like a fridge.
Solar or Propane Water Heater
This appliance is another luxury item that many off-grid sites live without, especially in warmer climates where rainwater from a catchment can provide a decent enough shower. In colder areas, having hot water may be more essential, as boiling water over a wood stove can only go so far.
Tankless water heaters or conventional ones found in regular homes consume a lot of electricity. While they can work with off-grid technology, you'll need a solar panel system that can handle their electrical requirements.
There are specific solar water heaters that can stand alone from another solar panel system or be used in conjunction with other power systems if you don't want or have a fully solar-powered home.
There are some great options for both direct and indirect solar water heaters to meet different demands, climate restrictions, and budgets.
There are a lot of factors that go into this decision, so it's best to think about how to include a solar water heater system before designing your off-grid home.
How much sunlight your area receives, how many panels you can fit on a roof or trailer, and your budget will be the main questions, as installation and initial costs are quite high.
A propane water heater is less expensive to buy and install, and can be integrated into an existing off-grid home easily.
Local propane companies can deliver on demand, but keep in mind that propane costs will be ongoing, whereas a solar heating system supplies free unlimited hot water after the initial investment and is the more eco-friendly option.
Manual-Powered Washing Machine
The real off-grid way to wash clothes will be manually, but if you are living this way all year long, hand-washing all of your laundry will not only get tiring, but may not get things like sweaters, blankets, and towels as clean as you'd like.
Just as with the other appliances already listed, you will have your fair share of DC, AC, and propane options, but there are also a number of manual appliances that have come a long way since the washboard and bucket days.
Check out the Lavario portable clothes washer that can do a medium size load (6-7 articles of clothing) in about 20 minutes. It can also handle heavier items like jeans and jackets, which is something other hand-powered washers can't do. It's portable, easy to use, and only costs $180.
A manual washer may be all you need even if you are living off-grid permanently, but having a backup propane unit will be helpful for heavier or specialty items - or when you need a break.
Propane options are similar in cost as your regular household AC units, so if you have a solar panel that can handle it, you might as well opt for a regular washer.
Gas Stove or Cooktop
Cooking when you're camping looks a lot different than cooking when you're living off-grid. Sure, a barbecue or roasting food over a fire can be a great way to feed yourself, but can you do that for every meal?
For permanent off-grid living, a gas stove or at least a cooktop will make your off-grid structure a proper home.
Premier sells a 24-inch gas range with propane hook-ups that doesn't require any other power source. The ignition works on a battery, and the unit could be hooked up to a gas line in the future if you ever do have service brought in. They are around the same price as a similar AC-powered range.
An energy-efficient electric stove will use between 2000-3000 watts. If you have 300-400 watt panels, you'll need six panels to power the stove.
A cheaper option that draws less power is to get a cooktop instead. Most two-burner units need 1800 watts to run, can be portable or installed, and can be found for as low as $100.
There are also propane-powered cooktops for similar prices if you don't want to add another appliance to run on your solar panel system, or aren't solar powered at all.
A propane-powered cooktop will save on space in lieu of a range if you're building more of a tiny home or cabin, while still giving you the ability to cook with convenience.
Outdoor or Portable Ovens
Another great way to cook without a large range is to use outdoor or portable oven options.
A toaster oven is a great appliance for off-grid living. They're portable, you can cook almost anything with it, and they only draw around 750-1000 watts when in use. You can find a simple Black and Decker toaster oven for around $50, and maybe one used for even cheaper.
Camp Chef sells a propane-powered outdoor/ portable oven that's a little bigger than a regular toaster oven but smaller than an average range. A one-pound propane tank can give you five hours of cooking power on high heat. It has two burners and a small oven, so you can multi-task efficiently for just $330.
Just remember that outdoor ovens cannot be used indoors, so if you're in a colder climate, this option may be limited for all-year use. Covering it with an awning during the cold weather can be a way to circumvent this issue.
There's also the option of building your own wood-fired outdoor pizza oven. While you can buy pre-built pizza ovens for camping purposes, they aren't cheap. Building your own is an easy enough project to DIY, especially if you are living off-grid full-time and will appreciate a permanent structure.
A wood-burning stove is a typical way that cabins and off-grid homes are heated. It's not only a great way to heat your space, it's also aesthetically pleasing and goes with the overall cabin aesthetic.
There are a few reasons why you may not have a wood-burning stove and need other options.
Stoves are great at heating a single room or open-concept area, but not so great if you have multiple rooms. You may not live in an area that gets cold enough that often, or have a lack of firewood available.
The Chinook solar air heater is a new product out of Quebec, but available for US markets. This standalone unit can be installed on your cabin wall like a window, with solar panels on the outside that capture the sun's rays.
It heats up to 1000 sqft for under $2000 and has a guaranteed lifespan of 20 years. It's a great option if you aren't setting up a solar panel system but want to utilize solar-powered heating.
Arctica Solar is a California-based company that has a range of solar air heating models to suit your needs, as well. They can be DIY-installed, and set up in different parts of your cabin or tiny house to allow for dispersed heating when and where you need it.
For some people, coffee is essential, and the good news is that it's an easy enough luxury to brew without the need for electricity or other power forms. Bodums or French-press coffee makers are simple ways to make coffee that will produce amazing tasting coffee.
The Secura French Press is a classic stainless steel coffee maker that has a large capacity compared to other models, and can make up to six cups of freshly brewed coffee. For around $40, this is a quality-made appliance that's easy to clean and store.
Another option that's great for single cups is the drip-cone, as it's made to sit perfectly over top of a single cup.
Simply pour hot water over the cone-shaped filter that's been filled with coffee grounds. These are easy to store, and the cheapest option starts around $10.
If you want an espresso or a drip coffee machine, you'll need an energy source to power it. There are propane-powered drip coffee makers, as well as a variety of low-watt electric coffee makers to choose from if you can allow for the extra wattage consumption.
Water Filtration Systems
Living off-grid means you don't have access to municipal water systems, and will need to find your own source of clean, drinkable water.
Hauling in bottles or jugs of store-bought water is expensive and produces a lot of plastic waste. Rainwater and other fresh water from streams or lakes can be used for washing and other domestic activities, but they will need to be filtered to be used for cooking and drinking.
There are a number of different ways to filter your water, but one of the most popular ones for off-grid living is the Big Berkey Water Filter. It conveniently sits on a countertop and provides 2.25 gallons of filtered water, turning any fresh water into drinkable water without power for around $380.
Note that there has been some criticism about it not being ANSI (American National Standards Institute) certified like other filters are, but that doesn't seem to affect its popularity with off-grid homesteaders.
Another water filter that has been ANSI-certified is the Alexapure Pro Water Filtration System.
Like the Big Berkey, water is gravity-filtered, and the similar-sized appliance disperses water conveniently from the countertop through a spigot. It's about $100 cheaper than the Big Berkey, but the water flow is slower.
True off-grid living or homesteading doesn't typically include a luxury item like a dishwasher, and hand washing your dishes using nearby water sources or rainwater catch is the most cost-efficient and eco-friendly way to take care of that task.
That said, off-grid dishwashers have come a long way and use far less water and electricity to run. They also come in portable options, or compact sizes to fit in with tiny living.
A countertop dishwasher will use the least amount of power, and can be run with two or three panels. For about $300, the Solorock 6 countertop dishwasher can help take the edge off of dishwashing if you have a family or just don't like washing your own dishes.
This unit, like other portable dishwashers can be hooked up right to your faucet. If you want a built-in option that connects directly to your water system, consider an 18-inch model that's ENERGY STAR rated and uses less amperage and water than regular dishwashers.
Just like any of the other appliances, a dishwasher that runs on electricity will need a solar panel system to handle its energy draw.
Off-grid living doesn't mean losing the convenience of modern day appliances, it just means you have to plan accordingly and choose wisely.
If you want all the comforts of a typical home, then you'll want to consider investing in a powerful solar panel system to operate everything on demand.
If you have a tighter budget or smaller space, then perhaps you choose two or three appliances that you think you really need and add them into your cost estimate and design, or integrate two power systems with some manual options as a backup.
Families may place a higher value on a washer and dryer, but could do without a dishwasher to make it happen. Single folks or a couple may want a regular refrigerator, but can make do with a smaller cooktop instead of a stove.
Propane is a great option if you can't afford the upfront costs of a solar panel system, but this power source will have ongoing costs involved with sourcing propane, and doesn't provide clean energy like solar does.
While traditional methods of cooking, cleaning, and heating can feel romantic and are often the most cost-effective and eco-friendly ways of living off-grid, there's no shame in wanting some convenience added to your everyday life.
Which off-grid appliances you should buy is a personal decision, but thankfully these days, there are a lot of great options to suit every budget or way of life.
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