Living Off Grid: What We Learned in Our First Year

Views of the Bras d'Or Lakes from Salt Mountain, Whycocomagh Cape Breton

Although we are located a mere 5km from the TransCanada Highway 105 and our local village, the climb up Whycocomagh Mountain covers 260 meters in elevation. The nearest power line is several kilometres away. After purchasing our property, we began staying in the small hunter’s camp that came with the land almost immediately. The small dwelling had a wood stove for heat but no power or water. Staying up on the land was important for us to get started planning for construction for our business, and we quickly learned a few things about living off grid.

This air photo taken from our property shows our location in relation to the village and highway on the bay below – there are no services up here, and we like it that way!

What we needed to start living off grid

  1. Heat. For us, this meant fire wood. We had a small shed that had a bit of wood in it when we purchased the property, but getting a load of cured dry wood was one of the first things we did. We filled that little shed right away and the wood stove has been or primary source for heat and hot water. Since then, we have gathered more firewood processing tools so we can build our own system for sustainably felling, bucking, transporting, and splitting wood. Yes, one of us needs to get up and add more fuel to the fire on cold nights, but you get used to that.
  2. Water. Our property has freshwater sources, this was an element we looked for when searching for land, however the creek is quite a bit lower in elevation from our camp location. For the time being we opted to haul water to the cabin for our use. It didn’t take long to appreciate how much we abuse and waste our water resources when it comes on demand out of the tap. We invested in several stackable BPA free water totes and a water jug and dispenser. Simple low tech, but very useable. For cooking, drinking and washing water for two people and a dog we find it quite doable to fill up our water containers every few weeks. A steel kettle goes on the wood stove to heat up water for cleaning up, cooking and tea. In the summer, we used an outdoor solar shower.
  3. Cooking. For the first year, we mostly cooked on our Weber BBQ, wood stove or camp fire.
  4. Bathroom & Laundry. For the first year, while still working out of our blacksmith shop in the village, we use the washroom, shower and laundering facilities there while getting set up on the mountain. Of course we water the shrubberies as needed. For the business we needed to install an engineered septic system and drilled well to service the lodge and cabins.
  5. Lights. We found small LED lanterns that could be recharged in a vehicle via USB the most convenient. We would later invest in a small solar powered system so we could wire in some RV lights, an exhaust fan for our propane stove and charging station in the cabin. This two panel system provides quite well for our electrical needs, as part of the goal here, is to live simply. No need for many gadgets. And the lanterns are still great for reading at night. Cooking indoors was a very welcome luxury after the first winter!

What we enjoy most about living off grid

  1. Silence is Golden. The quiet and darkness of night is sublime. Although the occasional aircraft, trail vehicle, or when the wind is right, sounds from the village may disturb the quiet peace of the forest on occassion, for the most part, evenings are beautifully peaceful and we feel a relieving sense of calm. The darkness and lack of wireless and electrical signals makes sleeping much easier.
  2. Being Unplugged. It’s dangerously easy to forget what its like to not have to worry about being in constant contact with people, news, stories, videos, pictures….screens. As I have no cell phone plan, my world becomes incredibly simple when I am up at the cabin. I can read a book, listen to music or the radio, talk with my companion, explore the outdoors, practice a hobby, or just rest. The liberty and release this affords me has been incredibly restoring to my spirit and the growing ability to do without the constant bombardment of social media, emails, texts, phone calls, and media is a great thing to realize. You can choose to do without. Whether that is for a night, a week, or always is up to you. Even if your work or family demands you check in during the work day or evening, we have found that setting limits is healthy and beneficial and does not have many down sides, in our opinion. But obviously this way of life is not for everyone.
  3. Being Aware of the Resources You Use. Living off grid without all of the conveniences at hand has given us a much greater appreciation for what we really need to live comfortably. At the end of the day, its not a long list. Of course, if your able to, you can add some more creature comforts and acquire the means to make life a little easier and convenient, but understanding the baseline of what you really can do without, and what you can’t, puts things into perspective for you.

Modern life has made us think many of our needs and expenses are required. Knowing what is, and isn’t, helps you choose for yourself what you want to pay extra for, or what you don’t need to pay for at all. Like a cell phone plan, oil or power bill, internet bill, etc. You have better control over what you will spend your hard earned dollars on.