There are many reasons people choose to live without electricity. For some, it’s simply because they choose to live remotely and no electricity is available. For others, it’s a conscious choice to be more self-sufficient.
Regardless of the reason, living without electricity involves some sacrifices and a lot of hard work – but it’s definitely possible. After all, electricity was not widely available until the 1920s. Before that, everyone lived life without it.
There are two basic ways to live without electricity…
The first is to eschew all modern forms of power – electricity, generators, and fuels like propane, gasoline, and diesel. The only fuels allowed are wood and traditional lamp oils like kerosene.
The second is to live without electricity but take advantage of other power sources like propane or gasoline to run appliances or tools.
We’ll start with running a homestead without any modern power – no electricity, no propane, and no gasoline. The only power sources are wood, charcoal, and lamp oils.
Benefits of Living Without Electricity
Going without power might sound like an antiquated concept – and perhaps one that comes with a whole lot of drudgery and dread – but the reality is that living without electricity is beneficial in countless ways.
For one, you can finally ditch the electric bill. You’ll never have to worry about appliances requiring electricity needing to be fixed or about the danger of electrical fires – so there’s no need to save up money for calling an emergency electrician, either.
Going without electricity is just about as eco-friendly as it gets and can help lead you to a better overall health, too. That’s because many of the electrical devices we rely on today disrupt our natural circadian rhythms, making it tough for us to get – and stay – asleep.
Although you’ll have to put a bit more thought into certain areas of your life, like how you will get water and how you will stay warm, living without electricity is far easier and more desirable than you might assume.
Living Without Electricity: Tips to Get Started
It is smart to start thinking of a plan for how you will live without electricity long before the need arises. Whether it’s a freak storm that cuts power to your house or you just want to live a more independent, self-sufficient lifestyle, living without electricity does require some forethought and advanced planning.
Before you cut the cord, determine your priorities. What does your family need and what is most important? How will you get the resources you need? What is essential, and what might be considered extra?
You may also want to take the time to inventory what kinds of foods and supplies you have on hand so that you know what you need to purchase ahead of time.
Take the time to also learn more about your own house. Understand the systems and how they work. Where does gas come in? Can you easily shut it off? Do you know where the main water valve is?
One way or another, you’ll need to get water into the home. If you have surface water, like a river or lake, you can manually collect it in buckets and store it in the house on the property.
That is a lot of work, and there’s an easier solution – a well with a hand pump. Most wells can be retrofitted with a hand pump, and with a little planning, you can set up your plumbing so you can pump water into your kitchen sink for general household use. That way, you’ll have all the water you need for cooking, cleaning, and other household chores like laundry.
Here’s a great video with more information about having a hand pump in the house:
Another good water source is rain water. You can set up a collection system to get rainwater from the roof of your house and other structures and store it in containers.
You can also use a windmill to pump water into a storage tank, which then gets water to your home by pushing it with gravity. This makes indoor plumbing a possibility without having to rely on an electric pressurized system.
You’ll need about a gallon of water per person to day – that’s just for drinking, and not considering things like cooking, pets, and hygiene. It’s always a good idea to keep at least a week’s worth of water on hand so that you’re prepared should your water supply become contaminated
After water, food is your next priority. Without electricity, you need a way to store food.
For storage and preservation without a refrigerator, you have several options. This includes cellar storage, canning, dehydration, salting, and curing.
Whichever options you choose, it’s always a good idea to have a food thermometer on hand. That way, you can check the temperature of heat-sensitive foods to make sure they are still safe to eat.
For a lot of vegetables, storage in a root cellar or other dark place is the easiest method. Crops from the garden like carrots, parsnips, potatoes, onions, and winter squash can be stored this way. A root cellar is simply a storage location that uses the earth’s cooling, insulating, and humidifying properties.
For proper storage, a root cellar should hold a temperature of 32°F to 40°F (0°C to 4.5°C) and have a humidity level of 80 to 95 percent. The cool temperatures slow the decay of the vegetables and prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms. The humidity helps prevent the loss of moisture and the undesired withering or shrinkage of the stored produce.
Learn more about building your own root cellar here:
Remember that you don’t need a refrigerator to eat a healthy, sustainable, and affordable diet, either. There are all kinds of pantry staples that do not need to be refrigerated – and you can stock up on these or buy them in bulk so you always have some on hand. They include things like pasta, oats, sugar, flour, jerky, honey, rice, dry beans, herbs and spices, and hardtack.
A low-tech alternative to a refrigerator is a zeer pot. This is a type of evaporative cooler used to keep vegetables fresh.
It consists of two terra cotta pots, one placed inside the other, with the gap between the pots filled with wet sand. This sand is a thermal mass that helps keep the pot cool and acts like a wick to disperse moisture up the walls of the pot.
When placed in a breezy location in the shade, evaporation of water cools the pot.
In addition to root cellar storage, you can use canning to store many vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, beans, peas, and many other staples from the garden. Meat can also be canned.
Dehydration is another option. This is an ancient way of food preservation, originally using the sun. While many dehydrators today use electricity, there are solar-powered options for your electricity-free homestead.
Dehydrated foods retain their nutritional value. Common types include:
- Fruit leathers made of apples and berries.
- Vegetables such as corn, peas, broccoli, and carrots.
- Soup mixes made of dehydrated onion, mushrooms, and carrots.
It takes some practice to dehydrate foods well, but is well worth the effort.
Salting and Curing
Salting is the process of preserving meat by adding salt. It preserves the meat by extracting the water out, inhibiting spoilage, and enhancing flavor.
Curing is a salting process, but other additives like sugar, nitrates, and nitrates are also added.
No Preservation Required
Of course, the problem is solved if your food can be stored at room temperature for long periods of time. For example, flour, sugar, pasta, rice, dry beans, beef jerky, and oats are great staples to have in the house in abundance.
Wood is your fuel of choice. A wood stove designed for the kitchen is the way to go.
Proper use takes some practice, as it takes a while to master the airflow you need. Air flow is controlled by either a damper in the stove or a flue or both. These increase and decrease the airflow, allowing the temperature to be controlled.
Other options for cooking include solar ovens, charcoal grills, and smokers.
In your electricity-free home, light comes from two sources. The first is natural lighting. Take advantage of it with large windows. Even if you already have a home with limited or small windows, you can retrofit your house with some skylights. Mirrors can also be used to reflect more light into the house during daytime.
The second source of light is lamps powered with kerosene or other lamp oil. These types of lamps have been in use by humans for over 2,500 years. Originally constructed with jade, ceramic, or wood, today, metal or glass reservoirs are common.
Candles can also be used for reading or other general lighting purposes, although they can be a safety hazard.
Chemical lights, or glow sticks, can be used to illuminate areas of the house while moving from room to room. You can also use rechargeable flashlights or solar lighting to light your way, too.
Again, wood is your fuel of choice. A properly sized wood stove can heat a decent-sized house. They take up little space and fit into any decor. Of course, warm blankets and exercise help you keep warm too.
Another option is clay pot heaters, which are stacked terracotta pots with some candles. Use care, though, as these can be a fire hazard.
There are other tips you can follow to help you stay warm without electricity. Of course, improving your insulation will help. You can also pull back curtains during the day to allow sunlight indoors to heat up the house – it should retain some of that warmth overnight.
Cook indoors, cover bare floors with rugs, and be as active as possible. One of the best ways to stay warm in a house without electricity during the coldest of the winter chill is to get the blood flowing – it will serve as a natural heater!
Have sleeping bags and space blankets on hand, too. There should be at least one of these per person.
Keeping the House Warm
In addition to heating your house, it’s also beneficial to do things to preserve the heat. For example, good insulation and rugs on bare floors help keep the house warm.
You can also replace drapes or curtains with clear shower curtains to generate heat from sunlight. And residual heat from cooking indoors helps too.
If you don’t have electricity, it’s not just staying warm that you have to be worried about – you also need to consider how you will stay cool. This might not be important for homesteaders in northern climates, but for those that live down south, the lack of air conditioning can be a challenge during the summer.
Though air conditioning (and fans) are often considered a luxury, at certain times of the year, they’re actually important for health and safety. In some places, temperatures inside a home without air conditioning in the heat of the summer can cause temperatures to rise to 120 degrees or higher. Without a way to stay cool, you could die from conditions like heat stroke and heart failure.
There are a few ways you can get around this, though. For one, you need to make your house as dark as possible. Install awnings so all of your windows are shaded and put up blackout curtains (you can use emergency blankets in a pinch).
Improving the insulation in your home will also help – this is a tip to keep in mind for both heating and cooling. By improving the insulation around your house, you’ll improve its natural abilities to stay both warm and cool at the appropriate times.
You can also open your windows at night to get a breeze going. When it’s really warm, you and your family members should sleep on the lowest level of the home, which will almost always be the coolest. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and drape some wet washcloths around your neck when it gets truly unbearable.
Of course, you can always hang out in a tub of cool water too!
Don’t forget that although electricity-powered fans and air conditioners won’t be options for you, you can still purchase manual fans or battery-powered fans. There are even solar air conditioning units you can build, so get creative!
There are many options. The traditional choice is an outhouse. For this, location is key. You should build downwind and at least 40 yards (37 meters) from any water sources. Make sure the hole you dig is above the water table and flood level.
Another option is a compostable toilet. These work by evaporating the water in human waste, leaving solid waste that is odor-free and compostable. There are many compostable toilets on the market.
This video reviews current choices:
You can also set up a system where you have gravity-fed water into the house, and plumb it into a traditional toilet. This entails a water storage system for the water and a septic system for the waste.
An ingenious method of using stored rainwater for flushing a traditional toilet is found here:
Finally, you can use grey water from washing dishes, a bath, or a shower to flush a conventional toilet. There are many creative ways to do this.
Sanitation is an element of living without electricity that many people tend to forget. Not only will you need to consider how to get to the bathroom, but you’ll also want to consider how you’ll get rid of the waste. In a pinch, you can use a bucket system fitted with a toilet lid and put some peat moss or kitty litter at the bottom.
After each use, more peat moss or kitty litter gets added. You can then dig a hole and bury the refuse later or you can compost it (just don’t plan on using the compost on your plants).
One area where you don’t need electricity is a septic tank. You’ll need one for grey water from your toilets and other water not recycled.
This is a lot of work without electricity. You have two tubs of water, a washing board, and a hand wringer.
You wash the clothes on the washing board over one tub, then transfer them to a second rinsing tub. Then you remove most of the water with a hand wringer. After that, you hang them on a clothesline to dry.
Nothing beats a hot shower, so the idea of washing yourself in a nearby cold stream is not appealing. However, you can use the sun to heat water for a bath or shower. Here’s how it works…
It’s basically a storage tank that sits inside an insulated box that faces the sun. Water in the tank is heated by the sun. When you’re ready to bathe, use the heated water from the insulated box.
Alternatively, but less optimally, you can do sponge baths or use camping showers. A camping shower is nothing more than filling an elevated container with water and letting gravity shower you with the water.
You need tools for two primary reasons on the homestead.
First, you need a complete set of tools just for procuring all the firewood you’ll need:
- Felling axes for cutting down trees.
- Cross-cut saws for cutting up tree trunks.
- Hand saws for smaller branches.
- Splitting axes, mauls, and wedges for splitting.
- A complete set of sharpeners for all saws and axes.
Using all these tools is an art and takes a lot of practice. So, does using sharpeners to care for the saw blades.
The second set of tools you need are for projects and repairs around the homestead. These include a claw hammer, adjustable wrench, manual screwdrivers, pliers, and tape measure.
Communication and Entertainment
While you might have thought of all the basics when it comes to living without electricity – for instance, how you’ll eat, bathe, and stay warm – there’s a good chance you haven’t given any thought to how you will connect with the outside world – or stay occupied.
The good news is that you’ll probably have your hands full with all of the extra steps you’ll have to take in the day-to-day tasks of electricity-less life. However, you may want to consider investing in alternative communication devices since you won’t have a cell phone or television -you might consider purchasing some battery-powered walkie talkies or a rechargeable HAM or hand-crank emergency radio.
If you really don’t want to ditch your phone, you might consider investing in a cell phone equipped with a solar charger. When it comes to passing your time, you might consider taking up hobbies like gardening, hunting, fishing, or sewing. You can also go swimming, exercise, pray, or hey! – you could read a book!
Many homesteaders and preppers have meat birds. Many simply buy new chicks every year. Those more focused on sustainability and prepping, however, breed their own. Typically, this is accomplished with an electric-powered egg incubator.
Those without electricity, though, have to do it the old-fashioned way – by having the chickens breed, and then having the mother nest and care for the new chicks. There are many challenges to this.
First, many chickens have had the nesting instinct bred out of them, and they will simply abandon the nest. Second, once the chicks are born, the mother may either neglect them, or they will be attacked and killed by adults.
There are, however, heritage dual-purpose birds that still have the nesting and mothering instincts (brooding instincts) intact. These breeds include Light Sussex, Orpingtons, and Delawares.
For best results, you’ll need a separate area for the mothers to nest and a separate area for the mothers and chicks to roam until the chicks are large enough to join the flock.
Reproducing chickens naturally like this takes a lot of practice. Here a great video on the practice, specifically for those without electricity:
How to Live Without Electricity but with Modern Fuels
If you’re able or willing to use propane and other modern fuels, then life without electricity becomes easier:
- Food Storage: propane-powered refrigerators are widely available.
- Food Preparation: a propane stove is a lot easier and a lot less hassle to use than a wood stove.
- Staying Warm: there are heaters powered by propane that are safe to use indoors. Be careful, though, as not all are rated for indoor use.
- Toilets. Non-electric incinerating toilets are self-contained systems that do not use water. They are powered by propane. The toilets incinerate the human waste to disposable ash.
- Washing and Drying Clothes. Propane-powered washers and dryers are available. For the washer, you’ll need plumbing from stored water to use.
- Tools. Chainsaws and gasoline-powered wood splitters will make getting all your firewood a lot easier.
Living without electricity is hard work, especially if you choose not to use propane or gas to help. But the rewards are many: freedom from an electric bill and independence from reliance on an overworked and antiquated power grid.
Use the tips here to get started on your electricity-free journey.
Rebekah is a homesteader and English school teacher from Ohio. On her journey to transition to full-time writing and self-sufficiency, Rebekah is raising chickens, sheep, and growing tons of veggies, particularly zucchini, in her giant greenhouse.