Did Canada really ban off-grid living?

With the price of solar panels having dropped substantially, it's much cheaper to become more energy self-reliant. I spotted this house while on a trip to Belgium.

With the price of solar panels having dropped substantially, it’s much cheaper to become more energy self-reliant. I spotted this house while on a trip to Belgium.

If you believe the headlines, it’s illegal to live off-grid in Canada and the U.S. But, should you believe them?

I guess that depends on what your definition of off-grid really is. It’s a matter of semantics. My short answer to the headline question is: no. Let’s delve into it a little more.

According to the story I had read, a woman in Nova Scotia wasn’t being given an occupancy certificate because there was no electricity, thus no ventilation or wired smoke detectors. Building codes prevent this, apparently.

Should this be the case? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Building codes are there for a reason, and I don’t disagree with them necessarily. Smoke detectors aren’t a bad thing and have saved many lives. Would a battery-operated smoke detector also be acceptable? Not by national building code, but in my mind, yes. A carbon monoxide detector isn’t a bad thing either.

I know this lady would like to live without electricity, but it would be simple enough for her to buy a solar panel, have one battery, and wire in an inexpensive ventilation system and smoke detector. Problem solved. That doesn’t mean it has to operate after the occupancy certificate is given. *nudge nudge* *wink wink* Although, if she ever plans to sell, it had better be.

What qualifies as off-grid?

What this woman is trying to do is far closer to being truly offgrid than what most people envision. Our plan includes electricity. Yes, I want a fridge, a freezer and a clothes washer. I just don’t plan to be connected to utilities.

We will also have a propane stove, and use it as a backup heat source (wood being primary, but also passive solar and super-insulation lowering our heat requirement). Initially we’ll use propane for an instant hot water system as well. Eventually we’ll have a solar hot water system to reduce our propane usage.

Later on our plan will be to build a super-insulated Passivhaus, further reducing our need for propane, and with a larger solar system, perhaps eliminating it altogether. I see it as a bridge fuel.

It’s not ideal, and some purists may not see it as being truly off grid, but I’m not worried about that. It is what will work for us as we work towards ever-increasing self-reliance.

On the practical side of things, money is the big issue. If it were no object, we could go completely off-grid in an ideal manner, but who has the money to do that? With us it will be done in stages. And here by off-grid I simply mean not connected to utilities by wire, pipe, etc. Our goal is that if there were service interruptions for gas, electricity, sewer, water or communications, we’re not going to have to worry.

We are planning to build a small, temporary cabin until we can build our permanent home. Our first build will be an experiment and we are trying to keep the budget as low as possible, while avoiding any debt related to it (as much as possible).

What does offgrid mean to you?

The woman in Nova Scotia isn’t quite at the most extreme end of being off grid. If you just plan to forage and be a hunter-gatherer, living in a tent, that would be the most off-grid you can get. Where can you even really do that these days (in North America anyway)?

I think most people who want to go off-grid probably want to have modern conveniences, but not have the risk or financial commitment of being connected to utilities.

Money and risk are driving our decision to go off grid, as well as increased opportunities to control what we eat by growing and raising our own food.

We are slowly moving in that direction. How about you? What stage are you at in your move to being offgrid, and what does being offgrid mean to you?

By Alain Saffel

If I were to picture my ideal life, I’d be sitting in some far off land, sipping a coffee in a café, my backpack at my side, camera around my neck, motorcycle at the curb, pondering my next stop or maybe madly typing away on my laptop about my latest adventure. Of course my home base will be a rural location, somewhere in Canada.

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5 Responses to Did Canada really ban off-grid living?

  1. Would this not make all homeless people illegal? They live off grid, after all.

    • I hadn’t really thought about homeless people living off-grid, but I guess that’s what they’re doing. The big difference being that for most of them, I don’t think they’ve made the choice to do it, so it’s not quite the same.

      That being said, governments everywhere do seem to hate the homeless and do everything they can to make their lives miserable. I think it’s reprehensible.

      There has been a positive development in Canada for homeless people. A British Columbia court recently decided ruled in favour of homeless people and their right to form tent cities on public land. In Canada it’s really the responsibility of federal, provincial and municipal governments to deal with the problem, not just municipal. Now maybe cities will put more pressure on higher levels of government to help them out. In the long run it’s much cheaper to house the homeless than to cycle them through our healthcare and criminal justice systems.

      Interesting story: http://www.vancouversun.com/life/court+rules+homeless+have+right+camp/11457702/story.html

  2. i have lived “off-grid” for almost 15 years. i live in a fairly remote location in rural northern new mexico, at 8000 feet above sea level. the land i live on is considered uninhabitable due to zero infrastructure (phone, electricity, water, roads).

    i catch rainwater for my gardening, i have solar for limited electricity, a cellphone that works mostly for texting only, and when there is bad mud or snow, i cannot traverse the ruts and rocks to the nearest road (3 miles away). i have built numerous rustic structures, primarily for the roof space to catch water. i have a greenhouse, and plan to build another off the south side of my cabin that i completed a couple years ago. i heat with firewood, and i do have a propane cook stove and a propane heater for backup. i cannot get propane delivered, so i keep 5 40-lb tanks full on hand. sometimes in the winter i cannot get out for weeks at a time. we can get nighttime temps of 40 degrees BELOW ZERO (that’s farenheit!). that is not a regular thing, but it has happened numerous times since i have been here. minus 20 is commonplace. though that could be changing with the global climate.

    my desire for life is autonomy, self-sufficiency, and as much freedom as possible from the world of authoritarianism and capitalism that modern humans have created. i do not grow enough of my own food to be self-sufficient (let alone the propane appliance and necessary vehicle). but i have no illusions of such… i simply strive to be ever more free.

    i wish i knew others that were like-minded and wanted to not only live “off-grid”, but outside the shackles and mindsets of mass society. conservatives and progressives are equally annoying to me, as they both accept certain assumptions that have been ingrained through the indoctrination of civilization. recycling and green capitalism (or green communism/socialism) are not going to result in the kind of truly radical change that i want. so i have taken it upon myself to create my own life, on my own terms, to the extent that this oppressive world allows me.

  3. Passive house built right in rural area with well water, solar panels and septic system would essentially bring you close to zero dollars spent on utilities.

    The key is property taxes. How do you bring that down to zero or next to zero?


  4. I call no public utilities being off the grid. A very high percentage of Amish farmers are considered off the grid. A good number of farms all over the country are off the grid because of location. The cost of getting utilities there is outrageous. You do have to learn to play the game just as you said, install solar panels or something. I don’t think there’s any thing someone has to do without with that life style. If you live off the grid, you have to be smart enough to work though problems and this is one.

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