I have been living off the grid in Arizona for exactly four years at the time of writing this, so I thought it would be a good time to talk about my experience, since I now have a lot of it.
How Difficult Is it to Live Off the Grid in Arizona?
This is sort of a hard question to answer because it can mean a couple of different things. A lot of people are concerned with the legality of living off grid. Legally, it’s not difficult at all. Just buy a piece of rural land and get a permit to put a house on it.
Finding the land and getting the permit might take some considerable time, but that’s really all you have to do. The kind of house you put on it is entirely up to you. It can be a trailer, RV, mobile home, tiny house on wheels, modular home, or just a regular house. We converted a shed into a tiny house, and now I am building us a full size one bedroom/one bathroom house.
As for the reality of living off the grid in Arizona, and how difficult that is or isn’t, it all comes down to the type of person you are and how much money you have.
If you’re the kind of person who is used to a lot of comfort and modern amenities, the more money you have, the easier it’s going to be. I hate to put it that bluntly but it’s true. Having a massive solar system and a large supply of on-demand water is expensive, and that’s exactly what you’re going to need to achieve maximum comfort.
I didn’t realize how much electricity and water we really use, and how reckless we are with it, until I moved off the grid. When we have these utilities on demand, we tend to use them as much as we feel like without even thinking about the amount we’re consuming.
If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on solar panels, generators, water tanks, etc… life can be quite uncomfortable at times. I’d suggest going on a few primitive camping trips and seeing how you like that before you decide to move off the grid. My wife and I used to go primitive camping a lot before we moved, so we knew what we were getting into.
For most people, moving off the grid is a process that doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, you’ll slowly build up your homestead and amenities over the course of many months or years. We actually started in a tent, and then gradually built out our tiny house.
All though roughing it can be tough at times – overstating the obvious much? – I think there is an upside, which is: When you give up all of your modern comforts and start over from scratch, every little improvement feels like a luxury.
For example, when I built our kitchen counter, it was life changing. It sounds silly to say a counter can change your life, but you have no idea how much we take these simple things for granted until you don’t have them.
The new house I’m building us is only about 800 square feet plus a large courtyard deck, but to us, it feels like a mansion. That’s because it’s three times larger than the tiny house we’ve been living in for four years with our two big dogs. Get used to living in a shoebox, and suddenly a closet feels like a ballroom.
How Much Solar Power Will I Need?
Arizona is one of the sunniest states in the nation, so you won’t need as many solar panels as people in most other states do. However, I recommend using my solar power calculator to get a good idea of just how much solar power you’ll need. It all comes down to how much power you plan on using.
My wife and I scaled down our power consumption dramatically when we moved off the grid, so we’ve been getting by with just four solar panels and two Goal Zero portable generators. Most families, however, are probably going to need more than that.
How Do I Get Water to My Property?
You basically have three options for water: drill a well, harvest rainwater, or buy it. We collect rainwater and buy water. As for buying water, depending on where you live, you may be able to have large amounts delivered to you; or, you can fill 5-gallon jugs at your local grocery store.
I don’t recommend drilling a well. I don’t want to spend too much time on that subject – that could be an entire article unto itself – but I know a guy who works for the well service, and he did a pretty good job convincing me not to drill one.
Basically, they are expensive and there is no guarantee you’ll actually hit water. Worst of all, if you don’t hit water, you still have to pay for the well. I can also tell you that I know several people with wells, and well… they run out of water sometimes. Wells also have a tendency to break from time to time, and then you’re up [expletive deleted] creek without a paddle until it gets fixed.
Instead, I recommend harvesting rainwater and supplementing with water delivery, if necessary. You can use my rainwater catchment calculator to size your system. Even in a place that doesn’t get much rain, you’d be surprised how much you can collect off even a modestly sized roof.
The roof on my greenhouse is only 144 sq ft, yet last summer I was able to collect over 275 gallons.
What About Heating and Cooling?
No matter where you live in Arizona, the climate is mixed and it does get cold in the winter despite how hot it is in the summer. The best way to heat your off-grid house is with a wood stove or pellet stove. I wrote a comparison of the two, which you can read here.
I’ve also seen a lot of people using propane heaters. I prefer a wood stove because the fuel is free. I just walk around my property gathering dead mesquite branches. Of course, you could also use an electric heater, but you better have a big solar system.
The same goes for AC. We don’t have an air conditioner, but sometimes I wish we did. No matter what kind of AC unit you use, though, it’s gonna guzzle a lot of power.
If you’re custom building your house, I suggest designing it so it doesn’t require much cooling or heating; and if you want to know more about how to do that, following my blog and/or Youtube channel is a good start – sorry for the shameless plug. I’m still early in the process of building our new house, but it won’t rely on any mechanical cooling or heating, and that’s something I’m going to talk about a lot in the future.
How Do I Get Internet?
This isn’t so much of an issue anymore. There are still some places that are so remote, you probably won’t even get one bar on your cell phone; but for the most part, a mobile hotspot should be all you need. You can also opt for satellite but I’m not a fan. It’s expensive and shoddy.
What About Finding Work and Making Money?
Assuming you’re going to be in a rural area, this can be challenging but not impossible by any means. Firstly, there’s no reason you can’t commute to a job. For some reason, a lot of people seem to think that if you move off the grid to a rural area, you can’t have a 9 to 5.
My wife has a regular 9 to 5, and even though she has to drive over 11 miles to get there, her commute is actually shorter than when we lived in a city – great thing about living in the middle of nowhere: there’s no traffic.
You can also explore work-from-home options. I wrote a whole article about that here.
What About Growing Food and “Living Off the Land?”
I won’t lie to you, this is a lofty ambition in Arizona. Let’s face it, most of the state is a desert. If you think you’re going to grow fruit trees and vegetable gardens – we’ve tried – you’ll probably be shocked by the amount of water you need.
I’m also a bit of a physics nerd, and well… there’s a calories in/calories out equation that doesn’t exactly balance out. Growing something as simple as lettuce can be quite a lot of labor, and you know how many calories lettuce provides? About a zero! You could all too easily expend a lot of time and energy on growing food, only to get little in return for it.
I suggest constructing some sort of greenhouse, starting with some simple herbs, and scaling up from there. I’ve tried growing food outdoors, and it’s been a nightmare. Insects, rodents, deer, strong gusts of wind, and even the Sun itself, have successfully destroyed almost every plant I’ve grown.
What About Illegal Immigrants and Border Patrol?
Arizona is a border state, which brings about a lot of concern for some individuals. We have not had any problems with immigrants or border patrol, though one time a couple was arrested on the edge of my property. It was purely incidental. They weren’t bothering us; they were just trying to get away from border patrol, and the edge of my property is where they happened to be apprehended.
Border patrol pulled us over quite often when we first arrived here, but after we got AZ plates and they learned to recognize our vehicle, we haven’t been pulled over since.
Cattle Ranchers and “Open Range Law”
Cattle ranchers and their livestock are actually a much bigger problem than immigrants and border patrol. If you live in the country, you’re probably going to have ranchers nearby that want to graze their cattle on your land, and they will, with or without your permission.
This is called, “Open Range Law.” It’s an archaic group of statutes that date back to the cattle barons of the wild west.
It is up to you to fence their cattle out of your property, not the other way around. Otherwise, they’ll be all over it. This can be especially problematic if you have dogs. They can legally shoot your dog for chasing them or their livestock. This was an unpleasant surprise for us when we moved here.
The only exception is if you live in a “No-fence district,” meaning that you do not have to put up cattle fencing to keep their livestock off your property, but they do. No-fence districts have to be formed by the tax paying residents of a given area. It is said to be a legally complicated process.
Why Live Off the Grid in Arizona?
Honestly, there’s no good reason to live off-grid in Arizona opposed to any other states. Technically, you can live off the grid just about anywhere. We chose Arizona for two reasons: 1. We just like it here. 2. I’m a builder, and I was able to get an owner-builder permit here that lets me build just about anything I want, as long as it’s on my property, of course.
My wife and I have no regrets about moving to AZ and living off the grid. We think it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. But that’s us. I’m a firm believer that this kind of lifestyle is not for everyone.
Most social media influencers glamorize the off-grid lifestyle because they want clicks and followers. Some so-called “off-grid pioneers” are even straight up phonies. I’ve met my fair share. Tiny house in the desert by day, regular house in the suburbs at night.
If you’re serious about moving to AZ and living off the grid, you should spend many, many months doing research and planning. For every one person I’ve seen succeed at it, I’ve seen about 10 more who have failed in a year or less.