How to Live Off Grid in Illinois

Discover the essential guide on How to Live Off Grid in Illinois. Explore key tips on finding the perfect location, building a resilient home, generating sustainable energy, and self-sufficient farming in Illinois' diverse climate. Ideal for those aiming for independence and eco-friendly living, this guide covers everything from water sourcing to overcoming the challenges of off-grid life in the Land of Lincoln. Perfect for both beginners and experienced homesteaders.

Living off the grid in Illinois can be an extremely rewarding lifestyle choice for those seeking self-sufficiency, sustainability, and freedom from reliance on public utilities. However, succeeding with off-grid living in the Land of Lincoln requires thoughtful preparation and planning. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know, from finding land to building your homestead to generating your own electricity and growing your own food. With dedication and the right strategies, you can thrive off-grid even through harsh Midwest winters. So let’s dive in and find out how to live off grid in Illinois.

Choosing the Ideal Location in Illinois for an Off-Grid Homestead

When searching for land to establish your off-grid retreat, target rural areas in central or southern Illinois with low population density, such as:

  • Greene County
  • Wabash County
  • Edwards County
  • Wayne County
  • Jefferson County

Look for parcels with a combination of woodlands, pasture, and tillable soil. Proximity to streams or ponds is ideal for renewable hydropower and water access. Seek areas with high solar exposure to maximize solar energy potential. Slope of the land matters too – southern or western facing slopes get more sunshine.

Ideal off-grid properties range from 5-50 acres. Cost per acre varies dramatically based on county from $2,800 to $8,100 according to recent sales data. Study zoning rules carefully as some rural counties prohibit off-grid living. Contact the county clerk’s office to check regulations for the locations you’re considering. Some counties require that you file a permit specifically for off-grid homes.

When assessing potential parcels, look carefully at the layout, terrain and infrastructure. Old farms with existing barns, outbuildings or fencing in place can save you setup time and costs. Check for signs of tillable fields that could be converted to vegetable gardens or livestock pasture relatively easily. Woodlots provide fuel as well as habitat for game animals. Gently rolling land is ideal, as steep slopes make construction, gardening and livestock management more difficult.

Pay special attention to water resources available on or near the property. Existing wells, streams, or ponds simplify irrigation, livestock watering, and potentially small scale hydropower. Ensure any bodies of water have suitable flow rates year-round and don’t dry up seasonally. If you’ll need to have a well drilled, contact well drilling companies for estimates based on the region and depth required.

Carefully evaluate road access to any prospective land, especially in winter months. Look for county-maintained roads that will be reliably plowed in snowy weather. Avoid long lanes or driveways that may be difficult to navigate. Ideally choose a parcel close enough to plowed roads for accessibility but still secluded.

Consider whether mature trees or vegetation around the planned home and outbuilding sites could block sun exposure. If so, you may need to clear some areas to allow sunshine for solar panels and gardens. Select sites with optimal solar orientation for positioning your dwelling.

If building from scratch, choose a main home site that allows positioning the house with its long axis east-west to maximize southern exposure. This allows installing the most solar panels and windows on the south side.

When assessing acreages and domains, consider your lifestyle vision. For the most self-sufficiency, 40-50 acres allows generous garden space, livestock grazing, and privacy. But a smaller 5-10 acre plot can work too with careful homestead layout and planning.

Designing and Building an Off-Grid Home to Withstand Illinois Weather

To withstand Illinois’ climate extremes from -20°F winters to 100°F summers, choose building materials like insulated concrete forms (ICFs), rammed earth, or earthbags which retain temperature well. Opt for passive solar design with most windows facing south. Develop renewable heating/cooling sources like wood stoves and solar chimneys. Insulate heavily and seal any drafts or leaks.

Here are some other key elements to incorporate in an off-grid home in Illinois:

Water Supply – Install a rainwater catchment and filtration system with gutters, tanks, sediment filters and pumps to supply household water needs. Tanks can also store well or spring water. Have at least 10,000 gallons of storage capacity.

Waste System – Composting toilets allow for sanitation without septic systems. Urine can be diverted to a separate holding tank then diluted as fertilizer. For greywater, use sand filters or mini wetland beds.

Appliances – Choose ENERGY STAR rated appliances designed for off-grid use. Look for propane/DC-powered models that minimize energy draw. Outfit kitchen with a wood cookstove.

Passive Solar – Orient for maximum southern sun exposure. Install triple-pane thermal windows and consider attaching a solar greenhouse to directly capture warmth. Use thermal mass like masonry floors/walls.

Insulation – Insulate exterior walls to at least R-40, roof to R-60. Use dense closed-cell rigid foam for maximum effectiveness and efficiency.

Summer Shading – Install wide overhanging eaves all around, shady trees on the south side, and outdoor shade screens where needed to block summer solar heat gain.

Ventilation – Maximize operable windows, screened vents, and ceiling fans for cooling cross breezes. Have clerestory windows near roof peaks to vent hot air.

Alternative Heating – Incorporate thick masonry walls or install a masonry heater for passive solar warmth storage. Always have a backup wood stove with ample fuel storage.

When contracting builders for an off-grid home, seek those experienced with passive solar techniques, energy efficiency, and renewable energy integration. They can help optimize every aspect of the home’s positioning, layout, and construction.

Strive for a simple, compact floor plan that’s energy efficient to heat and cool. Focus on good airflow, plenty of insulation, and harvesting natural light via dual-orientation windows and skylights. Wood stoves with thermal mass heat sinks can warm small spaces efficiently.

Incorporate eco-friendly and sustainable materials like straw bale, cob, adobe, or rammed earth for your insulation, walls, and floors. However, have a structural engineer review plans to ensure durability and meet any necessary codes. Consider building with locally sourced timber, stones, and sand both to reduce transport footprint and match aesthetics with regional tradition.

Generating Plentiful Electricity Year-Round for an Off-Grid Illinois Home

Illinois receives an average 4-4.5 hours of peak sunlight per day. Grid-tied solar works well here, but off-grid solar requires increased capacity. To generate sufficient year-round electricity, plan for at least a 6 kW system with backup batteries. Here are some key steps:

  • Install at least 20 high-efficiency mono- or polycrystalline solar panels rated for cold weather operation. Position due south at the optimal tilt angle.
  • Use microinverters or a central inverter suitable for off-grid use to convert solar DC to AC household current.
  • Setup a large battery bank with 6-12 deep cycle batteries (lead-acid, lithium-ion, or saltwater) for power storage.
  • Have a backup diesel or propane generator and substantial fuel reserves for prolonged bad weather stretches.
  • Include a solar charge controller/regulator to prevent battery overcharging.
  • Size your battery bank to supply 3-5 days of power needs without sun.
  • Set up battery bank in a well-ventilated, insulated and dry location to prevent corrosion and overheating.

In open areas with consistent wind, installing a small wind turbine can further diversify electricity production. Look for turbines rated for at least 10-15 mph winds to be worthwhile. Turbines work well on towers 60-140 ft. high.

If your property has running water like a stream or river flowing at least 10mph, microhydropower is another great off-grid option. Water turbines can generate 1kW or more and also pump fresh water uphill to your home. Steady water flow and proper site elevation is key.

For modest supplemental charging, smaller scale wind and water power systems can contribute to robust solar arrays. This provides protection in inclement weather when sun resources dip. With an adequately large renewable system and backup generator, you can maintain a steady power supply year-round without grid dependence.

Heating and Cooling Your Off-Grid Illinois Home Naturally

To get through winter sans furnace, take advantage of solar design, insulation, and wood heat:

  • Maximize winter sun with proper orientation – a benefit of being south of the 49th parallel.
  • Insulate exterior walls to R-40+ and roof/ceiling to R-60+. Seal any gaps thoroughly.
  • Install triple-pane ENERGY STAR windows designed specifically for cold climates. Reduce glass on north side.
  • Use thermal mass materials like brick, concrete and tile to retain and slowly emit warmth.
  • Install an efficient airtight wood stove fueled by hardwood (70% efficiency or better).

Additional winter strategies:

  • Let sunshine heat absorptive floors and walls which then radiate warmth.
  • Zone home layout so rooms needed most in winter are along south face and get direct light.
  • Close window coverings at night to reduce heat loss.
  • Weatherstrip doors and openings thoroughly to prevent drafts and air leakage.
  • Have a high-quality chimney for wood heat to properly vent exhaust and maximize efficiency. Use triple-wall stainless steel pipe.
  • Situate wood stove centrally in home to distribute warmth most evenly to all rooms.
  • Always keep sufficient seasoned firewood stocked – at least 2 cords per month for average winter needs.
  • Install masonry heaters which absorb fire heat over hours and gradually warm living spaces.
  • Use passive solar design like sunrooms on the south side to trap and hold winter sunshine as thermal energy.
  • Close off unused rooms in winter months and just heat the main living areas you occupy to conserve fuel.
  • Caulk and weatherstrip windows and use insulating window treatments like cellular blinds, heavy drapes and quilts to minimize nighttime heat loss.
  • Let sunshine warm masonry floors and walls during the day so they re-radiate heat later.
  • Have good moisture control via ventilation to avoid cold-weather condensation issues.

In summer, employ shade, ventilation, and fans:

  • Install exterior shade screens or position landscape elements like trees and shrubs to block high summer sun on the southern exposure.
  • Close drapes and shades on south-facing windows during peak daylight hours to reflect sunlight back outward.
  • Open windows on cooler north and east sides at night to flush in refreshing air. Funnel breezes with carefully positioned shade trees.
  • Use whole house fans, ceiling fans or window box fans to keep air circulating and prevent stagnant heat buildup.
  • Consider opening an attic fan or roof vents to let rising warm air escape and draw cooler air in from below.
  • Use basements or underground building designs which stay cooler in summer.

Additional summer cooling strategies:

  • Cook outdoors on a patio kitchen setup to prevent adding heat to interior air.
  • Position beds and sleeping areas on ground floor where it’s coolest.
  • Take cool showers and use moisture to naturally decrease body temperature.
  • Drink plenty of water and wear breathable light fabrics to stay comfortable.
  • Use reflective paints and materials on roofs and exterior walls to minimize solar absorption.
  • Grow leafy trees and shrubs to shade the home. Plant vines along walls or arbors.
  • Consider installing a solar chimney to passively vent warm inside air upward and draw in fresh air from bottom vents.

Obtaining Water for Drinking, Washing, and Irrigation

Rainwater harvesting is your best bet for off-grid water in Illinois. Most counties allow permits for rainwater collection. You will need:

  • A large cistern or series of tanks with sediment filtration. Have at least 10,000 gallons of storage capacity.
  • Gutters and downspouts to capture roof runoff directed to collection tanks.
  • A pump to deliver water to house plumbing. Use gravity flow when possible.
  • Secondary particulate, carbon, and UV filtration at point of use for potability.

Cistern water can supply washing, cleaning and irrigation needs. For drinking water, use multi-stage filters, UV sterilizers, reverse osmosis or ozone treatment for maximum potability and taste. Hot water can be solar heated or use tankless propane models.

To estimate your roof’s rain catchment potential, measure its area then multiply by the average Illinois rainfall of 40 inches annually. One inch on a 1,000 sq.ft roof yields 600 gallons. Size your storage tanks accordingly.

If you have a stream on your land, investigate micro-hydropower turbines which can also pump water. Study the stream’s flow rate history to ensure adequate supply year-round. Dams or weirs may be needed to create sufficient water pressure.

Drilling a high-output well is another option but requires permitting and heavy equipment. Wells tapping sand and gravel aquifers tend to be more prolific than bedrock wells in Illinois. Have water quality tested before relying on a well for potable supplies.

Make water conservation a priority by using low-flow fixtures, composting toilets, greywater reuse, and xeric landscaping. For outdoor irrigation, use drip systems, rain barrels, and swales to direct rainfall to garden beds.

Growing Fruit, Vegetables, and Livestock to Feed Yourself

The fertile Midwest climate allows for diverse food production. For crops, focus on cold hardy, calorie and protein rich staples like potatoes, dry beans, squash, beets, carrots, onions and heirloom grains like corn, wheat and rye. Use season extending techniques like cold frames, row covers and hoop houses.

Consider these viable livestock for small Illinois homesteads:

Chickens – Shut into predator-safe coops at night, chickens forage for plants, seeds and insects during the day. They provide eggs and meat.

Ducks – Help control slugs, grubs, and other pests while providing eggs and meat. Some breeds are hardy to -20°F temperatures.

Geese – Larger than ducks, geese produce tender meat and large eggs. They are natural weeders.

Goats – Provide milk and meat while keeping brush at bay. Mini breeds available. Require around 1/4 acre of browse per animal.

Sheep – Can graze sloped, uneven ground goat can’t handle. Provide meat, wool and milk from some breeds. Need minimal shelter.

Rabbits – Breed prolifically. Feed on forage and scraps. Provide lean protein meat. Require only modest shelters.

Bees – Pollinate garden crops and provide endless honey. Have south-facing hive sites sheltered from wind.

With a half acre garden, some fruit trees and hardy livestock breeds, you can produce 50-75% of a family’s food intake. The rest can be foraged, hunted, fished or bought using income from online work, crafts, etc. Developing the skills for home food processing like canning, curing, and fermenting allows storing home grown food year-round.

Adapting Your Routine to Thrive Off-Grid in Illinois

Life off-grid requires some adaptations but can be deeply fulfilling. Here are some tips:

Energy Use – Conserve power by waking with the sun, using natural light, and avoiding energy waste. Run appliances like dishwashers and laundry at peak solar production.

Seasonal Routines – Structure your days around available daylight. Complete outdoor projects in summer and reserve hobbies like reading and crafting for winter.

Preservation – Preserve summer’s bounty through water bath canning, pressure canning, dehydrating, salting, and root cellaring so you can enjoy homegrown foods year-round.

Community – Trade skills and goods with nearby homesteaders. Share equipment and labor. Rely on one another for help as needed.

Supplies – Minimize trips into towns. Carefully plan supply runs every 2-3 months for bulk grains, produce, fuels, and household goods. Always keep your pantry and fuels stocked.

Entertainment – Foster enjoyment of simple pleasures together instead of relying heavily on electronics for diversion. Have musical instruments, books, games and crafts on hand.

Overcoming Challenges of Off-Grid Living in Illinois

While rewarding, off-grid homesteading also comes with difficulties to anticipate including:

Cabin Fever – Bitter Midwest winters often mean weeks stuck indoors when roads are impassable. Stockpile resources to minimize winter trips to town. Have lots of firewood, preserved food, books, and crafts on hand.

Snow and Ice – Heavy snow can damage roofs, block doors and roads, and increase isolation. Use sturdy building designs suited for heavy snow loads. Own snow removal tools like plows and chains. Check for ice dams regularly.

Medical Care – Living remotely means medical help is farther away. All family members should have first aid training, stocked supplies, and an emergency action plan. Telemedicine can offer some care.

Social Isolation – Day to day social contact will be less. Proactively connect with community groups for a sense of belonging and mental wellbeing. Schedule regular visits if you can.

Equipment Failure – Have backup options for critical systems like heat, water and power. Keep spare parts, tools and manuals to facilitate repairs when possible.

Boredom – Simple seasons focused on homestead chores and minimal entertainment can lead to restlessness, especially in winter. Try new hobbies and crafts. Vary routines to stay motivated.

With the right mindset of adaptability and preparation, these challenges can be overcome. Off-grid living fosters resourcefulness, peace, and liberating self-sufficiency aligned with nature’s rhythms.

Tips for Making Your Illinois Off-Grid Homestead Successful

Follow this advice when embarking on your off-grid journey:

  • Start modestly and expand. Don’t bite off more than you can handle at first.
  • Budget realistically and be ready for higher setup costs than expected.
  • Understand legal requirements like permits and property restrictions before buying land.
  • Build redundancy into your critical systems like heat and power in case something fails.
  • Pursue formal education and training to hone essential homesteading skills like gardening, animal husbandry, carpentry, and alternative energy. Learn as you go.
  • Join off-grid living communities online and in person to exchange wisdom and experience. Seek mentors and guides.
  • Start or join a local homesteading cooperative to share labor, tools, and other resources. More hands make light work.
  • Make lasting connections with like-minded people nearby for a sense of community, collaboration, and mutual support.
  • Prioritize projects logically in achievable phases. Don’t rush into advanced steps until foundations like basic utilities, facilities and food supplies are in place.
  • Document and track your efforts, costs, productivity and lessons learned. Refine your processes annually as you gain experience.
  • Consider interspersing homestead development with outside income when possible until your own systems sustain you.
  • Balance ambitious progress with rest and enjoyment of the homesteading lifestyle. Don’t burn yourself out.
  • Adhere to safety practices, use equipment properly, and minimize risk factors on your land to prevent injuries.
  • Invest in high quality tools, materials, and gear purposely designed for off-grid use. Repair or replace items before they fail.
  • Have a written plan for handling emergencies from injuries to storms. Make sure everyone understands protocols.

With the right steady effort and perseverance, you can build an Illinois off-grid homestead allowing you to live sustainably from your land while gaining independence. It provides a profoundly satisfying way of life centered around family, health, and connection with nature.

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