Taking steps toward independence
Living Off the Grid in the City
by Ben Tanner
Reduce Your Water Bill with Rain Barrels
Living off the grid is a great choice that families around the world make day in and day out, but not everyone has the opportunity to move to a spacious plot of land and leave the city behind. For those who love the tenets of living off the grid and running self-sufficient households, there are a wide variety of strategies that can be employed in a crowded urban environment to start your home on this path. Don't fool yourself; it is impossible to transform your city home into a self-sufficient, green space overnight. It will always be a work in progress. However, there are some general strategies you can embrace, whether you choose to start by raising chickens or installing solar panels.
Raising Chickens in an Urban Environment
Raising chickens means a source of eggs and, at times, meat. Chickens are also a great way to garner a substantial amount of natural fertilizer, and they are fantastic pest control. You may think that you don't have the space to raise chickens if you live in an urban environment, but there are a lot of ways to make it feasible. Chickens adapt to small urban environments easily enough if you set up the proper infrastructure. With a little bit of work, it is definitely possible to raise a small flock of hens outside your city home.
The first step to raising chickens (and this is an important one) is to check the local laws or regulations that may impact the legality of raising chickens in your area. These laws and regulations usually exist at the local level, not the state level, so start your search by checking with the animal control office in your area. They should be able to let you know if it is legal to own chickens in your area and if there are any restrictions on the number of chickens you can have. Some cities will house these ordinances online, so it's also a good idea to check online with your local law enforcement agencies. These ordinances may prohibit you from housing roosters (since they can be extremely noisy) or from housing a certain number of chickens. If chickens are illegal or restricted in your area, you may need to apply for a license or permit in order to begin raising chickens. In some cities, people have pushed for pro-chicken ordinances in order to have the right to raise chickens on their land. Whether or not this is possible in your area, it's important to know the limitations on raising chickens in your area before you purchase any animals.
Once you've ensured that raising chickens on your land is permissible, you should invest some serious time in researching different breeds of chickens. Some chickens will lay more eggs than others, while some look better or taste better once cooked. Different chicken breeds will also come in different sizes, so it's important to choose a reasonably sized chicken for the land that you have. When dealing with some breeds, you may even be able to purchase a bantam chicken. Like a toy breed in dogs, these chickens will be significantly smaller than their regular counterparts. While you're doing this research, check out online forums for chicken breeders and reach out to others in your area who are already doing what you're about to do. These individuals will be able to give you a lot of advice about how to proceed, especially in crowded urban areas.
After all that, it's important to build a strong coop that will be able to withstand the weather that your area will experience. The general rule of thumb is that you should allow four square feet per chicken inside the coop or two square feet per bantam chicken within the coop. Outside of the coop, each chicken should have about ten square feet or eight for bantam chickens. This may mean that you can only raise a few chickens, but it's important to preserve quality of life for the animals you choose to raise. To save space, some homeowners build vertical chicken coops, increasing the amount of space that can be used as outside space for the chickens. After you build coops, you'll need to build nesting boxes for your chickens to lay their eggs. A great rule of thumb is one nesting box per four hens. These boxes need to be kept dark and lined with a little bit of straw. During the day, your yard is fine for the chickens to roam in. They will freely return to their coop when they need to. If you're living in an apartment with limited space, you can build a small run off the coop. Once you are set up to receive chickens, make sure you purchase feed for your chickens before you bring them home.
Grow Your Family's Food
You do not need unlimited space to meet your family's food needs. While that would be ideal, you can get along just fine with an efficiently organized garden filled with nutritious fruits and veggies. If you are juggling space between animals (chickens or goats) and growing food, it can be tough to maximize your space. One great option is a square foot garden, which is a box garden measured in increments of square feet. Each block in the box should be a twelve-by-twelve square, and you can make the box as little or big as you like. Set up a wooden grid over the top of the box so that you can easily separate the blocks and mark them clearly with the foods that they will house. Some great choices for a small city garden include carrots, radishes, winter greens, spinach, lettuce, and peas. If you have pets, build a flexible garden cover with chicken wire and a shade cloth to keep your cats and dogs out of the garden.
If you don't have space for a garden, you can rely on container gardening instead. There is a wealth of available containers that will fit perfectly into your windowsills or on your kitchen counters. These are easier to maintain than traditional gardening plots, and container gardening can help you save your outdoors space for raising chickens or other animals. The best containers for these projects will be made from clay, terra cotta, or even plastic. As long as the roots of the plants that you choose have plenty of room to grow, you should be good to go. Because none of these containers will be of an unwieldy size, it should be easy for you to move the plants around to optimize their exposure to the sun as needed. Another useful strategy is the use of vertical gardening. This can be a great strategy for tomatoes, peppers, or simple kitchen herbs. Hanging baskets can be installed in your kitchen or on your balcony, and they require relatively little care.
Optimize Water Use and Waste Reduction
When you're living in a small city space trying to create a green and self-sufficient lifestyle, one of the most important things you can do is to utilize everything, from recycled rainwater to materials that can be used as compost. Some estimates guess that rainwater collection in urban areas could shave $90 million dollars every year off of urban water bills. While rainwater can be contaminated and is not prime drinking water, it can be used for other daily activities like laundry, toilet functions, and gardening. There are some local ordinances, however, that can restrict the purposes of rainwater in your home. Check with local law enforcement offices to see if there are ordinances that can interfere with your ability to use rainwater in your home for non-potable purposes.
With other materials, make sure that you reuse everything. Use food remnants to create compost, repurpose old clothes for your children's clothes or new household items, and save spare parts in case you need them later on. It's always useful to have the spare parts that you need on hand instead of purchasing new buttons, screws, or hardware every time you start a project.
Once you've worked these practices into your life, start investigating alternative sources of energy to power your home. You may find that solar panels are a good choice for you, especially if you're tight on space but your roof is free. To start the journey to a completely green and self-sufficient life, incorporate simple practices into your daily life. It will make a difference!
Ben Tanner is an emergency preparedness and survival expert who doesn't just write about it, he lives it. He lives on his own land in Utah where he is currently in process of going off the grid. He is also the owner of FoodStoreHouse.com. Visit the site for more information on food storage.
Take the Next Step
- Join those who 'live better...for less' - Subscribe to The Dollar Stretcher newsletter, a weekly look at how to stretch both your day and your dollar! Subscribers get a copy of our ebook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better...For Less for FREE!
Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.
Prices keep rising while my income remains stagnant and I worry I am heading for debt trouble. Tell us: Yes, I think I am heading for debt trouble and could use some help! or No, I am not in debt trouble but I am always looking for new ways to help keep my budget on track!
More Money-Saving Lifestyle Tips
- Best September bargains for thrifty shoppers
- 4 steps to a simpler (and more frugal) life
- 6 tips for a fabulously free vacation
- Secrets to living luxuriously for less
- Money-saving secrets of the rich and frugal
- 4 secrets to being a frugal foodie
- Should I sell my phone or trade it in?
- How to get more from the stores you shop at
- Mastering the mess for less
- This week's Readers' Tips