Off-grid living for the hippie chic

(no longer the preserve of the tree huggers)

by | Mar 2024 | Journal

It has been a very busy start to the year

The dictionary definition of ‘off-grid’ is ‘not connected to or served by publicly or privately managed utilities (such as electricity, gas or water)’. The urban dictionary though, describes off-grid living as ‘unrecorded, or untraceable through normal means’. It is also used to refer to people who choose to live without social media. Now, in these most delicate of times, I am seriously hoping that I do not cause any offense here, as absolutely none is intended, but I think it is fair to say that, hither to, off grid living has historically conjured images of what I am going to loosely describe as an ‘alternative’ style of living (hopefully I have navigated that with political correctness intact?).

These days, the rise in energy costs has made going off-grid an increasingly attractive proposition, totally attainable and completely without compromise. Imagine the price of heating Downton Abbey with an oil fired boiler for example – and then imagine how much more appealing a prospect it would be if it had a ground source heat pump that was run using photovoltaic cells…. Sustainable energy solutions do still come at quite a price but working out the payback periods is all part of the journey and there must be some anecdotal evidence out there to suggest that luxury homes that operate off-grid (or partly off-grid) will be achieving premium sale values by now?

Ben Jones, Founding Director of Castellum says, “It is rare these days that clients do not want to at least discuss an element of sustainable or off-grid living. The key is to be able to provide sound advice based on each individual project. For instance, from a commercial perspective, it’s probably not worth considering ground source heating for a second home – the payback will just be too lengthy.”

He goes on to say, “It is also important to understand the sequence in which such works should be considered, particularly on refurbishment rather than new build projects. At Castellum we are proud to have in house retrofit experts who fully understand this process. There is little point in spending money on technology without first looking closely at the fabric of the existing building – what are the insulation levels like, airtightness, window quality and so on? You must also understand and consider what the knock on effects to are, such as breathability and long term maintenance.”

For now, though, economics and technicalities aside, let’s just consider what the options actually are. For the purposes of this article, I am going to disregard city living on the basis that if you have chosen to live in a built-up environment your options for going off-grid will be severely restricted. Anything is possible but off-grid and urban dwelling do not make ideal bed fellows.

According to the Energy Saving Trust – the average household in the UK uses 349 litres of water per day. Water is the elixir of life! We simply cannot be without it. We don’t actually need much to drink though – between two an a half and four litres per day is needed by the human body, so what on earth are we doing with the rest? We are washing (ourselves, our clothes, our homes and our cars), we are cooking, flushing loos, watering our gardens, shampooing our dogs and so on and so forth.

If you are not lucky enough to have a natural spring to tap into, bore holes and wells (which do require licences) are the answer and are gaining in popularity. Rainwater harvesting is also on the rise, as is greywater useage (recycling relatively clean water from baths, showers and washing machines).

Off-grid drainage is not rare at all – not in the countryside at least. Indeed, mains drainage is not an option for many. Septic tanks, cess pits and sewage treatment plants are all options – none of them very sexy it must be said. Let’s move on…

Electricity powers and empowers us! We are absolute slaves to this invisible energy and use it for almost anything you care to think of – from heating and lighting, to kettles, to tvs and any other household appliance (large or small), to cars, phones, computers and gardening equipment. Right now (it is only midday) I have used the alarm clock on my phone to wake me up before turning on the bedroom and bathroom lights to take a shower, I brushed my teeth using my electric toothbrush, the hairdryer to dry my hair, the kettle to make both tea and coffee (using the fridge to get milk and my lunch out of). I turned on both the washing machine and the dishwasher before I left the house and got into my electric car to drive to work where I now sit, tapping away on my computer, beside my desk top lamp (all the other lights are on too), chatting away on my mobile phone and I am just about to heat my lunch up in the mircrowave. At home, whilst I am not even there, our home security never sleeps (I’ve let two delivery drivers through the electric gates via my mobile phone already) and electricity is powering our ground source heat pump (also controllable by the house wifi from my phone.) We take it all for granted…

We can choose solar panels or wind and water turbines as alternative sources of power, however, in reality, very few homes in the UK run entirely off grid when it comes to power. For most, alternative power supplies (most commonly solar) complement a metred system, with solar supplementing the grid power used and feeding power back to the grid.

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I am not going to talk about this for long and I am touching on it here because it feels like a natural follow on from power. You could argue that wifi really is a necessity these days – we all use it to stay connected – for working, shopping, banking, talking, reading, watching TV and on and on it goes. You can barely get through a conversation these days without someone looking something up on the ‘world, wide, web’. If you do want to be without it (and I believe some people still do) then technically, I think it is possible? However, assuming you don’t want to cut yourself off to that degree then really the only way to go off grid for wifi is via satellite – such as Starlink (oh – and you will need power for that!).

Heating and hot water
Open fires and woodburners are lovely and logs definitely do fit the ‘off-grid’ criteria. Technically, oil also qualifies but, for obvious reasons, it is very much not ‘de rigeur’ and, after 2025, you will not be able to install a new oil fired boiler. Whilst ensuring that you are draft proof and insulated to the max, ground source and air source heat pumps are the most popular options with water source heat pumps and solar thermal systems also good alternatives.

The point I am trying to make, really, is that going ‘off grid’, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is becoming increasingly hip and at Castellum we are noticing a real shift at the top end of the super-prime residential market towards the technologies that facilitate it. Those that choose to instal these technologies (and can afford to do so), understand its value and the long term importance. These early adopters will, in time, hopefully drive the prices of installing these technologies down, making it more accessible for more people.

Ben agrees and acknowledges this, “Off grid is probably everybody’s preferred solution but technology is moving fast and knowledge and access to experts is the key to providing clear and responsible solutions along the way.”

The reality is that you can now embrace your inner hippie and be ‘off-grid’, without compromise to luxury or lifestyle.

Meet the Team – this month – Ben Young

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We have been running a Meet the Team feature on our social media channels for some time now and have decided to repeat them within our newsletters. This month we met Ben Young from our Cotswolds Team. With over 20 years of hands-on experience, Ben’s journey in the construction industry started when he left school. Initially he became a joinery apprentice and progressed from there to skilled carpenter/joiner.

Since joining Castellum in 2015, Ben swiftly moved up through the ranks to Project Manager and then Construction Manager. He’s been at the heart of our Cotswold projects, with his unbeatable blend of technical know-how, problem-solving skills and a knack for leading. With Ben at the helm, you can bet your hard hat that our projects are in the best hands possible.

When he’s not busy making construction magic happen, you can find Ben chilling with his lovely wife, Heidi, and their adorable pooch, Billy. He also loves to play golf and is pretty handy on the fairway! Having recently moved, Ben is also channelling his inner DIY champ, transforming his own abode into a masterpiece.

Bravo Nathan!

Castellum was proud to support one of our Project Directors, Nathan Haskins, who recently undertook a moped ride from Pagham in West Sussex, all the way to Paris. He made the journey with a gang of friends on motorbikes, all raising money on behalf of a friend who had sadly lost his wife and the mother of his children to a brain tumor. Tom and his wife Nicki had a shared love of motorbikes, with Tom owning a custom Motorbike workshop.

Pagham to Paris is 550km and, without motorcycle licences, Nathan and his brother lent their support by joining the trip on mopeds – we suspect that 550km on a moped might feel like a very long way indeed! Nathan’s moped was clearly of the same mind and refused to start up for the long ride home (much to Nathan’s relief given the 50mph winds and rain that dogged the return leg).

They raised a massive £6,900. A great effort for a much missed friend.