One of the most frustrating answers established off-gridders respond with is Anywhere! I know it’s annoying but look at all the people around the world already doing whatever it is you want to do. Remember, there are fewer places in the world where you can’t build an off-grid homestead than where you can.
We aren’t as adventurous as our intended move to Maine but we like it here in the Pacific Northwest, PNW, and we’re closer to our family. Once we figured out our answers to the questions to ask yourself when going off the grid, we were set to start looking for a location.
Before we begin, let’s recap a few key questions for you to keep in mind while breaking down possible locations: What can you afford and how will you earn an income? What will you live in? Who will be joining you on your journey and how will your people be affected? In Step 2, we will be sharing what we considered and some questions to ask yourself when deciding where to start your off-grid future.
What climate do you find most enjoyable? Since living in Washington, we’ve grown accustom to cooler temperatures and we don’t enjoy the heat. Having lived in Colorado, we knew we could handle snow but we did not care for the wind or hot summers. We decided to focus on the states closest to Canada. But what about gardening? We researched options for cold weather gardening and found some amazing solutions like in-the-ground greenhouses and compost heating. When researching climates, look at the monthly averages. Here in the States, July and August are the hottest months. For us, if the monthly average temperatures reached the 90’s, those locations were out. Then we looked at winters. After an entire month of below 0° in Colorado, we decided that the lowest average we would want to deal with is 15°. Next, we considered precipitation. Originally, we were trying to live in an area which rained enough to use rain collection as our sole source of water for our garden. Because our budget allows drilling a well to be a top priority, this was no longer a major concern. Here is an example of Seattle’s monthly and annual climate from U.S. Climate Data. As for climate, Seattle would have been perfect for us but, let’s face reality, it’s too populated and expensive for our liking.
We were unsure what structure we would be living in for the first few years so our scenery’s beauty was important to our wellbeing. What is your ideal scenery? It might be in an open field, surrounded by grassy hills. For us, it is deep in the woods, with towering trees and an abundance of wildlife. What natural resources do you want your land to have? We will experience cold winters and need plenty of trees on our property for firewood. We would also like to build our forever home using stone and timber. Now, we’ll take it back to gardening. Would you like your property to have good soil? We never concentrated much on the soil. This wasn’t a priority for us as we plan to garden in raised beds and were open to outsourcing organic soil. Also look at plant hardiness zones. Again, I’d like to remind you that there are solutions to everything. When considering plant hardiness zones and soil, we believe it’s more about how much time you want to invest to make the property work for your needs. To find where your ideal terrain is, just look at a map. Google Earth was our go to.
What wildlife do you want around you? You might not want to be around grizzlies or mountain lions. You might want an abundance of wild game with favorable hunting seasons. We fear poisonous anything and researched which states had the least poisonous animals and plants. Apparently, poisonous things don’t like the cold and this is another reason we stayed north.
Pollution was a slippery slope and we caution anyone who values this. Why? Because it’s depressing. Every homesteader will tell you that you need a water source. What if every water source is polluted? We found that every river we wanted to live on or near had a logging company or power plant upstream. Being in an Erin Brockovich sequel is not our idea of a good time. We researched air, water, and soil pollution in prospective regions. Ultimately feeling defeated, we decided to concentrate on prospective properties’ water and soil quality instead of regional pollution.
Don’t forget to look into natural disasters. Floods, hurricanes, ice storms, tornadoes, VOLCANOS… you get the idea. Make sure your investment doesn’t go under water! 😉 Demographics of natural disaster hotspots of Maine, a great resource we found while planning to move to Maine, shows floods, earthquakes, landslides, and hurricanes. Remember, research and maps will be your best friends!
We believe we are blessed to live in a country where we have the freedom to follow our off grid dreams but some states have more regulations than others. Did you know allot of states do not allow full-time RV living? Do you feel more comfortable carrying a gun? What about state taxes? Think about how much government influence you’re comfortable with and make sure to obey the laws. Fines are expensive and jail time is not our ideal “unplugged” life.
Politics are ugly but choosing a Republican or Democratic state could be important to your happiness. Come on, you’re going off the grid… Clearly, you have strong opinions about some things. Choosing a red or blue state could ultimately determine your neighbors.
Will you hunt to meet your meat needs? Be sure to check out the states’ Department of Fish and Wildlife for hunting regulations, season, licenses, and permits. Do you have a boat? Remember to check registration for all vehicles and trailers. Also, you’ll have to put these fees into your annual budget.
Do you or will you have children and how will they receive an education? If public school is your answer, start with state funding and work your way down. If it’s homeschooling, some states have strict guidelines you must follow and others allow more freedom. Vaccinating is another topic that comes up in many off-grid homesteaders’ conversations. Make sure your state allows you to practice your values.
We’d also like to highlight the Cottage Permit, as it allows home businesses to legally sell food that has been made in their home. We will touch more on this in a future blog post where we will share our ideas for future income.
Will you be building or buying developed? Building restrictions were our top priority when choosing a county. We were more open to buying raw land and building a tiny home or living in a travel trailer as a short-term solution, than going into debt for something established. Because of this, we wanted to find counties with lax building restrictions and low permit costs. If you are more inclined to buy something established, you might find security in knowing that the structures are held to a certain standard.
Zoning is vital to off-grid homesteaders. Here you will see residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, rural, combination, and historic. There are most definitely others, but that is what we ran into. Because there was a possibility of another family joining us, subdivision was very important. There was one county we looked at where subdividion could only happen four times after a certain date. Another county set a minimum of 5 acre parcels and then changed it to 10 acres. Remember, two 5 acre parcels are worth more than one 10 acre parcel.
Revisit the questions on politics, government, and taxes. On a local level, look at funding for road construction and maintenance. Just because a property is on a county road, doesn’t mean the county maintains it very well. For locations with snowy winters, we believe road maintenance is very important because if we have an emergency, we don’t want to have to plow 10 miles to get to the highway. Check school districts if you’re going public. Be aware that some counties have additional homeschool regulations.
What is the population of your idea of a major city and what is your ideal distance from it? Being from the San Francisco area, Mrs. Pathfinder’s interpretation of a major city was much different than most off-gridders’. As long as she wouldn’t have to sit in traffic for 3.5 hours to get 50 miles, she was content. We decided we wanted to be around 100 miles from a city with a population between 40,000-60,000.
What amenities do you need and what proximity will meet your needs? Think food and supplies. Wholesale warehouses, like Costco or Sam’s Club, have become a necessity for some families. We have been “breaking up” with our wholesale store for the last year. The longest we’ve gone is 3.5 months and hope to stretch it 6 months after our next trip. We wanted a good distance between us and big chain retail, like Walmart and HomeDepot, because the convenience would blow our budget. Will you dine out often? We use to eat out at least once a week. We’ve gotten it down to once every two to three weeks and still love the convenience. Unfortunately, we are sacrificing restaurants when we move to our cabin and the luxury will drop to a quarterly annual budget. Family vacation dining does not fit in this category!
Since we narrowed our search down to three large cities and a couple surrounding counties for each, we were able to look at the towns within our desired mile range. How big is your choice town? When town shopping, we would start with the County Seat. If we liked that town and it was established enough, we would then look into neighboring towns. Again, we were looking for a rural area. The County seat usually has higher taxes and more regulations but they also have better road maintenance and more amenities because of higher population. We wanted to be between 15-30 miles from our ideal town of 2,000-5,000 people.
Are you and your people healthy? Will you need to be close to medical facilities? Most rural towns don’t have hospitals or even full-time clinics. Allot of these towns have clinics that are only open 3 days a week for a few hours. When researching, we did see options for traveling medical services. As a housewarming gift, a family member is purchasing medical air transport service through Life Flight for us.
How often will you need to grocery shop? Some towns don’t have much more than a gas station and a minimart. Will you need your town to have a full-service supermarket, like Safeway or FoodLion? Will you need a local hardware store? What about a mechanic, veterinarian, storage unit, or other services?
Google Maps was a great tool to tour towns without leaving the comfort of our little home. We did all our location shopping online. On Google Maps, we would zoom into the beginning of town and drag the little man to the street. We then would “walk” through, looking at every building and trying to read every sign. We were able to get a good feel for the town and see the local economy. Since we aren’t doctors or lawyers or business executives (did you sing it?), we were looking for establishments where we wouldn’t mind working a seasonal job. We have also thrown around some small business ideas and paid attention to the vacant shops. If there weren’t any, high rent would be a liability. Too many vacant shops and the economy isn’t doing so hot.
We also recommend visiting the towns’ official websites. Here, you will find the city government, departments, community resources, and the town’s newspaper. In Departments, you’ll get a glimpse of the law enforcement and fire department. You’ll also find building, planning, and zoning and you can download permit applications. In Community, you’ll see resources such as the school district, the library, and the chamber of commerce. Make sure to check if there’s a town facebook page. If you’re lucky, their law enforcement will also have a facebook page. Check crime rates and registered offenders.
When researching towns, we liked to use Best Places. There, you can also get a better feel for the community, like the median age, what percent of the population is married, and what races and religions are predominant. Best Places also shares the average commute time and form of transportation and what percentage of the population works from home. We didn’t see the importance of this section until I stumbled across a little town in Eastern Washington where a large portion of the people worked from home. Their occupations were primarily in the art or science department and because of this, the town was very eclectic and offered many opportunities for our children as June is very artistic. I think it would have been fun to live near that adorable town.
How developed do you want your neighborhood to be and would you be comfortable in a subdivision? You can find a subdivision anywhere. Unless you are looking at an uninhabitable area, someone before you has bought a bunch of acres, then divided those acres into a bunch of lots, and then they developed those lots with a bunch of building sites, all for your choosing. Subdivisions tend to have CC&R‘s, Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. These are advertised as property value security. Some CC&R examples are the type of dwelling permitted, how many cars you have on the property at one time, what domestic/farm animals you may have, and even possible deed restrictions. They may have a community water source already in place. This bonus will cost more than hiring your own drilling company but it also saves you the headache. Subdivisions also have HOA‘s, Home Owners Association, with HOD‘s, Home Owner Dues, for road maintenance, utilities, and such.
If a subdivision isn’t your cup of tea, ask yourself how independent do you want to be? From where will you source your power and water? How will you get your mail? Many rural dwellers use a P.O. Box because the post office doesn’t deliver to their area. How many neighbors do you want around? Who will maintain your road? You may be able to afford a property in a very rural “neighborhood,” where you and another household are the only two for miles, but will you want to be able to handle the extra work that comes with this degree of isolation? Or can you afford the large equipment needed to make the job easier? If you choose where there is snow, someone will have to plow. Remember, the longer the road and the fewer people around, means more work for you.
Who do you want to have as neighbors? If you’re a family with young children, would you want to be around other families? If you don’t want families as your neighbors, you will find comfort in the fact that this is a lifestyle very few are willing to venture. One concern we were reminded of is that there are far worse predators in the mountains than the wildlife. It’s a scary reality but there are people that have moved to rural areas because they can’t function in society or aren’t allowed to live near children.
Other “neighbors” to be cautious of are large farms. Allot of aspiring homesteaders value organic growing. If you’re neighbors with a farm that crop dusts, you’re likely to be sprayed also. Check out this agricultural resource, CropScape, Mr. Pathfinder found during our location hunt!
We hope our guidelines to finding a location help you with your planning phase. When you’re working on your plan to off-grid happiness, you’ll want to conduct your own research to cater to your needs and desires. Our generation of off-grid homesteaders have all the answers at our fingertips. Remember, someone has already done it and with a resource as powerful as the internet, you can always find a solution. What matters most in planning your journey is to figure out what you are willing to do.
In our next and final step to planning, we will divulge how we broke down our property planning. We will go in depth into three categories: raw land, developed land, and turnkey established-homestead. We will also share how we planned to develop the land and how much each step will cost. By knowing these aspects, we were able to shop for land online and narrow down our search of the entire northwest region of the United States.
Are you anxious to read more? To find out more about our buying experience, check out Cash for Cabin, where we share the extreme measures we took to pay cash for our property. Be sure to check out our Facebook page, PathfindersForOffGridHappiness. Thanks for tuning in and good luck planning your path! ♥