Guest Post: Going Off Grid - Montana Style!

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Brandon Smith from Alt-Market

Going Off Grid - Montana Style!

The concept of off-grid living is often encumbered by numerous false assumptions and associations.  Many think that to delve into the lifestyle you must be either a grizzled anti-social mountain man, a pompous starry-eyed hippie, or, a criminal on the lam.  The spectrum of characterizations range from “kooky” bunker building militia members to spoiled Al Gore worshipping vegan hipsters out to prove they are better than everyone else by reducing their “carbon footprint”.  The point is, for the average television-fed American, the idea of off-grid life automatically conjures visions of the extreme. 

I believe this reaction is due in large part to our society’s obsession with feeling “connected”.  Ever challenge a friend or family member to go without touching their cell phone for a day?  Ever ask them to shut off their TV and see if they can find other ways to occupy themselves?  Ever ask them to leave modern conveniences behind, if only for a weekend, to take part in some simple camping?  I can say that in my own experience, nine out of ten people will stare at you pale faced like you just kicked them square in the loins.  For them, leaving behind the buzz of our make-believe culture is the same as stepping outside of time, or abandoning one’s very identity.  The whole suggestion is alien.

Luckily, here in Montana, I’ve encountered far hardier souls than in most other places, and the pursuit of an existence disconnected from dependence on the system is not treated as quite so outlandish.  In fact, many here have taken the leap into self-sufficiency and gone 100% off-grid.  I was lucky enough to meet one of these pioneers recently, and take a tour of his farm, but what interested me most about him were his origins, which were rooted about as far away from his current environment as you can get…

Rich Scheben was once a highly respected sales associate in the world of big-pharma, who had spent much of his life in the urban landscape of New York.  He received accolades for his performance working within titanic companies like Merck and Glaxo, but his dream had always been to pursue a career in forestry.  Despite having a degree in the field as well as a long history participating in wilderness sports, he soon discovered that affirmative action quotas within state and federal institutions were stringent.  His applications were passed up time and again while others with little to no experience or training were hired immediately because of their politically designated victim-status.  The corporate world too was rife with people who climbed upwards on the efforts of more worthy employees, or who were given positions of prominence based on their willingness to schmooze with management, rather than work hard. 

Finally, when Rich noticed troubling health difficulties creeping up on him, a fateful doctor’s visit revealed severe damage in his spinal column.  The company immediately found out, and sidelined him.

These circumstances led Rich not only to question the structure and meaning of his efforts within the circus-like corporate framework, but to also question the structure and meaning of modern America.  Today, he is an avid supporter of the Liberty Movement, a devout Constitutionalist, decidedly anti-corporate oligarchy, and even anti-big pharma.  His day-to-day financial existence is built upon savings, sound money, and living below his means.  His health habits have taken a 180 degree turn, and he is now subsisting on largely organic and home grown diet.  Everything has changed.

Rich Scheben holding a bull trout caught in his backyard

In a beautiful corner of Northwest Montana, Mr. Scheben found a sizable plot of land to begin his off-grid adventure.  He recommends varied terrain, rather than flat.  The more rough the terrain, the more resources are generally available, and the more privacy you are usually afforded.  With hills, valleys, gorges, and even a river, Scheben has an incredible array of land types at his disposal.

The main cabin is a straightforward structure without a lot of the elaborate design often seen in average suburban McMansions.  Electricity is provided by a small solar array and a minimal battery bank.  I have always said that it does not take much in terms of solar power in order to adequately supply an off-grid retreat or farm, and Rich’s system is a perfect example.  With only four deep-cycle batteries charging on a minimal array, Rich is able to fulfill all his electricity needs.      

The cabin itself is heated by a single wood stove, which is fueled by cords of wood from timber growing on Scheben’s land.  Water is supplied by a well and pump, which is then hoisted to a large tank on the second floor.  The tank uses gravity to feed the faucets on the first floor below.  Bathroom cleaning is handled in a number of ways.  Hot showers can be had using a solar shower filled and placed near the wood stove to warm.  Water can be heated and poured into the bathtub.  Relieving one’s self is handled in a good old fashioned out-house.

Scheben's wood stove, which adequately heats his entire cabin

Though Rich still stocks bulk foods from town, his farm is completely capable of providing enough food that he would never have to leave if he so desired.  His garden area is not immense, and can easily be worked by hand.  In fact, it does not take much space at all to grow more than enough produce for a family if needed, and Scheben’s lifestyle proves that if every landowner used a corner of his yard for a garden, centralized farming and food production would disappear.  Livestock rounds out the food necessities of Schebens farm, including chickens for meat and eggs, goats for milk and cheese, turkeys, etc.  With land surrounded by Montana wilderness, wild game is abundant, and there is little to no chance of Scheben ever going hungry.

Scheben's homemade greenhouse with bathtub for summer bathing

Wild elk roaming through Scheben's property

One issue that is constantly raised when discussing Off-Grid living is that of cost.  The problem is that so many people only consider the initial expenditures involved when diving into this new life, but never take into account the extreme SAVINGS involved after they have settled in.  Scheben’s daily costs are next to nothing.  His land provides nearly every essential imaginable, and the financial drain after setting up shop is minute in comparison to the average suburbanite.  This is what preppers in the Liberty Movement need to understand when uncertain about the Off-Grid strategy.  Ultimately, it is about providing for yourself for next to nothing what you once had to pay out the nose for!

Going off-grid also does not necessarily mean abandoning technology, and I was glad to see that Scheben felt the same way.  He uses LED’s, not hurricane lanterns.  He surfs the internet and keeps up with news events, instead of isolating himself in the backwoods from the concerns of the world.  He rides ATV’s back and forth across his land, not horses (though horses are great if you can keep them).  There is a serious misconception out there that going off-grid or living through a collapse will automatically necessitate a return to a pre-industrial 18th century type of existence.  This is simply not so.  The technological advances of today should be mixed and melded with the agricultural skills of yesterday.  Neither should be hastily cast aside if we are to find balance once again in our culture.

In light of our current chaotic economic situation, as well as the potential for social breakdown, energy crisis, hyperinflation, freight disruption, and global war, the off-grid life is not just a hobby, but a valuable form of insurance.  There may come a day when, whether we like it or not, we will all be forced to survive off-grid.  Some will be prepared with the expertise required to make it work.  Some will have at least a practical understanding of the methods and philosophies that drive decentralized and independent living.  Others will not. 

Frankly, if a former New York big-pharma salesman like Rich Scheben is able to wake up to the social catastrophe looming in our country’s future, and the extraordinary significance inherent in off-grid knowledge, then anyone can, and the dismissive excuses I hear so often from those who can’t wrap their heads around the importance of this step in the realm of survival, now tend to ring lazy and hollow…

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Taint Boil's picture

Awesome, the way it should be and what is natural.

bobola's picture

Does he ride a bike to town..??

Marco's picture

I see a mention of ATV so he is off the electric grid ... but still on the Saudi Arabian oil/ponzi grid.

trav7777's picture

the electric grid is pretty wasteful; decentralized power production would save tons of quads.  I'm a huge fan of that.  Hey, if you can get chinese solars produced in a smog city and shipped here by a big polluting boat and then trucked nearby and installed along with a lot of other toxic waste producing electronic shit then BY ALL MEANS call yourself an off grid in tune with nature renaissance man.  Just don't expect someone like me to take you seriously.

Having more solar panels is a good idea so long as the chinks are dying of cancer for it.  And there's not one person willing to acknowledge that this "cost effectiveness" comes at a human price.  Nobody wants to have an adult discussion; they all want to play pretend.

tmosley's picture

Yeah, sure, Trav wants to have an adult conversation.

Your idea of an adult conversation is preaching at everyone and calling them names when they disagree with you.  

New solar panels have a payback of five years.  Hard to beat that.  The "chinks" are going to pollute themselves one way or the other.  Better that they do it creating longlasting productive capital than junk that is throw away after a few months.

But you probably don't understand what "productive capital" is.

Let's have a nice responce filled with ad hominem and logical fallacies now.  Maybe you can CAPITALIZE random WORDS as well.  

Matt's picture

New solar panels have a payback of five years.*

* - under some conditions. let's see, at $0.50 per watt, that's $500 per Kw.

for most of North America, you get ~4 hours of direct sunlight average for the year. thats 4 KwH per day. Electricity, lets say $0.10 / KwH average? so 5000 KwH for the panels to pay for themselves, divided by 4 per day. That's 1250 days, excluding the cost of batteries, inverter, etc, and assuming you solder up the junction boxes and everything yourself.

For turn-key setup, around $2/ watt grid-tie, $3/ watt off-grid. $4.50/ watt grid-tie with backup. More like 16+ years payoff. Priced from let me know if you have somewhere with even lower prices.

On a Carribean Island, at $0.50 per KwH (assuming no increase in oil prices, as the power is all from diesel generators) and around 8 hours of direct sunlight per day, you'd be looking at 4 years to pay off for professionally installed full setup, maybe two years if you do it yourself.

Matt's picture

Link is to same site I was linking to?

$1 per watt for the panels, buying individual panels. You have to add in the rest of the hardware costs too; they sell complete kits with batteries, grid-ties, etc.

Every once in a while they have a shipment of laminates for around $0.50 per watt, but that is with nothing attached, you have to wire and solder everything up, build your own frames, etc.

tmosley's picture

Lets use ACTUAL numbers, shall we?

$1.00 per watt, $1000 per Kw.

Most of the USA (not Canada, you goon) gets 8 hours per day, so 1 Kw gets you 8Kwh.  I'll use your assumption of $0.10 per Kwh, though that is probably quite low for most people.  So that yeilds you $0.80 per day, so a payoff of 1250 days, which is 3.4 years.  Add a 1000 watt inverter, a charge controller, and some battaries, and you are still under 5 year payoff.

Note that their systems contain more expensive modules.  Calculate the cost yourself using the cheaper modules and the price comes down considerably.  And don't waste money on a grid-tie inverter/charger.  Have a grid tie inverter and a switch to charge your batteries.

Good job cherry-picking the most expensive system priced with outdated modules to draw your dumb conclusion from.

Matt's picture

ORLY? 8 hours of sunlight average year round? Here is a map:

Really about 4.5 hours for most of USA except Southwest, which is more like 6 hours. Slightly better than the 4 I stated.

EDIT: And I priced using the LEAST EXPENSIVE SYSTEM PER WATT, not the most expensive, and I specifically mentioned pricing as being for the whole kit. Here is the least expensive Grid-Tie kit at around $2 per watt: note that it shows $1.64 but the combiner box is not included. that is with $0.98 per watt panels.

Yes, your original statement that solar panels can pay for themselves within 5 years is correct; however, using just the price of the panels without pricing in all of the rest of the hardware is kind of disingenous.

Yes, as I mentioned, if you are in an area with more expensive electricity, the system will pay for itself much faster than at $0.10 per watt. According to the US Energy Information Administration, AVERAGE price throughout America is $9.83 per KwH

Looks like if you live in Hawaii, going solar is a no-brainer with $0.25 KwH electricity and tons of sunshine.


RE_EDIT: Also, if you live in an area with government incentives that pay you more money for surplus electricity than the market rate, obviously you can take advantage, build a system larger than you need for yourself, and have it pay itself off much more quickly, provided there isn't ridiculous requirements that X percent of the components must be made locally, must be professionally installed, and must be inspected by Government Agency Y.

CrashisOptimistic's picture

Negative.  Thumbs down on solar.  Breaks.

Thumbs up on rigging car alternators in micro hydro config at the base of moutain streams that get lots of snowfall or lots of rain.  

Don't worry about malfunction.  There will be lots of alternators sitting around.

francis_sawyer's picture

Yeah... Why don't you build us a fucking RUBE GOLDBERG machine out of alternators just to show us all how efficient you are?

Matt's picture

That is a really brilliant plan for the handful of the population who can get land with the right conditions. Far better pay off, especially if you either have a year-round stream, or make your own pond and have a decent hill to run it off, runs 24/7 compared to 4 hours per day. Unfortunately, not so widely available.

francis_sawyer's picture

Matt's probably right... Good idea... But extremely propriatary (depending on terrain)

tmosley's picture

What breaks?  The panels?  A broken panel still produces charge so long as you resoder any broken connections.

a growing concern's picture

Bears = bearskin rugs = awesome.

Mugatu's picture

Goats for milk and cheese - and for those cold lonely nights too!

11b40's picture

Ever drink goat milk?  Now that is an "acquired" taste if there ever was.  I requested milk one morning for breakfast when visiting a German family.  About 10 minutes later, a nice big glass of warm, freshly squeezed goat's milk appeared.....try some with your corn flakes sometime.

As for those cold nights....never been that lonely.

WillyGroper's picture

Makes the best homemade soap though.

Waterfallsparkles's picture

Yes, there are a lot of people going off the grid or reducing the dependence on the grid.  Just check out Youtube.  Lots of people reducing their dependance. 

Wood Stoves, Solar Panels, Growing their own food, Canning.  May be the only way to survive in the future with inflation.

blu's picture

It's called a solar-based economy and it served humankind for eons before oil and gas came along. It will serve us again for eons of eons after oil and gas are forgotten.

CrashisOptimistic's picture

You are 100% correct.  It will.  It will serve the 500 million people remaining.  That's the maximum number it can support without oil.

FrankDrakman's picture

As usual, this issue devolves into economics. For thousands of years, mankind has become more technically advanced, and individuals have become more specialized, as Adam Smith observed, because it's in our economic interest to do so. (Yes, there've been backsliding eras, like the Dark Ages; I'm generalizing here.) As we specialize, production overall increases, and society as a whole becomes more wealthy.

Until the last 60 years or so. The growing encroachment of government in every area, coupled with the growing cost of them doing so (i.e. taxes) has reached a point where people are independently reaching the conclusion that trading with others is no longer the most cost-effective way to do many things. The taxes - both visible and invisible - levied by all levels of government act as a type of "friction" in the gears of trade. With very little effort, I can raise tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, spuds, etc. in my Toronto backyard. There's a little work up front, but during harvest, it's a lot quicker to walk the 40 feet to the garden than it is to drive the 2 miles to the grocery. For what I pay for a pound of tomatoes, I can buy a plant that will yield for 3 months at least, and then I can jar the rest for winter, and I'm not paying tax on any of it. (Toronto council is now debating whether people will be able to raise chickens in their backyards.) Ontario's screwed up energy policy is set to double home prices per kW/h over the next five years, making  solar w/ battery banks a cost effective way to remove  a big chunk of the electricity bill, Trav's rants notwithstanding. Riding a bike to grocery is both good for my health and free. When electricity was $0.05 kW/h and gas $1.20/gal, I never thought about such things. But power is $0.10 kW/h and rising, and gas is already $5 Cdn/US gal, so now I do, and almost all those rises are due to government, not actual input costs. The more friction the government throws into trade, the more people are going to go "off grid" for food, power, gas, etc.

hairball48's picture

I don't live off the grid, but I do live in Montana. And I'm not alone in preparing for TSHF day. There will be punks here who try to take my "stuff", but I won't make it easy :)

LawsofPhysics's picture

Right, now let''s see 7 billion people find pieces of property and live as such.

non_anon's picture

too bad drones in the US skies ruin it

in4mayshun's picture

My thoughts exactly. The first thing I thought about after seeing the pic of the cabin was , "wow, that would make an excellent drone target..."

DionysusDevotee's picture

What kinda fantasy world do people live in where the government, in the midst of whatever crisis is imagined, is going to have the time resources or inclination to go around bombing irrelevant little redneck cabins all over the countryside.  Bigger. Fish To Fry.

non_anon's picture

oh yeah,

Meet the North Dakota family of anti-government separatists busted by cops using a Predator drone... after 'stealing six cows'

Congress passes bill to put Drones in US Air Space for Policing & spying on citizens, estimate 20,000 drones by 2020

DionysusDevotee's picture

Are we in some sort of country wide disaster?  UH. No.  Tell me wise one, how is where you live less exposed to drones?  (Since thats the big concern, lol).  You imagine that the cabins are "more exposed" because the way they look for people to pick on is by flying around drones looking for houses until they find one that "Stands out"?  ROFLMAO

IF you think that the gvt (and industry) is putting those drones up to go pick on homesteaders that sit out in the middle of nowhere and mind thier own business, you go right on living in the city.  I'm so Frickin sure you'll be safe from the police state THERE.  Derp.

DionysusDevotee's picture

Compare the 2 or 3 examples you can find over the last 20 years with the 10,000's of day-to-day occurences of this sort of thing that happen in the cities.  Gee, I wonder which is safer?  The arguement that living in the middle of nowhere, and minding your own business FURTHER EXPOSES you to a tyrannical police state than living in the belly of the beast is, on its face, absurd.

But please, live in the city, where the cops go around looking for people to pull over, fuck with, tase, etc, if you wish.  The more of you guys there are in easy reach to pick on, the less of them will come out here to fill their quotas.

Papasmurf's picture

That's what the 30,000 drones are for.



Hobbleknee's picture

Drones will be easy pickin'.

Matt's picture

You must have some pretty BAD ASS shit if an object at 50,000 feet traveling 300 miles per hour is considered "easy pickin" -

DosZap's picture

Drones will be easy pickin'.

Not at 2 miles up......................some will ,  some won't.

battlestargalactica's picture

Cheers. Good for you.

Always love to see someone else 'farther down the road' on this trajectory than I am... Especially when the soul-searching, hands-on hardwork, investment and commitment pay off.

blu's picture

You can go off-grid in the middle of the city. In fact it makes a lot of sense if you suspect the city is going to fall apart at some point. I'm noodling over how best to take my garage off the grid right now, where I have my metal and wood shops and run a small arc welder (so this is no small task). After that I might take the main house off grid. I have an electric bike that I ride everywhere (hundreds of miles a week sometimes) and I want to charge it off-grid from the garage -- more for bragging rights than anything else.

Our local utility -- Pacific Gaas & E1ectric -- are murderous (fact) Visigoths. They lie about everything they do, and do not give a fuck about anybody or anything. I don't want them to get one thin dime of my money if I can help it. I'll spend the time and money to get away from them right in the center of civilization.

HamyWanger's picture

So, finally. 

Exposed for all to see: the real end goal behind libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism: the restoration of a Paleolithic style of living, i.e., the law of the jungle, i.e, social Darwinism. 

I'm glad someone finally admitted it in broad daylight.

Personnally, I prefer my "sheeple" style of living, which is much more comfortable, much more secure and much more altruist.

margaris's picture

Altruism doesn't exist. Sustainability must be made profitable.

akak's picture

I can barely be bothered to even give you the obligatory red arrow anymore.

Matt's picture

There is this movie, called "Fight Club"; at least seeing it, if not reading the book, is definitly worth the time.

The guy is all about hunting deer in the post-collapse ruins of the city.

Have you ever read the Unibomber manifesto? All objectives fit into three catagories: effortless, can be attained with effort, extremely difficult. Man is wired to exert effort to attain; food, shelter, etc.

Industrializaton moves more and more things into the "effortless" and "extremely difficult" catagories, so it becomes more and more difficult to feel fulfilled, harder to find goals that fit within the "only acquired through hard work" catagory so the biological need can be satisfied.

Ned Zeppelin's picture

If he is living where bull trout live he is WAAAAY off the grid, friends.

Going 100% off the grid is not realistic for most of us.  There aren't enough valleys in Montana and Idaho anyway.  I think the key here is to figure out ways to reduce your dependence on distant sources, build your local food and other commodity connections, and dispense with the non-necessities like AAPL iPads. 

Savonarola's picture

Tell it to the Marines.

The Amish live off the grid. What is so special about that?

This story is about another ex New Yorker,  helping to trash another state.

There are so many 212s moving to MT, that Mike Bloomberg could run for office, just to screw it up. 

Damn New Yorkers!



machineh's picture

Too many 212ers?

Man, don't we miss the 'good old days' of Californication!

p.s. Actually a lot of them '212ers' are prolly 718ers.

in4mayshun's picture

Off the grid...thats funny. I hope that every cabin comes with its own swat force, cause when all of those "on the grid" people start looking for places to escape to...well, lets just say you'll have lots of eager new friends that want to say hello.

HamyWanger's picture

You are right, but unfortunately one can't reason with insanity.

Because most of these self-styled "adventurers", "sovereign men", "anti-government activists" and "rebels" do have some form of mild mental illness, which can sometimes evolve into something much more serious (i.e. 

in4mayshun's picture

I have no problem with someone who wants to prepare for the worst. But these "preppers" are not looking at the big picture. Even if you managed to survive into some post-apocolyptic world, who wants to live there? Life would be great if every person you meet wants to kill you, steal your stuff, and cook your liver. Welcome to Mad Max road warrior life. No thanks

DionysusDevotee's picture

Most preppers aren't actually prepping for a mad max world.  Do some research on how well the country dwellers did (compared to living in the cities) during Weimar Germany, WW2 and any disease outbreak.