Why more Australians are ditching the bills for an off grid lifestyle
Going completely off grid is better than you think
Going completely off grid is better than you think
B ek Morris knows she doesn’t fit the image people have of an off-grid dweller. In fact, it was less than two years ago that she was glamming up in her trademark 1950s style and filling her schedule with get-togethers at cafes, bars and events.
But she traded the heels and hair rollers for jeans and boots and swapped restaurant meals for food she grows and raises herself on her south western Queensland property.
Morris, 39 moved to her property from Brisbane in February 2021 following a relationship breakup. The city rental squeeze provided little option for a home that would fit several vintage cars, her online vintage clothing business with huge inventory, a few dogs and her 12-year-old daughter. So, she looked further afield.
She found a cottage 150kms west of Toowoomba and she put down a deposit sight unseen despite the fact that it had no running water or electricity. It changed her life.
“When you live off grid, everything is a challenge – you have to change your whole mindset and how you do nearly everything,” Morris says. “I spent the first few weeks collecting pieces to set up a small solar system for power, which I added to over the past 18 months as I could afford it, and I have an inverter generator to run on rainy days when there’s no sun.”
She says off grid living is not for the faint hearted.
“It’s not a trendy thing to do and it can be extremely stressful, expensive, and physically demanding,” she says. “In the past 18 months I have raised sheep and birthed lambs, raised chickens, processed and eaten them, grown and preserved my own vegetables…built an office and a big shed for the cars, fenced acres and acres, planted gardens, chopped up tonnes of firewood and continued to raise my 12-year-old daughter on my own.”
Living off grid essentially means you are not hooked up to any established utility systems like power, water or sewage and instead you get these services from solar panels, wind turbines, rainwater tanks and composting waste systems. Many who live off grid also choose to grow and raise their own food sources.
There are no figures on how many Australians live off grid, but experts estimate it’s around two percent, a figure that has grown since the pandemic forced people to re-evaluate their lives and what’s important to them.
And while you could soon see the end to rising utility bills, Canstar estimated it would cost the average family around $20,000 to $25,000 just to set up a decent solar system and backup generator. So it should be seen as a long term investment.
“It used to be viewed as something that only greenies or hippies did but in the past 15 years it has really grown legs,” says Dr Rachel Goldlust, a research fellow in environmental history at Victoria’s LaTrobe University who wrote a PhD titled Going Off Grid: A History of Power, Protest and the Environment.
“The movement is not new but this last wave came out of the 2008 financial crisis when the idea of housing that was not a huge mortgage strain became increasingly attractive. The debt issue has put it back on the agenda.”
Whatever the motivation, the consensus seems to be that living off grid is not for the unprepared, nor should it be undertaken lightly.
Peter Georgiev, director of design consultancy Archicentre Australia, says building an off grid property is about more than finding a block of land with a great view. He says a thorough site analysis is critical in the initial stages.
“I have seen people go at it like a bull at a gate; emotion takes over, they find what they think is an ideal site with a beautiful view only to discover their block is close to a wetland, for example,” he says.
“You have to start by asking what fundamentals you’re looking for and then have a conversation with an environmental planner or land surveyor and even a geotechnical engineer to understand things like the soil profile and the hydrology of the site.”
You should also check with the local council in case you need permits to approve any off-grid construction, for example. These can vary from council to council.
Sydney architect Simon Anderson built an off grid home in the Blue Mountains (pictured) because he and wife Kim Bell wanted to be as self-sufficient as possible. Top line features include solar panels on his roof and a 27.6kwh battery; a 30,000L rainwater tank (with further storage under the deck) and a worm farm sewage system.
“There have been times in winter when we’ve woken up in the morning and we’ve had to make coffee over a camp fire outside or had to cook outside because we couldn’t power the oven,” Anderson of Anderson Architecture in Surry Hills says. “We have to watch what we use sometimes but we want to live within our means and that takes little sacrifices sometimes.
“It’s definitely not for everyone.”
Photography: Nick Bowers
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Property values have fallen hard and fast in this popular city, but it’s done little to dent pandemic rises
Highest property values, biggest dip the next. That’s the outcome for Australia’s northernmost capital on the east coast, with Brisbane property values recording their largest and fastest decline, data from Corelogic reveals.
The fall comes just seven months after values hit their peak after a population surge driven by the pandemic saw an increase of 43 percent. Home values hit a record high on June 19, 2022 but have since declined 10.9 percent, in parallel with eight consecutive interest rate rises since April last year.
Historically, peak-to-trough declines in Brisbane have lasted 14 months and have ranged from value drops of -2.9 percent to -10.8 percent. While the new record is just -0.1 percent compared with previous figures, that fall came over 21 months between April 2010 and January 2012. The latest decline was a much swifter seven month drop.
CoreLogic head of research Eliza Owen said it is worth putting the Brisbane figures into context with the rest of Australia’s capital cities, as well as considering the significant rise in property values in the Queensland capital over the pandemic.
“Brisbane now stands out as one of two capital city markets with record declines, the other being Hobart,” Ms Owen said. “Sydney continues to have the largest peak-to-trough falls of the capital city markets (currently at -13.8 percent), while peak-to-tough falls remain mild in some cities (such as Perth, where values are down just -1.0 percent from a recent peak in August 2022).”
“The record fall in Brisbane home values has not made much of a dent in the gains made during the upswing. The fall in the Brisbane daily HVI follows an upswing of 43.5 percent between August 2020 and 19 June 2022, which was the fastest trajectory of rising values on record. This leaves home values across Brisbane 27.9 percent higher than at the previous trough in August 2020.”
The median dwelling value in Brisbane jumped from $506,553 at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 to $707,658 by the end of last year, Ms Owen said.
“Despite the large decline from peak, Brisbane maintains the third highest gain in value of the capital cities since the start of the pandemic,” she said.
“Only Adelaide and Darwin, which are 42.8 percent and 29.6 percent higher respectively than at the onset of the pandemic, have performed stronger.
“For this reason, there is marginal risk of negative equity for Brisbane homeowners, with the exception of very recent buyers, who purchased around the peak in June 2022 with less than a 20 percent deposit.”
However, there are signs of resilience in the market. Brisbane remains a more affordable option compared with the other east coast capitals, Ms Owen said.
Although housing values remain higher than pre-COVID levels, Brisbane retains a lower price point than Sydney, with a $435,170 difference in median house values and $280,749 difference in median unit values,” she said.
“The gap between Brisbane and Melbourne housing values is also significant, with a $119,697 gap between median house values and $97,692 difference in median unit values.
“This could encourage ongoing housing demand from those willing to migrate to the state, or own an interstate investment.”
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’