By now you have seen some of our cabin photos on my Our Cabin in the Woods blog post. We love our Off the Grid Cabin aka Cottage and it has given us so much family time and enjoyment over the years. It is on a small lake on Vancouver Island, and the lot is 2.7 acres. We feel so fortunate to have purchased it almost 20 years ago now as similar properties are hard to find and so expensive. This post is about our own off the grid cabin setup, and talks about water, power, light, fridge, stove, shower and other necessities. I also provide a cabin recipe or two! Hope this post gives you some off the grid ideas for your cabin or cottage!
Before we get started, I wanted to answer the question about what the difference is between a cabin and a cottage. For the most part, a cabin is a more rustic version of a cottage and often is not as well ‘decorated’ and does not have the same kind of amenities that you would expect at home. Cottages tend to be larger and more ‘picture perfect’. For us, the most important thing about our cabin is down time. We don’t want to spend alot of time mowing lawns, gardening or worrying about the cabin looking perfect. It is our get away place to relax and get back to a simpler way of life.
Ingenuity and Patience – Apply Here:
If you have ever wondered how to live off the grid, whether it’s for a few days or longer, I hope this post will answer some of your questions. Sometimes a little ingenuity is needed to live or stay in an off the grid cabin. That’s part of the fun!
For us, there have been some frustrations and challenges (ok opportunities) to overcome. For example, initially we didn’t even have a road going in. So we had to haul everything with a wheel barrow from our neighbors cabin four lots away. That however, seemed like a huge improvement. Prior to that we boated across with an old aluminum boat and motor. OMG, good times!
Finally we built a road with our neighbors and created a ‘Right of Trespass’ agreement so that everyone was in agreement about going over the previous neighbor’s property. We all contributed to the road access and generally it is working okay, even after 10 years now.
Off the Grid Water:
Our drinking water is brought in by us every time we go to the cabin. We generally use one 20 Litre/4-5 gallons every 3 – 4 days and go into town as needed. I usually boil water for washing and rinsing dishes. If needed, we could drink water from the lake after boiling.
Here is our water tower which provides water to the cabin through the gravity fed system. The water tower was built by the previous owner and is still working well.
We pump the water up to the tower from the lake, whenever it runs out. This seems to last about two weeks use at the cabin. Prior to that we had a leak in one of the supply hoses under the cabin so we had to pump it every 3 days or so. Its amazing how much water the tower holds.
The lake water generally is pretty clean. The lake was used as a community water source for years, (with filters) and there are no motor boats allowed on the lake, even now. The previous owner used to drink the water straight from the lake, but we never go that far.
The water tower he built has served us well and we see no reason to do anything different for the time being. We do put a bit of bleach or vinegar in the pump reservoir before we pump it up the first time in the spring.
Every winter we empty the tank completely and drain the pump so that it doesn’t freeze and crack the pump or the supply hoses.
Our potable water is brought in using water jugs similar to these sold on Amazon. The spout is sturdy, as is the handle. Other water jugs have seemed to crack over time, but this one works well:
I always rinse my water jug out before each fill, first with a quarter cup of vinegar, and then with several rounds of water.
Off the Grid Heat:
We rely solely on our woodstove for heat. When we first bought the cabin, it had a ‘garbage burner’ type wood stove, and a very old stovepipe. We basically couldn’t use it, because we didn’t know if it was going to set the whole building on fire or not. So within the year, we ordered a new woodstove and had it professionally installed with a new chimney stovepipe. Fantastic. It has been working well now for the last several years. Our cabin is not fully insulated, as the roof rafters are exposed to the roof directly, with no insulation in the ceiling. As well the floor doesn’t have any insulation. However, for our relatively seasonal use, our new woodstove easily heats up the cabin. For cold nights we do have to ‘put another log on the fire’ during the night.
Caution: Be sure to get your woodstove inspected by a qualified contractor and ensure it is cleaned regularly to avoid build-up of creosote.
Off the Grid Power:
The original cabin was set up with copper pipes leading to gas lanterns and propane tanks. Quaint and efficient, but dangerous! I really didn’t like lighting those old gas lanterns on the wall. So for the most part we used candles and battery operated lights, with no power for anything else.
We did continue using the gas stove and fridge, but the fridge finally gave out a couple years ago.
Our current power set up is a mixture of propane (for the gas stove), solar lights (recharged during the day) and solar panels/batteries. We use the solar for recharging our phones and for using the fridge, if we are there longer than 2 or 3 days. We also have our generator which can recharge our deep cycle batteries if needed. For short stays block ice works well in the freezer and cooler. I added more detail on the solar setup further in this post.
Off the Grid Lighting
As mentioned, we had the gas lighting originally, but for the most part used candles and a coleman stove for years. Then we found these, our favorite lamps, purchased at Canadian Tire. These are easily recharged during the day and provide good reading light at night.
A couple of similar products on Amazon are below:
Pictured below are a couple of motion detection lights, which are also solar charged. They are handy for hanging beside the steps outside for outdoor light, as well as in the bathroom at night, similar to these:
Overall, this seems to work well, as we have options for whatever situation we are in, depending on weather changes, how long we are staying and how much effort we feel like spending to set things up each time. We don’t want to leave solar panels outside as they likely won’t be there when we get back!
We still enjoy using our candles and candle lit lanterns as well!
For our stove, we replaced the original gas stove from the 70’s with a slighter more modern gas stove from the 90’s. Caution: Make sure you get a gas pipe fitter to install your gas stove for safety reasons. We do turn off our gas religiously at night so that we don’t have to worry while we sleep. This is the only use of propane in our cabin now.
Off the Grid Menu – Cabin Recipes:
We do a lot of cooking with our BarBQ on the deck. I even make nachos and reheat pizza or make bread on the top shelf of the BarBQ. So easy! Check out my recipe for Best Keto Cheese Scones which I make at the cabin in a pinch.
Another favorite recipe at the cabin is Easy Baked Salmon with Spices 🙂
We also eat a lot of salads at the cabin, often using a bagged romaine lettuce or kale mix. I also like to take fresh vegetables such as corn, cucumber, carrots, cabbage, avacado, roma tomatoes, along with assorted nuts. These all keep well and are easy to put together quickly.
Often we eat pasta with a simple jarred sauce such as Classico Tomato with Red Wine sauce or a Four Cheese sauce. Dried pasta and nocchi keeps well and can be left out there all summer.
I leave a healthy supply of soups, dried crackers, spices, sugar, salt, oils and other basics out the there all season. My favorite cabin spices are the Tex Mex spice I use in many of my recipes, as well as Greek seasoning and Italian seasoning. With these three spices you can get by easily 🙂
Our other favorite meals at the cabin are Chicken Quesadilla, Steak and of course Hoagie Ukrainian Sausages also called Makkara in Finnish! I am not sure why, but we seem to eat better at the cabin than we do in town! Probably because we plan our meals and we don’t have access to fast food!
Here is my Finnish Salmon Soup (Lohikeitto), which I made for the very first time at the cabin 🙂
Another easy favorite is my Easy Cabbage and Carrot Coleslaw. Lot of options!
Off the Grid Fridge Options:
Our fridge is a smaller new fridge, more efficient, and can be run from the solar battery system for 2 or 3 hours per day when the batteries are fully charged. If there is enough sunlight to keep them charged during the day, it works well. Or we recharge our batteries as needed with the generator.
However, for short stays, we have found that block ice in the freezer (and cooler) works just as easy and as well. I use two bags of block ice in the bottom half of the freezer, placed inside a plastic tub, so they don’t leak. This keeps the food in the freezer cold for up to 4 days! No wonder block ice was so useful in the old days. So easy and so efficient!
Solar for our Off the Grid Cabin:
Here is our setup for solar. It seems to be working okay right now as we have 3 solar panels, 2 – 100 watt panels and a third is a 150 watt panel.
We use a power inverter to convert to AC and a charge controller to bring in the charge from the solar panels. I will upload a diagram later of the connections as its a bit hard to tell from this picture. The important thing is that the 2 deep cycle batters are connected in parallel, positive from one battery is connected to positive on the other. Likewise, negative from one battery is connected to negative on the other. Then it acts like one big battery. Our batteries are the Nautilus Deep Cycle 12 volt batteries.
Caution: Please take care while connecting the batteries and use (pure rubber, dry, no holes) rubberized pliers. Make sure you don’t touch the positive (+) live battery or connecting wire to the negative (-). Consult a qualified solar power contractor for safety advice and setup. I would recommend you get assistance from a professional solar installer or at least someone else who has done this before.
Here are similar solar products available on Amazon. The solar panels have the MC4 connectors so you can string multiple panels easily together. The charge controller in the 2nd photo is similar to ours 30Amp:
Our main inverter is the Canadian Tire Motomaster Eliminator. This plugs directly into the cabin electrical and runs the fridge and a lamp using a low voltage bulb. We also charge our phones when we have that one set up. It works okay, but we might upgrade it in the next couple years. It takes some diligence to remember to only run the fridge for a 2-3 hour window, and then recharge the batteries the rest of the day. Fortunately, the newer fridges are quite efficient, and if they are running for 2 or 3 hours, they will stay cool until the next day.
Setting up solar power for your cabin takes some diligence and its best to consult a qualified company to make sure you have the right set up.
We usually track and log the battery reading levels in a book (inverter readout), plus start and finish times each day so we remember to charge the batteries and unplug the fridge so the batteries don’t go too low.
The 2nd one (smaller inverter) we use to charge up our phone batteries right off the Deep Cycle batteries whenever needed. Quicker than setting everything up.
We are still tweaking our solar set up, and for longer use we would like need to purchase another panel and maybe more batteries. For now, it meets our needs when we combine using solar, our generator for recharging when needed and using ice blocks, depending on how long our stay is.
Waste water and Sewer (or not):
We were fortunate that the original owner setup the waste water to travel from the sinks by hose underground to a pit at the back of the property. Fortunately we have never had an issue with it, cross fingers.
For our other needs, we have our trusty old outhouse, which does need replacing now. We have replaced the roof, the floor and added a few needed items for comfort, like a seat, lol! but generally we are hoping we can either replace it with a new outhouse or buy a composting toilet.
Update: We have recently purchased a new Portapotti! It is the best we have ever had, and this is our 4th over the last 20 years, so that’s not too bad.
This is the portapotti we have just purchased and seems to be the best so far! It is 47 cm high which is higher than most and even higher than our toilet at home. It also has an elongated seat which the men prefer. (Available on Amazon) here:
We also added a shower stall in the cabin bathroom. It does take up quite a bit of room, but it is well worth it. We used to shower on the deck with one of those hot water bags, heated by the sun. This did work well, but on a cold or windy day, it just didn’t cut it.
So we decided to ‘build a shower’, since our bathroom door was too small to get a shower stall inside. The buildable kind is in a box and you put it together with screws etc. The one we purchased was called MUSTEE Shower. We first cut the hole in the floor to drain out, and then the whole kit comes together with the floor, walls, and pipes.
Since we were not going to connect a hot water system any time soon, we hang a hook on the wall above the shower and hang our hot water bag inside, with a shortened hose. It works great!
We took a smaller bag and used the hot water hose (cut down to 8 inches) with the spout from the black shower bag. You could use the black water bag, but you would have to hang it higher to stand underneath. You also need to check that the hose spout from the black bag fits correctly on the clear bag to the left. In our case it did.
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If you are interested in buying an off the grid cabin or cottage of some kind, you might want to read my post, So You Want to Buy a Cabin?
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I hope you enjoyed this post about our Off the Grid Cabin and that some of the info is useful to you. Come back and visit again!