Around the same time each month, millions of Americans go to their mailboxes seeking the comforts of a handwritten letter or their favorite magazine only to be greeted by white envelopes with miniature cellophane windows. We're all familiar with these mailers -- power, water, gas and telephone bills, all conspiring to take your hard-earned money. For most people, paying utility bills is a tiresome and frustrating task. What if there was a way to get out from under the thumb of public utilities and produce your own sustainable energy? Well, there is. Going "off-grid" is becoming an increasingly popular choice for people looking to reduce their carbon footprint, assert their independence and avoid reliance on fossil fuels.

­"The grid" is a common name for the power grid -- the linked system that delivers electricity to the masses. A typical house is connected to power, natural gas, water and telephone lines. Going off the grid means shunning these public utilities in favor of creating your own energy. Some homeowners choose to be partially off the grid by supplying their own electricity and ditching their phone line, while relying on the convenience of city water and sewage. Others choose to live completely off-grid by digging wells or using a cistern system to collect water. A septic tank takes care of the sewage and, just like that, no more water bill either.

­It's impossible to get an accurate count of exactly how many people in the United States live off-grid, but in 2006, Home Power magazine estimated that more than 180,000 homes were supplying their own power. Another 27,000 homes use solar and wind energy to offset their grid-connected life [source: USA Today]. The back-to-the-land movement accounts for some of these numbers, but more people in developed urban areas are looking to get off the grid as well. For most, it's a good way to be friendly to the environment. For others, it's a relief not to rely on overworked utility companies to meet their needs.

In this article, we'll cover what it takes to go off-grid. We'll learn about solar and wind power and how you can get your water from above or below. We'll also look at the lifestyle changes that come with living off the grid.