According to Tara Dodrill in Ask a Prepper, living off grid is not illegal in any of the 50 states – at least not technically. Some simple off-grid living activities can be done anywhere, but some of the most essential aspects of disconnecting from modern society are either strictly regulated or outright banned. Off grid living laws not only vary by state, but often vary in municipalities and counties as well. The biggest hurdle is putting in a septic system that will pass health department rules. Often state off-grid laws are surpassed by local laws. The more developed and affluent an area, the stricter the off-grid living regulations tend to be. Choosing a property “out in the country” will give you more freedom. Unincorporated or no zoning law areas will still have health department septic installation rules.[1]

To live a self-sufficient lifestyle means achieving the ability to independently source the needs to operate a household without external assistance. This requires an independent source of power, water, food and waste disposal.[2]

The first thing to consider in off-grid living is shelter. There are many options to consider for shelter, but the operative word is small. It’s easier and faster to get off grid with small, efficient shelters. The larger the shelter the greater heating and cooling requirements and hence a larger energy source is needed. The smaller exposed wall space the less heat loss in winter or heat absorption in summer. [3]

One of the most important components of what makes a home self-sufficient is being free from dependence on community supplied power as an energy source. You will need an alternative power source, as well as a network of batteries for power storage. Wind turbines are excellent for independent power production. In some parts of the country wind turbine power is a popular, low-cost alternative energy resource and can be scalable in open fields and clearings. Solar panels are one of the most popular alternative energy sources. They are available as roofing tiles or directional free-standing panels. [2]  Rules and permits vary by state, but you can actually unplug from the grid and make your own power. Some states cover the installation costs through rebates or tax breaks and will even buy back some of your excess power. A detailed report by Home Power magazine revealed that more than 180,000 homes in the US supply their own power. About 1 million homes with solar panels installed are allowed to at least partially rely on energy they produce themselves. [1] If you have a reliable flowing water source moving through your property, you can consider a water turbine. They convert water flowing energy into electricity. Then you can use wires to transport that electrical power to your house. If the water flow is strong and  continuous, you may be able to get away without energy storage (battery) systems. [3]

Regarding that water source, every home needs one for many reasons. One of the most traditional options is to dig a well on the property. If you have to go off your property to access water, be sure to get an easement from the property owner. If you chose to set up a rainwater collection system, check your local regulations on where and how you can collect it. Some state laws are simple where others have myriad of exclusions. If you collect and hold water in a cistern, you will want to consider the cistern location. To get water to flow out your taps, you will need water pressure. To get pressure, let gravity be your friend. Raise your storage tank (s) above the level of your home. So make sure the cistern is up hill from your house. This will create water head pressure for your showers, kitchen and bathrooms. If you are concerned about the purity of the water, these storage tanks will make large-scale purification possible. [2] 

There are three waste streams you must plan for. Human waste, gray water waste, and trash waste. Stringent rules regarding disposal of raw sewage exist in all 50 states. You can find these guidelines by visiting your state, county, or municipality website. US building codes require in nearly every living situation, that a flush toilet be connected to a government approved septic or sewer system. Composting toilets must be approved. Composting toilet working codes are in progress throughout the United States. We will go into detail on how septic tanks and composting toilets work next month. 

Tara’s article includes additional living legal obstacles and rules for each state. Check out your home state to make sure you’re compliant.



Billie Nicholson, Editor
June 2019

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