While the climate and terrain don’t make it easy, Idaho is considered one of the best states for off-grid living. Compared to the rest of the USA, the laws are very relaxed.
Don’t assume you’ll be able to do whatever you want on your property though.
Here’s what you need to know about Idaho’s off grid laws.
Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Idaho?
Living off-grid is legal in Idaho. You will still need to follow state building codes and local zoning laws and get permits for your off-grid systems. Idaho County, Bonner County and Boundary County are particularly good for off-grid living as they have very relaxed rules which allow you to do (mostly) whatever you want on your property.
Building Codes in Idaho
The State of Idaho has adopted numerous building codes. While there are some exceptions for sheds and other small outbuildings, you must follow codes for any building you plan on living in.
These are the current Idaho building codes;
- 2018 International Building Code, with amendments
- 2018 International Residential Code (parts I, II, III and IX), with Idaho amendments, collectively named the Idaho Residential Code (2020 Edition)
- 2018 International Energy Conservation Code, with amendments, collectively named the Idaho Energy Conservation Code (2020 Edition)
- 2018 International Existing Building Code
- 2017 NEC with amendments
- 2018 International Mechanical Code
- 2018 International Fuel Gas Code
- 2018 International Residential Code Parts V & VI
- 2018 International Fire Code
- 2015 Uniform Plumbing Code, with Idaho amendments, collectively named the 2017 Idaho State Plumbing Code
Areas without Building Codes in Idaho
Despite what some sources say, all dwellings in Idaho must meet the State building codes. However, many rural areas in Idaho do not have building departments – thus, they do not do inspections.
Some areas do not even issue permits outside of basic ones like septic. While it will still be illegal to build a home which doesn’t meet codes, it’s unlikely that you’ll see any fines or punishment in these areas.
Some counties with relaxed building codes in Idaho:
- Idaho County
- Bonner County
- Boundary County
- Nez Perce County
- Washington County
- Gem County
If you know of any other ones, please let us know in the comments section below!
Idaho County is so relaxed about its building codes that it practically encourages people to build homes that are not up to code! According to their Comprehensive Plan,
“It is the belief of the Board of County Commissioners that people who buy and build in Idaho County have the right to build the home that best suits them. If the roof caves in under the weight of the snow, they will know better next time….County government will not intercede on your behalf to make your neighbor live up to your standards.”
*I’m definitely not encouraging anyone to build homes which are not up to code. And check local inspection requirements carefully!
Is Primitive Living Legal in Idaho? (Certificate of Occupation Requirements)
In many parts of the USA – including parts of Idaho – you need to get a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) before you can legally live in your home.
To get the CO, you must get inspections, including electrical and plumbing. While it is ultimately up to the local inspector, you may not get a CO if your home doesn’t have any electricity, running water, heating, etc. This effectively makes it illegal to live a primitive lifestyle in many areas.
The good news is that many counties in Idaho do not require a Certificate of Occupancy. For example, Idaho County and Boundary County do not require Certificates of Occupancies. You can legally live a primitive lifestyle in these areas.
Tiny Home Laws in Idaho
Idaho is one of the best states for living in tiny homes. It was the first State to adopt Appendix Q of the International Residential Code, which sets standards for homes under 400 square feet in size.
To meet Idaho code, the home will still need to be at least 150 square feet. Most counties do not seem to have minimum dwelling sizes. However, they have minimum lot sizes – so it will likely be illegal to build a tiny home on a small lot.
Modular Home vs Manufactured Home
Idaho law differentiates between modular homes and manufactured homes. The main difference is that manufactured homes are built to HUD standards, whereas modular homes are built to state codes. Most tiny homes in Idaho with permanent foundations are treated as modular homes. Site-built homes are treated like other dwellings under the building code.
For both manufactured and modular homes, you’ll need a foundation permit and permits for all on-site work (electrical, plumbing, mechanical, etc.). Manufactured homes also require an installation permit.
You can learn more about the laws on the DBS Manufactured Housing Page.
Living in an RV
If your home doesn’t have a permanent foundation, it will be considered an RV. Living in an RV in many rural parts of Idaho is legal. However, there are lots of restrictions.
For example, Jerome County only allows you to live in an RV on agricultural land, but you must get a permit after 60 days of residence per day. To obtain a permit, the lot must have at least 1 acre RV and dwelling and meet health authority requirements.
You’ll need to check with each Idaho county to see whether their zoning laws allow living in an RV and the sanitation requirements.
Off-Grid Electricity in Idaho
Off-grid electricity is legal in Idaho. Because many rural places in Idaho do not require a Certificate of Occupancy, it is even legal to live entirely without electricity. If you want off-grid electricity, you must meet the State Electrical Code. Getting a permit is very easy for solar.
Idaho is great for wind power compared to the rest of the USA. The State actively encourages wind power, and many areas have clear guidelines about permitting. You can learn more here.
Idaho currently offers low-interest loans for alternative energy systems. Learn more here.
Off-Grid Water Laws in Idaho
Getting enough water for your off-grid home in Idaho could be a problem. The State is often under severe or extreme drought. You may need permits and rights to use water, even if it is on your own property.
Who Owns the Water in Idaho?
All water in Idaho – including groundwater – is considered to be the property of the State. The Idaho Department of Water Resources is responsible for supervising the use of the State’s water.
Water Rights Permits in Idaho
Idaho does not recognize riparian water rights – you do not automatically have the right to use water on or next to your property.
Instead, Idaho uses the rule of prior appropriations. This law, often called “first in time, first in right”, gives priority to whoever had water rights the longest. In times of drought, for example, senior water rights holders will get water before those who got water rights at a later date. If the water runs out, later water rights holders might not get any water at all.
The law does make an exception for domestic use, though. In times of shortage, domestic water rights get priority over senior water rights holders. Domestic water use is generally defined as water for your home, livestock and up to ½ acre of land.
Read more about Idaho water rights here.
To use surface water, you will need to get water rights. As of 1971, the only way to get new water rights is to follow a strict application process which involves a public notice, review and field examination.
You will also need a second permit for the apparatus to withdraw the water.
The good news is that, under Idaho law, the right to appropriate surface water “shall never be denied”, but the State may regulate and limit the use. When there isn’t enough water for all the users, domestic users get priority, followed by agricultural users.
Well Water Laws in Idaho
In Idaho, even groundwater is considered property of the State. You will need water rights to dig a well. However, there is an exemption for domestic wells.
Under the law, a domestic well is:
- Used for home, organization camps, public campgrounds, livestock, and any other purpose in connection therewith, including irrigation of up to 1/2 acre of land AND total use does not exceed 13,000 gallons per day
- Any other uses, if the total use does not exceed a diversion rate of four one-hundredths (0.04) cubic feet per second and a diversion volume of twenty-five hundred (2,500) gallons per day
You need a permit to drill a well in Idaho, and a licensed driller must construct it.
Rainwater Harvesting Laws in Idaho
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Idaho. The rules are very relaxed if you use rainwater outdoors for nonpotable uses, such as irrigating your garden.
However, if you want to use rainwater indoors or for potable purposes, you’ll need to meet the stricter requirements in the State Plumbing Code. These rules can make it very expensive to legally use rainwater, even for flushing toilets!
Sewage and Waste Removal Laws in Idaho
As is the case throughout most of the USA, some places in Idaho may require you to connect to the municipal sewer if one is located nearby, usually within 200 feet of the property. If your county has this rule, it effectively makes it illegal to live 100% off grid.
However, most parts of Idaho are rural and do not have access to the municipal sewer. So, off-grid sewage is often the only option. This usually means septic, but some “alternative” systems are allowed.
You need a local public health district permit before installing any on-site wastewater system. This involves getting a site evaluation. A licensed installer must install the system. After it is installed, it must be inspected by the health officer.
Note that you may not be able to get a building permit without a wastewater permit. If you want to be connected to the electric grid, the electric company may require you to have a septic permit first – even if you’re going to use an alternative system.
Compost toilets are legal in Idaho. They must meet ANSI standard Z4.3. However, if your dwelling has water under pressure, you must also have another “acceptable method” of on-site disposal. It is possible that you could meet these requirements with a greywater system, but you will likely also need to have septic.
Are Outhouses Legal in Idaho (Pit and Vault Privies)?
Pit privies are legal in Idaho. If you have water under pressure in your home, you will also need to have a subsurface sewage disposal system.