There are a lot of reasons for living off the grid. You’re not relying on someone else to provide your utilities. You can save money by using renewable energy; often, once you’ve built or bought the equipment, your energy is basically free.
You know where your water has come from, and you also control where it goes after you’ve used it. If some disaster takes out utility supplies you won’t be affected, because you’re already independent of the systems that just collapsed.
Then, of course, one of the biggest advantages of off-grid living is that you can live pretty much anywhere you want, even if there aren’t any utility hookups – because you don’t need them.
Getting yourself off the grid isn’t always easy. It takes some knowledge. You’ll need space for equipment, food production and a septic tank.
Some time and effort is needed to get everything set up, and then to keep it in running order. And that’s if you’re even allowed to do it in the first place.
Unbelievably, in a lot of places the law makes it difficult to go off grid. It almost seems like politicians don’t like the idea of people being independent and able to look after themselves.
Whatever the reason for it, though, it’s just a fact; there are a lot of state and local laws that make disconnecting yourself from the grid a lot harder than it has to be.
There are no states where it’s actually illegal to unshackle yourself, but in some it can cost you a lot of extra time and money, and there could still be things you’re just not allowed to do.
Here are some of the laws that get in the way of self-sufficiency – and the best places to live if you want to avoid them.
By far the biggest obstacle to going off grid in many states is the problem of what to do with bathroom waste. Unless you’re hooked up to the sewer network, many state and local governments just aren’t going to be happy. You’ll probably want to install a privy, composting toilet or septic tank, and that might not be legal where you live.
These are the simplest kinds of toilet, consisting of a hole in the ground with a seat – and usually a small shed – over it. After use, you scoop some soil into the hole.
When it’s nearly full you dig a new hole, move the seat and shed over it, and fill in the old one. However, in most states they’re either illegal or tightly regulated.
The only states you can install one freely are Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
In some other states you can install one with a permit, or if your property doesn’t have a sewer hookup. Even in states where they’re legal, local laws might ban them. Check with local authorities if you can have one.
A more modern version of the privy, these toilets mix waste with dry material – usually sawdust or coconut coir. The mixture will naturally decompose into safe compost that can be used to fertilize plants.
Related: DIY SHTF Toilet
Composting toilets are legal in 27 states, but rules are inconsistent. Sometimes you can only install one if you don’t have a sewer hookup; in other places you can only install one if you already have a flushing toilet.
You might also only be allowed to have one that’s approved by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
A septic tank is a large tank, usually underground and made of concrete, that a toilet discharges into. Solid waste collects in the bottom while remaining liquid is allowed to run out through an overflow. Septic tanks are legal, and common in rural areas, but many states and counties impose restrictions on them.
Most restrictions are about the release of liquid waste; for example it might be illegal to let the tank drain into a water source.
There could also be rules about how often the tank has to be emptied, and how solid waste can be disposed of.
A key part of going off grid is generating your own power – constantly, not just using a generator when there’s a blackout. The most common ways of doing this are solar or wind power.
Actually installing solar panels or wind turbines isn’t usually a problem, although you’ll need to check local zoning rules, but disconnecting your home from the power grid is a different story. Some states allow this; others don’t, and in fact seem to make it as hard as possible to be self-sufficient in electricity.
In Alabama and Arizona, for example, it’s illegal to disconnect your home from the power grid – and, on top of that, the state will actually charge you to use the electricity you generate from solar.
A Rhode Island state law requires any home located less than 300 feet from a power line to have an “electric service,” but the law is vague and doesn’t make it clear if your own solar panels count.
In some states it’s illegal to have a home without an electricity supply, but that doesn’t always mean you need to be connected to the grid. A solar or wind supply might qualify.
Whatever state law says, many local building codes require all homes to be connected to the grid.
Check your local laws – but if you do need to be connected to the grid, remember you could be able to sell surplus electricity to the power company.
You can’t go off grid without a reliable water supply, which means you’ll need to either have your own well or harvest rainwater, or ideally both.
Unfortunately these are both regulated, mostly at local or state level.
The most reliable source of water is groundwater, which you can access by drilling a well. Some states still follow the Absolute Dominion model of groundwater rights, which says you can pump as much water as you want from under your own property.
These states are Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont, so if you live in any of them then – if local laws allow – you can get your water from a well on your property. You might need a permit, or regular checks on the water quality.
Other states follow the Reasonable Use doctrine, a variation that says you can use the groundwater under your property as long as it doesn’t “greatly affect” the rights of other people who share the same aquifer.
These states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.
In practice, residential wells in most states come under this doctrine – and, if you’re just drawing water for personal use, and aren’t being wasteful with it, it should be legal.
Believe it or not, in some states there are laws on collecting rainwater. You’d think water that fell out of the sky onto your property would be a free resource, but some politicians disagree.
In Arkansas rainwater collection systems must be designed by a professional engineer.
In Oregon you can only collect rainwater from roofs. In Utah you can’t store more than 200 gallons of rainwater unless you’re registered with the Division of Water Resources.
The Georgia Plumbing Code says rainwater can only be collected for outdoor uses; Colorado has a similar rule, and adds a requirement that rainwater must be used on the property where it’s collected.
On the other hand, some states actively encourage rainwater harvesting.
Best States For Off Grid Living
Wherever you are, there are probably some laws that affect anyone planning to go off grid, but some states are much better than others. But achieving self-sufficiency and living independently doesn’t necessarily require going completely off the grid.
Inside No Grid Survival Projects you will find 70 DIY projects that not only prepare you for unforeseen events like economic crises, blackouts, or natural disasters, but also promote independence and self-sufficiency on your own property. This way you can become less reliant on others for your basic needs.
In general rural states with a low population density are the friendliest environments for self-sufficiency; they’re already used to people who live at least partly off grid because utilities don’t extend to their homes.
Here are our top five choices:
- Missouri: In Missouri it’s legal to harvest rainwater, there are no state requirements on septic systems and the state actively encourages off-grid living.
- Georgia: With a mild climate and good agricultural land, Georgia is an ideal place to live off grid. Local laws vary widely, and can be strict around cities, but Treutlen County is at the other extreme – it has no building codes.
- Tennessee: It has the longest growing season in the lower 48, and many counties have relaxed building codes. It also allows rainwater harvesting.
- Montana: With huge rural areas and sparse population, living off the grid is common and accepted in Montana.
- Maine: This state has all the resources you could need, including plentiful water and timber. State laws have no problem with you disconnecting from water, power and sewer hookups. Just beware of the short growing season and cold winters.
Living off the grid offers numerous advantages, including independence from utility providers, cost savings through renewable energy use, and control over water sources and waste disposal.
Transitioning to an off-grid lifestyle requires knowledge, space for equipment, and adherence to various state and local laws. However, by navigating the legal landscape, you can still create an independent off-grid lifestyle for yourself and your family.
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