ff the grid living may be an aspiration for a person who yearns to live as close to nature as possible – sort of a modern Robinson Crusoe. Living disconnected from the utility grid can also be attractive for those with a practical mind since it is an excellent way to save money on energy bills. But are you allowed to live off the grid from the U.S. legal perspective? If you strive to live off the grid without violating the law, this article will be helpful.
Is it illegal to live off the grid?
Let’s get this straight right from the beginning: in the United States, it is not illegal to live off grid, so you shouldn't be afraid that the law prohibits it.
But there are two important side notes here: in any case, you must pay property taxes, and even if you are willing to live off the grid, you must build a system that produces power, such as solar panels, wind turbines, etc. The law prohibits citizens from living completely without electricity.
Also, bear in mind that every location is subject to both national and local legislation, which is why you should check your local regulations before deciding to live independently of the public utilities. Generally, some states are way more suited for self-sufficient living than others, which we'll discuss in more detail below.
The legal basics
Although living off the grid is perfectly legal in the United States, here are some of the local laws that we recommend looking into so that you wouldn’t unknowingly break the law:
- Electricity legislation:
In many states, it is illegal to disconnect and live off the electric grid if a homeowner with a property in a residential area has an existing electricity connection. It is to be noted that although DIY solar and wind energy systems are often accepted, the equipment must be manufactured according to specifications to fit the intended purpose.
- Water supply legislation:
To get legal approval, your living property must have access to water. If you are not connected to the water pipes, digging a well or buying a lot with a natural spring are always suitable options. Collecting rainwater may not be a good idea, as not every state allows this.
- Sewage legislation:
Once your living property has an adequate water supply, it needs a way to dispose of the wastewater. Septic systems are the most regulated issue in many locations. For example, many states require these systems to be installed and supported by licensed contractors.
- Building and zoning codes:
While building codes tell you how to build your house, zoning codes tell you what you can do with your land. Building and zoning regulations often make off grid living impractical – which is why off-gridders usually prefer living in states with minimal building codes or any other regulations.
States that encourage you to be off the grid
Basically, there are plenty of states in the U.S. where you can easily enjoy living off the grid. Let’s take a look at some examples of the best off grid living states.
Thanks to the tropical climate and abundant renewable sources, Hawaii is a good option when you want to live off grid. Rainwater harvesting is legal. Composting toilets are also permitted, but NSF must approve the design. Lots of locals in Hawaii already live off grid, though often out of necessity and not by choice, as many remote areas do not have any utility connections.
Missouri is one of the friendliest American states for off grid living. In addition to its favorable climate, Missouri has many rural lands that aren’t subject to zoning codes and don’t require any building permits except for septic. Rainwater harvesting is legal. Composting toilets still exist in a legal gray area. Off grid electricity is permitted, and there are some off-grid communities.
Texas is known for being one of the best U.S. states to live off the grid. Many companies in the state provide installation services for off grid solar systems. Texas also supports many incentives for homeowners who want to capture rainwater. NSF-approved compost toilets are permitted.
Off grid solar is permitted in Wyoming, and there do not seem to be any laws requiring permanent residences to connect to the electric utility. Portable composting and incinerating toilets do not require a permit. Rainwater harvesting is permitted, and there are many associated incentives in Wyoming, like tax breaks for installing rainwater catchment systems.
In some states, it is illegal to live off grid – is it true?
Technically, it is not illegal to live off the grid in any of the U.S. states, but some aspects of living off the grid can be either too strictly regulated or banned.
Overall, Nevada is a fairly bad state for off grid living. In addition to having a problematic climate, many laws are not favorable to disconnecting from utilities. Off grid electricity is allowed in Nevada; however, it will require several permits. Rainwater harvesting used to be illegal, but several years ago, the state passed a new law according to which rainwater collection is now permitted from the rooftops of single-family homes for non-potable purposes. Composting toilets, pit privies, and other alternative waste disposal systems are generally allowed. But the state has strict regulations about how and when they can be used, and permits are required.
New York State is one of the strictest when it comes to off grid regulations. This does not mean it is impossible to go off grid in New York. It just means that you should do a lot more research and obtain numerous permits and licenses. Off grid solar is illegal in many places in the Big Apple. However, some laws allow individuals or groups to install their own “microgrid” and thus qualify as their own utility. Unfortunately, these laws are still vague. The State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code in New York require all new buildings to have wet plumbing. Installing a composting toilet is not illegal in New York State, but there are many regulations about how it can be used.
Although this state is among the national leaders in solar power, living off grid there used to be illegal. However, the law has recently been updated and now allows explicitly off grid electricity. Still, you will still have to meet electrical, fire, building, residential, and mechanical codes, and these are some of the strictest regulations in the whole country. No permit is required to collect rainwater from rooftops. But licenses may be required to collect other rainwater, such as water falling into a pond.