Is living off-grid illegal? That depends. When it comes to legally living off-grid there are a number of different aspects to look at. To begin with, what exactly do we mean by off the grid?
In the traditional sense, going off the grid just means that one is disconnecting themselves from the electrical grid. However, there also is a wider understanding of that when somebody says that they are “going of the grid” it means that they are disappearing from society. They are most likely talking about being self-sufficient and anonymous. This is the approach we are going to take.
We are going to look at living off grid as a comprisal of several different factors: the electrical grid, harvesting rainwater, food independence, and sewage management. Should one be able to remove themselves from others’ involvement in these four regions, they can effectively be called being “off the grid.”
Let’s look at harvesting rainwater first. For if you can’t even be allowed to drink the rain that falls from the sky, are you really free?
Is Harvesting Rainwater Legal?
The most common way that people harvest their own rainwater is via water barrels. Keep in mind that this is solely rainwater that I am talking about. If you attempt to harvest water from the ground, then we’re talking about an entirely different ball of wax with an entirely different set of regulations which will vary depending upon your locale. Some places will have absolutely no problem if you hand drill your own well. Others will want a variety of permits, inspections, taxes, and the right to name your firstborn child before they’ll give you the go-ahead.
When it comes to harvesting rainwater, there are currently no federal laws against it. There are some states that have restrictions, but as a whole, the US seems to be rather friendly to the idea of harvesting rainwater. However, there are always some in office who seem to think that they have a better grasp on how you should live your life than you do, so there are states which have restrictions on rainwater collection. This is based upon the flawed reasoning that people who harvest rainwater will interrupt the hydrologic cycle, and in turn there will not be enough water for the world to drink.
Never mind the fact that a study within the Scientific World Journal PROVED that individuals with rain barrels would have little to no effect on such a cycle, but also that the majority of those who keep rain barrels do so in order to water their gardens, and thus the water is going right back into the soil, albeit at a later date.
Some States with Rain Barrel Laws
- Arkansas – You need a licensed professional to design it for you in order to comply with plumbing codes (source). Safety first?
- Colorado – Colorado currently states that you can only collect up to 110 gallons of rainwater out of a maximum of two rain barrels, and that you can only use the water that you collect for “outdoor” purposes (source).
- Georgia – George states that the rainwater you collect can only be used for outdoor purposes (source).
- Oregon – Oregon limits the collection of rainwater to roofs only (source). (Did they have a problem with people catching it off of their lawnmowers?)
- Texas – Surprising to see, but Texas actually requires you to give a written notice to the municipality that you live in of your rain barrel intentions, and the building must have a catchment system incorporated into the actual building design (source). I’m not really sure if this means you have to have the architect draw a picture of a rain barrel under your gutters or what. I’m also not sure how this applies to homes you buy secondhand where you had nothing to do with the architecture plans.
- Utah – If you’re registered with the Division of Water Resources then you can’t store more than 2500 gallons. If you’re not registered with the DWR, then you can have a maximum of two containers to harvest rain, and they have to equal less than or equal to 100 gallons of water (source). Most rain barrels I’ve seen are 55-gallon drums, so this kind of negates the ability to use those.
In contrast to these states, Virginia actually gives you a tax break according to the Alternative Water Supply Assistance Fund. So, though water catchment is TYPICALLY encouraged, there are states out there that have restrictions on how much water you collect, why, and who you tell about it.
Is it Illegal to Disconnect from the Electric Grid?
I’ve never understood how the government can force you to buy something. As George Washington pointed out, government is force. The way it works is by having a monopoly on force (as Ayn Rand points out in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal), and then using that force to get others to bend to its will.
“No car insurance? We’ll take your paycheck. No medical insurance? We’ll take your paycheck. No electric connection? We’ll take your paycheck.”
Notice a pattern here?
Going off-grid in regards to electric is one of the most inconsistent things you’ll notice across various states. Some that are absolutely fine with other aspects of off-grid living attack with a vengeance those who attempt to disconnect.
Some States with Strict Laws on Disconnecting from the Grid
- Alabama – Not only illegal, but they actually charge you $5/kilowatt of solar energy as well (source).
- Arizona – Arizona’s public power system raised electricity rates for rooftop-solar customers by 60% (source).
- Colorado – It is generally legal in Colorado, but you need to check with your municipality.
- Indiana – Generally illegal in Indiana due to zoning, but you might get around it through the “Log Cabin Rule” (see here).
- Kansas – Good news here, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that a 2018 utility rate plan discriminated against rooftop solar (source).
- Kentucky – Some locales require inspections, but you will generally get credit for any surplus power you generate (source).
- Maryland – You may need a host of permits and inspections depending on where you live, but Maryland is the 8th largest producer of solar power (source).
- Nevada – It’s tough in Nevada. A recent law established a 40% tax hike on people using solar power (source).
What are the Laws with Domestic Sewage Disposal?
Being in charge of your own sewage disposal is something that I think will gain in popularity as more people grow aware of what the government is doing with your waste. If you don’t like the idea of your sewage being monitored for various medications by the CDC, then you may be interested in going completely off-grid with this particular facet of off-grid living as well.
The methods that most people use to go off grid with their sewage disposal is with outhouses, composting toilets, and incineration toilets. However, there are a large variety of restrictions across the US on which methods you can legally use. As a result, there is an incredibly small list of states that have minimal to no restrictions on what form of toilet or sewage disposal system can be used, with the greater majority requiring permits and licensing of some form, if not an outright ban on particular modes of toilet.
The states that seem to have the friendliest attitudes towards off-grid toilet systems are Delaware, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Iowa and Nebraska also seem to have a friendlier stance towards off-grid sewage systems but they may require permits and inspections to have such systems in place.
Virtually every other state has a rather strict set of standards when it comes to off-grid sewage treatment. In my opinion, the two states that seem to have the strictest attitude towards such are Indiana and Virginia. You are very limited on what you can actually use to dispose of human sewage in those two states, and there could be hefty fines for violating these laws. (Which are updated as of July 10, 2020.)
“But what if I just don’t hook up to local sewer lines? Am I legally in the wrong then?”
Unfortunately, this once more depends upon where you are at. From what I’ve been able to find, it does appear as if there are localities which can actually force you to hook up to the government-run sewage system. One particular case in Ohio ended up with the individual being mandated to connect to the local sewer line, as well as stated that she could no longer use her current septic tank because they were inherently more dangerous to the public health than government operated sewer lines were.
This may not be the exact same case for where you live, but just be aware that when it comes to sewer, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of leeway out there for what you are legally allowed to do.
What are the Laws with Raising Your Own Food?
I’ve written before on the importance of food independence when it comes to experiencing every facet of freedom. You are truly completely off the grid when you can produce the majority of your food needs. At this point, you no longer have to depend on another man to feed you.
When it comes to this, you really have to delve into your individual county/city laws. That’s where the differentiation is going to take place. And provided you’re only producing food for your own use and not selling it, then you should be okay. Once you become somebody who sells food, then you open up an entirely new can of worms that is an absolute legal mess. At that point, FDA rules come into play.
Raising Livestock Laws
Raising livestock is something that you’re going to have to look at very closely for where you live. Odds are you have a pretty good idea if you can legally raise a pig or a cow at your home, but chickens, rabbits, and even honeybees can be much harder to discern the law on. There’s a growing number of urban environments that are now permitting people to own up to four hens, with roosters being explicitly forbidden.
I think this only makes sense, and is fair to the people of a community. Why should somebody be allowed to keep a Pitbull barking all hours of the night in the backyard, but can’t keep a couple of chickens there to lay eggs? Your local laws will dictate what you can have.
With honeybees, I haven’t personally seen a lot of legislation out there on whether or not you can have a hive, but from what I understand you tend to have more leeway here than you do with actual animals such as chickens and rabbits. The good thing about honeybees is that nobody has to know that you have them. They’re incredibly quiet, they blend in naturally with the thousands of other honeybees that are going to be visiting your neighbors’ flower beds, and they take all of four square feet of space for their living quarters.
With gardening, the only thing you typically have to worry about are homeowner associations. I’ve yet to come across any law that states you can’t grow carrots on your property. However, homeowner associations will do just that. Not only will they charge you an annual rate to continue to live in your own home, but they’ll also impose often draconian rules on you stating just what you can and cannot do with your own property. Want to plant a lettuce bed? No way! It makes the neighborhood hideous! This is suburbia, not the sticks, you hick!
I’m not exactly sure who gets to determine why peas are hideous and morning glory is okay, but you get the point. The decision making is completely arbitrary, and keeps you from being food independent.
If an HOA is a monster that you’re doing battle with, then I highly recommend looking into edible landscaping. That way you can still produce your own food, and nobody has to know a thing about it. For more information on such, I highly recommend Rick Austin’s Secret Garden of Survival and Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos.
Is Living Off-Grid Illegal Summary
So when it comes to answering the question “is going off-grid illegal” we have to first ask a couple of other questions. What aspects of “off-grid living” are we talking about? Once we answer those two questions, then we’ll have a much better understanding of what exactly you can and cannot legally do in your locale.
Do you have thoughts on the subject? What are the laws in your locale? Let us know in the comments below!