If you’ve recently been thinking about living off the grid, you might be wondering: Is it legal to live off-grid? Am I required by law to use city power, water, and septic?
The answer is: It depends on where you live, how your land is zoned, and what the zoning regulations are. While there are no laws that require anyone to use any public utilities, there are building codes and zoning regulations that may require you to connect to public utilities before your house can be permitted. If you were to ignore these requirements and live in the house without a permit, you would technically be living there illegally and you could be fined and/or evicted. You would also not be granted a physical mailing address.
In many cases, you will likely be required to connect to some city utilities, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them. Think about it like this: If you stop paying your water bill, what happens? Your water gets shutoff. That’s it. No one shows up to arrest you. It’s not illegal to forgo the use of city water or any other public utilities, even if you’re required to be connected to them.
The most common type of utility you’ll likely be required to hookup to is the city’s sewage service – septic – because the government wants to know where your wastewater is going, for obvious sanitary and environmental reasons. Some areas may also require you to hookup to city water, especially if you’re in a residential zone.
You are not required by law to hookup to the electric grid, but certain communities, especially deed restricted areas, may have their own rules that prevent alternative means of energy production – e.g., they might not allow solar panels to be installed on roofs. Also, if you have electric wires running through your house – even if they’re hooked up to a solar system – you will still need to pass an inspection. The only exception to this is if your sole source of energy is a portable generator that is not hardwired to anything, like a Goal Zero.
For the most part, the closer you live to a city, the harder it is going to be for you to live off-grid without at least having to connect to some or all city utilities. If you live in a rural area with minimal zoning restrictions, there’s a good chance you won’t be required to hookup to any city utilities; the county or municipality you live in may even tell you specifically what type of alternative water, septic, and energy systems they accept.
If you already live in a grid-tied house that you own, you shouldn’t have any problem making it completely off-grid; just make sure your area doesn’t require you to have any permits before you install your solar panels, rainwater catchment system, etc…
If you are still in the planning phase, you should lookup the zoning regulations for the specific lot/land in question and talk to local officials before you buy it.