Navigating Laws Before Going Off Grid

off grid cabin

Living off the grid is a dream to many people who would rather use renewable energy sources, depend upon their own water supply and stay completely cut off from city and county services. It is possible to live off the grid if you manage your own trash, sewage and utilities...but that's the easy part. The truth is, there's a lot of red tape and a lot of laws tied up with living off the grid. It's not as easy as setting up solar panels and setting up house. Find out what you have to do to stay legal before you choose to take this step.

City and County Codes

Maybe you're ready to go way, way off the grid and live without little extras like running water and electricity. It's not so extreme when you think about the fact that humankind survived for thousands and thousands of years without these perks. In the grand scheme of things, electricity is still a pretty new human invention. But don't be so fast to unplug. Some city and county codes won't allow you to live in a residence without things like running water and sanitary sewer disposal. Some cities or counties may even have codes regarding how large a habitable dwelling must be. In an article from Michigan Radio, one area couple was cited for living in a home that was too small for their township codes; it was 200 square feet.

Building codes are a very common problem for those who want to try living off the grid. Before you buy those solar panels or go for an old-school windmill, check with your local planning board. You may even need to talk to someone in the neighborhood Homeowner's Association if there is one present in your community. While it seems that you should be allowed to build whatever you want on your property, whether you own it or you're paying a mortgage, this is not the case. There are likely to be standards in place about structures you can build that may extend to size, function, even appearance.

ostrich eating grass on a farm

In some neighborhoods and some cities, living off the grid just may not be feasible due to specific zone laws, planning boards and building codes. Consider investing in a piece of property where you can really go off the grid. You don't have to buy a forest and clear the trees yourself. However, you can find empty lots out in rural areas where there are far fewer building codes and zoning laws that will affect your off-grid plans.


As Ben Franklin pointed out, taxes are one of life's two unavailable evils. No one can ever get so off the grid that they don't pay taxes. So you need to make sure you're paying yours or you will be in a ton of trouble with the IRS -- whether or not you're using city sewers to dispose of your waste. You'll still need to pay property taxes, income taxes and any other taxes as required by city, county, state and federal laws.


gardener working on homestead vegetables

It's perfectly fine to grow your own food and eat it and no one is going to try to keep you from doing this. However, butchering animals for food purposes is a different matter altogether. There are very strict standards for killing and butchering animals, whether you’re hunting your meat or farming animals on your own property. Find out about your local health codes and figure out what you have to do in order to kill and process your own meat, if this is part of your plan.

Going Off the Grid

solar panels on an off grid house

Living off the grid can help you become self-reliant and self-sufficient in ways you never expected. It can greatly reduce your living expenses and it can greatly reduce your carbon footprint. But before you do it, make sure you’re still following all the laws, codes and ordinances that you must obey. No one is ever so off the grid that they’re out of the reach of the government!