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The Legal Constraints of Off-Grid Building

The Legal Constraints of Off-Grid Building

Posted by Builder Finance Team Member on April 24 2020

As the cost of living increases, off-grid building is becoming more appealing as is a desire to live in a more environmentally conscious way. There has also been a growing trend toward escaping urban life, which for some people means not only having a place in the country for weekends, but on a more permanent basis. However, there are also some important considerations for builders and investors who are thinking about an off-grid construction project.

Firstly, these sorts of buildings fall under specific zoning laws that vary from state to state, something that needs to be researched before selecting a plot of land. Generally speaking, many permits are not required if the building falls under a maximum square footage allowance (which tends to be around 400 square feet).

While this is indeed very small, the size goes hand in hand with the other aspects of off grid living. Namely, sourcing one’s own heat, water, and power. The larger a property is, the more difficult it is for the utilities not to rely on a locality’s power grid, so in this case, smaller is better.

Once you’ve figured out if and how a locality will allow an off-grid build, it is time to consider what your various off-grid utilities need to be. Traditionally, a well and septic tank system will be required in lieu of the city’s water supply, and/or a composting toilet.

Power for the site will need to be generated using solar panels or a wind turbine, and power will need to be stored with a battery system. When considering solar panels and wind turbines, the amount of sunlight and the amount of wind in your area must be taken into account to make sure these options are feasible at all.

Hot climates with a high yearly average of sunny days will need fewer solar panels than other regions. However, solar energy can still be effective in an area with less sunlight, you will just need more physical panels to capture the light. Regardless of where your off-grid build is, make sure you aren't surrounded by shade-producing trees. For instance, an off-grid home deep in a forest may not be a good contender for solar power. With regards to wind speed, the average wind speed in your area can be found online; this will help you determine how big a wind turbine you'll actually need. When it comes to wind power, different sized turbines provide different amounts of power, and for a small off-grid property, you won’t need a large industrial turbine. What's more, these units can often be quite inexpensive, averaging about $1200-$1500 for a small turbine.

Finally, while size limitations for off-grid building are the biggest hurdle legally speaking, smaller stand-alone structures that are on the lot, but not connected to the home may be allowed, as they could be considered mobile. This option also allows you to increase your square footage while still being able to avoid the need for certain permits. However, checking with your locality is the best practice, as these rules vary greatly depending on where you are.

Topics: septic tank, Wind Turbines, Green Building, Off-Grid Building, well water, Construction, Solar Power

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