Alaska Off Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide


Author:
Last Updated: November 30, 2021

When people think of Alaska, they often imagine off-grid cabins in the remote wilderness where people hunt for food and heat with firewood they chopped themselves.

In reality, living off grid in Alaska is much more complicated.  Not only do you have to endure the harsh conditions, but you have to navigate Alaska’s laws about off-grid living.

Want to learn more about living off the grid? Read:

Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Alaska?

Nearly 98% of Alaska is remote land that isn’t incorporated into any city.

In these areas, off-grid living is usually legal. In fact, living off grid may be your only option as these areas often aren’t covered by municipal services.

However, the majority of Alaskans live in incorporated cities.  Off-grid living, especially sewage disposal and wind energy systems, is highly-regulated in these areas to the point where it may be illegal.

So don’t assume that you can move anywhere in Alaska and legally live off grid.

Alaska Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

Municipalities typically divide land into zoning districts.  Each zoning district has its own rules about what you are legally allowed to do on your property.  Some of these zoning laws in Alaska may make it illegal to live off grid in the way you want.

A unique thing about Alaska zoning laws is that cities are often very small in size.  For example, the city of Soldotna has a population of about 4,700 people.  In other areas of the USA, places with populations this small might not even count as a city.  These low-population areas would usually be zoned as Rural or Agricultural and have very few regulations.

Yet, despite it having a small population, Soldotna has strict zoning laws.  Most of the city falls under Residential zoning, and there is very little rural zoned land.

You might even encounter strict laws in rural zoned land in Alaska too.  For example, the city of Wasilla  (pop. 10,000) only allows this many farm animals in rural zones:

  • Up to two cows, horses, pigs, or other animals with a typical weight of 250lbs per animal
  • Up to 10 goats, sheep, or other animals with a typical weight of 25-250lbs
  • Up to 50 rabbits, mink, or other animals with a typical weight of less than 25lbs

If you were thinking, for example, of setting up a rabbit-breeding farm to sustain yourself, you’d find your business options highly limited.

Building Codes in Alaska

Contrary to what many think, there are building codes in Alaska.  While not always enforced, these codes apply even in remote areas of the State.  Currently, Alaska uses these building codes:

  • 2012 International Building Code
  • 2018 International Energy Conservation Code
  • 2012 International Fire Code
  • 2012 International Fuel Gas Code
  • 2012 International Mechanical Code

As of writing, Alaska has not adopted a statewide residential building code.  Cities may have their own residential codes to follow, though.

Building Permits in Alaska

In most incorporated areas of Alaska, you need to get a permit for most construction projects over 120 square feet.  There are exceptions, though.  For example, Matanuska-Susitna Borough does not require building permits, but they do require plan reviews for new multi-family buildings.

Manufactured and Mobile Homes Laws

Alaska has recently changed its laws to make it easier to live in a mobile or manufactured home legally.  The law requires you to convert the mobile to “real property” by permanently affixing it to the land and filing an affidavit.  You can read more details here.

Despite this positive change, there are still many local zoning laws that may make it illegal.  Many areas have minimum home sizes which exclude tiny manufactured homes.  And mobile homes are often regulated to special zones.

Off-Grid Electricity in Alaska

Off-grid solar is legal in Alaska, and you won’t find many laws restricting it.  However, there are many zoning laws that regulate wind energy systems.  You will most likely need to get a permit for your system, and it may be completely illegal in certain zoning districts.

Also Read:

Off-Grid Water Laws in Alaska

Water Rights in Alaska

All water in Alaska is considered a public resource that belongs to the people of the State and is managed by the State.  Simply having water on or under your property does not give you rights to it.

However, it is possible to get water rights by applying for a permit through the Water Management Unit.  If the permit is approved, you will get a “certificate of appropriations” that allows you to use the water legally.

Once water rights are granted, they are attached to the land.  If the land is sold, the water rights are transferred with the property.  Water rights are only separated from the property if the Department of Natural Resources approves the separation.

When Water Rights Permits Are Required

Alaska water laws allow you to use some water without having a permit.  However, using “significant” amounts of water without a permit is illegal (though only a misdemeanor).

Under 11 AAC 93.035, a “significant” amount of water is defined as:

  • the consumptive use of more than 5,000 gallons of water from a single source in a single day;
  • the regular daily or recurring consumptive use of more than 500 gpd from a single source for more than 10 days per calendar year;
  • the non-consumptive use of more than 30,000 gpd (0.05 cubic feet per second) from a single source; or
  • any water use that may adversely affect the water rights of other appropriators or the public interest.

Read the full law here.

Note: It is recommended that you apply for water rights even if you aren’t required to.  For example, let’s say you have a stream running through your property.  Applying for water rights ensures that an upstream neighbor can’t apply for water rights and deplete the stream.

Water Storage System Laws

In many parts of Alaska, it is impossible to obtain enough reliable water from wells or other natural sources.  For this reason, a lot of Alaskans install water holding tanks and have water delivered.  Many cities will require you to get a permit for these water storage systems. You may also need to register it with the government.

For example, Anchorage requires a permit for all water storage systems.  To get a permit, you must submit a site plan.

By contrast, Fairbanks law does not require a permit for water tanks that are

“directly upon grade if the capacity does not exceed 5,000 gallons and the ratio of height to diameter or width does not exceed 2:1.”

Surface Water

It is legal to use surface water running through your property in Alaska. You do not have to get a permit or water rights first unless your water use is “significant.”  However, it is still recommended that you get a water rights permit to protect your future rights to use the water. Read more here.

Instream Flow Reservation

Alaska has a unique type of water right called instream flow reservation.  Unlike water use rights, this right protects water from being depleted.  Most instream flow reservations are used to protect fish and wildlife.

For example, if you fish from a stream and worry that industry may deplete the stream in the future (thus depriving you of your food source), you could apply for an instream flow reservation.   Read more here.

Well Water Laws in Alaska

Alaska has very relaxed laws about drilling water wells.  Drillers only need a general subcontractor’s license and do not need to be certified for well construction.

There are no requirements for testing well water. Unless you withdraw significant amounts of water from the well, you do not even need a permit.

Anchorage and North Pole are the only municipalities in Alaska which regulate water wells.  Both require permits for wells.  Anchorage also requires that all wells be dug by certified well drillers.

In Anchorage, you will also need to have an approved wastewater disposal system before you can get a well permit.  On top of that, Anchorage requires you to reapply for the well permit and pay a fee each year.

Rainwater Harvesting Laws in Alaska

Alaska currently does not have any laws which prohibit or specifically regulate rainwater harvesting.  However, some municipalities have adopted the Uniform Plumbing Code.  Many aspects of the code highly regulate non-potable water use.

This could make it difficult to use rainwater indoors or for potable purposes legally.  There may also be local laws regulating underground or large aboveground rainwater storage tanks.

Also Read:

Sewage and Waste Removal Laws in Alaska

Alaska has very relaxed rules about on-site sewage treatment.  However, the laws and regulations in certain areas can be very strict.  In some places, these laws may make it illegal for you to go completely off grid.  You will most likely be required to install a septic system or hook up to the city sewer system.

Required to Connect to Municipal Sewage System

Some cities in Alaska require you to hook up to the municipal sewage system if one is located nearby.  Fairbanks, for example, requires you to connect if the sewer is within 250 feet of the property.  Juneau requires hookup if the sewer is within 200 feet of the property.  This law applies even if you already have an approved septic system.

Septic Laws in Alaska

The State of Alaska does not require a permit for installing a septic system.  Instead, they use an Online Septic Tracking System (SEPTS).  You must upload information about your septic system to SEPTS.  This information is then available to the public. Only approved materials are allowed for septic tanks.

While the State doesn’t require a permit for septic, many cities in Alaska do.  For example, Anchorage requires a permit for all new septic construction and upgrades.  You must submit a system design and have a registered civil engineer perform a soil and site analysis to get a permit.

Can you install your own septic system in Alaska?

Alaska State law says that all septic systems must be installed by registered engineers, certified installers, or approved homeowners.  Becoming an approved homeowner is very simple, so it is possible to install your septic system legally.  However, you will still be required to have a professional engineer do a soil analysis.

Are Compost Toilets Legal in Alaska?

Compost toilets are not specifically mentioned in Alaska law.  Thus, it is generally considered legal to use a compost toilet. However, local laws may require you to dispose of waste from the compost toilet in an approved manner, such as in a pit privy.

Note that some cities do mention “alternative toilets” in their laws.  For example, Anchorage law allows alternative toilets, but they must be first submitted for review before a permit will be granted.

Also Read:

Are Outhouses Legal in Alaska?

Outhouses, called “pit privies” under the law, are legal in Alaska.  However, they must meet specific setback requirements.

  • 100 feet from surface water and potable water systems
  • 200 feet from water sources used for public water systems
  • 6 feet from the edge of the pit privy to any other soil absorption fields
  • 4 feet from the bottom of the pit privy and seasonal high groundwater table

Local laws throughout Alaska often make it illegal to use an outhouse, though.  For example, Anchorage prohibits pit privies anywhere with a potable water supply or water storage system.  Juneau also makes it illegal to use a pit privy with few exceptions.

Also Read:

Do you live off grid in Alaska? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.

Leave a Comment