Arizona Off Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide


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Last Updated: July 1, 2021

Arizona is often touted as one of the best places to live off-grid. While the state does have plenty of cheap land and sunlight for off-grid solar, living off grid in Arizona isn’t easy.

Not only do you have to contend with an arid, inhospitable climate, but there are many rules and regulations which may make it difficult or illegal to go live off-grid.

Want to more about living off grid? Read:

Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Arizona?

Off-grid living is technically legal in Arizona.  State laws even encourage some off-grid systems. However, off grid living is highly regulated.  You will need a permit for almost everything you want to install or build on your property. Further, some local laws might make it impossible to legally live completely off grid.

Arizona  Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

In all states, it is local zoning laws which ultimately determine whether it is legal to live off-grid.

Outside of urban areas, Arizona’s zoning laws tend to be very relaxed and shouldn’t have many legal issues with going off grid.

In urban areas though, you may not be able to go completely off grid because of Fire Ordinances which require you to have running water at a certain pressure.  Some cities may also require you to connect to the municipal sewage system if it is located near your property.

Off-Grid Electricity in Arizona

Off-grid electricity is legal in Arizona.  There are permit requirements but they are generally easy to get for solar systems.  However, be sure you look at local regulations about battery storage and permit requirements.

Solar

In most places in Arizona, you will be required to get a permit for your off-grid solar system.  The permitting process for small systems is very quick and easy. You will need more documentation to get a permit for a larger system and might need an inspection.  It is also usually legal to install your own solar system in Arizona.

When it comes to grid-tied solar power though, Arizona is one of the worst states.  Power companies charge fees of about $50 per month simply for having solar panels and increased electricity fees for people who have solar panels.  These additional fees are being challenged in court as discriminatory, but it might be a while before Arizona becomes a friendly state for grid-tied solar.

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Off-Grid Water

Because it is a desert state, it isn’t surprising that Arizona has some of the strictest laws in regards to water.  In many cities, it is actually illegal to go completely off-grid with water: local fire code may require you to connect to the municipal water supply.

Even if you are legally able to go off grid with water in Arizona, expect it to be a costly process.  Many people end up hauling water to their property.  Not only is the hauled water itself a large expense, but it requires gasoline and time to drive to water sites.

Surface Water

Under the 1919 Arizona Surface Water Code, all people must get a permit before using any surface water, including surface water on their own property.  Generally, it is very difficult to get surface water rights in Arizona.

You may be able to find property (at a steep cost) which already has surface water rights attached to it.  However, if you do not put that water to “beneficial use”, you can lose the water rights attached to the property.

Can I Build a Pond on My Property in Arizona?

You must get a permit before building a pond on your property in Arizona.  In some areas, getting a permit for a pond can be very difficult to get.

You might find it easier to install underground rainwater cisterns, a practice which doesn’t require a permit in many areas.  Even when a permit is required, it is generally easy to obtain.

Well Water

Arizona law divides up the state into Active Management Areas (AMAs).  In these areas, you do not need a permit to drill a well which has a maximum pump capacity of 35 gallons per minute and will remove no more than ten acre-feet per year.  There are also some restrictions on how the water can be used, such as for irrigating only up to 2 acres.  You will need to get authorization from the ADWR before drilling.

If your well doesn’t meet the exemption requirements and is located in an AMA, you will likely have a very difficult time getting a permit. Water rights are determined historic use or “grandfathered rights.” You can find a map of groundwater rights here.

Outside of AMAs, there are few groundwater restrictions.  You can essentially remove as much water as you want so long as the water goes to beneficial use. You can read an overview of Arizona’s residential groundwater rules here.

Luckily, the law does make exceptions for certain wells.  If your well has a pumping capacity of 35 gallons a minute or less, it is exempt.  There are restrictions on how the water can be used though, such as for residential uses and irrigating only up to 2 acres of land. If you want to use water for non-residential purposes, then you are limited to 10 acre feet of water per year.  Even if your well is exempt under the law, you will still have to file an application with the ADWR before drilling.

Rainwater

Rainwater harvesting is legal in Arizona, even for potable water (when building codes are met).  Many areas actively encourage rainwater harvesting and offer financial incentives.

Graywater Recycling

Graywater recycling is legal in Arizona.  There are various financial incentives available for installing graywater systems and some counties even require them on new residential construction.

The law defines graywater as “wastewater that has been collected separately from a sewage flow and that originates from a clothes washer or a bathroom tub, shower or sink but that does not include wastewater from a kitchen sink, dishwasher or toilet.” The water can be used for irrigation on your own property. You will need a permit and there are design  and use regulations to follow.

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Sewage and Waste Removal

One of the biggest legal obstacles you might encounter when going off-grid in Arizona is waste removal. Some areas may require you to connect to the municipal sewage system if it is located nearby.  However, in remote areas, the law is generally very relaxed.  It even specifically mentions some alternative systems, which makes it easier to get a permit than in states where the law is vague.

Before getting a permit for any onsite sewage treatment system, you will need to have the site investigated.  Only then can you start the permitting process for your system. There are strict rules about where sewage systems can be put on your property so it is recommended that you get your sewage permit before you get your building permit.

Compost Toilets

Compost toilets are legal in Arizona.  They can even be used as your only means of sewage treatment, but only in specific situations, such as if limited water supply prevents you from using flush toilets.

If you don’t have septic, then you will be required to have an approved graywater recycling system for dealing with other wastewater from your home.

In order to use a compost toilet legally, you’ll need to get a permit first.  All wastewater from the toilet must be dispersed of in a trench of bed that meets specific regulations. You can read the details of the law here.

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Outhouses/Latrines

Outhouses (called “earth pit privies” or “vault toilets”) are legal in Arizona. However, they are usually only permitted in certain situations, such as when septic tanks are not feasible.  Before you can legally build an outhouse on your property, you’ll need to have a site inspection and get a permit.

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Other Off-Grid Laws in Arizona

RVs and Tiny Homes

Arizona is one of the friendliest states for tiny homes.  They are allowed in multiple types of zoning. Under the law, homes between 200 and 400 square feet are considered tiny homes.  They generally must meet the same building codes as other residential homes, though the requirements for some things (like insulation amounts and ceiling heights) are more relaxed. See off grid tiny house kits.

When it comes to living in an RV in Arizona though, the laws are much stricter.  They are only allowed in areas zoned for mobile homes and RVs.  You won’t be able to get a certificate of occupancy for your home until you have a place to park it.

Alternative Building Materials

Arizona is very progressive in terms of alternative building materials.  Building codes specifically allow many materials such as earth ships, rammed earth, straw bales, and adobe.   The laws vary on a county-by-county basis though, so you’ll still have to check with the local government and get necessary permits first.

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

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  1. Pima County is SUPER strict. Best bet is to follow the codes and pull all needed permits. They WILL NOT hesitate to drop the ax on ANYONE for ANY infraction.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the insight! It’s also probably worth noting that, even if a county isn’t currently strict, it doesn’t meant that they won’t drop the ax on you later. Better to be compliant from the get-go than deal with hellish fines later on IMO.

      Reply
  2. Apache County is like most but you can build up to 200 square feet without a permit. Off grid electric is common with local Co ops to help build and provide advice. Rain catch is also common with heavy monsoons to provide plenty in season but strict rules on ground water and lots of legal fights and schemes on local water Co ops. I have a successful part time off grid property and have avoided most of the pitfalls.

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