Thinking of living off grid in Connecticut? Like its neighbor, New York, there are a lot of restrictions on how you can use your own land in CT.
Here’s what you need to know about Connecticut’s laws regarding off-grid living to get you started.
Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Connecticut?
Off-grid living is usually legal in Connecticut. However, state codes forbid or make it difficult to live a primitive lifestyle, such as living without any electricity or running water in your home. Local laws may require you to connect to the municipal sewer system, effectively making it illegal to go entirely off grid.
Connecticut Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living
Each county in Connecticut has its own zoning regulations. This zoning ultimately determines what you can legally do on your property.
Pretty much everywhere in the United States has some zoning, but Connecticut has a lot of zones you wouldn’t find elsewhere.
For example, it is common to find “Gateway Residence” zones. Basically, they make rules so the homes at the entrance to a town look attractive. There are also some weird zone names you won’t find elsewhere, like “Residential Housing Opportunity/Workforce” zone or “Village Center Zone.” This can make it difficult to make sense of zoning maps.
Building Codes in Connecticut
Connecticut uses the following building codes. They are regularly updated, so you’ll need to check the current codes before doing any new construction.
- 2015 International Building Code
- 2015 International Existing Building Code
- 2015 International Plumbing Code
- 2015 International Mechanical Code
- 2015 International Residential Code
- 2015 International Energy Conservation Code
- 2017 National Electrical Code (NFPA 70)
- 2009 ICC A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings & Facilities
Living in a Mobile Home Laws
Living in a mobile home is illegal in almost all parts of Connecticut. Even in places where it is legal, there are lots of restrictions.
For example, Tolland County zoning allows mobile homes in their Residential Design District, but they must have at least a 750 square foot floor area, a permanent foundation, and be situated on at least 2 acres.
Windham County only allows mobile homes in the Commercial and Industrial Districts (not exactly the nicest place to live), and they must be in an approved mobile home park. Currently, no new mobile home parks are allowed. The county will only give permission to expand existing parks. In Litchfield County, you need a Special Exemption to put a mobile home on a lot in any district.
There are usually some small exceptions written into the rules, such as being able to use a mobile home as a dwelling in the aftermath of a natural disaster. But, overall, it is going to be illegal.
Manufactured Home Laws in CT
Manufactured homes are legal in Connecticut, but you have to get a permit from the building official first. You also need a separate permit for installing the home. Most zoning laws seem to treat manufactured homes the same as single-family dwellings, so you’ll need to meet those regulations regarding setbacks and other requirements.
You can see Connecticut’s Manufactured Housing Building Code here.
Farming in Connecticut
If you can afford the high price of land, farming is possible in Connecticut. There are numerous restrictions on how many animals you can have, the size of greenhouses, setbacks, and whether roadside stands for selling food are permitted. Litchfield County seems to be the best area for farming in CT. Tolland County is also okay.
Whether or not you can legally live in a tiny home in Connecticut depends on the local zoning laws.
The State Building Code states that habitable rooms (except kitchens) shall have a floor area not less than 70 square feet. Bedrooms must have an additional 50 square feet if two people will be sleeping there.
Note that the 2018 version of the International Building Code (IBC) has an amendment “Q,” which allows for tiny homes. As for writing, Connecticut’s code is still based on the 2015 version of the IBC, which does not have this amendment.
In addition to this, some counties have set minimum floor areas. For example, Windham County zoning (PDF) requires homes in the R-1, R-2, and R-3 districts to have at least 750 sq. feet, and homes in the R-4 district must have 900 sq. feet. This effectively makes it illegal to live in a tiny home without getting a zoning variance.
Certificates of Occupancy and Primitive Living
In Connecticut (as well as most places in the US), you cannot legally live in a property until you get a Certificate of Occupancy. An inspector will come to the property and, if everything complies, will issue the Certificate.
Certificates of Occupancy can make living off-grid a bit of a legal gray zone. In some cases, an inspector might not issue a CO if the property isn’t connected to electricity or have water-under-pressure indoors.
Primitive cabins without any water or electricity do exist in Connecticut – so there is definitely a way to get a Certificate of Occupancy for a primitive lifestyle. However, it may ultimately be up to the local inspector. You’ll have to call the county and ask for advice to see whether your plans will get approval.
Off-Grid Electricity Laws in Connecticut
Connecticut law allows off-grid electricity. Statute 29-265 even specifically states that inspectors cannot deny a Certificate of Occupancy simply because the home isn’t connected to the electric utilities, so long as the home is connected to an alternative energy system.
However, this doesn’t clarify whether you can get a Certificate of Occupancy if the home isn’t connected to any electricity at all.
The law reads:
No building official shall refuse to issue a certificate of occupancy for any single-family dwelling because such dwelling is not connected to an electric utility if such dwelling is otherwise in conformity with the requirements of this section and applicable local health codes and is equipped with an alternative energy system. For the purposes of this subsection, “alternative energy system” means any system or mechanism which uses solar radiation, wind, water, biomass or geothermal resources as the primary source for the generation of electrical energy.
You will need to get a permit for your alternative energy system and follow all relevant building codes. You will also have to adhere to zoning codes, some of which might outright forbid certain systems like wind turbines.
Off-Grid Water Laws in Connecticut
Connecticut is a water-rich state, and it is generally fairly easy to get a permit for a private well. However, some places have made it illegal to have off-grid water in certain situations.
For example, in Middleton County, you must have at least 40,000 sq. feet of land to have your own water supply. Otherwise, you have to connect to the municipal water.
Who Owns the Water in Connecticut?
Water in Connecticut is owned by the public, and the public has the right to use these waters for activities like boating and fishing. However, the State also recognizes riparian rights: landowners have the right to reasonably use the water on or next to their property, so long as it doesn’t interfere with other riparian rights holders.
Learn more about the public trust water laws here.
Well Water Laws in Connecticut
Under Connecticut law, all wells must be drilled by a licensed driller. The driller will need to apply for a permit beforehand, and the well must be registered when completed. All new private wells must be tested per Section 19-13-B101 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies.
If your well can withdraw large amounts of water, you may also need a Water Diversion Permit. Read more about water permits here.
Rainwater Harvesting Laws in Connecticut
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Connecticut, and the State encourages it. You are allowed to use rainwater for outdoor uses like watering your yard or washing your car. However, the code isn’t clear about whether you can use rainwater indoors for flushing toilets.
Chapter 13 Section 1303 of the CT Plumbing Code addresses rainwater harvesting systems, including design requirements and how you can use the water.
Even though rainwater harvesting systems are not included in the definition of “on-site nonpotable water reuse system,” it seems that you still have to follow the same rules for using rainwater as you would other nonpotable water. Some of these rules include labeling pipes and filtering water before using it to flush toilets.
Wastewater Removal Laws in Connecticut
Connecticut surprisingly has favorable laws regarding off-grid wastewater treatment. The laws even specifically allow alternative systems like compost toilets and incinerating toilets. However, you’ll likely need to have septic installed to meet regulations.
Also, note that you are required to connect to the municipal sewer system in many parts of Connecticut. In some areas, you are only allowed to have septic if you have at least 2 acres of land. These laws effectively make it illegal to go completely off grid in Connecticut.
You can read the CT wastewater laws here.
Compost toilets are legal in Connecticut. Under Section 19-13-B103f:
The local director of health may approve the use of a large capacity composting toilet or a heat-assisted composting toilet for replacing an existing privy or failing subsurface sewage disposal system, or for any single-family residential building where application is made by the owner and occupant, and the lot on which the building will be located is tested by the local director of health and found suitable for a subsurface sewage disposal system meeting all the requirements of Section 19-13-B103d of these regulations.
All wastes removed from composting toilets shall be disposed of by burial or other methods approved by the local director of health.
While compost toilets are allowed, you will still likely need to install septic to comply with graywater disposal laws.
Are Outhouses Legal in Connecticut (Pit and Vault Privies)?
Dry vault privies are technically legal in Connecticut but only for nonresidential use. This makes it illegal to use an outhouse at your home.
The law reads:
The local director of health may approve dry vault privies for nonresidential use where they are located outside of buildings used as human habitation. (2) Wastes removed from dry privy vaults shall be disposed of by burial or other methods approved by the local director of health.
Graywater Recycling Laws
Graywater recycling is legal in Connecticut, but you must meet stringent codes. For example, you cannot keep untreated graywater in cisterns for more than 24 hours. You even have to pre-treat graywater used for flushing toilets. You can read the code here.
Wood Heaters and Stoves
Most places in Connecticut require you to get a building permit before installing any sort of wood stove or heater. The State also requires you to meet EPA standards. Read them here.
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What about hydro power? I’ve got 15 acres with a significant brook running through my property. Can I do a small hydro generator??
So long as you don’t divert water and it’s not a protected waterway, you are generally fine. Check with DEEP though. https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Water/Diversions/Water-Diversion-Permits
Thanks for this!