Delaware Off Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide

As a tiny state with minimal rural land, it’s no surprise that Delaware isn’t exactly popular for off-grid living. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t live off grid legally in Delaware – even in suburban areas. You just have to know these laws about disconnecting from utilities.

Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Delaware?

Living off grid in Delaware is mostly legal. Some laws can require you to connect to the municipal sewer system if one is located nearby. Without certain utilities – such as not having electricity in your home – getting a Certificate of Occupancy can be challenging. However, if you are willing to go through the complex permit and inspection process, living off the grid legally is possible.

Building Codes in Delaware

Building codes in Delaware are mostly adopted at the local county level. However, Delaware has adopted some statewide codes. These are based on:

  • International Plumbing Code 2018
  • International Energy Conservation Code 2018
  • Fire Code NFPA 1 2021
  • Electrical Code NFPA 70 2020
  • International Fuel Gas Code 2018

Check with your county for the applicable codes. Delaware can be strict in enforcing code, mainly because inspections are required after certain work is done.

Religious Exemption to Codes

Delaware has a decent-sized Amish community (check out these Amish markets). Thus, the state allows a religious exemption to the building codes. I’m unsure how feasible it is to get this exemption if you aren’t Amish.

Delaware Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

Delaware’s local zoning laws determine what is legal or illegal to do on your property. Because Delaware is so small and doesn’t have much rural land, almost all parts of the state are under strict zoning laws.  

Here are some of the typical restrictions you’ll find in zoning laws:

  • Types of accessory buildings permitted
  • Number of livestock allowed
  • Minimum lot sizes
  • Whether manufactured houses are allowed
  • Driveway requirements

The rules for Agricultural-zoned land are usually much more relaxed than those for Residential or Urban zones. However, there is very little land in Delaware zoned as Agricultural. If you do find Ag land, it is sometimes an “Agricultural Industrial” zone – meaning you could have some high-polluting neighbors.

Living in a Mobile Home in Delaware

Delaware does not have a statewide law about living in mobile homes. Instead, it is regulated mainly by county zoning laws. Under these local laws, living in a mobile home is typically illegal. It is also illegal to work out of a mobile home.   

Note that it may be legal to live in a manufactured home. It will likely need to be on a foundation and connected to utilities. Even then, it might only be permitted in certain zoning districts.

Tiny Home Laws

Delaware currently does not have any statewide laws on tiny homes. However, several counties have adopted the 2018 version of the International Residence Code (IRC). It has an Appendix Q, which sets the requirements for homes under 400 square meters.

You’ll have to check with your county to see whether they’ve adopted this code or if they have any laws regarding minimum dwelling size.

Also, check local zoning laws. Tiny manufactured homes may only be allowed in certain zones. If the house is on wheels, it will likely be considered a mobile home and be illegal.

Off-Grid Electricity in Delaware

Off-grid electricity is legal in Delaware. A licensed electrician must install all systems. An exception allows homeowners to do some of their own electrical work, but they must have a homeowner’s permit to do so. All installations must comply with the State Electrical Code.

You could face legal issues if you don’t want to have any power to your home. Parts of the electrical code require homes to have a certain amount of outlets. If you don’t have electricity, you won’t meet these requirements and might not get a Certificate of Occupancy for new construction.

Solar Power

It is legal to use off-grid solar power in Delaware. You will need a permit for solar panels, even if it is just a small installation. In addition to the permit, some counties require an inspection of the work.

If you do remain connected to the grid, Delaware allows net metering. But not all places have net metering. Middletown, for example, is currently not allowing new net metering connections.

Wind Energy

Delaware has surprisingly good laws about wind turbines.   In 2009, the state enacted a law (H.S. 1 for H.B. 70) that made it illegal for local governments and HOAs to make unreasonable restrictions on small wind energy systems.

Under the law, wind energy systems meeting these requirements must be approved:

  • Setback: 1 time the height of the turbine
  • Noise: No more than 5 decibels above average existing noise level up to 60 decibels at any location along the property line.
  • Appearance: Systems must be free from signage. Electrical wiring of non-building integrated systems must be placed underground.

Read more about the rules here. The NREL also has this Delaware Guide to Small Wind Energy Systems (PDF). 

Off-Grid Water Laws in Delaware

Delaware is water-rich, so getting water for your off-grid property shouldn’t be a problem.   Water allocation is regulated by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). You’ll need a water-use permit, which is generally easy to get for domestic use.

Water Rights Permits in Delaware

Under Delaware’s Water Allocation Regulations, you need a permit to use water. You file an application for withdrawals of up to 50,000 gallons of surface water per day. For groundwater up to this amount, the permit is authorized by the well construction permit.

Getting a permit for withdrawals over 50,000 gallons per day is more complicated. You’ll need permission from the DNEC Water Allocation Brand. The fee is currently $375 plus $100 to cover advertising costs. You’ll likely need to hire a geologist to plan the project. 

Withdrawals of over 100,000 gallons per day from the Delaware River Basin Commission require an additional permit from the DRBC.

Once your permit is issued, you must record and report yearly water usage.

Surface Water

You must have a permit to use water on your property. However, it is straightforward to get a permit for small withdrawals (such as using pond water to irrigate your garden). You just need to submit a short application. Once the DNREC receives it, you are automatically granted the permit. The permit is only temporary, though; the DNREC can revoke it if environmental damage occurs.

For surface water withdrawals larger than 50,000 gallons per day, you’ll need a DNEC Water Allocation Branch permit.

Well Water Laws in Delaware

The laws and regulations about well water in Delaware are laid out in 7301 Regulations Governing the Construction and Use of Wells. You need a permit for all types of wells – domestic and agricultural. A licensed well driller must submit the permit application. It is illegal to drill your own well in Delaware without a license.

To get the well permit, you must first have an approved onsite wastewater treatment system (which usually means connecting to municipal supply or installing septic).

Well permits are issued by the DNREC. Get more info from them here.

Rainwater Harvesting Laws in Delaware

Rainwater harvesting is legal in Delaware. The DNREC even offers some rain barrel building workshops. They sometimes offer rain barrels at discount prices, too. Contact them for more info.

You do not need a permit to collect rainwater in barrels for watering your yard, washing your car, and other nonpotable uses. However, you’ll have to follow the regulations in Section 1303 of the Plumbing Code. These regulations make it challenging to use rainwater indoors, even for flushing toilets. You must treat the rainwater first and create a separate nonpotable water plumbing system.  

Sewage and Waste Removal Laws in Delaware

You may have a difficult time if you want to have off-grid wastewater treatment in Delaware.    Under the law, counties can require you to connect to the municipal sewer system if a connection is “available,” which generally means one is within 200 feet of the foundation.  

If you aren’t required to connect, you’ll likely be required to install septic. Getting septic approval in D.E. involves:

  • Site evaluation from licensed Class D soil scientist
  • System design by a Class B designer
  • Installation from a licensed Class E system contractor

You cannot get a permit for a well until you have your wastewater treatment permit.

Alternative Systems

Delaware wastewater laws allow for alternative and innovative approaches if a conventional septic system isn’t possible. The options are limited, and there’s no guarantee that your permit will be granted. See them here.

Compost Toilets

Delaware wastewater laws currently do not mention compost toilets. This puts compost toilets in a legal gray area. You could theoretically use them in your home, but you’d have to dispose of the waste per the regulations – which likely means septic. 

On top of that, the Plumbing Code has minimum fixture requirements that require you to have an approved type of water closet in your home. If you do not meet these requirements, you will not be granted a Certificate of Occupancy for any new construction.

Are Outhouses Legal in Delaware (Pit and Vault Privies)?

All types of outhouses are illegal in Delaware. The state’s onsite wastewater laws don’t mention outhouses, but the regulations about the kinds of systems allowed are clear. 

You may be able to find a loophole that allows you to use a holding tank or temporary toilet (such as for a seasonal camp), but you’ll need an approved wastewater system for dwellings.

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

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