Contrary to common belief, Florida is actually a good state for off grid living. However, some laws might make it difficult or even impossible to live the type of life you want legally.
Here’s what you need to know about Florida off grid laws.
Want to know more about living off grid? Read:
- Overview of the Off Grid Laws of Every State
- Cost to Live Off Grid
- The Best States for Farming and Homesteading
Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Florida?
In remote and rural areas of Florida, it is generally legal to live off-grid. The main law which may prevent you from going 100% off grid is the requirement to connect to a municipal sewage system if one is available.
Many parts of Florida also use the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC). Depending on how local authorities interpret the code, some off-grid systems may be illegal, like using rainwater as your sole water source or only having an outdoor shower at your home.
Florida Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living
All of Florida’s land is under some sort of local zoning. The zoning regulates things like tall buildings, setbacks, and minimum lot and home sizes. Zoning also dictates what you are legally allowed to do on your property.
Before buying land for your off-grid Florida property, you must research the local zoning laws to know what is permitted. The rules aren’t always compatible with off-grid life.
Some common zoning areas in Florida are:
- Rural residential
- Environmentally Sensitive Areas
Agricultural zoning is most compatible with living off grid in Florida. You are generally allowed to farm and raise animals. There usually are no minimum home sizes, so you can live in a tiny manufactured home.
However, you can expect minimum lot sizes, usually starting at 5 acres. Some agricultural zones require at least 20 acres.
Rural Residential Zoning
Rural residential zones also usually have relaxed rules, thus making it easier for you to live off grid the way you want legally. You can still expect specific regulations about what is and isn’t allowed, though.
For example, Columbia County zoning allows farming and raising animals in rural residential zones so long as the parcel is at least 3.5 acres.
Holtville has more specific rules: in low-density rural residential zones, you are allowed one large animal per half-acre “except that parcels larger than five acres could have one large animal per half-acre for the first five acres and four per acre for all acres beyond the initial five acres.”
Even in areas with the same zoning classification, the rules can vary drastically on a county-by-county basis. You’ll need to check the regulations in detail before buying any property in Florida.
Living in a tiny home in many parts of Florida is illegal. Zoning regulations set minimum home sizes – some of which are pretty large. For example, Seminole County has a minimum house size of 700 to 1,600 square feet in residential zones.
Agricultural and rural zones are usually more permissive of tiny home living.
Because of strict zoning, living in a mobile home is illegal in many parts of the United States. However, Florida is quite friendly towards mobile homes. It is usually legal to live in a mobile home in areas zoned as Agricultural – though you’ll still have to meet the minimum land parcel requirements and the minimum land per dwelling rules. Mobile home living is also often allowed in Florida’s rural residential zones. You may be forced to live in an area specifically zoned for mobile homes outside these zones.
You might also find it helpful to read: What is a homestead declaration?
Off-Grid Electricity in Florida
Off-grid electricity systems, including solar and wind power, are legal in Florida.
There are no laws preventing you from disconnecting from the power company and creating your own “micro grid.” In almost all cases, you will need to get a permit for your system. Getting a permit for larger systems involves submitting schematic diagrams, electrical calculations, specifications, and other documents.
Many jurisdictions only issue the permit to a licensed electrical contractor (EC or ER license). Solar water heaters require a plumbing permit instead of an electrical permit. It is illegal to install your own solar or wind system: it must be done by a licensed professional. You may be required to have an inspection before you can legally use your off-grid system.
Off-Grid Water Laws in Florida
Florida is known for its abundance of water, including almost 2 000 miles of coastline, 11,000 miles of rivers, streams, waterways, and thousands of lakes.
This makes it easy to get enough water without relying on municipal water utilities. However, water rights laws can be very complicated in Florida. Don’t be surprised if you come across legal issues regarding your rights to water on your property.
Who owns the water in Florida?
In Florida, navigable waters are owned by the State but available for use by the public. Non-navigable waters, such as lakes and ponds, can be privately owned – though the State owns a large portion of these waters too.
Even though the State owns navigable waters, it recognizes riparian rights: you have the legal right to certain uses of navigable waters on or next to your property, so long as you own the land to the ordinary high water mark. These uses include:
- Ingress and egress
Florida also gives riparian owners the right to an “unobstructed view” of the waters, which isn’t found in other riparian states. You are also usually allowed to build a dock on the waters. Florida State also has other unique interpretations of riparian law, such as recognizing that water access adds value to the property. Thus the water cannot be taken without compensation.
Read all about Florida’s riparian rights laws here.
Water Use Permits in Florida
Except for some domestic wells, you will need a permit to use water in Florida. There are two main types of permits: Individual permits and General water use permits. General water use permits also include “permits by rule.” These are for smaller projects, and the permits are easy to obtain.
Permits are issued by the Department of Environmental Protection and your Water Management District. You can find more information here.
Surface Water Use Laws in Florida
Unless you own the body of water, you will need a permit to use water on your property.
Some situations are exempt from a permit, but it is generally required for any situation where you pump or divert surface water. Depending on the project, you may also need to get a dam permit through the District’s Dam Safety Program.
Some dams, including agricultural ones, are covered under Chapter 40A-44 of the Florida Administrative Code.
Digging a Pond on Your Property
It is generally legal to dig a pond on your property in Florida. You will likely need an excavation permit. However, some ponds – like small agricultural ponds or stormwater ponds – are exempt from the excavation permit requirements. Each county has rules about how large and deep ponds can be.
Under Florida law, all wells must be drilled by licensed water well contractors. The contractor is also the one who must apply for the well permit. Pumps, piping, and electrical components are not considered part of the well, so state law allows you to install and repair those parts yourself. However, local laws may require getting an electrical or plumbing permit.
In addition to getting a construction permit for the well, you may also need to obtain a water-use permit.
There is an exemption for domestic wells, defined as
“water used strictly for domestic use which occurs in a private residence, and includes no more than one rental residence or no more than four non-rental residences served by one well.”
You must get a water-use permit if you use the well for irrigation. There is a simplified “permit by rule” for wells that meet certain requirements, such as wells withdrawing less than an average of 100,000 gallons per day and are less than 8 inches in diameter.
Rainwater Harvesting Laws in Florida
Rainwater harvesting is not only legal in Florida, but it is actively encouraged by the government. Many local governments offer financial incentives such as rebates for rainwater harvesting and reduced stormwater fees. Financial assistance is also available through Green Building programs and the Water Savings Incentive Program (WaterSIP). In some cases, you may even be required to install rainwater cisterns.
You can use harvested rainwater for irrigation in Florida. However, the law isn’t as clear about using rainwater for potable or indoor uses like flushing toilets. You’ll have to check with local plumbing rules and may need to disinfect rainwater before it can be legally used indoors.
No permits are required for rain barrels or totes. You may need excavation and plumbing permits for underground rainwater cisterns. It’s worth noting that some counties allow you to convert old septic tanks into rainwater cisterns.
Sewage and Waste Removal Laws in Florida
One of the biggest hurdles you may have with going completely off-grid in Florida is sewage laws.
Under statute 0381.00655, all property owners served by municipal or investor-owned sewerage systems must connect to it. This law even applies to homes with a legal septic system: you have 365 days from when you are notified to connect to the available sewage systems.
To complicate things further, many places in Florida (as well as other states) combine sewage and water bills. Even if you get 100% of your water from off-grid sources, you’ll still pay the municipal water fee.
Compost Toilets Laws in Florida
Compost toilets are legal in Florida. Under the law, they must comply with ANSI/NSF Standard 41.
However, the law makes it illegal to use only a compost toilet.
The law states that,
Liquids discharging from waterless, incinerating or organic waste composting toilets shall be plumbed into the onsite system serving the establishment.”
It further states that all solids removed from a compost toilet must be mixed with lime, containerized, and disposed of with the establishment’s solid waste, which generally means that you will need to have a septic tank or other approved system.
- How compost toilets turn waste into manure
- How to build a composting toilet with urine diverter
- Best off the grid toilet
Are Outhouses (Pit Privies) Legal in Florida?
Even though they are common in some rural areas, outhouses are illegal in Florida. They are only legal in non-permanent residences in remote areas where electricity is unavailable. Thus, it might be possible to legally use an outhouse in a Florida cabin if you do not live there permanently.
Greywater Laws in Florida
According to Florida law,
Onsite graywater tank and drainfield systems may, at the homeowners’ discretion, be utilized provided blackwater is disposed into a sanitary sewerage system when such sewerage system is available. Graywater systems may, at the homeowners’ discretion, be utilized in conjunction with an onsite blackwater system where a sewerage system is not available for blackwater disposal.”
“Graywater” means that part of domestic sewage that is not blackwater, including waste from the bath, lavatory, laundry, and sink, except kitchen sink waste.
Do you live off grid in Florida? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.