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Georgia Off-Grid Laws: An In Depth Guide


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Last Updated: January 14, 2021

With its good climate, abundance of water, and affordable land (especially in the northern part of the state), Georgia is one of the most popular states for off-grid living.

Georgia generally has laws which favor off-grid living but don’t be surprised if you encounter legal restrictions that make the process difficult or even impossible in some areas.


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Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Georgia

Living off the grid is mostly legal in Georgia. The main issue preventing you from going off-grid is waste disposal: in many areas, you are required to connect to the public sewer line.

However, in rural areas, it is usually completely legal to go off-grid.  The caveat is that you must get permits and follow strict rules for installing wells, septic tanks, and other systems.

Georgia Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

Zoning laws don’t necessarily prohibit you from living off-grid, but zoning does determine how you can use your land.

Unfortunately, Georgia has very strict zoning laws.  To make matters worse, zoning laws vary drastically between counties.  You will have to spend a lot of time researching these laws to figure out whether you can do things like have livestock, slaughter your own chickens, or live in a tiny home.

Even the codes used for zoning districts aren’t uniform throughout Georgia. The main ones you want to pay attention to when looking for property are:

  • AG: Agricultural
  • CA: Commercial Agricultural
  • RR: Rural Residential
  • SR or R-1: Single-Family Residential

As a general rule, areas which are zoned for agricultural use (AG) have more relaxed rules than those zoned as residential.  However, don’t assume you’ll be able to do certain activities just because the land is zoned as AG.  One county, for example, might allow mobile homes on AG land whereas another county prohibits it.

Murray County code, for example, limits how many animals you are allowed to keep on AG land. If you want more than 50 animals (including small animals like chickens!), you’ll have to be on CA land – which has strict rules about minimum lot sizes and who can live there.

Raising Animals in Georgia

Considering that Georgia has a long tradition of raising animals, the laws are actually very strict in most areas.

Again, this mostly depends on local zoning laws.

Don’t assume that the laws will be relaxed just because you are in a rural area.  Surprisingly, some areas around Atlanta have more relaxed laws about raising chickens than rural counties do!  This article has some examples of backyard chicken laws around Georgia.

Qualifying As a Farm in Georgia

Qualifying as a farm in Georgia means you will get some tax breaks. Your property will be valued at a lower amount than market value, so property taxes are lower. And, under the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE), you receive a break on sales tax for farming equipment and supplies.   Some other types of land also get these breaks.

Unfortunately, qualifying as a farm is a bit more difficult than in other states.  You need to have at least $5,000 annual income from farming.  The property taxes aren’t based on “current use value” like with many other states, so you could still end up paying a lot in property taxes.

See more detailed info about the programs here: GATE and Property Tax Valuation.

Also Read: What Is a Homestead Declaration and Why You Need One

Off-Grid Electricity in Georgia

It is completely legal to use off-grid electricity in Georgia.  This includes various forms of off-grid systems, including solar, wind and hydro.  Because the state is so sunny, there already are a lot of homes in Georgia which are completely or mostly off-grid.

Unfortunately, there are no state-wide rebates for installing solar in Georgia.  If you decide to stay grid-tied, the state does have a net metering policy so you can get some money for excess electricity that you produce.

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Off-Grid Water in Georgia

Georgia used to be considered a water-rich state. However, the state – especially the northern part – has been suffering droughts much more frequently.   So, it’s really important that you understand Georgia water right laws before setting up an off-grid home.

Surface Water

Georgia uses the law of “riparian rights” which essential means that you own any water going through your property.  You are also legally allowed to use water bordering your property (though you might not be able to do things like swim in that water – more on that here).

However, riparian rights laws also have some restrictions:

  • You cannot alter the course of the water
  • Cannot deprive your neighbors of their water
  • The water must be put to beneficial use

Further, Georgia law says that you must have a permit if you will use more than an average of 100,000 gallons of water per day.  Permits are obtained from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

Well Water

Georgia law states that ““the property right of the owner of real estate extends downward indefinitely and upward indefinitely.”  The Georgia Supreme Court interpreted this as meaing you own all the water underneath your land. This makes Georgia one of the few states which gives absolute ownership of ground water to property owners.

There are a few exceptions though. You must:

  • Get a permit if you plan to use more than 100,000 gallons per day on average
  • Keep records of how much water is withdrawn from your well

Further, in times of drought, your neighbors might also be able to sue you for taking too much water.  This article has some good information on the topic.

Regardless of how much water you plan on using, you will need to get a permit for the well. There are some fairly-strict (but common sense) laws about who can drill wells and where they can be placed. In general, it’s fairly simple though can still be costly. You can read about the regulations here.

Rainwater

Under Georgia water rights law, you own all the water which falls on your property – including rainwater.  This means it is completely legal to harvest rainwater in any amount.  The state even offers incentives for people who install rainwater barrels, allowing you to get a tax credit of 25% of the costs up to $2,500.

However, there are many laws restricting how you can harvest and use rainwater in Georgia. You cannot use rainwater for drinking water.  Rainwater can be used indoors, but must be treated before entering the home – even if you want to use it for things like flushing the toilet!  There is a good guide to Georgia rainwater harvesting rules here.

Graywater Recycling

Graywater recycling systems are legal in Georgia, but they are heavily regulated.

If you want to use a system which is built into your plumbing and stores graywater in tanks, you will have to follow strict building and design codes.  The biggest issue in these codes is that graywater must be treated before it can be used indoors. You’ll need to get a permit for the system from the local county board of health. This article has good information about the requirements.

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Sewage and Waste Removal

Off-grid sewage treatment systems are somewhat legal in Georgia. If your property is within 200 feet of a public sewer line, you will be required to connect to it. However, there are some exceptions for homes which use alternative systems, so long as those systems meet requirements.

If you aren’t required to connect to the public sewer, you will almost always have to install a septic tank.  The law does allow for some alternative off-grid sewage treatment systems though – but the rules are strict and the decision is ultimately up to your County Health Board.  The laws are laid out in the Georgia Manual for On-Site Sewage Management Systems. I’ll summarize parts of those laws below.

Compost Toilets

Composting toilets are legal in Georgia. However, they are only allowed in certain situations – such as when the property is too small for a large septic tank and absorption field system. Only approved compost toilets are allowed.

The law states that you must still dispose of laundry, bath, and kitchen wastes in a septic tank.  It isn’t clear whether you could use an approved graywater system as an alternative.

Outhouses/Latrines

Outhouses are legal in Georgia. However, they are only allowed if

water under pressure is not available within the building structure or where approved gray water disposal systems are provided.

There are also regulations about how and where the outhouse can be constructed, such as keeping it at least 20 feet from property lines and 100 feet from wells.  You must have the soil evaluated before getting a permit.

Note that some counties still may have laws which prohibit outhouses.

Incinerating Toilets

Incinerator toilets are somewhat legal in Georgia.  You are allowed to use them but only in places where “waste generation is greatly limited, such as a remote office staffed by a limited number of people, and where no waste water from kitchens, bath or laundry is expected.”  So, most permanent dwellings will be required to use another sewage treatment system.

Garbage Removal

Burning trash in Georgia is strictly forbidden. According to some reports, the law is actually enforced.  You will even need a permit for burning yard waste.

The law also states that private landfills are not allowed.  This means you won’t be legally able to handle your own trash.  If you live somewhere with trash collection services, you’ll likely be forced to pay for them – even if you don’t produce any waste or compost all waste.

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Other Off-Grid Laws in Georgia

RVs

The laws vary by county but it is usually illegal to live in an RV.  Some places, such as Murray County, won’t even approve septic or power for RVs.

Tiny Homes

Georgia law is not very friendly towards the tiny house movement.  Many counties have strict minimum sizes for homes written into their zoning laws. Recently, some county laws have even increased the minimum size as a way to keep tiny homes out of their communities.

However, there is hope.  In 2018, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs adopted the Tiny House Appendix “S” (read about that here).  It might be a while before local counties adapt though.

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