If you overlook the many different natural disasters, Hawaii is considered a paradise where you can truly live off the land year-round.
As a result, many people dream about moving there are living off grid.
But, before you buy property, make sure you know Hawaii’s off grid laws — it might be illegal to live the type of life you want there.
Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Hawaii?
Living off grid in Hawaii is legal. In many remote places in Hawaii, off-grid is the only option because there are no public services available. Even in less remote areas, the state laws and building codes are very favorable to off-grid living and allow many eco-friendly alternative systems. However, you may encounter some issues if you are trying to legally live without power or a septic system.
Hawaii Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living
Hawaii is unique because it has statewide land-use laws instead of local zoning laws. These are regulated by the Land Use Commission and are very complex.
The laws are primarily geared toward protecting the land from developers. This is good for people who want to live off grid because they don’t have to worry that a developer will swoop in and build next to their property.
However, the land-use laws can make getting a permit for your project somewhat complicated. You will have to ensure your project falls within the district’s approved uses. For example, agricultural tourism is only allowed in certain districts.
Main land designations in Hawaii:
- Conservation – about 48% of all land in Hawaii
- Agricultural – 47%
- Urban – 5%
- Rural – less than 0.5%
These land designations are further divided into zoning districts. Some of these include:
- Single-family residential
- Family agricultural
- Village commercial
- And many more.
Also, see the Hawaii Land Use Division website for more info.
Minimum Acreage Requirements
Under Hawaii State law, lots in Agricultural districts must be at least 1 acre, and lots in Rural districts must be at least ½ acre. However, each county can set higher standards. It isn’t uncommon for you to need at least 20 acres in Agricultural districts.
Considering that land prices are typically very high in Hawaii, the minimum lot requirements can make it incredibly expensive to go off grid in the State.
Building Codes in Hawaii
With few exceptions, all buildings in Hawaii must meet the State building codes. Hawaii bases its codes on international and national code standards but has made some amendments. Codes are regularly updated in Hawaii. You can find more info on the Hawaii building code webpage.
- Building Code – Based on the 2018 IBC
- Residential Code – Based on IRC 2018
- Existing Building Code – Based on IEBC 2018
- Electrical Code – Based on NFPA 70 2018
- Energy Conservation Code – Based on IECC 2018
- Fire Code – Based on NFPA 1 2018
- Plumbing Code – Based on UPC 2018
Living in a Mobile Home or Manufactured Home
Living in a mobile home or manufactured home is legal in Hawaii. However, they are generally treated the same way as traditional residential dwellings. They will need to meet the same building codes and have an approved wastewater disposal method.
Chapter 25 of Hawaii County zoning code even specifically allows mobile homes by stating,
All mobile dwellings shall conform to the County construction code, including chapters 5 and 5A through 5F, and the Public Health Housing Code (chapter 2 of the State public health regulations), except: (1) When parked in a licensed mobile home park; or (2) When occupied for dwelling or sleeping purposes outside of a licensed mobile home park for less than thirty days in any one location.
Note that there are some “historical” zoning districts throughout the State. In these areas, all dwellings must meet additional requirements to preserve the area’s appearance. It is unlikely that you’d be able to meet these requirements with a mobile home.
Tiny Home Laws
Hawaii is very friendly towards tiny homes. The State Building Code is based on the 2018 version of the IBC, which has an “Appendix Q,” which specifically deals with tiny homes. So long as the home meets the requirements of the building code, it is legal.
Can You Camp on Your Own Property?
It is generally illegal to camp on your own property in Hawaii. The issue is that all dwellings must adhere to building codes. There are some exceptions in the building code for agricultural buildings, sheds, and other buildings.
Likewise, your county might have an exemption that lets you camp on the property while constructing the main dwelling. But none of these exemptions apply if you want to camp there full time.
Primitive Living in Hawaii
Living a primitive lifestyle without electricity, running water, or certain amenities is mostly legal in Hawaii. There are parts of the plumbing code that require homes to have a toilet, kitchen sink, and automatic clothes washer connection in dwellings. These requirements could be met with off-grid systems, though.
If you don’t want to have electricity or running water in your home, you might have trouble getting a Certificate of Occupancy for a new home in some areas. Basically, the inspector will deem your home uninhabitable without these amenities.
The fire code also allows officials to prohibit candles and open flames. So, an inspector might have issues with you using candles as a lighting source.
Off-Grid Electricity in Hawaii
Off-grid electricity is legal in Hawaii, and the State is very friendly toward people who want to provide all of their own power needs. There are state incentives for solar and wind power systems. Also important, the State is very clear about what permits are required and the regulations. This makes it easy to get your plans approved.
Off-Grid Water Laws in Hawaii
All water in Hawaii is owned by the public but regulated by the Department of Land and Natural Resources Commission on Water Management. The law recognizes riparian rights, but you still need a permit to use water in many cases – especially in areas designated as Water Management Areas.
Read more about Hawaii water rights here.
Water Rights Permits in Hawaii
All wells in Hawaii must be drilled by a licensed driller. You need a permit before drilling, and all wells must be reported to the State. The only exception to the permit rule is for test boring holes. Read more about water well laws in Hawaii here.
Surface Water Use Permits
Hawaii recognizes riparian rights, and you are allowed to use the water on or next to your property. However, there are many cases where you may need to get a permit first. These permits may include:
- Surface Water Use Permits (in designated surface water management areas)
- Amend Instream Flow Standards
- Stream Diversion Works Permit
- Stream Channel Alteration Permit
Read more about water use permits in Hawaii here.
Rainwater Harvesting Laws in Hawaii
Hawaii has some of the most favorable rainwater harvesting laws of any state in the USA. Rainwater harvesting is legal in Hawaii, but systems must comply with Chapter 16 of the Hawaii Plumbing Code.
The code makes it very easy to use rainwater for irrigation or washing clothes. By comparison, many other states require you to disinfect rainwater before using it, even for flushing toilets!
Some of these regulations include:
- A permit is not required for exterior rainwater catchment systems used for outdoor drip and subsurface irrigation with a maximum storage capacity of 360 gallons (1363 L).
- A plumbing permit is not required for rainwater catchment systems for single-family dwellings where outlets, piping, and system components are located on the exterior of the building. This does not exempt the need for permits where required for electrical connections, tank supports, or enclosures.
- Rainwater catchment systems shall have no direct connection to a potable water supply or alternate water source.
- When using for urinal and water closet flushing, clothes washing, or trap priming: Must use a debris excluder or other approved means in accordance with Section 1603.14 and 100 microns in accordance with Section 1603.15.
Sewage and Waste Removal Laws in Hawaii
Individual Wastewater Systems (IWSs) in Hawaii are regulated by the Department of Health Wastewater Division. Off-grid systems are usually legal, but you must have an approved system for your home.
Required to Connect to Sewer System
Hawaii law states that dwellings must connect to the public sewer system if one is located in the proximity.
However, state law does not define what “proximity” means. You’ll need to check to see whether your area has established a specific distance for requiring hookups. If not, it is basically up to the local health inspector to decide whether they will force you to use the public sewer or not.
In other states requiring a sewer connection, “proximity” usually means within 100 or 200 feet of the sewer.
Compost toilets are legal in Hawaii. The State’s wastewater laws specifically allow them and set regulations. You’ll have to meet the requirements of Subchapter 4, “Wastewater sludge use and disposal.” This section specifically says that waste can be applied to the land – but it must meet certain “quality” requirements.
If you are only using a compost toilet, you’ll also need to have a way to deal with wastewater from your home. In most cases, this involves installing septic. However, Hawaii does have relaxed laws when it comes to graywater systems.
See off grid composting toilet options.
Cesspools are fairly common in Hawaii, and the State recently started regulating them. It is now illegal to make a new cesspool, and all existing ones must be converted to an approved system by 2050.
Are Outhouses Legal in Hawaii (Pit and Vault Privies)?
Pit privies are illegal in Hawaii. With few exceptions, portable toilets are also illegal. Despite this, there are a lot of pit privies still in use in Hawaii.
Graywater Recycling Laws
Hawaii has some of the best graywater recycling laws in the United States. The government actively promotes it with their Recycled Water Program and has very clear rules about what you can do with recycled water. Unlike most other states, Hawaii even lets you irrigate your lawn with laundry water.
Under the law, recycled water is divided into three classes: R-1, R-2, and R-3. The R-3 class is for wastewater that only underwent oxidation treatment. It can be used for drip or subsurface irrigation for non-edible crops and trees.