With lots of affordable farmland and woodland, Indiana is generally considered a good state to live off the land. However, if you want to disconnect from the grid completely, you may come across legal issues.
Here’s what you need to know about Indiana off grid laws.
Want to more about living off grid? Read:
- What States Allow Off Grid Living?
- How Much Does it Cost to Live Off Grid?
- The Best States for Homesteading
Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Indiana?
Living off-grid is mostly legal in Indiana. The main area where you could come across obstacles is the requirement to connect to a municipal sewage system if one is located nearby.
There are also some rules which might prohibit you from legally using water on your property.
Even if your off-grid systems are legal, you’ll still need to get a permit for virtually everything you want to build or construct.
Indiana Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living
Almost all counties and cities in Indiana have zoning laws. These laws tend to be strict and specific about what you are legally allowed to do on your property. They cover everything from the number of pets you can have to the maximum allowed fence height.
Areas zoned as Agricultural or Rural Residential have the least strict rules, but even these zones have rules which could make it illegal to live off-grid the way you want on your property.
There are still some counties in Indiana without zoning laws. You’ll still need to meet state building codes, but there won’t be restrictions on what you can do on your land.
Counties without zoning in Indiana:
*Note that these counties could adopt zoning laws at any time. Make sure to check the latest laws before buying any property in Indiana.
Building Codes in Indiana
Indiana has several building codes which are mandatory for the entire state. The most significant of these is the Indiana Residential Code. The code applies to all detached one or two-family dwellings and one-family townhouses not more than three stories in height.
The code does not apply to manufactured homes. See the code here.
The local building official enforces codes. Some rural areas – especially those without zoning — might not conduct inspections or enforce code. This doesn’t mean you should do any construction without getting the required permits or following code, though. There are countless stories of people who got in severe trouble years down the line when their county starting vigorously enforcing code.
Tiny Home Laws in Indiana
Indiana is very unfriendly towards tiny home living. Local zoning laws often have “minimum ground floor” requirements higher than you’d typically find in a tiny home.
For example, Johnson County requires at least 1,000 sq. feet for homes in A1 districts. Huntington County requires at least 950 sq. feet. In Dearborn, manufactured homes must be at least 950 sq. feet.
There are also many zoning laws that prohibit manufactured homes. You’ll likely be able to live in one though, so long as the home is attached to a permanent foundation and meets certain size requirements.
Outside of areas specifically zoned for mobile home parts, it is usually illegal to live in a mobile home in Indiana. In some areas, it is even illegal to have a mobile home on your property (even if no one is living in it) without approval from the zoning board.
Off-Grid Electricity in Indiana
There are no laws in Indiana which prevent you from disconnecting from the electric grid. However, you may be required to have some form of electricity to get a Certificate of Occupancy.
Indiana is generally very favorable towards solar energy systems. You’ll need to get a permit, but the process is generally very easy. Some counties even have grants to help low-income people install solar.
Compared to other states, Indiana laws are also very favorable towards wind power. Under the law, wind systems are usually defined as:
- Micro wind energy: Less than 10 kilowatts and no more than 15 feet above the roof
- Small wind energy: Less than 50 kilowatts per tower and a total height of 100 feet or less
- Large wind energy: More than 50 kilowatts per tower or a total height more than 100 feet
Micro and small wind energy systems are usually allowed in areas zoned as Agricultural. To use wind power in Residential zones, you will likely need a special conditional use permit.
Off-Grid Water Laws in Indiana
In Indiana, the state owns navigable waters and natural freshwater lakes. However, Indiana recognizes riparian rights: you can use the water on or next to your property so long as it is for beneficial use.
Because Indiana is a water-rich state, it is still possible to find affordable land with water access for your off-grid property. The public still has the right to access these waters for recreation and fishing, but they are not allowed to cross private property to get to the water.
Surface Water Use Laws in Indiana
You will need a permit to use surface water in Indiana, even if the water is located on your property. You will also need a permit for ditch digging within ½ mile of a lake 10 acres or larger if the ditch depth is below the lake’s normal water level. Permits for small water withdrawals will usually be granted, especially for domestic use, livestock or animals.
The law is written in a way to protect lakes from having their water levels lowered. If the lake’s water levels lower, an emergency can be declared, which restricts the amount of water that can be withdrawn. Even in emergencies, water for domestic and animals use is allowed. However, water for irrigation might be restricted.
Learn more at the Department of Natural Resources website.
Diverting Surface Water
Getting a permit to divert water from a lake is generally very difficult in Indiana. To get a permit for channels, you’ll need to prove that at least 51% of other property owners on the lake approve of the construction. If the channels return water to the lake at the same location, it will be easier to get a permit. The permit requirements for diverting stream water are also strict.
There are some exceptions where you will be able to get a permit to divert surface water easily. For example, if the water in question is floodwater or if the “flow in the stream or the level of the lake exceeds existing reasonable uses at the time of the impoundment.”
Digging a Pond on Your Property
It varies by county, but you will generally need a permit to build a pond on your property in Indiana if the greater than 1,000 square feet in surface area. Retention and detention ponds have different rules. You might need an excavation permit in addition to the pond permit.
You need a permit from the Department of Health to drill a well in Indiana. The well must be drilled by a licensed well driller in the state. In addition to the permit, well drillers will need to fill out a record form.
You generally do not need a different permit for a high-capacity water well. However, wells that can withdraw 100,000 gallons of water per day (even if they don’t actually withdraw this much) must also register as a Significant Water Withdrawal Facility (SWWF) with the DNR Division of Water. Water withdrawals from SWWFs must be reported annually.
Indiana law is written to protect small well owners from large withdrawals. If you think a nearby SWWF is depleting your groundwater, you can file a complaint, and the SWWF can be ordered to reduce withdrawals. Well owners are not protected from withdrawals from other small well owners, though.
Well drillers are required to fill out a one-page record (State Form 35680) for every well.
Rainwater harvesting is not only legal in Indiana, but it is encouraged by the government. Some of the Indiana Solid Waste Management Districts sell rainwater barrels and offer free workshops. You can also get information from some Indiana Soil and Water Conservation Districts. A few cities, like Evansville, sometimes have free rain barrels for residents.
You are legally allowed to collect rainwater in barrels, totes, and rain gardens without having to get a permit (though some local zoning rules or laws may restrict this). If you want to install underground rainwater cisterns, though, you’ll most likely need an excavation permit and plumbing permit.
It is legal to use rainwater for outdoor nonpotable purposes such as irrigation or washing your car in Indiana. You’ll have to meet plumbing codes if you want to use rainwater for potable or indoor purposes.
There are currently no regulations about steps that need to be taken to prevent mosquitos from breeding in rain barrels. However, local counties might adopt some standards, especially as rainwater harvesting becomes more popular.
Sewage and Waste Removal
As in most states, sewage disposal is where you might have the most legal issues when living off grid. Indiana law states that a municipality can require you to connect to the municipal sewage system if the property is within 300 feet of the system – even if the property already has a legal septic system or other onsite sewage system.
If you are not required to connect to the municipal sewage system, you will most likely need a septic tank. Some alternative systems are allowed, but you will almost certainly still be required to have septic.
You must get a permit for your off-grid sewage system in Indiana. The permit process involves a site inspection.
Compost Toilets Laws in Indiana
Compost toilets are technically legal in Indiana. However, it is illegal to use just a compost toilet at your home. The compost toilet must be ANSI/NSF Standard 41 certified. All liquids from the compost toilet must be disposed of in the onsite sewage system and cannot legally be dumped on the ground. Solids from the composting toilet must be disposed of in an approved landfill. Read more about the law here.
- How to Make a Toilet Out of a 5 Gallon Bucket
- DIY Urine Diverting Composting Toilet
- Best Off Grid Composting Toilet
Are Outhouses Legal in Indiana?
In almost all cases, it is illegal to have an outhouse in Indiana. There are a few exceptions where you might be able to get a permit to use an outhouse, such as for dwellings: without running water, located on rugged terrain, or which have soil types not suitable for septic tanks.
If you have running water in your home and/or can install a septic tank, you won’t be able to use an outhouse.
Do you live off grid in Indiana? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.