Kansas Off Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide


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Last Updated: November 16, 2021

Kansas is well known for its farming and homesteading culture.  It probably seems like a great place to set up an off grid home.  Before you start looking for property though, make sure you learn Kansas’s off grid laws.

Want to learn more about living off grid? Read:

Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Kansas?

Off-grid living is legal in most rural parts of Kansas. Zoning laws are relaxed, and there are many counties without building codes, which means you are mostly allowed to do whatever you want on your property.  In larger towns and cities in Kansas, though, it is common to find laws requiring municipal sewer connection, which ultimately makes it illegal to go completely off grid.

Kansas Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

Most of Kansas’s land is zoned as “Agricultural” (A-1 or A-2).  The zoning rules for Agricultural zones are usually very relaxed.  You will be allowed to have farm animals, have sheds and other outbuildings, practice farming, and use your land in various ways.  The main obstacle you may come across is the minimum acreage requirements for dwellings.

Even outside of Agricultural zones, the laws are very friendly towards farms and homesteads.

Under 2012 Statute 19-2960:

No zoning regulations shall apply to the use of land for agricultural purposes nor for the erection or maintenance of agricultural buildings as long as such agricultural buildings are used for agricultural purposes and no other. Dwellings, garages and other similar accessory buildings shall not be considered as agricultural buildings. All buildings, including agricultural buildings, may be regulated as to setback requirements from public roads so as to protect the future use and improvement of such roads.

Building Codes in Kansas

Kansas has no statewide building codes besides the Kansas Fire Prevention Code and 2006 IECC for commercial buildings.  It is up to local jurisdictions to decide whether they want to adopt building codes or not.

Most cities in Kansas have adopted building codes.  You will likely need to meet these codes:

  • International Residence Code
  • International Building Code
  • International Mechanical Code
  • International Property Maintenance Code
  • Uniform Plumbing Code
  • National Electric Code

Many rural areas of Kansas still have no building codes.  Riley, Kansas, for example, currently has no building codes.

You can find a list of Kansas counties and their building codes.  Note that many are out of date.  Check with the local government to check which codes are in place.

Tiny, Mobile, and Manufactured Homes Laws

Because many areas of Kansas do not have building codes, it is much easier to legally live in a small home, such as an RV.  However, the lack of codes does not mean a county doesn’t have zoning laws. These zoning laws can make it illegal to live in an RV or manufactured home in Kansas.

Many zoning laws have minimum size requirements for residential homes. It’s also common to limit manufactured homes to certain zones.  Some places, like Harvey County, specifically forbid mobile homes in parts of their zoning laws.

Off-Grid Electricity in Kansas

Off grid electric systems are legal in Kansas.  There are few restrictions on solar panels.  Many areas have adopted the International Electric Code, so your system will have to meet all aspects of the code. Most places also require a permit and inspection for electrical work.

Wind Power Laws in Kansas

Wind power is very popular in Kansas, and the State already generates 40% of its power from wind. Because of this, many zoning laws specifically address wind turbines.  They are legal, but you will need to check the requirements for maximum height, parcel size, and setbacks.

Example Setback Requirements for Wind Turbines:

  • Butler County: 1,000 feet
  • Coffee County: 1,000 feet
  • Ellis County: 1,000 feet
  • Marion County: 1,320 feet
  • Allen County: 1,400 feet
  • Kingman County: 1,400 feet
  • Pratt County: 2,500 feet

There are still some counties in Kansas without setback requirements for wind turbines.  In 2019, state legislators considered passing a statewide setback bill, but they did not succeed.

Can I install my own off-grid electricity system in Kansas?

Kansas requires a license for all electrical installations in the State.  However, there are often exceptions that allow homeowners to do work on their own property.  In Douglas County, for example, you can install your own electric system if you first submit plans to the local government and get approval.

Off-Grid Water Laws in  Kansas

In 1945, Kansas passed the Kansas Water Appropriation Act (KWAA). The law regulates who has the right to use water in the State. If you plan on farming or need to use large amounts of water, you will need to secure water rights.

Who Owns the Water in Kansas State?

All water in Kansas belongs to the public, but the State regulates its use through the Division of Water Resources (DWR).  This applies to all types of water, including groundwater and surface water on your property.  You need to get water rights to use the water legally.

How to Get Water Rights in Kansas

You automatically have the right to use water for domestic purposes in Kansas.  Domestic use is defined as water used for:

  • Household
  • Watering livestock on pasture
  • Watering up to 2 acres of lawn and gardens

For all other uses, you will need to apply for a permit or water right.  Your application will only be approved if these conditions are met:

  • Water is available
  • Using the water will not interfere with other water rights
  • Minimum desirable streamflow and public interest are maintained

You can find the steps for applying for water rights here.

“First in time, first in right”

When deciding who has the right to use water, Kansas uses the principle of “first in time, first in right.” That means whoever is granted a water right first will have priority over other water rights users.  For example, let’s say you want to divert water from a stream going through your property. Your application may be denied if your downstream neighbor has priority water rights.

In drought conditions, water rights in Kansas can get complicated.  Many lawyers in Kansas specialize in water rights for this reason.

Note that some areas of Kansas are considered fully appropriated.  You will not be granted the right to use water in these areas.  You can find a map of fully appropriated water areas here.

Surface Water

It is legal to use water on your property in Kansas for domestic use without getting a water use permit. You may need a Stream and Floodplain permit to legally make irrigation canals, dams, or other changes to the water source.

For non-domestic use, you will need to get a water-use permit regardless of whether the water is pumped or diverted.

Digging a Pond on Your Property

It is legal to build a small pond on your property in Kansas without a permit. You’ll need to get a permit from the Chief Engineer of the Division of Water Sources (DWR) for ponds which:

  • Have dams 25 feet or more in height or
  • Dams 6 feet in height with the ability to store 50 acre feet of water or more

You will also need to get a water-use permit if the pond can hold 15 acre-feet or more surface water.  In some cases, especially where wildlife may be harmed, you may also need a permit from the KDWPT or US Army Corps of Engineers.  Learn more here.

Well Water

Kansas is frequently under drought conditions, and it is common for wells to go dry. Because of this, the DWR closely monitors water wells in Kansas, even wells for domestic use.

You will need to get a permit to dig a well in Kansas.  The permit process is complex and can take a long time.  You can see a sample well permit application and process breakdown here.  In addition to the well permit, you may also need a water use permit.

Can you dig your own well in Kansas?

Kansas law says that licensed Water Well Contractors must dig all wells.

However, an exception allows property owners to work on wells on their own property without a license.  However, most counties have rules which specifically require licenses for work on a well.

Becoming a licensed Water Well Contractor in Kansas requires you to apply, take a test, submit fees, and have insurance.  The license needs to be regularly updated. It probably isn’t worth it to become licensed just to work on your own well legally.

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is legal in Kansas.  Some counties and cities even offer incentives like rebates on the cost of rain barrels.  You do not need a permit for rain barrels when the water is used for nonpotable uses outside the house.

If you wish to use water indoors, things get more complicated under the law.  You will have to meet Kansas’s plumbing code.  The code makes it very difficult to legally use rainwater indoors, even for things like flushing toilets.  You may also need to get permits for underground water tanks or large tanks.

Sewage Removal Laws

Kansas laws on sewage and waste removal are covered in Bulletin 4-2: Minimum Standards for Design and Construction of Onsite Wastewater Systems.  These laws cover basics like setback distances and sizing.

However, compared to the strict rules of some other states, they are very vague. You’ll find that the law leaves lots of room for outhouses and even holding tanks to be used legally.  Many counties have written their own sewage laws, though, which may make off-grid waste treatment illegal.

Required to Connect to Municipal Sewer System

Many counties in Kansas State have laws that require you to connect to the municipal sewer system if one is located nearby, even if you have an approved septic system. These laws effectively make it illegal to live completely off grid. For example, Junction City requires connection if the sewer is 250 feet from the property line or 400 feet from the dwelling.

Can I install my own septic tank in Kansas?

Kansas State law requires that licensed contractors install all septic tanks. Some counties have additional requirements, such as requiring engineer-approved plans for certain systems.  You should check the local and State laws before planning your septic system in Kansas.

Compost Toilets

Compost toilets are legal in Kansas and addressed under Bulletin K-3: Water Conserving Toilets and Holding Tanks.  However, the law states that no surface discharge is allowed.  Thus, to use a compost toilet legally, you’ll need to have a graywater system and an approved method for disposing of solids from the toilet.  Because of these restrictions, it is very unlikely that you will get a permit to legally use a compost toilet as your main waste treatment method.

Are outhouses legal in Kansas?

Pit privy outhouses are illegal in Kansas, but vault-type outhouses are still legal under State law. The waste must be treated in the same manner as waste from a septic tank.

However, most counties have their own laws which specifically forbid outhouses.  For example, Harvey County forbids outhouses on all properties with running water unless permission is granted by all homeowners within 500 feet of the privy. Elk County also forbids privies for homes with running water unless special permission is granted. If there is no local code, the setback distances from Bulletin 4-2 apply to outhouses.

Graywater

Kansas law states that all wastewater must be treated by an approved system.  The law defines domestic wastewater as all wastes connected to ordinary living, including kitchen, toilet, laundry, shower, and bathtub wastewater.  This means it is illegal, for example, to dispose of laundry or bath water in your yard.

Graywater disposal systems are legal but must meet strict codes.  This makes graywater systems very expensive for most people. You can read the graywater laws here.

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

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