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Kentucky Off-Grid Laws – An In Depth Guide


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Last Updated: February 7, 2021

Kentucky is well-known as a state where it is easy to live off-grid. The state is mostly rural, land is cheap and productive, and there are many areas where you are (mostly) free to do whatever you want on your property.  But the legalities of living off-grid in Kentucky aren’t always straightforward.

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Is Off-Grid Living Legal in Kentucky?

Off-grid living is not only legal in Kentucky, but it is common.  There are approximately 13,5000 Amish living in Kentucky as well as many people who choose to live an off-grid lifestyle.

Kentucky Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

Like with every other state in America, Kentucky land is divided up into zones.  The zoning regulations dictate how that land can be used – including whether it is legal to go off-grid. The good news is that Kentucky zoning laws are much more relaxed than in many states.

Almost half of Kentucky’s 120 counties are rural. Some of these counties do not have any zoning ordinances.  For example, Wayne County in the South does not have any zoning.

Even in rural Kentucky areas with zoning, much of the land is usually zoned for Agricultural Use.  This zoning is not very strict and usually allows for off-grid living, though permits may be required. To prevent sprawl, agricultural zoned land in Kentucky often has minimum plot sizes and limits the types of dwellings which can be built.

Areas of Kentucky without Building Codes

Many rural areas of Kentucky have no building codes other than for septic.  Even if there are building codes, they are often poorly enforced in many rural areas.

The lack of codes is both a blessing and a curse: you can often “get away” with doing whatever you want on your land, but so can your neighbors. Your community might be overridden with junkyards and health hazards like untreated sewage.

Qualifying as a Farm in Kentucky

If your land qualifies as a farm under Kentucky law, it will be taxed at its use value instead of commercial value, resulting in much lower property taxes.  Qualifying as a farm is usually very easy.  Under KRS 132.010(9), a farm is:

  • (a) any tract of land, including all income- producing improvements of at least ten (10) contiguous acreas in area used for the production of livestock, livestock products, poultry, poultry products, and/or the growing of tobacco and/or other crops including timber;
  • (b) Any tract of land, including all income – producing improvements of at least five (5) contiguous acres in area commercially used for aquaculture; or
  • (c) Any tract of land devoted to and meeting the requirements and qualifications for payments pursuant to agricultural programs under and agreement with the state or federal government.

You can read more about the exemption here.

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Off-Grid Electricity in Kentucky

In rural Kentucky, there are few or no laws requiring homes to be connected to the electric grid.  In urban areas in Kentucky, there usually are building codes which require homes to have an electric hookup.  However, these regulations don’t specifically forbid off-grid electric systems.

For example, in Jefferson, Kentucky, the law only requires that “Every occupied building shall be provided with an electrical system in compliance with the requirements of this Section and Section 505.”  It might be harder to meet the requirements using an off-grid solar system, but it is not against the law.

Solar

Kentucky offers some incentives at the state-level for using solar energy.  One of the biggest is a program for farms which gives grants of up to 50% of the cost of energy-efficient equipment – including solar water heaters, insulation and agricultural equipment.

If you remain tied to the grid, there is a net metering policy in place.  TVA also offers up to a $1000 rebate on solar.  See more incentives here.

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Off-Grid Water in Kentucky

Kentucky has many lakes, streams, and other water bodies.  Even if they aren’t always enforced, there are many laws designed to protect these waters from pollution.  This might affect whether you can set up an off-grid water system on your property.

Surface Water

In Kentucky, landowners generally have the right to use waters which are on their property so long as they don’t create dams or obstruct the water in other ways.

However, the law states that the public also has the rights to use “navigable” waters.  Keep this in mind if you plan on buying property next to a stream or lake in Kentucky: you might not be able to prevent people from using it.

Read more about the law here and here.

Well Water

You will be required to get a permit for a well in Kentucky and use a certified well driller. However, the permitting process is fairly easy and the state even offers various resources to help landowners. Read more here.

Rainwater

It is legal to collect rainwater in Kentucky. The state even has information on how to construct your own rain barrels (PDF here).  There are no statewide incentives for rainwater harvesting but Louisville does have a Downspout Disconnection Incentive which gives $100 for each downspout which is disconnected from the wastewater system.

Greywater Recycling

Greywater recycling is legal in Kentucky.  The law specifically states that a septic system is not needed for greywater and is sized based on 55 gallons per day, per bedroom. You can read regulations here (starting on page 25).

Water

Sewage and Waste Removal

Surprisingly, it is actually illegal to have an off-grid sewage system in Kentucky.  The laws require homes to have “sanitary wastewater treatment systems.”

A law passed in 1996 even requires new homes to have septic before the electricity can be turned on. Despite the law, many people in Kentucky still do use outhouses or composting toilets.  However, this is a big risk because they could face large fines for failing to comply with the law.

Septic Tanks

Nearly half of Kentucky homes have a septic tank system for their waste. The state allows gravelless drain field chambers, low-pressure pipe systems, and fill-and-wait systems.  In some rare cases, they also allow drip irrigation, aerobic, and surface discharge systems.

To get a septic system on your property, you’ll first need to visit the Local Health Department to file a site evaluation application. The fee is approximately $200.  After evaluation, you’ll then need a certified installer to design the system and submit it to an inspector. The permit fee is approximately $250.  After the septic system is completed, you’ll need another inspection.

Apparently there are 2,400 unpermitted septic systems built each year in Kentucky. In rural areas, it’s often impossible for inspectors to keep track of these illegal septic systems. But I’ve also heard accounts of local inspectors who make their money by catching property owners and issuing steep fines.

You can get more info on septic systems in Kentucky here.

Compost Toilets

Compost toilets are legal to use in Kentucky but it is illegal to have just a compost toilet.  You must also install an approved on-site wastewater treatment system (usually septic).  The idea behind this law is that you need a way to dispose of the greywater from the compost toilet.

Kentucky does offer one small benefit to using compost toilets though.  The law states that properties which exclusively have an “approved permanent nonwater carriage water closet type devices, such as composting, incinerator, or oil carriage toilets” can have the minimum size of their septic system reduced.

Outhouses/Latrines

Even though outhouses are still found throughout many parts of Kentucky, they are actually illegal. The state requires outhouses to be connected to septic systems.  Apparently state inspectors have even been going around rural areas and forcing them to upgrade their outhouses to septic. There is a program called PRIDE which issues grants to help poor people pay for the costs of installing septic.

Garbage Removal

Kentucky does not have a mandatory trash pickup service, so you do not have to pay for trash services in many rural places.  While this might be conducive to off-grid living in Kentucky, it also means that Kentucky has a big problem with illegal trash dumping.  You’ll find litter along roadsides and even in wilderness areas.

Read:

Other Off-Grid Laws in Kentucky

Because there are so many areas in Kentucky which do not have zoning or strict building codes, it is legal to live in RVs or tiny homes in much of the state.  However, the laws about on-site sewage management still apply.

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


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  1. Hello. I really don’t know where I fall into this. I bought 8 acres in Leslie County Kentucky back in December. I’ve tried contacting the county at least half dozen times. Even sent an email to the governor. I’ve gotten no replies from anyone. I’m basically on the side of a mountain. I want to build a cabin just for a getaway. Not a permanent residence. I was told by the company I bought the land from that the road was county maintained. I’ve since found out that’s not true. Was told I can have utilities run to me. I was told the power company won’t run power unless I pay $17,000 because they would have to run it 3/4 of a mile. Also that there’s a house a mile away with power and I could get it run from their supply for $1000, but the land owners won’t allow the power company to access it. Water and sewer? Not an option according to a neighbor. Though water is run along the county road 3/4 of a mile away, they won’t “T” it off in our direction. So, off grid solar/generator seems to be my only source. As well as rainwater collection. As for sewer, I have no idea. I can’t get any help from the county. Do you have any suggestions? I also don’t know if I need permits to build. By the looks of most of the houses around me, you can throw up for walls and roof and be done.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • I’d invest in a lawyer to look over the regulations and explain what is legal. You probably need permits and to follow lots of codes. A lot of people have the same issue you do though: it ultimately makes more sense to invest in off-grid systems than pay to connect to the municipal systems.

      Reply

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