Maine Off Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide


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Last Updated: September 20, 2021

Maine has a long history of people living from the land and it has become popular as a place for people to live off grid.

Before you start dreaming of your self-reliant life in Maine though, here’s what you need to know about the laws and whether you’ll be able to live off grid legally.

Want to more about living off grid? Read:

Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Maine?

Off-grid living is not only legal in Maine but also very common.  The laws are generally favorable towards off-grid systems.  However, virtually all aspects of life in Maine are highly regulated.  If you want to live off the grid legally in the state, you will have to get a permit for everything, meet strict regulations and deal with inspections.

Maine Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

As in all states, local zoning laws in Maine will ultimately determine what you can legally do on your property.  While Maine zoning laws are usually very detailed, they usually do not prevent you from living off-grid.

Many areas of Maine are rural and the zoning laws allow you to do things like farm or make a living from your land.

Shoreland Zoning

One area where you may have issues with zoning laws is if you are in a Shoreland Zone.  Under Maine law, shoreland is any area within:

  • 250 feet of the normal high-water line of a river, great pond or saltwater body
  • 250 feet of the upland edge of a coastal wetland or freshwater wetland
  • 75 feet of the high-water line of certain streams

There are many restrictions on what you can do on shoreland.  For example, there are limits on how much vegetation you can clear off of your land, maximum home sizes and setbacks.  Keep this in mind before you buy property in Maine near a body of water.

Tiny Homes

Maine zoning laws are very friendly towards the tiny home movement.  The state law states that counties must treat manufactured homes the same way they treat single-family homes.  The law also states that counties cannot make laws requiring manufactured homes to be more than 14 feet wide (which would make many tiny homes illegal). You can read more of the law here.

Mobile Homes

Maine is a surprisingly friendly state for mobile homes.  The state law says that local counties cannot require mobile home parks to be larger than a certain size.  However, zoning laws can still limit where mobile homes are allowed to be.

If you want more freedom, you’ll likely need to put your mobile home on a permanent foundation and install an approved onsite sewage treatment system.

Off-Grid Electricity in Maine

Off-grid electricity is legal in Maine and the state has many incentives encouraging residents to move towards renewable technology. Some of the incentives include:

  • Renewable energy equipment is excluded from property taxes
  • Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans available
  • Net metering for grid-tied solar
  • Financial incentives for energy-efficient upgrades (see here)

You will need a permit for larger solar energy systems in Maine but the process is generally fairly easy.  Getting a permit for hydropower or wind power is more difficult.

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Off-Grid Water

Maine is a water-rich state, so getting water for your off-grid property generally isn’t an issue.  The main legal issues you might encounter are getting permits for projects that upset sensitive lands or water bodies.

Surface Water

In Maine, all navigable surface water below the low tide mark is owned by the state. However, the public has the right to use the water.   If the water is not navigable, then it can be privately owned.

Under the law, you are generally allowed to use as much surface water as you want so long as it is for domestic use. Most agricultural uses are also allowed under the law.  Where you might come in trouble under the law is if you are withdrawing water from a wetland zone.

Diverting Surface Water

Diverting water from a stream or river is sometimes legal in Maine.  You will need to get a permit.  Often you will only get a permit if the system returns the water back to its original source – such as digging irrigation canals that lead back to the stream.

You will also need a permit any time you dig near a water body in Maine.  Luckily, the state has made it fairly easy to get these permits for small projects thanks to their Permit-by-rule (PBR) system.  The system clearly explains which systems are allowed.  You just need to submit an application and, if the application isn’t denied, you are allowed to start work within 14 days.  After completion, you must send photos to the Maine DEP.

Digging a Pond on Your Property

It is legal to dig a pond on your property in Maine.  In upland and isolated freshwater wetlands, you usually don’t even need a permit for a small pond.  If the pond will be located near a river, stream, brook or saltwater body, then you will need a permit from the Maine DEP.

Depending on the type of pond, you can apply for the Permit-by-rule or the Irrigation Pond General Permit program (IPGP).   Larger ponds may need an individual permit.

You also need an NRPA permit for construction next to rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, wetlands and protected areas.

Well Water

In Maine, property owners also own the groundwater underneath their land.  They are allowed to use as much water as they want, so long as their water use does not infringe on the water rights of neighbors.  You do not need to report well water usage in Maine for domestic or agricultural use.  Large withdrawals for other uses must be reported to the state.

Wells must be drilled by professionals licensed in the state.  The driller must first get approval for the site.  After drilling, the well water must be tested. See more info about well water testing here.

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is legal in Maine and mostly unregulated.  You are allowed to collect as much rainwater as you want and use it for irrigation or nonpotable uses.

There do not seem to be any rules preventing you from using rainwater for potable uses either, though you’ll have to follow the standards outlined under the state plumbing code.

You’ll still want to check with your local county to see if there are any laws dictating where you can put rain barrels or the types of barrels allowed.

If you want to install underground rain collection tanks, you’ll most likely need a building permit.

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Sewage and Waste Removal

Maine is one of the best states when it comes to off-grid bathroom options.  The state allows multiple types of alternative toilets, including pit privies (outhouses), composting toilets and incinerating toilets.  The law is very detailed about what is allowed and the requirements for each system.

While it might seem onerous to meet all of these regulations, the detailed rules in Maine actually can make it easier for you to get your system approved so you can use it legally.

By contrast, many states still don’t even mention compost toilets or alternative systems in their laws.  Without clear laws, it ultimately comes down to whether the local inspector decides to approve your project or not.  This isn’t an issue in Maine.

The permitting process can be confusing and expensive, but most inspectors are at least familiar with off-grid systems.

Permits Required for Off-Grid Toilets

In Maine, you must get a permit for any onsite sewage and wastewater system.  The process involves an application, soil tests and inspections from the Local Plumbing Inspector (LBI).

Systems are divided into two types:

  1. Engineered systems: Site evaluator licensed in Maine must provide soil and hole log info and the system must be designed by a professional engineer.
  2. Non-engineered systems: Must be designed by site evaluator licensed in Maine

Primitive Systems (Cabins)

In homes or cabins in Maine without running water, it is fairly easy to get approval for an off-grid sewage system.

You are allowed to have a “primitive system” which, under the law, is defined as an alternative toilet (such as pit privy or compost toilet) and a small area for dumping greywater.

All water and wastewater must be hand-carried or pumped.  You are limited to three greywater fixtures. Even with primitive systems, you still need approval and site testing.

Alternative Toilets

Many types of alternative toilets are legal in Maine.  This includes compost toilets, incinerating toilets, vault toilets, and chemical toilets.  The law is clear however that temporary portable toilets (such as camping toilets) are not to be used as permanent toilets. If the alternative toilet does not discharge waste onto or into the ground, then you do not need a site evaluation.

When using an alternative toilet, you’ll still need a way to dispose of greywater from your home.  In most cases, this will mean having a septic system.  Maine law does not have any provisions which reduce the required septic size for homes using alternative toilets.   If you don’t want septic, you may be legally allowed to use a greywater disposal system instead.

Compost Toilets Laws in Maine

Compost toilets are legal in Maine.  The laws are surprisingly relaxed.  You are not required to use an expensive NSF-approved compost toilet.  Liquid from the compost toilet can be discharged into a primitive or conventional disposal field. Solid waste from the compost toilet can be composted on-site.

You will still need a permit for a compost toilet in Maine.  However, if you already have a plumbing system and the compost toilet is a “replacement fixture”, you won’t need to do another soil test.

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Outhouses/Latrines Laws in Maine

Outhouses (called “pit privies” in the law) are legal in Maine.  You will need a permit and will have to follow regulations about depth, setbacks and design.  If you have running water in your home, then you will need to also get a permit for a greywater waste system or dispose of greywater in a septic system.

Greywater Recycling and Reuse Laws

Maine law allows greywater recycling systems for nonpotable uses such as flushing toilets. The state also allows you to dispose of greywater in fields, though the water usually must be treated with an effluent filter first. You will need to have a licensed site evaluator apply for a “subsurface wastewater disposal system” and to get a permit.  The greywater system cannot share any components of the main system.

Almost all types of greywater are allowed in disposal fields, EXCEPT:

  • Black water/wastewater
  • Laundry waste: This must be disposed of in a conventional sewage treatment system or in its own disposal field.
  • Hot tub water: This cannot be disposed of in any system utilized for other wastewater. You can make a disposal field specifically for the hot tub water though.

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

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