Nevada Off Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide


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Last Updated: August 17, 2021

While Nevada isn’t the most hospitable environment for living off the land, there has been a movement of people buying property there to live off grid.

Before you start dreaming of a self-reliant life there, here’s what you need to know about Nevada’s off grid laws.

Want to more about living off grid? Read:

Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Nevada?

In many parts of Nevada, off-grid living is illegal because laws require you to use the municipal water supply or connect to the electric grid.

You are much more likely to be able to live off-grid legally in rural parts of the state.  However, in these areas of Nevada, you may need to rely on bulk water delivery services.

If you are dependent on delivery services for survival, it’s questionable whether you can truly consider it living off-the-grid.

Nevada Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

Even remote rural areas of Nevada fall under local zoning laws.  These zoning laws ultimately determine what you are legally allowed to do on your property.

Rural agricultural zones are usually the most permissive, though you may be required to have a minimum of 40 acres per dwelling unit.

The zoning laws in Clark County, Washoe County, and other populous areas of Nevada are very strict.  For example, Clark County regulates how many vehicles you can keep on your property, how many accessory dwellings are allowed, and even whether you can build a greenhouse.

If you want to have livestock or other farm animals, you will need a larger parcel of land and, even then, likely still be limited to how many animals you can have.

Tiny Homes

Nevada generally has favorable laws about living in manufactured homes, including tiny homes. In almost all zones, they are usually allowed as accessory dwellings.

If the manufactured home is attached to a permanent foundation and connected to the utilities, it will be considered a “real” home.

However, if the manufactured home doesn’t qualify as a real home, it will be considered personal property and taxed. Read more about it here and here.

Mobile Homes

Compared to other states, Nevada is friendly towards living in a mobile home. They are generally allowed in areas zoned as Rural Open Land, Residential Agriculture Districts, and Manufactured Home Residential Districts.  However, it is generally not allowed to use a mobile home as an accessory dwelling on your property.

It is also possible to convert a mobile home into a permanent home.  In this case, the mobile home would be allowed in most zones that allow single-family residences.  You can read about the conversion requirements for Clark County here.

You might also find it useful to read: Homestead Declarations and Why You Need One

Solar Electricity Laws in Nevada

Nevada used to have terrible laws regarding solar energy: solar users connected to the grid had to pay additional fees, and there were no net metering rates.  However, this changed with the passage of the Renewable Energy Bill of Rights in 2017.

Under the new law, Nevadans are granted the right to generate and store renewable electricity on their property.  The law also establishes net metering rates for grid-connected properties and also prevents the utility companies from charging solar customers additional fees.

The law mostly addresses grid-tied solar energy systems.  In areas where electric utilities are available, you might have trouble getting a Certificate of Occupancy for a home that is off-grid.  The permitting process for off-grid energy systems can also be more complicated than with grid-tied systems in certain areas.

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Off-Grid Water Laws in Nevada

Considering that it is the driest state in America, it is no surprise that Nevada has very strict laws about off-grid water.

The biggest obstacle to off-grid living is a law that requires you to connect to the municipal water supply if one is available.  In addition to this law, water rights are incredibly difficult and expensive to obtain in Nevada.  There are even limitations on how you can collect rainwater.

Who Owns the Water in Nevada?

The public owns all of the water in Nevada, including surface and groundwater.  However, individuals can get permission to use the water.

Permission is based on the rule of priority (first in time, first in right), which means that whoever claimed the water first gets to use it.  To maintain a water right, the water must be put to beneficial use.

Assuming that you can find unclaimed water in Nevada, you will need to apply to the state engineer to get a permit to use it.  Domestic wells are usually exempt from this requirement. You can read a good overview of the state’s water rights laws here.

Surface Water Laws in Nevada

Most of the surface water in Nevada was appropriated before the 20th century.  Because of the rule of prior appropriation, there is no chance that you will get rights to use surface water in the state.

It is illegal to use surface water in any way without first getting a water rights permit.  The fines for illegally using water can be steep: up to $10,000 per day for each violation.

Am I Allowed to Use the Water on My Property in Nevada?

In Nevada, water rights are usually attached to the property where they are located.  When a property is sold, the water rights will go with the land.  Because of this, any land in Nevada with water is incredibly expensive.  It is possible, though, to sell land without the water rights.  Even then, the water rights stay connected to the land until the owner transfers them.  You can read more about this here.

Digging a Pond on Your Property in Nevada

It is legal to dig a small pond or other water reservoir on your property in Nevada.

The state uses the “20/20” rule to determine whether you need a permit: If half of a 50 acre-foot impoundment is below natural grade and the other half (25 acre-feet) is above the natural grade, a permit is required. If the entire reservoir is below natural grade, but there exists a 2-foot berm surrounding a 10 acre (surface area) pond, there is a potential to store 2 feet x 10 acres = 20 acre-feet of water; thus requiring a permit.”

You can read more here. There is a separate permit process for industrial ponds, which you can read here.

Well Water Laws in Nevada

Nevada law only allows you to drill a well on your property if no public water supply is available.  If allowed, you do not need a permit to drill a domestic well so long as no more than 1,800 gallons are used per day.

Note that a domestic well is defined as one that serves a single-family home.  Wells that serve two or more homes are considered “quasi-municipal wells” and require a permit.

There are usually some exceptions to this rule, such as if the second home is an Accessory Dwelling Unit (aka “granny unit”) on the same property.  Most rural and single-family residential zoning allows accessory dwellings, but it varies by county.

If your well counts as a quasi-municipal well, you will need to install a meter and submit readings of all water pumped from the well.

Licensed well drillers must drill water wells in the state. The driller is responsible for submitting drilling logs to the state engineer. New wells must be tested for contaminants before they are connected to new residences.  There are no requirements for ongoing water quality testing for existing wells, though.

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting was illegal in Nevada before 2017.  The state then updated its laws to allow rainwater harvesting, but only from the rooftops of single-family homes and for non-potable purposes.  It would be illegal, for example, to construct a platform specifically for collecting rainwater.

There are no limits to how much rainwater you are allowed to collect, though some counties may have rules about where you can put rain barrels or may require permits for certain tanks.  If you want to install an underground rainwater reservoir, you’ll likely need a building permit.

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Sewage and Waste Removal

Composting toilets, pit privies, and other alternative waste disposal systems are generally legal in Nevada.  However, the state has strict regulations about how and when they can be used, and permits are required.  See the law here.

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

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