New Hampshire Off Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide


Author:
Last Updated: June 27, 2022

New Hampshire is famous for its natural beauty, waterways, and forests. There is also a thriving homesteading community in the State. 

But, if you are thinking of buying property in New Hampshire and disconnecting from the grid, you need to know about New Hampshire’s off-grid laws. It might not be legal to live the type of off grid life you want.

Is Living Off-Grid Legal in New Hampshire?

Living off grid in New Hampshire is usually legal. However, living a primitive lifestyle full-time in a dwelling without basic utilities is illegal. You are also required to connect to the municipal sewer system if one is located nearby. Further, there are extensive permitting requirements for many off-grid systems. Despite this, New Hampshire is still one of the friendliest states in America for off grid living.

Building Codes in New Hampshire

With few exceptions, all buildings in New Hampshire (even in areas without zoning) must meet these buildings codes:

Further, these places in NH have their own amendments to the codes.

New Hampshire Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

When buying land in New Hampshire, look at the local zoning laws. These laws ultimately determine how you can legally use your land. In some areas, there are strict zoning rules about things like how many animals you are allowed to have, minimum home sizes, minimum lot sizes, and whether you can live in a mobile home.

Areas without Zoning in New Hampshire

There are actually a lot of places in New Hampshire without any zoning (other than floodplain management). The State even provides a map of no-zoning areas. You’ll avoid a lot of legal hassles if you get property in one of these areas for your off-grid property.

Towns without zoning in New Hampshire are:

  • Alexandria
  • Canaan
  • Chatham
  • Clarksville
  • Errol
  • Grafton
  • Haverhill
  • Lempster
  • Orford
  • Pittsburg
  • Rumney
  • Stark
  • Stewartstown
  • Tamworth
  • Warren
  • Wentworth
  • Woodstock

Living in a Mobile Home or Manufactured Home

New Hampshire has some of the best laws regarding living in a mobile home or manufactured home. State law 674:32 says that municipalities cannot completely exclude manufactured homes. However, the law does allow municipalities to regulate manufactured homes to specific zones, such as “manufactured housing parks.”

Because so many areas in New Hampshire don’t have zoning at all, you can easily find somewhere to live in a manufactured home legally. However, your home will have to comply with all codes and regulations that apply to conventional single-family homes.   

There’s a good guide to manufactured housing under NH law here.

Can You Camp on Your Own Property?

Temporary camping on your own property is generally allowed in areas without zoning in New Hampshire. But the law can get a bit murky if you live there full-time. 

For example, the State law says that all dwellings with running water inside and not connected to the public sewer must have a state-approved wastewater disposal system. That would make living in an RV illegal.

Likewise, the State plumbing code has regulations for “minimum plumbing facilities,” – such as requiring you to have at least one lavatory in a home. That would make living in a tent legally out of the question.

If you weren’t bothering anyone, the property was remote enough, and there aren’t any zoning laws in the town, you could probably get away with camping on your land. Otherwise, you might have to turn your land into a lawful “campsite,” – which has its own specific legal requirements and permits.

Is Primitive Living Legal in New Hampshire? (Certificate of Occupancy Rules)

Living a primitive off-grid life in New Hampshire is somewhat legal. The issue is that parts of the building code require you to have certain fixtures in “habitable” rooms. For example, Section E3903 requires you to have at least one wall switch in each habitable room.

On top of this, some areas in NH require you to get a Certificate of Occupancy before legally living in a dwelling. If your home doesn’t have running water, an electrical system, and other amenities, you might not get the Certificate.   

Tiny Homes

Tiny homes are somewhat legal in New Hampshire. The State uses the 2015 version of the International Building Code. Under this version of the code, all dwellings must have at least one room of at least 120 square feet. So, tiny homes smaller than this would be illegal. On top of that, some towns in NH have zoning laws that require homes to be 500 square feet or large.

New Hampshire recently tried to pass a law that would require municipalities to allow tiny houses in all residential districts (HB 588). The bill didn’t pass, but hopefully, NH will pass a similar law soon.

Note that the 2018 version of the International Building Code has Appendix Q, which deals with tiny houses. If New Hampshire updates their building code, the laws will be more friendly to tiny homes.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

New Hampshire passed a law in 2016 which allowed municipalities to allow accessory dwelling units, but not every area opted in. As a result, many places in NH still have strict rules about ADUs.  If allowed, they usually have to be attached to the primary building, and the owner must live there.

Get more info about ADUs in NH here and here.

Off-Grid Electricity in New Hampshire

Off-grid electricity is legal in New Hampshire. The State even has some financial incentives for installing alternative energy systems. In some areas, there is a property tax exemption for solar panel systems: your property taxes won’t increase even if the solar panels increase the value of your home.

Unlike in most other states, many New Hampshire local governments even have rules about wind turbines. Having these rules clearly outlined in zoning laws makes it much easier to get your system approved. Read about small-scale wind power in NH here.

Off-Grid Water Laws in New Hampshire

New Hampshire is a water-rich state, and it generally has very relaxed rules about using water. However, the State does have strict laws for protecting bodies of water. These laws can make it very difficult to get a permit to build or do any construction near natural waters. Keep this in mind when buying property next to water.  

Who Owns the Water in New Hampshire?

The public owns all water in New Hampshire. The public has the right to “reasonable use” of the water, including recreation. New Hampshire also recognizes riparian rights: landowners can use water on or next to their property, so long as it does not impair the rights of other riparian owners. For example, you couldn’t withdraw so much water from a stream that your downstream neighbors don’t have any water.

Water Use Permits in New Hampshire

Water use is regulated by the NH Department of Environmental Services (NHDES). For most domestic uses – such as small wells or even stream withdrawals — you don’t need a permit to use water. 

However, for large withdrawals, you may need a permit and have to register and report the water use. More on that here.   Further, you may need a permit for mooring or docking – even if the water is on your land. 

Wetlands and Shoreland

New Hampshire has strict laws meant to protect and preserve shorelands and wetlands. In general, you will need a permit from the NHDES whenever building, excavating, or filling near a wetland or shore of public waters.

“Shoreland” generally refers to the area within 250 feet of coastal waters, navigable rivers and streams, or lakes and ponds larger than 10 acres in size. Getting a permit in these areas – even for something as simple as building a shed — can be very difficult because you have to prove the work won’t cause damage. You may need additional permits from the local government too.

Wetlands can also be tricky because it isn’t always obvious which land counts as a wetland. You’ll need to carefully look at land maps to see whether your property is technically wetlands.

Surface Water

It is legal to use surface water on or next to your property in New Hampshire. You generally do not need a permit for small withdrawals. For example, you can legally pump water from a stream to irrigate your garden without getting a permit.

You will need a permit if:

  • You are not the riparian owner of the water
  • The withdrawal will adversely impact aquatic life or the disturb the bed or bank of the water
  • The withdrawal doesn’t affect public use of the waterway (such as withdrawing so much water that it lowers the level of a lake)
  • The withdrawal does not exceed 20,000 gallons per day averaged over a 7-day period or 600,000 gallons in a 30-day period
  • The withdrawal isn’t used for bulk transport of drinking water

You can read more about surface withdrawal rules here.

Dams and Ponds

It is generally legal to dig a pond on your property. If the pond is located within 250 feet of a shore, you’ll have to get a permit from the NHDES. If the pond disturbs more than 100,000 square feet of contiguous terrain, you’ll need an Alteration of Terrain (AoT) permit.

Well Water Laws in New Hampshire

Approximately half of New Hampshire residents use well water to supply their homes. NH State law requires all wells to be drilled by a licensed driller, but there is an exception that allows property owners to drill their own well. 

Under the Groundwater Protection Act (RSA 485-C), wells that withdraw large amounts of water (over 57,600 gallons in any 24-hour period) must get a permit. The permitting process is extensive and meant to ensure that the withdrawal won’t impact nearby wells.

State law doesn’t require you to get a permit for smaller wells, nor does State law require you to test well water. However, many local governments require you to get a permit and test water. You’ll have to check with your town or county for information.

After the well is drilled, you must file a report with the State for the New Hampshire Well Inventory Program. The inventory is open to the public and is actually an excellent resource. You can find information like how deep wells are in your area. You must also keep records of work done on your well and disclose this information when selling the property.

Rainwater Harvesting Laws in New Hampshire

Rainwater harvesting is legal in New Hampshire and encouraged by the State. While there aren’t any specific statewide laws about rainwater harvesting, you will need to follow the regulations laid out in the International Plumbing Code. Under Section 1303 of the code, there are certain design requirements for rainwater harvesting systems, like being required to use debris excluders.

If you want to use rainwater indoors, you’ll need to follow the stricter rules about nonpotable water systems. Under these regulations, you’ll need to treat rainwater before using it indoors – even for things like flushing toilets!

Sewage and Waste Removal Laws in New Hampshire

Under New Hampshire law RSA 147:8, all homes and occupied buildings located within 100 feet of a public sewer must connect to it. Some cities in New Hampshire have even stricter laws, such as Rochester, NH requiring sewer connections if the home is located within 200 feet of one.

If you are not required to connect, you will be able to have your own private wastewater system. That system will likely be septic. Some alternative systems are allowed, though. Regardless of the system, you will need a permit from the NHDES.

Read more about NH septic laws here.

Compost Toilets

Compost toilets aren’t specifically mentioned under NH wastewater laws. However, the State does seem to allow them as an “alternative system.” Getting a permit for the system might be difficult, though and ultimately depends on how helpful your local health officer is.

Even if you get a permit to use a composting toilet, you’ll still have to deal with graywater. The State allows graywater to be dumped in mini-dry wells – but only if there is no running water within the building. If you have running water, you’ll need to meet the State’s plumbing code requirements for nonpotable water systems.

Are Outhouses Legal in New Hampshire (Pit and Vault Privies)?

New Hampshire is one of the few states in the USA where outhouses are still legal. Under part Env-Wq 1022 of the wastewater laws, privies must meet these requirements:

  1. No privy shall be located within 75 feet of drinking water wells, surface waters, or foundations on abutting lots.
  2. Subject to (c), below, the bottom of the privy pit shall be at least 4 feet above seasonal high water table and impermeable substratum or ledge.
  3. If the bottom of the privy pit is less than 4 feet above the seasonal high water table or impermeable substratum or ledge, the pit shall be sealed.

However, this doesn’t mean that pit privies are always allowed under local laws. You’ll need to check with your local government to see if they are allowed, and you’ll still need to get a permit before constructing one.

Graywater Recycling Laws

Graywater recycling is legal in New Hampshire. You’ll have to meet the requirements laid out in the State Plumbing Code. The regulations are relatively strict and require you to pre-treat graywater and keep a separate plumbing system for it.

Leave a comment

Leave a Comment