Virginia Off Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide

With abundant water, resources, and cheap land, Virginia is quickly becoming one of the most popular places for off-grid living.

But before you rush off and buy land for your dream property, know that some counties have laws that can make it difficult or impossible to go off grid legally.

Here’s what you need to know about the off grid laws in Virginia.

Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Virginia?

Off-grid living is completely legal in Virginia. No laws prevent you from disconnecting from the power or water utilities. However, in many urban and suburban areas, you may be required to connect to the municipal sewage system, and local regulations may prohibit you from going completely off-grid.

Even if you live somewhere rural, you’ll still probably have to deal with many permits and inspections. Despite these regulations, Virginia is still one of the most accessible places to go off-grid.


Virginia Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

Local zoning laws determine how you can legally use your land.

The zoning laws in Virginia’s cities and suburbs are relatively strict and will probably make it nearly impossible to go off-grid altogether.

However, most of Virginia is rural. Land zoned as rural or agricultural in Virginia tends to have very relaxed regulations. Even RVs and tiny homes are usually legal in Virginia (which isn’t the case in most states), though the permit process may still be a nightmare, and you’ll likely need to connect them to septic.

Qualifying As a Farm in Virginia

Virginia offers many tax breaks and incentives for farms.

One is that your land will be taxed at “use value” instead of “market value.” You’ll need at least 5 acres of land used for agriculture and livestock. You must make at least $1,000 off of farming annually, and the land must be used exclusively for farming for 5 contiguous years.

There are also land use tax breaks for forest land and open spaces. Read about Virginia Use Value taxation rules here. Farmers can also get various tax breaks and incentives, which you can see here.

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Off-Grid Electricity in Virginia

Off-grid electricity is completely legal in Virginia; no laws say that your home must be connected to the power grid.

Solar systems are allowed, and laws prevent homeowners associations from prohibiting solar panels.

With plenty of streams in Virginia, hydropower is often a good option and not heavily regulated. Local zoning laws are much stricter about wind turbines, though.

As for grid-tied systems, a 2020 law improved net metering for Virginians. The new law also increased the size of residential solar systems, which were eligible for net metering from 20kW to 25kW.

Unfortunately, not all counties exempt renewable energy systems from property taxes. If your off-grid system increases your property value, you may pay more. (Sources: 1, 2)

Also read:

Off-Grid Water

Virginia is very water-rich and has some of the most relaxed water rights laws of any state in America. You are allowed to use water on your property however you want, including diverting water from streams, without even needing a permit in most cases.

While this is good news for people who want to live off-grid, the relaxed water regulations might backfire in the years to come. Some parts of Virginia (particularly in the high-growth East) are starting to experience water scarcity.

You can find a long, informative article about the current state of Virginia’s water resources here.

Surface Water

In Virginia, using surface water (streams, springs, lakes, ponds, etc.) on or adjacent to your property is entirely legal. This includes things like diverting water to create retention basins. There are only a few limitations:

  • No more than 50% of the streamflow can be diverted without a permit
  • The water cannot be diverted to land that is non-adjacent to the water and owned by different people (so no diverting water from your stream to your neighbor’s property)
  • Non-tidal withdrawals of over 300,000 gallons per month (or 1,000,000 gallons per month for agriculture) require a permit

You can read more on the Virginia DEQ website water withdrawal page.

Well Water

To dig a well in Virginia, you must apply for a permit; only registered contractors can construct the well.

Besides that, the state does not control well water; you can withdraw as much water as you want.

The only exceptions are in the Eastern Virginia and Eastern Shore Ground Water Management Areas (GWMA), where withdrawals over 300,000 gallons per month require a permit.

You can find Virginia’s private well rules here and details about the construction regulations here.


Rainwater harvesting is legal in Virginia for potable and non-potable use. The state even offers financial assistance for installing systems through VCAP, the Virginia Conservation Assistance Program. The cost-sharing program can reimburse up to 75% of the costs. Local governments may have their own incentives, too.

There are regulations about how rainwater systems must be designed and built (see here). Currently, only aboveground impervious roofing surfaces are allowed as collection surfaces. If you want to catch rainwater for potable uses, you’ll need to follow the reasonably strict Water Reclamation and Reuse Regulations.

Also Read:

Sewage and Waste Removal

On a state level, Virginia is one of the most permissive states regarding waste disposal. The state law allows outhouses and many alternative systems like composting toilets.

Soil inspections and permits are required, and a licensed person must design the system. You will also be required to have regular inspections of alternative systems.

In addition to state laws, local counties may have laws that make it completely illegal to have an off-grid sewage system. In many counties, you may be required to connect to the municipal sewage system if nearby, essentially making it illegal to go off-grid with waste disposal.

It’s worth noting that relaxed laws mean that parts of Virginia have problems with infectious diseases (like hookworm) from untreated sewage leaching onto the ground and into the water. Sewage treatment laws exist for a reason!

For more information, see:

Compost Toilets

Composting toilets that meet the NSF Standard 41 design requirements are legal in Virginia. However, they may only be used with an approved graywater treatment and disposal method. You cannot dispose of compost toilet waste on the ground.

Note that there are a lot of local laws that may prohibit you from having just a compost toilet; you’ll most likely need a septic tank as well.


Outhouses are still legal in some parts of Virginia, but stringent regulations exist. For example, they are only allowed 20 feet away from dwellings, streams, establishments, and roadsides and within 10 feet of any property line. There must be an approved gray water disposal system if the home also has indoor plumbing. If your home doesn’t have indoor plumbing, you could have an outhouse and a leach trench.

On top of these regulations, many other local laws will probably make having an outhouse in Virginia illegal. Don’t expect to have an outhouse at your off-grid home unless it is in a very remote part of Virginia.

Incinerating Toilets

Incinerator toilets certified by the NSF under Standard 41 are legal in Virginia. They are only permitted in cases where they are not “subjected to frequent use” and when there is also an approved gray water disposal system.

Because of the many local regulations against incinerator toilets, don’t expect to use one unless your property is remote.

Graywater Recycling

Virginia allows Graywater recycling under Chapter 740 of the administrative code. Compared to other states (which often don’t have clear rules on greywater reuse), Virginia has very detailed regulations and requirements for systems.

You’ll still most likely need a septic system, though it might be exempt if you also use a composting toilet.   You can read the Virginia plumbing codes for graywater systems here.

Also Read:

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

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  1. Finding affordable housing is becoming more and more difficult. I had been thinking about purchasing a piece of land and living in a camper. I would haul water in and use a composting toilet. OF course this would be temporary until I was able to build a small house. But after researching the laws, I am very discouraged to do so. What is one to do if they can’t afford to live??

    • We are currently trying to answer that question as well. I am so tired of everything being dictated as to what we can do in this “free” country. I hope you have been able to make progress in what you wanted to do y now.

  2. This state code classifies solar panels as a different class of property for taxation purposes;

    That means unless a county or locality specifically taxes them, they’re not taxable as personal or real property.

    So far Albemarle county has not levied any such taxes, and furthermore states that:
    “solar panels are an accessory use to a permitted primary use, building or structure and permitted by right in all zoning districts. A Zoning Text Amendment is not needed to allow solar panels in all zoning districts.”

    (Off grid 20+ years)

  3. In your opening statement, about VA

    “But before you rush off and buy land for your dream property, know that some counties do have laws that can make it difficult or impossible to go off grid legally.”

    Are there any available list of the counties to seek out and which to avoid?


    • Unfortunately, you have to look at each county individually to see how strict they are. Even within the same county you can have very different rules because of zoning.

      Like in most parts of the USA, the biggest problem you’ll have is with waste disposal. You might be required to hook up to the city sewer system if one is nearby. Outhouse latrines are almost always illegal.

  4. Hi Diane,

    Thank you for this. As far as living in an RV, most counties have ordinances against it. There are many cases where you legally cannot camp in your backyard. While county supervisors think this isn’t right, zoning offices step in and recite county code. It’s crazy.

  5. Will there be future articles regarding other states. You seemed to have done extensive research and legwork for Virginia. If you have no plans for other states, do you have tips on how to research another state. Steps, agencies, etc. to start with?

    • I’ve already written guides to about 20 states. You can search the Primal Survivor webiste to find them. If you want to do the research on your own, I’d suggest starting with the state’s sewage laws. Do an onlinen search for “state name onsite sewage treatment laws”. You will also have better luck finding laws if you add “” to your searches. For example, “well water laws Louisiana”. also gets some good search results.


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