Ohio Off-Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide


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Last Updated: July 1, 2021

With its large Amish population, it should be no surprise that Ohio is a good place live off-grid.  However, there still are a few arcane laws which can make it a major hassle or expense to fully disconnect from the grid.

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


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Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Ohio?

While off-grid living is technically legal in Ohio, it has gotten a lot harder to do it legally in recent years.

The state is especially strict about off-grid bathrooms.  You’ll be required to connect to the public sewage system if one is located nearby and outhouses are almost always forbidden.

However, other aspects of off-grid life in Ohio are much more permissive, especially in regards to farming and water rights.

Ohio Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

There is still some land in Ohio with no zoning, such as parts of Clinton County (map). However, most land in the state is zoned.  The local zoning laws will largely determine how difficult it will be to go off-grid.  Luckily, Ohio zoning laws tend to be much more relaxed than in other states.  The state laws are particularly favorable to farming.

You should ideally look for land which is zoned for agricultural use or as rural residential.  However, even land zoned as residential is still pretty permissive in regards to off-grid living.

Important Ohio Zoning Codes:

  • UZ: Unzoned
  • A1: Domestic agricultural district
  • A2: General agricultural district
  • RR: Rural residential
  • R-1 One family residential district (Also R-1A, R-1AA, R-1AAA, R-1B, R-1C)

Ohio Zoning and the Right to Farming

Ohio is one of the best states in regards to the right to farm.  The state law specifically prevents zoning laws from prohibiting agricultural use.

Because of this statewide law, you are even allowed to have farm animals in cities (see Cleveland’s rules here).

Of course, there are some exceptions!

In some areas, you are completely forbidden to have large animals like cows on small properties and there are restrictions on how many animals you can keep based on property size.  However, so long as you keep things clean and slaughter animals in your own garage instead of outdoors, you’ll be able to have your backyard chickens or some other farm animals regardless of where you live in Ohio.

You can read more about Ohio’s agricultural zoning laws here and here.

Qualifying As a Farm in Ohio

When you qualify as a farm in Ohio, your land will be taxed at its Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV), which can significantly lower property taxes.

To qualify, you must apply to the local county auditor.  Most agricultural uses will qualify you but only if you are making money at least an average of $2,500 per year from your farm.  Read more here.

As of writing, you need to reapply for CAUV every year. However, a new law aims to change this and make it easier for farmers to get CAUV status.  Read more about that here.

Also Read: Why You Need a Homestead Declaration

Off-Grid Electricity in Ohio

It is legal to disconnect from the electric utilities in Ohio and go off-grid.  If you live in an urban area though, be sure to carefully check the building codes.  There may be local laws which require a certain amount of lighting in homes.

Solar Incentives

Ohio does offer some incentives for installing solar power, but these only apply to grid-tied systems. There is also net metering policies in place for grid-tied systems.  However, there are some other incentives available for residents who reduce their energy consumption.  See incentives here.

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Off-Grid Water

Since 1984, Ohio has used the law of “reasonable use” in regards to water rights.

Under the law, you own the water on your property – including the water underneath it.  You are able to use the water without having to pay any costs.  You can use the water however you want so long as it doesn’t impair the rights of anyone else. Read more here.

Surface Water

Ohio uses “riparian rights” in regards to surface water such as streams and lakes.  That essentially means you legally own and can use any water on your property.  There are no laws restricting how you can use the water on your property, so you are free to make a dam, holding tanks, or use it as you wish.

Here’s where things get murky.  Under the law, you are only allowed “reasonable use” of the water and also need to keep its “natural flow.”  You also must not infringe upon the “rights of others.”  So, you would not be able to create a dam if it deprived your downstream neighbors of water. Likewise, you couldn’t make a dam which damaged the property of upstream neighbors.

Because the law is so murky, these cases are generally decided in court.  You could be sued by your neighbors if you don’t use the water carefully.  Likewise, get ready to battle any neighbors in court if their dams or water usage damages your property. Read more about Ohio surface water use laws here and here.

Well Water

Wells in Ohio are regulated by the Department of Health. You’ll need to get a permit, which is generally easy to get.  You can read Ohio’s private well laws here.

Rainwater

Rainwater harvesting in Ohio is legal, even for drinking (potable) water.  Generally, no permits are required for small rain barrels.  You’ll need to check with local regulations if you want to install a larger system or underground storage tanks.  You will also likely need a permit if you plan on using the rainwater for potable water.

As of writing, Franklin County offers these incentives for rainwater harvesting. Let us know in the comments if you know of any other incentives in Ohio!

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Sewage and Waste Removal

Until 2015 when the new “Sewage Treatment System Rules” came into effect, Ohio had some of the oldest and most outdated sewage rules in the country.  Not many alternative sewage systems were allowed.  The approved systems often weren’t adequate based on soil type.

As a result, Ohio had (and still has) a terrible sewage problem. There are many illegal sewage systems in the state and thousands of septic tanks are failing. It’s not uncommon for raw sewage to make its way into streams and rivers, creating a disgusting stink.

The new Ohio rules allow for some alternative off-grid sewage treatment systems. However, they also mean more inspections, permitting, and general hassle.  Be particularly cautious if you are buying an existing property as it’s likely the existing sewage system isn’t up to code and you may be forced to pay a large amount to legalize it.

Read Ohio’s sewage and graywater laws here. I’ll summarize parts of the law below and other laws related to waste removal.

Required to Connect to Public Sewage System

Under Ohio Code 6117.51, homeowners are required to connect to the public sewage system if one is located within 200 feet of their foundation. This requirement stands even if you have an approved sewage system, such as a septic tank.

In recent years, counties actually started enforcing this law. For example, many homeowners with septic tanks in the Columbus area were required to hook up to the city sewer system.  It can be VERY expensive.

Compost and Incinerating Toilets

Composting and incinerating toilets are legal in Ohio.  However, you typically aren’t allowed to only use them as your sewage system; you’ll still need to have a septic tank installed or connect to the public sewer. By having one of these waterless toilets though, you can have the size of your septic system reduced.

Under the law, you are required to:

  • Get a permit
  • Use a sewage treatment system for disposing of all other waste (such as from sinks, dishwashers, clothes washing, bathing and showering).
  • Must be certified to ANSI/NSF Standard 41
  • Liquid and solid materials removed from a composting toilet shall be disposed of as septage in accordance with rule 3701-29-20 of the Administrative Code
  • Dry incinerated waste material from an incinerating toilet shall be disposed of at a solid waste landfill permitted by Ohio EPA.

The law is worded in a way which might allow for some workarounds, such as using an approved graywater system for other waste and using an approved sewage hauler to remove stored urine and solids.  You’d have to take it up with the local officials who might insist that you install septic anyway.

Outhouses/Latrines

In almost all cases, outhouses are not legal in Ohio.  The law specifically states that outhouses are only permitted if:

  • All plumbing or drain connections to the privy are prohibited;
  • (2) The privy shall comply with the requirements of paragraph (A) of rule 3701-29-12, which states that privy vaults shall be manufactured to be watertight and structurally sound in accordance with division (A)(17) of section 3718.02 of the Revised Code.

You’ll still need permission from the local authorities to use an outhouse.  Even if the outhouse is allowed, they still may require you to hook up to the public sewer line (if one is located within 200 feet of your home) or install a septic tank.

Graywater Recycling

Under Ohio law, graywater is defined as “wastewater discharged from lavatories, bathtubs, showers, clothes washers, and laundry sinks that does not contain food wastes or urine or fecal matter.”

It is legal to recycle graywater for some purposes, such as irrigating plants.  However, you will need to get approval for the system.  This involves having your soil inspected.  In almost all cases, you’ll still need to connect to the public sewer or install septic.

Garbage Removal

Usually, if garbage collection services are offered in your area, you are required to pay for them – regardless of whether you want to use them or not.  However, many places in Ohio (including Cleveland) have more relaxed laws which might allow you to go off-grid in this sense.

You will be required to apply for an exemption from the waste removal fee. In order to get this exemption though, you may need to show proof that you are using a private hauler.  Expect it to be a major hassle.


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  1. So if my neighbor doesn’t have trash pickup and garbage bags are piling up, no running water and 5 dogs, 4 chained outside, and no septic means they are doing things they are not supposed to do. It is starting to stink real bad down there.

    Reply
    • I hear you. I used to be vehementlyy opposed to the idea of “government telling us what we can do on our properties” until I saw how disgusting places can get when regulations aren’t enforced. Hope you don’t end up in a terrible fight with the neighbors. :/

      Reply

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