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Oregon Off-Grid Laws – An In Depth Guide


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Last Updated: March 1, 2021

Oregon is largely considered one of the best states for off-grid living. The land is fertile and the state has many policies which favor people living sustainably.

However, Oregon is also one of the strictest states when it comes to how you can use your land, so setting up an off-grid home might not be as easy as you think.


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Is Off-Grid Living Legal in Oregon

Off-grid living is legal in Oregon. However, Oregon does have very strict zoning laws which may make it difficult to build or do certain things on your property.

Oregon Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

Oregon has some of the strictest zoning laws of any state in America.  Over half the land is for public use. The private land is divided into six types of zones and each zone has rules on how it can be used.  The rules are designed to protect Oregon’s natural resources and prevent suburban sprawl, but make it harder to get land for an off-grid property.

The majority of private land in Oregon is zoned as farm, forest, or mixed farm/forest.  In general, the Eastern part of Oregon is zoned as Farm Use and the Western part zoned as Forest.

Land Use in Oregon:

  • Public land: 55% of all Oregon land
  • Farm: 25%
  • Forest: 13%
  • Farm/forest: 4%
  • Rural: 1%
  • Development Other Rural/Non-Resource: <1%
  • Urban: 1%

You can find a map of Oregon land zoning here.  The Oregon Legislative Committee Services also has a good guide to Agricultural and Forestlands here.

Farm Zoned Land in Oregon

Much of Oregon’s land is zoned as EFU (Exclusive Farm Use).  There are very strict rules on how this land can be used.  Some of the restrictions include:

  • Parcel size: To prevent over-development, there are parcel size minimums of 20 to 160 acres. It is virtually impossible to have a small-acreage off-grid farm in Oregon.
  • Type of Dwelling: With few exceptions, you are only allowed to have one residential building and farm-related outbuildings.
  • Use: The land must be used for farm-related purposes. These are fairly broad though and include bee keeping, making cider, and other non-typical farm operations.

You can read more detailed rules here.

Forest Zoned Land in Oregon

Like with farm-zoned land in Oregon, there are many restrictions on how you can use forest-zoned land.  To prevent deforestation and over-development, there are minimum parcel sizes.  The types of dwellings allowed are also very limited.

Farming is allowed on land zoned as Forest in Oregon.  However, there may be additional rules in place.  For example, if your property is in a wildlife habitat, you may be required to use practices which won’t affect the habitat.  You’ll need to contact the Land Conservation and Development Office for information on what’s allowed and prohibited.

Qualifying as a Farm in Oregon

Land costs in Oregon are very high.  Because there are minimum parcel sizes you are required to own in farm and forest zones, your property taxes can end up being extraordinarily high. You can get your property taxes reduced by qualifying as a farm. It varies, but the land will typically be taxed based on its gross revenue and not market value.

In EFU zoned land, qualifying as a farm is fairly easy so long as you make some profit by farming and also used the land exclusively for farming in the previous year.  Read more about that here.

Qualifying as a farm is harder on land which is not zoned as EFU (such as forest land). You will need to make a minimum revenue based on acreage:

  • Land 6.5 acres or less: $650 income
  • 5 to 30 acres: $100 per acre
  • 30 acres or more: $3,000 total

Further, the land must currently be used for farming, have been used for the two previous years for farming, and meet the income requirements in 3 of the 5 previous years. More information on requirements here.

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Off-Grid Electricity Laws in Oregon

Oregon is one of the easiest places in the United States to disconnect from the power grid.  States laws favor renewable energy and there are incentives for installing off-grid electric systems.  Micro-grids are allowed and could be used to establish off-grid communities.

Even though the law favors off-grid systems, the permitting process is still fairly strict.  If you have a homeowner’s association, you’ll have to gain approval from them first.

Solar

Oregon offers numerous rebates and tax incentives for installing solar power systems. You are eligible for these incentives even if your system is not net-metered (grid-tied), which is not always the case in other states.

Other Oregon laws which are favorable to solar include:

  • Counties are not allowed to charge for solar permits: Though they can charge for building/construction aspects of the permit.
  • Renewable energy installations are exempt from property value taxes
  • Cities must allow rooftop solar equipment: Under Oregon House Bill 3516 (2011)

 

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Off-Grid Water Laws in Oregon

Surface Water

All water in Oregon belongs to the public.  Even if a stream or lake is on your property, you will need to get a permit to use that water. Likewise, you will need a permit to create reservoirs on your property. Once you get a permit to use a water source, the government cannot revoke the permit so long as you use it in accordance to the terms of the permit. Read more about Oregon water rights here.

Well Water

Like with surface water, groundwater in Oregon belongs to the public.  You must get a permit to use well water, even if it is on your property.  However, there are exemptions including for “Single or group domestic uses up to 15,000 gallons per day.” See Oregon’s Well Water Handbook for more.

Rainwater

Rainwater harvesting in Oregon is legal. However, there are restrictions: you are only able to catch water coming from rooftops and parking lots.

Many people incorrectly believe that rainwater harvesting is illegal in Oregon because of a 2012 case where a man was sentenced to jail.  In that case though, the man had created numerous 20-foot dams to collect huge amounts of water (he had enough to put boats on it!).

If you want to collect rainwater off of a surface which is not your roof or parking lot, then you’ll need a special permit.

Incentives

There are some incentives for collecting rainwater in Portland.  These incentives only apply to people who are still connected to the water utility though.

Greywater Recycling

Oregon is one of the few states which specifically encourages greywater recycling and has clear laws about it.  The law says that water from bathtubs, showers, washbasins, clothes washers, and laundry tubs can be recycled so long as it does not connect to any potable water system.

A permit is required.  You can learn more here.

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Sewage and Waste Removal

Unlike many other states, Oregon has many sanitation laws which are enforced statewide. These laws generally favor off-grid waste removal systems such as compost toilets.  You will still need to check local regulations though to see if there are any additional rules in your area.

Compost Toilets

Composting toilets are legal in Oregon.  They’ve been allowed in residential homes since 1978 under plumbing code ORS 918 770-0080. However, local ordinances may require homes to have at least one flush toilet or other “approved wastewater treatment system.” Permits are required.

Previously, they were not allowed in commercial buildings. However, commercial properties can now file a code appeal to get approval for compost toilets.

Read the Oregon composting toilet law here.

Outhouses/Latrines

Outhouse latrines are legal in Oregon.  They are referred to as “pit privies” in the law and require a permit in almost all cases.  The law states:

  • Unsealed earth-pit type privies may be approved where the highest level attained by groundwater is not closer than 4 feet below the bottom of the privy pit.
  • The privy must be constructed to prevent surface water from running into the pit.
  • When the pit becomes filled to within 16 inches of the ground surface, a new pit must be excavated and the old pit backfilled with at least 2 feet of earth.

Garbage Removal

Oregon has strict laws against illegal trash dumping.  These laws make it fairly difficult to disconnect from trash removal services.  If you do disconnect, you’ll need to take trash to dumping stations yourself and pay their dumping fee.  You can see a map of Oregon waste removal services here.

Toilets & Waste

Other Off-Grid Laws in Oregon

  • RVs: Oregon has laws which are fairly favorable to living in RVs or motorhomes. However, in many cases, the RV must be located in an RV park, connected to utilities, and used as a residence. Read more here.
  • Tiny Homes: Most places in Oregon are favorable to tiny homes. In many cases though, the home needs to be a on a permanent foundation or it will be considered an RV.
  • Raw milk: In some cases, such as small farms, it is legal to sell raw milk in Oregon. See more here.

Do you live off-grid in Oregon? Let us know in the comments section about any legal issues you had to deal with!

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