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South Carolina Off-Grid Laws: An In Depth Guide


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Last Updated: May 17, 2021

Along with its neighbors Georgia and Tennessee, South Carolina is considered a great state for off-grid living.

Don’t expect to be able to do whatever you want with your land though. 

There will be legal complications and lots of regulations to follow if you want to go off-grid in SC.

(Also see North Carolina Off Grid Laws.)

Want to more about living off grid? Read:

Is Living Off-Grid Legal in South Carolina?

Off-grid living is legal in South Carolina. However, compared to other Southern states, South Carolina requires stricter oversight.  You will need to get a permit and undergo inspections for virtually all the systems you want to install.

The law is also vague about many alternative systems, which means they exist in a legal gray area.  It will probably fall on local inspectors to decide whether they want to issue a permit for your project or not.

South Carolina Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living

Even though the population of South Carolina has grown by over 10% in the past decade, only a small portion of SC is developed. Most of the land is covered by crops, pasture, or forest. You will find large plots of land where neighbors are few and far between.

You’ll largely be able to do what you want on land which is zoned for rural use.

There is even a lot of unzoned land left in South Carolina. However, this can be a double-edged sword, especially when developers sweep in and start building subdivisions.

Qualifying as a Farm in South Carolina

Property qualifying as farms in South Carolina will be taxed on its “use value” instead of “market value.”  To qualify as a farm, you must have at least 10 acres of land being put to “real” agricultural use or 5 acres of timberland.  If the land is less than this, then you must earn at least $1,000 in gross income from the farm to qualify.

Read more details here. Abbeville County also has a good summary of the law, but you’ll want to check with your own county as well.

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

Off-Grid Electricity in South Carolina

Using off-grid solar in South Carolina is legal. The state offers a large tax credit for installing solar and there are some rebates and net metering for grid-tied systems.

However, you could come across some zoning issues when installing large solar systems or other alternative energy systems.

Likewise, homeowner associations are allowed to put restrictions on solar panels which might make your project illegal.  (source)

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Off-Grid Water

Surface Water

It is legal to use the surface water in South Carolina on or adjacent to your property.  This includes streams, lakes, and artificial ponds.

There are almost no limitations on use so long as it is “reasonable” and doesn’t infringe on your neighbors’ right to the water. You can read a good overview of SC water laws here.

Because there is so much water in parts of South Carolina, you might come across a different legal issue with surface water: diverting water.

Under the law, water is considered a “common enemy.” You can dispose of the water any way you want.  But, if you collect it with an artificial means and then dispose of it on your neighbor’s property in a way that creates a nuisance, you could be in legal trouble.

Read more about the law here.

Well Water

If you want a well dug on your South Carolina property, you will first have to get a permit and then have the site inspected. If the permit is approved, it is legal to install some types of wells yourself.  An inspector will visit during construction and you must follow standards.

Read more about wells here.

Rainwater

Currently, there are no state laws about rainwater harvesting in South Carolina. Thus, it is generally considered legal to collect rainwater.  There are no state or local incentives, such as free rainwater barrels, though.

Be warned that mosquitoes are a big problem in South Carolina so you’ll want to make sure you have insect screens on your system so you don’t create a nuisance for yourself or your neighbors.

Graywater Recycling

Graywater recycling is legal in South Carolina and is regulated under Nonpotable Water Systems. You will be required to get a permit and follow regulations, such as putting up signs marking the water as nonpotable.

You can read the law here.

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Sewage and Waste Removal

In South Carolina, you must first have a sewage permit before you can get a building permit.  The law barely mentions alternative systems, leaving it up to counties to decide whether they will let you install a compost toilet, outhouse, or another off-grid sewage system.

You’ll most likely need to install a septic tank, which means going through the permitting and inspection process.

Here are some useful laws from the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC):

Septic Systems in South Carolina

In most cases, you’ll be forced to install a septic system for your off-grid home in South Carolina.  If your property is located near a sewage line, your septic permit may be denied. You’ll be forced to connect to the municipal system.

How to Get a Septic Permit in SC

To get a septic permit in South Carolina, you’ll first need to apply.  You will then be issued a permit and an inspector will evaluate your site. If your septic permit is approved, it is valid for 5 years. You must schedule another inspection when you start construction.

You can read the details of the permit process here.

Can I install my own septic tank in South Carolina?

South Carolina law states that only licensed septic tank pros can install or operate on septic tanks. If you want to install your own septic tank, you’ll need to get a license first. The process is actually pretty easy though and just involves filling out a form, paying a fee, and taking a test.  If you don’t pass the test, you can retake it in 30 days.

Read more on septic licensing here.

Compost Toilets

Compost toilets are not specifically mentioned under South Carolina sewage laws.  Instead, they likely fall under the definition of “alternative system” or “self-contained toilet.”  The problem with this is that it leaves individual counties responsible for deciding whether they want to allow compost toilets.

In most cases, the compost toilet will be legal – but only if the home is also connected to an approved sewage system (municipal or septic). Using just a compost toilet would be illegal.

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Outhouses/Latrines

Outhouses are legal under South Carolina State law.  They are called “privies” and defined as a building containing a private waste system that is not connected with an approved system. The law states that privies be maintained in a sanitary way and are subject to inspection.

While outhouses may be legal under South Carolina State law, they are usually illegal under county laws. For example, Traveler’s Rest SC law states that it’s illegal to build or maintain a pit privy without a permit. The law also requires homes near a municipal sewage line to connect to it. Kingstree, Great Falls, and many other places in SC have similar laws.

Remember that you will need to get a septic permit before you can get a building permit in SC. This can really shatter your plans to have an outhouse as your primary sewage system.

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Garbage Removal

If municipal trash services are available where you live in South Carolina, you may be required to use (and pay) for them.  The law states that counties can regulate collection and disposal of garbage.  If you want to dispose of your own garbage, you’ll have to get a license from the county first.

If you decide to throw away your own garbage without a license, you will face SC’s litter laws.  Littering up to 15lbs of trash can get you a small fine and community service.  Dumping larger amounts of trash (illegal dumping) can get you fines of up to $1,000 as well as damages. You can read about SC litter laws here.

Do you live off-grid in South Carolina? Let us know about your experience with laws and regulations in the comments section below.

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