Don’t expect to be able to do whatever you want with your land, though.
There will be legal complications and many regulations if you want to go off-grid in SC.
(Also see North Carolina Off Grid Laws.)
Want to know more about living off the 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 must 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.
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 with few neighbors to be seen.
You’ll largely be able to do what you want on land 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, you must earn at least $1,000 in gross income from the farm to qualify.
Off-Grid Electricity in South Carolina
Using off-grid solar in South Carolina is legal. The state offers a significant tax credit for installing solar systems, and there are some rebates and net metering for grid-tied systems.
However, you could encounter some zoning issues when installing large solar or alternative energy systems.
Likewise, homeowner associations can restrict solar panels, which might make your project illegal.
Using surface water in South Carolina on or adjacent to your property is legal. This includes streams, lakes, and artificial ponds.
There are almost no limitations on use as long as it is “reasonable” and doesn’t infringe on your neighbors’ water rights. You can read a good overview of SC water laws here.
Because there is so much water in parts of South Carolina, you might encounter 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.
If you want a well dug on your South Carolina property, you must first 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.
Currently, there are no state laws about rainwater harvesting in South Carolina. Thus, collecting rainwater is generally considered legal. However, there are no state or local incentives, such as free rainwater barrels.
Be warned that mosquitoes are a big problem in South Carolina, so you’ll want to ensure you have insect screens on your system so you don’t create a nuisance for yourself or your neighbors.
Graywater recycling is legal in South Carolina and is regulated under Nonpotable Water Systems. You must get a permit and follow regulations, such as signs marking the water as nonpotable.
You can read the law here.
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):
- Regulation 61-55, Septic Tank Site Evaluation Fees (pdf)
- Regulation 61-56, Onsite Wastewater Systems (pdf)
- Regulation 61-56.1, License to Construct or Clean Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal Systems and Self-Contained Toilets (pdf)
- Regulation 61-56.2, Licensing of Onsite Wastewater Systems Master Contractors (pdf)
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. Your septic permit may be denied if your property is located near a sewage line. You’ll be forced to connect to the municipal system.
How to Get a Septic Permit in SC
You’ll first need to apply to get a septic permit in South Carolina. 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 pretty easy, though, and 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 are not explicitly mentioned under South Carolina sewage laws. Instead, they likely fall under the definition of “alternative system” or “self-contained toilet.” The problem is that it leaves individual counties responsible for deciding whether 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.
Outhouses are legal under South Carolina State law. They are called “privies” and are defined as a building containing a private waste system not connected to 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 must 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.
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 the collection and disposal of garbage. If you want to dispose of your own trash, you’ll have to get a license from the county first.
If you throw away your garbage without a license, you will face SC’s litter laws. Littering up to 15 lbs 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 and 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.