Texas Off Grid Laws – An In Depth Guide


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Last Updated: August 30, 2021

Texas is known for being one of the best states to go off grid.  The laws are very favorable to off grid homesteads, ranches, cabins, tiny homes and trailers.  However, there are still a lot of regulations which might make it difficult for you to live off grid in Texas.


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Is Off Grid Living Legal in Texas?

Like with virtually all other states, there are no Texas state laws which prohibit off grid living.  However, there are local laws which prohibit off grid systems.  These laws mostly have to do with zoning ordinances.

Texas Zoning Laws and Off Grid Living

States divide up their land into zones. Each type of zone has its own regulations about how the land can be used.  This is what prevents, for example, developers from building a massive office building in a suburban neighborhood. Or prevents hog farmers from moving into the city.

Any Texas land which is zoned as residential or commercial will likely have many laws making it difficult to go off grid.  However, compared to other states, Texas has a lot of rural land which is zoned as Agricultural or not zoned at all.  There are generally very few regulations about how this land can be used.

Agricultural Zoned Land

Land zoned for agricultural use (Ag Zoning or A-1) in Texas usually doesn’t have strict laws requiring water/electric/sewage hookups. So, you can usually go completely off grid on Ag-1 land.

However, you can expect strict regulations about how you are allowed to use the land. It’s very important to know these regulations well.  For example, you might start off wanting to raise cattle but then decide to raise pigs as well only to discover that pig farming isn’t allowed in the zoning ordinances.  Also expect regulations about fencing, wastewater disposal, permitting, etc.  You will not be completely free to do whatever you want on agricultural-zoned land in Texas.

Land without Zoning in Texas

Many rural parts of Texas still have absolutely no zoning ordinances.  You will essentially be able to use the land however you want.  Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to search for unzoned land in Texas.  You’ll have to go to each county individually and dig up zoning maps on their websites.

Unrestricted Use Land in Texas

On many websites for buying land in Texas, you will see properties listed as “unrestricted use.”  This does NOT mean you can do whatever you want on the property.

Properties which are “unrestricted” still have to follow local zoning ordinances and property maintenance laws.  Even if there is no zoning, there still may be restrictions written into the deed, such as prohibiting certain types of animals or buildings.

International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC):

The IPMC is a set of standards which dictate that homes must have services like water, electricity, and sewage hookups. There are even regulations about which types of floor surfaces are allowed (dirt floors, for example, may be prohibited). Many cities and towns adopt these standards into their housing ordinances.

All of the major cities in Texas have adopted the IPMC.  However, some cities have added amendments to the code which allow exemptions for off grid living. For example, off grid electric systems might be allowed as alternatives to an electric grid hookup.

Rural areas in Texas are much less likely to use the IPMC.  However, this doesn’t mean that they won’t have their own property and building codes.  You’ll need to investigate these carefully on a county-by-county basis.

Note: Just because a city or county currently doesn’t use the IPMC, it doesn’t mean they won’t adopt it in the future. That’s what happened in Cleburne, Texas in 2019.  If you live in a developing area, expect there to be regulations now or in the future!

Qualifying as a Farm in Texas

In Texas, you can get property taxes reduced by having your land officially deemed as agricultural use (Ag-use or 1-d) or Open space (1-d-1).

Compared to some other states, claiming your land as Ag-1 or Open Space in Texas is fairly easy.  The rules vary a bit depending on the county, but you usually only need to have around 5 acres of property and use it for farming, beekeeping, ranching, or certain other uses.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has a good guide on the requirements here.

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Off Grid Electricity in Texas

Many rural areas of Texas still aren’t connected to the electric grid, so off grid is the only power option.  It’s also legal to disconnect from the power grid in most cities in Texas (which is not the case in many other states).

However, you will almost always need to get a permit for an off grid electric system in Texas cities. For example, San Antonio ordinances say that “Stand-alone DG systems that are not connected to the electrical grid of CPS Energy require electrical permits when any portion, segment or component of the DG system operates at or is rated for operation above 50-volts (AC or DC) or above one thousand two hundred (1,200) watts.”

Solar Power

Off-grid solar in Texas is legal in most places. There is even a Texas law which says that homeowners associations cannot prohibit solar panels.

When it comes to grid-connected solar systems in Texas though, the laws aren’t so favorable.  There are no state rebates (though some cities like Austin do offer rebates) for installing solar.  Net metering isn’t mandated by law, so you won’t necessarily get money back for any excess solar you produce.

El Paso Electric has been trying for years to get solar users put in a special tariff class so homeowners would even have to pay for the solar electricity they produce! The electric company hasn’t been successful in that yet but did manage to pass a law which sets a monthly minimum of $30 on electric bills.  Even if you produce 100% (or more) of your power needs, you’ll still have to pay $30 per month if you are tied to the grid.

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Off Grid Water in Texas

Off-grid water is sometimes legal in Texas. It depends on whether the water is from the ground, surface, or runoff.

Groundwater (Well) Laws

Texas has very favorable laws about well water. They are based on the “rule of capture” which essentially says that well water belongs to whomever captures it.  Over the years, Texas courts consistently ruled that people could take water from below their land — even if it affected neighbor’s wells.  Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has a good guide to well water here.

There are exceptions in special “Groundwater Conservation Districts” though.  In these areas, there may be laws on how much water you can use and how you are allowed to use it.  Read more about that here.

Surface Water

In Texas, the state owns surface water.  Even if a stream or lake is on your property, you cannot use it without first getting a permit.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issues the permits.  Read more about surface water permitting and rights here.

Rainwater Collection Laws in Texas

Texas is one of the best states for rainwater harvesting. Under Texas law, rainwater counts as “drainage water” and it is completely legal to capture.  Rainwater can even be used for drinking water.

There are also incentives for rainwater harvesting in Texas.

  • Tax incentives: Rainwater harvesting equipment is exempt from sales tax (you must present the Tax Exemption Application Form 01-339 to the supplier at the time of purchase to claim the exemption). The equipment is also exempt from property taxes.
  • Homeowners associations cannot ban rainwater harvesting: Though they can implement rules on how the water is harvested).
  • Harvested rainwater can be used for drinking water and indoors: Consent must be obtained from the municipality.
  • Systems can be connected to the public water supply: Regulations state that the rainwater system must have safeguards so it doesn’t come in contact with the public water supply and the system must be installed by a licensed plumber
  • Rebates on rainwater harvesting equipment: The cities of Austin and San Antonio have rainwater harvesting incentive programs where they give rebates on equipment. Austin also sells rainwater barrels at below-cost. Read more about those programs in this PDF.

The Texas Water Development Board is a good resource if you want to start rainwater harvesting.

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Sewage and Waste Removal Laws

On-site sewage facilities (such as septic systems) are very common in Texas.  Permits are almost always required but are generally easy to get.

Compost Toilets

Compost toilets and other aerobic sewage systems are legal in Texas. However, some areas have strict laws.  For example, the law may require homeowners to be trained to use the systems and prohibit them from maintaining their own system.

Outhouses/Latrines

Outhouses are legal in Texas but there may be zoning laws which prohibit them, especially in developed areas.  Even in rural areas, outhouses are only legal if they are 75 feet away from neighbor’s residences. If you have neighbors and a small property, then this will limit whether you can have an outhouse.

You can find more information here.

Garbage Removal

Garbage is surprisingly one of the most difficult services to disconnect from in Texas.  City ordinances in most cities and towns require homeowners to pay for garbage removal, even if you theoretically didn’t produce any trash or didn’t want those services.

For example, Amarillo ordinance says their Residential collection and disposal charge, “shall be mandatory of all owners or occupants with four or less Family Residences.”  Further, it is illegal for anyone who doesn’t pay the charge to deposit trash in any city-owned trash container.  So, you couldn’t take your trash to a container in the city or even a city recycling center if you weren’t paying for trash removal.

If you live in a rural area, you could get around the garbage service requirements by composting and recycling other waste.  Burning trash is illegal in most parts of Texas though, so this is not an option.

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Other Off Grid Laws in Texas

  • Unpasteurized milk: It is legal to sell unpasteurized milk from the point of production. You need a retail milk permit to do so.
  • Floating cabins: There are permitting requirements, but you can live off grid in a floating cabin in Texas. More here.
  • Tiny homes: Texas law is very friendly to tiny homes. Tiny homes certified by the ANSI are exempt from personal property tax.
  • RV living: It is much trickier to legally live off grid in an RV in Texas, even on your own land. Many areas require homes to be on permanent foundations to count as residences.  You may also be required to install a septic system or meet other local ordinances. There are also often municipal “RV park” fees even if it is only your RV on the lot.

Best Places in Texas to Go Off Grid

In general, Central Texas is considered the best region for off grid living in Texas.  There is a lot of land in this area which is free of zoning ordinances yet still close enough to cities like Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas.  The land is affordable, has good soil for farming and livestock, and there are reliable water sources.

There is a lot of unzoned land near El Paso, Texas but this land is not as suitable for self-sufficient living.

Do you live off grid in Texas or are going off grid? Let us know about your experience with zoning, rules, and regulations in the comments section below.

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