Texas Off Grid Laws – An In Depth Guide

Texas is known as 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 that might make it difficult for you to live off grid in Texas.


Is Off Grid Living Legal in Texas?

Like with virtually all other states, there are no Texas state laws that prohibit off grid living. However, there are local laws that 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 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 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 that 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 generally go completely off grid on Ag-1 land.

However, you can expect strict regulations about using the land. It’s essential to know these regulations well. For example, you might start wanting to raise cattle but then decide to raise pigs, 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 that are “unrestricted” still have to follow local zoning ordinances and property maintenance laws. Even if there is no zoning, restrictions may be 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 that dictate that homes must have services like water, electricity, and sewage hookups. There are even regulations about which 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 permitted as alternatives to an electric grid hookup.

Rural areas in Texas are much less likely to use the IPMC. However, this doesn’t mean they won’t have 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 doesn’t mean they won’t adopt it in the future. 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, property taxes can be reduced by having your land officially deemed as agricultural use (Ag-use or 1-d) or Open space (1-d-1).

Claiming your land as Ag-1 or Open Space in Texas is relatively easy compared to other states. The rules vary a bit depending on the county. Still, you usually only need 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.

Also Read:

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 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 power is legal in most places in Texas. There is even a Texas law that 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 in a special tariff class so homeowners would even have to pay for the solar electricity they produce! The electric company hasn’t succeeded in that yet but did pass a law that 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 monthly if 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 whoever 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.  

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 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 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 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. A licensed plumber must install the system.
  • 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.

Also Read:

Sewage and Waste Removal Laws

On-site sewage facilities (such as septic systems) are 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 systems.


Outhouses are legal in Texas, but there may be zoning laws that prohibit them, especially in developed areas. Even in rural areas, outhouses are only permitted if they are 75 feet away from neighbors’ 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, the Amarillo ordinance says their residential collection and disposal charge “shall be mandatory of all owners or occupants with four or fewer 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 without 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, so this is not an option.

Also Read:

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 that 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 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.

You may also want to read:

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  1. We moved to Van Zandt County (East TX). I took my building plans to the county seat. Eventually ended up talking with county engineer, who said, “We don’t care what you build.” We paid to have our aerobic sewage tank inspected — by the contractor’s engineer — but that wasn’t required by city or county. Move to rural Texas! Great place to live!

  2. Hey Diane,
    If someone purchases property that is unregulated at the time of purchase, does it mean that they would be exempt from any future regulations that the city or county decides to adopt?

    • By “unregulated,” I’m assumming you mean an area without zoning laws?
      You are correct in being worried. There is no guarantee that the land won’t be zoned later on. When this happens, usually there are “grandfather rule’ exceptions for properties that were already there. But, again, no guarantee about this. The bigger problem with unzoned land IMO is that your neighbors can come and do whatever the heck they want. I remember a story about a couple who bought their dream property only to have neighbors build a LOUD quad racing course nearby.

      You can read more about zoning laws here (you’ll need to scroll to the very end of the article): https://www.primalsurvivor.net/living-off-grid-legal/
      Also, some good info on the difference between zoning laws and building codes here (also need to scroll to the end): https://www.primalsurvivor.net/no-building-codes-usa/

      • Having a loud race course built right near your property would definitely be a terrible thing to experience! What I meant when I said unregulated was having the legal right to build an earthen home, harvest rainwater, no requirement to be hooked up to eletric grid, and use only composting toilet. According to your answer, it seems that the legal right to live off grid in this way can be taken away at anytime by the local government. Am I understanding you correctly? Thanks for that information!

        • Yes, your right could be taken away from you at any time. However, when a county/state introduces a new law or code, they usually grandfather existing structures. So, if it’s legal to build now, I wouldn’t worry (too much) about it becoming illegal in the future.

  3. I am a retired Buildings Engineer that was contracted to the Federal Government. I live off grid in Central Texas. The only water supply I have is rainwater harvesting. I had a licensed contractor install a septic system for sewer. I installed the rainwater system with 5,000 gallons of storage myself. I also completely installed a 5kw solar system myself with 15 kwh’s of lithium iron phosphate battery storage.
    The only permit I had to get was for the plumbing contractor to install the sewer system and to receive a waste water license from the county I live in. Off grid is really not that hard in Texas if you just put in the work and expense up front. I have to water bill, no sewer bill and best of all no electric bill!
    L. Moore

    • Hi Larry,

      What area are you in? We are trying to help my father-in-law and not super familiar with central Texas. Are there certain counties or areas that are better to look?


    • Hi Larry,
      I built my tiny house and wired it with traditional romex, 50 amp breaker box and a 50 amp RV plug that plugs into an outlet on the pole. I want to retrofit my tiny house with solar. I must have enough power to run my:
      refrigerator (4 amps), mini split (8 amps), dehumidifier (10 amps), LED lights, laptop, and cell phone (5 amps combined) and occasionally a microwave (15 amps), and cook top (15 amps). What size/ how many batteries and solar panel would I need?


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