Washington State Off-Grid Laws: An In-Depth Guide

With abundant natural resources like forests, streams, and biodiversity, Washington is a great state for off-grid living. There are even some established off-grid communities thriving in Washington.

However, the legalities of living off-grid in Washington can be complex, expensive, and downright annoying.


Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Washington State?

Living off-grid in Washington State is legal. However, along with Oregon, the state has very strict land-use laws designed to protect the environment.

While these laws generally don’t make it illegal to live off-grid, they do put severe limits on what you can do on your property. Whether it’s a compost toilet or a new shed on your property, you’ll need a permit for virtually everything.

Best Areas for Going Off-Grid in Washington State

Generally, the Western part of Washington State is much stricter regarding off-grid laws. King County is by far the worst in terms of regulations. Clark County, which contains Vancouver, is also very strict.

By contrast, the land east of the Cascades in Washington is less strict. There are also fewer “city folks” living in these areas (the land around Seattle has a lot of weekend homes for city dwellers), so you are more likely to have like-minded neighbors who are also living the off-grid or homestead dream.

Washington State Land Use Laws

In 1990, Washington State passed the Growth Management Act (GMA). The law requires all counties with a certain population size and growth to create development plans and laws. These laws aim to prevent sprawl and preserve the state’s natural resources.

As a result, most land in Washington State has strict zoning laws. These laws cover things like how residents can use land and utility requirements.

You can find a map of Washington State counties’ plans under the GMA linked above.

Critical Areas and Natural Resource Lands

Small counties with little growth aren’t required to create plans under the GMA. However, they are still required to identify natural resources and critical areas (such as wetlands, animal habitats, etc.). These counties are then required to create laws aimed at protecting the lands. If you dream of moving into the wilderness of Washington State to live off-grid, it might be impossible due to these conservation laws.

For example, the Critical Areas Ordinance in King County prohibits farmers from clearing land: 50-65% of land that wasn’t previously cleared must be left in natural vegetation. Likewise, there are restrictions on whether you can put up new outbuildings on your property.

It is still possible to build on Critical Lands in Washington; the process will just be more difficult. There is a good guide here.

Zoning Laws

Almost all Washington State land has zoning laws. Like with other states, land zoned as rural or agricultural usually has fewer restrictions in regard to off-grid living.

There are still some areas in Washington State without zoning. For example, Wahkiakum County does not have zoning (other than in Cathlamet town). No zoning doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want on your property.   Even in rural Wahkiakum County, you’ll still need permits for excavation or building a barn.

You can find a list of Washington Counties and their codes here.

Also Read: What Is a Homestead Declaration?

Qualifying As a Farm in Washington State

Land in Washington State is costly, so property taxes can be extraordinarily high. However, under the Washington Open Space Taxation Act (Ch. 84.34 RCW, qualifying farmers have their land taxed on its current use. Open spaces and timberlands are also taxed at their use value.

To qualify as a farm in Washington State:

  • Properties 20 acres or more: The land is primarily devoted to farming purposes or enrolled in the Federal Conservation Reserve Program
  • Properties of 5 to 20 acres: Gross income of at least $200 per acre or $1,500 per year for three of the five previous calendar years from the date of application.

You’ll need to apply for an assessment, usually with the County Assessor. See this agricultural tax guide for more. Washington State also has many other tax exemptions for farmers, which you can read about here.

Off-Grid Electricity in Washington State

Washington is one of the best states for encouraging renewable energy, such as solar. There are many incentives, including the Renewable Energy System Incentive Program. Read more about the incentives here.

There are no laws that prohibit homeowners from disconnecting from the electric grid. You are free to use renewables as your only source of electricity.

Note, however, that there might be some rules against not having any electricity in your home at all. For example, some labor and childcare facility laws prohibit the use of candles because of fire hazards.

If you aren’t using your home as a business, these laws probably don’t apply. As always, check with your county about the laws first.

Also Read:

Off-Grid Water

In Washington State, the public owns the water rights. You are required to get a water rights permit to use water, even on your own property. In times of shortage, senior water rights holders have priority. All permits are regulated by the State Department of Ecology (DOE). The permit can be very expensive depending on how much water you need to use. See the fees here.

Anyone caught using water illegally in Washington State is subject to a fine of up to $5,000 daily. You also risk getting sued by your neighbors for depriving them of their water.

Ground Water (Wells)

You are required to get a water rights permit for well water. This is in addition to any drilling permits needed for the county.   To obtain a permit, you must prove that water is available, will be used beneficially, and will not impair another existing use. This last one can be complicated, especially near fisheries and wetlands.

However, there are exceptions (known as the groundwater permit exemption) for:

  • Domestic uses of up to 5,000 gallons per day
  • Industrial uses of up to 5,000 gallons per day
  • Irrigation of a lawn or garden, a half-acre or less in size
  • Stockwater

Surface Water

You need a water rights permit for using any surface water, including water from streams, rivers, or lakes on your property. You will also need a permit to build any water storage reservoir (such as a pond). The water in the reservoir counts towards your total allotted water usage in the permit.

It’s worth noting that water rights can drastically increase property value. Property taxes will also increase if you don’t qualify as a farm (and thus are taxed as use value).


You do not need a permit for rainwater harvesting in Washington State if the rain is caught on an existing structure with another use. So, you could catch rainwater from your home and barn. However, you couldn’t build a surface specifically for catching rainwater without getting a permit.

Washington State actively encourages residents to catch rainwater and has a lot of good resources on the Department of Ecology website. Some areas, such as Seattle, offer incentives for people who install rainwater barrels.

Many counties – though not all allow you to use rainwater for drinking water, so theoretically, you could use rainwater harvesting as your off-grid home’s sole water source (which might be a viable solution if you can’t get a water right permit). When used for drinking, rainwater is subject to the same treatment rules as surface water. More on that here.

Graywater Recycling

Graywater recycling is legal in Washington State. You don’t need a permit for very small systems. The water can legally be used for irrigation, but only with below-ground methods such as drip irrigation or drain fields designed in a certain way.

You can read the details of the regulations here.

Also Read:

Sewage and Waste Removal

Washington State has very strict laws about sewage removal. The law even states that homes must connect to public sewer lines if one is located within 200 feet of their property (though there are exceptions).

When a sewer line is unavailable, you must have a septic tank. Some Washington counties do have language which might allow for “approved alternative systems”.   However, there is no list of what these approved alternatives are. It is up to the local health officer to decide whether your off-grid system is a risk.

This PDF guide by the Washington State Department of Health covers approved water-saving sewage systems, including outhouses, incinerating toilets, compost toilets, vault toilets, and greywater systems.


Outhouses are called “pit toilets” and, under Washington State law, are defined as:

An on-site sewage dispersal unit consisting of a structure overlying an excavation not exceeding five feet in depth in which human excrement (human feces and urine) is directly deposited for permanent placement in the ground.

In many places in Washington State, outhouses are illegal. Some rural areas still allow outhouses but only on properties that are not permanently occupied (like campgrounds). Even if an outhouse is legal in your county or you get approval for one, it doesn’t mean you still won’t be required to have a septic system.

Compost Toilets

Compost toilets are legal in Washington State. You’ll need to get a permit from the local health department before installing one. Only compost toilets on the DOH List of Registered On-Site Treatment and Distribution Products are allowed.

Even though compost toilets are legal, it doesn’t necessarily mean using only a compost toilet is legal. You will almost certainly also be required to have a septic system. However, Washington is a very progressive state. There is already a huge interest in compost toilets, so I wouldn’t be surprised if counties gradually updated their on-site sewage laws to allow compost toilets instead of septic.

Garbage Removal

If you live somewhere in Washington with commercial garbage services, you will almost always be legally required to pay for these services.

For example, Kent City code requires residents to pay for garbage collection even if they want to self-haul their trash. If you don’t want to be stuck paying for trash services, you’ll need to find a property with no service.

Also Read:

Other Off-Grid Laws in Washington State

RVs and Tiny Homes

Living in an RV, mobile home, or tiny home in Washington State is legal. Compared to other states, Washington has some progressive laws designed to protect people who choose to live in these homes.

Washington State law defines RVs, mobile homes, and tiny homes on wheels as “manufactured homes.” Under laws SB 6593 and EHB 1227, cities and counties must treat them the same as other types of homes: they cannot be banned in zoning laws.

However, the law doesn’t prevent cities and counties from creating restrictions. For example, you may only be able to live in a mobile home if it is:

  • Set on a permanent foundation
  • Comply with local design standards
  • Up to the state’s energy code
  • Connected to sewage system
  • Equipped with at least one toilet and shower

As with all legalities of living off-grid, you’ll have to check with your local county about the rules.

Right to Farm Laws

Washington State has very strong Right to Farm laws. These laws essentially state that landowners in developing areas cannot be subject to nuisance complaints due to their farming or forestry activities. Read more here

Straw Bale Homes

As of 2015, straw bale is an approved construction material in the International Residential Code (IRC). Washington has adopted this appendix, meaning that straw bale homes are legal in the state.

Raw Milk

Selling raw milk in Washington State is legal, including for human consumption. You will need a license to sell raw milk—more on the laws here.

Also Read:

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  1. I am a WA state licensed home inspector and had to do some research for tiny homes for a potential inspection. Regarding RV’s and tiny homes being labeled as manufactured homes, this is incorrect as I looked up WA states Labor & Industry as they regulate manufactured homes along with HUD. WA classifies RV’s and tiny homes (under 400 sq ft) as modular homes as they fall under local building codes where manufactured homes (anything over 400 sq ft) fall under HUD (federal housing and urban development).

  2. I want to know if it legal to have ttwo rvs living on land that has junk vehicles storage and no septic hoses for water and extension cords plugged in for electricity this is in ephrata wa

  3. Nice article regarding off-gridding in Washington State. I sincerely appteciate the work you went to to put it together and your honesty, as well. Thank you.


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