West Virginia has long been associated with rugged land, rustic cabins and rural life. As a result, a lot of people think that West Virginia is a good place to live off the grid.
Before you start looking for your dream property though, make sure you understand West Virginia off grid laws. It may be illegal to live the type of self-sufficient life you want.
Want to more about living off grid? Read:
- Off Grid Laws of Every State
- Cost of Living Off The Grid
- Checklist For Living Off The Grid
- The Best Places to Homestead
Is Living Off-Grid Legal in West Virginia?
Living off-grid is usually legal in West Virginia. The only laws which may prohibit you from going completely off the grid are local ones that require you to connect to the municipal sewer system if it is located nearby.
You may have trouble getting permits for some off-grid systems, such as a latrine or wind turbines, but the laws do not specifically forbid them.
West Virginia Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living
Local zoning laws are what ultimately determine whether you can go off-grid legally in West Virginia. Not only do these zoning laws establish lot sizes and setbacks, but they can limit what types of businesses you can run from your home, whether you can farm and how many animals you can keep.
Note that about 40% of West Virginia areas are unincorporated. While these areas tend to have fewer regulations, they can still fall under zoning laws. You’ll need to do detailed research into an area to figure out what is allowed and what isn’t under the regulations.
West Virginia Building Codes
Even though many rural counties do not enforce the codes, there are numerous state building codes you must follow in WV. These include:
- 2015 International Building Code
- 2009 International Energy Conservation Code
- 2015 International Existing Building Code
- 2015 International Fuel Gas Code
- 2015 International Mechanical Code
- 2015 International Plumbing Code
- 2015 International Property Maintenance Code
- 2015 International Residential Code
- 2015 International Swimming Pool & Spa Code
- 2014 National Electric Code
- 2010 ANSI/ASHRA/IESNA Standard for Commercial Buildings
- 2009 ICC/ANSI American Standards for Accessible & Usable Buildings and Facilities
Tiny Home Laws in West Virginia
Many areas of West Virginia have laws that make it illegal to live in a tiny home. For example, Putnam County zoning law divides houses into classes. The smallest allowed dwelling (Class C) is at least 400 square feet. These homes are only allowed in areas zoned as Agriculture or Rural but not legal in Residential zones. Over in Hardy County, dwellings in R districts must have at least 800 square feet.
Mobile Home Laws in WV
It is legal to live in a mobile home in WV, but only if the mobile home has been “permanently affixed to real property.” This generally means it will need a sewage connection.
However, you could still encounter issues with zoning laws. Many places only allow mobile homes in special mobile home park zones. The minimum dwelling size regulations can also make it impossible to live in a mobile home in many parts of WV. You will need a permit to transport a mobile home in WV.
You can read the state definitions of mobile home vs. modular home here.
Off-Grid Electricity Laws in West Virginia
It is legal to disconnect from the grid in West Virginia and use off-grid power. State and county rules make it fairly easy to get a permit for solar electricity systems. It is illegal for homeowners associations to prohibit solar. There is net metering for grid-tied homes but no other state incentives for installing solar in WV.
If you want to install a residential wind turbine in West Virginia though, you will likely come across legal issues. It seems that most counties in WV haven’t addressed wind turbines in their zoning codes at all, leaving turbines in a legal grey area.
You’ll likely have to get permission from the zoning board – and there is no guarantee that the authorities will be familiar enough with wind turbines to grant a permit.
Off-Grid Water Laws in West Virginia
West Virginia is a water-rich state which rarely has serious droughts. As a result, WV has very relaxed water rights rules. Even though the State owns all of the navigable waters, it follows the law of riparian rights: you are legally allowed to use the water on or next to your property so long as you do not deprive other riparian owners of their rights.
There are very few restrictions on how you can use water. The only legal hurdle you may encounter is with stormwater laws and permitting when disturbing more than 1 acre of land.
Water Use Reporting
As of 2015, anyone withdrawing more than 300,000 gallons of water in any 30 day period in WV must report their water usage. This applies to both surface and underground water use.
Surface Water Laws in West Virginia
You are allowed to use water on or next to your property in West Virginia. The main rule is that your water use cannot deprive your downstream neighbors of water. In this case, the issue would be resolved in court.
Diverting Surface Water
It is legal to divert water on your property in West Virginia, such as by creating irrigation channels, so long as the diversion does not infringe on the rights of downstream riparian owners. However, you are not allowed to divert water beyond your land. So you could not divert a river and have the channels run off your property to another property.
Building a Pond on Your Property
It is legal to build a pond on your property in West Virginia. You usually do not need a permit for rainwater ponds, irrigation ponds, stock ponds, or other small ponds. Some counties may require construction permits or other permits though, so you’ll need to check the local laws. Larger ponds will fall under the legal definition of a dam and are more highly regulated.
There are some situations where it is illegal to build a pond though. The law is written to protect fish in West Virginia. It states:
“No person may construct or maintain any dam or other structure in any stream or watercourse, which in any way prevents or obstructs the free and easy passage of fish up or down such stream or watercourse, without first providing as a part of such dam or other structure a suitable fish ladder, way or flume, so constructed as to allow fish easily to ascend or descend the same.”
You usually do not need a permit to get water from a spring in West Virginia. However, if you want to use the water for drinking or other potable uses, you will need to use a chlorinator or UV light to treat the water. You’ll need to check with the local health department as to the inspection and permitting process.
Well Water Laws in WV
All water wells in WV must be drilled by a Certified Well Driller. You’ll need a permit and the well will be inspected by the County Health Department before you can use it. You also need a permit to modify or abandon a well.
Rainwater Harvesting Laws in West Virginia
It is legal to harvest rainwater in West Virginia and there are virtually no laws prohibiting you from doing so. You won’t need a permit for simple rain barrel systems or even for most large rain cisterns (though you may need a construction permit for underground cisterns).
If you want to use rainwater for potable uses, you’ll need to use a chlorinator or UV light to treat it. You’ll also have to follow the regulations pertaining to nonpotable water systems in the International Building Code if you want to use rainwater indoors, such as for flushing toilets.
Sewage and Waste Removal Laws in West Virginia
West Virginia has some fairly strict laws about sewage treatment. With very few exceptions, the law requires you to connect to the municipal sewer line or to install a septic system. You can read the full WV sewage laws here.
Despite these strict laws, there are still many areas of West Virginia where people use illegal outhouses or “straight pipes” that dump waste directly onto the ground or streams. As a result, many areas have issues with raw sewage getting into waterways or even running into the street. The West Virginia EPA declared thousands of miles of streams impaired because of how much fecal bacteria was in the water.
Keep this in mind when looking for property in WV. Even if you hate regulations, you’ll want to make sure you live in a place where sewage laws are enforced so you don’t have raw sewage from your neighbors coming onto your property.
Required to Connect to Municipal Sewer
West Virginia State law allows districts to require customers to connect to the municipal sewer if it is available. The district can require this even if the home already has an approved septic system. The home will have 30 days to connect from the date of notice.
If the home does not connect or does not use the city sewer, they will still be required to pay the city sewer bill. The bill is based on water consumption (if metered) or the average consumption of the customer’s class.
This requirement to connect to the sewer main essentially makes it illegal to go off grid in many parts of West Virginia.
Septic System Laws in West Virginia
If you are not connected to the municipal sewer, you will likely be required to have a septic system. The system must have a capacity of at least 1,000 gallons per day for homes with 1-4 bedrooms, though this amount can be reduced if waterless toilets are used. All septic installers must be licensed in the state.
Conventional systems include gravel and pipe, gravel-less pipe, and chamber systems. In situations where a conventional system cannot be used or repaired, certain non-conventional systems are allowed. These include home aeration systems, low-pressure dosing systems, holding tanks, and recirculating sand filters. For new constructions, non-conventional systems are only allowed on lots of two acres or larger.
Are Compost Toilets Legal in West Virginia?
Composting toilets are legal in West Virginia. The law states that they must meet the requirements of NSF Standard 41, but does not specifically state whether the composting toilet must be certified by NSF Standard 41.
If you plan on using just a composting toilet in WV though, you will not be able to do so legally. The law states that composting toilets must also have an approved grey water treatment and disposal system. This almost always means septic.
- How Does a Composting Toilet Work?
- DIY Urine Diverting Composting Toilet
- Best Toilet For Off Grid Living
Are Outhouses Legal in West Virginia?
Outhouses are legal in West Virginia. There are specific rules about how the outhouse must be designed, such as including vents and methods of keeping insects out.
The outhouse can only have an earthen bottom if it is located:
- Below and at least 100 feet from groundwater supplies
- 20 feet away from dwellings, roadside cuts, streams, establishments
- 10 feet away from any property line
Even if you are able to meet these requirements, you will still need to have an approved greywater disposal method – which almost always means septic. There is an exception for residences without indoor plumbing. These can use a shallow leach trench for greywater, but only if approved by the commissioner.
Greywater Laws in WV
West Virginia law is not favorable towards off-grid greywater systems. This is partly because the law includes greywater in its definition of “sewage.” This includes greywater from sinks, drinking fountains, laundry tubs, bathtubs, and washing machines.
Under this definition, it is illegal in WV to dump your laundry water on the ground (though many homes certainly do anyway).
Under the law, residential greywater disposal systems:
- Shall have a house sewer of not more than two inches in diameter.
- Manufactured grey water disposal systems shall receive approval by the Commissioner.
- Non-commercial grey water disposal systems shall consist of the following:
- A soil absorption field designed on the basis of a thirty percent (30%) reduction in water usage, and constructed in accordance with the design requirements for the standard soil absorption fields; and
- A septic tank sized according to the following: For four (4) or less bedrooms, the minimum tank capacity shall be one thousand (1,000) gallons; and 6.15.d.2.B. For each additional bedroom, the minimum tank capacity shall be two hundred fifty (250) gallons per bedroom.
Do you live off grid in West Virginia? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.