off grid

The first of the month rolls around, and once again, you find yourself gritting your teeth and checking off the list: mortgage, property tax, income tax, gas, electricity, water, sewer, garbage, life insurance, health insurance, cell phone, cable, credit cards—every 30 days, a reminder of how hopelessly plugged in and dependent you are on the system.

Maybe, you think, there’s another way. Wouldn’t it be nice to leave it all? To go far, far away to a place where you could live free and unfettered? Off the grid, with no bills, no electricity—and no constant, grating connection to all the burdens of modern responsibility?

But then you sigh and take another peek at Facebook, and the dream fades into the background.

Information overload

There’s no shortage of information out there about how to make your off-grid dreams come true. In fact, there’s even a simple, 24-step guide to help you pry yourself from the heartless, unfeeling hands of contemporary life.

However, if you’re truly serious about living off the grid, the first thing you should know is that “living off the grid” can have wildly different meanings.

Say, for instance, you want to continue living in your current location, and maintain your current lifestyle, but just lessen your dependency on grid-based electricity. Once you’re no longer sucking up power from the electricity grid, you’re technically already an off-gridder. Of course, all the bills mentioned earlier will continue to roll in, with the exception of the electricity bill. But that’s not so bad. In fact, this simplest version of self-sufficiency might even put money in your pocket.

But what if you want to go all the way? To cut all the tethers, and fully disappear? Are there any legal issues standing in your way?

Boldly into the wild

The short answer is yes.

If you live in Florida, California, North Carolina, Arizona, (or just about any other state), you can expect to run into some fairly sticky obstacles, like:

  1. Death and taxes. Quickly skimming over the fact that your off-grid lifestyle could help you die sooner than actuarial tables predict—from hunger, exposure, large animal bites, or an infected blister from all that wood you’ll be chopping while living out in the sticks—you won’t escape the IRS, either. Even without dealing in money—even if you do nothing but trade some hearty skunk meat for a light and tasty dandelion soup—the IRS still expects its cut from your bartering activity.
  2. Municipal codes. There’s something called the International Property Maintenance Code that, if you come under any outside scrutiny, might get in your way. And some states are more adamantly insistent on their residents making use of their utilities. For instance, in 2014, a woman in Florida found herself locked in an ongoing battle with her local community over its insistence that she hook her place up to the grid, even if she didn’t actually use the city’s water, power, or other services. Unless you get far away from any municipality, those codes are going to rain on your grid-free parade.
  3. If there’s no grid, it must be camping. About 800 residents of Costilla County, Colorado, had been happily living off the grid for a number of years when county officials decided to regulate them based on the fact that since they didn’t have power, they must be camping—and you can’t camp on your land indefinitely.
  4. You can run—but your water can’t. A Michigan couple giving the off-grid lifestyle a go got caught up with county officials over not having running water, which is required for permanent living situations there. The couple countered by embracing the “just camping” moniker and shifting their location among their three parcels of land—to avoid the county time limits for camping.

Fortunately, there are still a few places on earth so remote that if you went there to start an off-grid existence, no one would bother you—because there wouldn’t be anyone else around. Make no mistake, however; while there are possible long-term financial gains, it’s going to cost you initially.

If after reading this, you’re still serious about living off the grid, consider consulting with an attorney before you make the move. An attorney who’s familiar with your local laws may be able to help you avoid the obstacles that have thwarted others.