In most cases, you need a permit to install an off-grid solar system. In most counties around the United States, you will need all the same permits and inspections for an off-grid home that you need if you live in town.
While they may be a headache to the Off-Grid Home Owner, there are logical reasons for zoning, codes, and permitting practices.
- Is Off Grid Living Illegal in My Area?
- Sufficient and Appropriate Power Supply.
- Home Owner and Fire Safety.
Using solar and living off-grid legally depends on a few factors – let’s look and see how it affects your dream future.
Is Off Grid Living Legal?
Off-Grid Living is technically legal in all fifty states. However, each state, county, and municipality has off-grid and solar power rules. Some states are very receptive and promote the off-grid lifestyle.
Codes are lenient and local officials help coach homeowners through the permitting and inspection process. Other states are less interested in off-grid.
While not outright banning solar installations, these states make the process so convoluted and restricted that the typical homeowner can not meet the requirements.
Some PRO-Off Grid States are:
- New Mexico
States Less Friendly to Off-Grid are:
- New York
- New Jersey
Remember, just because a state is not Off Grid Friendly does not mean you can not make it work there. Generally, urban areas are more restrictive. Even New York state has rural counties that may work with you to go Off-Grid.
Check with the local building inspector’s office before you give up on an area you are interested in. It may be a long shot, but even long shots win now and then.
Purpose of Codes
The National Electrical Code establishes the United States’ basic electrical practices and standards. The section about solar power is NEC Code Article 690.
Every state has adopted this code. However, each state and county can deviate from the code as they see fit. Before you start any Off-Grid Solar project, you must contact your local county or city building inspector’s office for the code requirements for that jurisdiction.
Safe and Sufficient Power Supply
Building codes are intended to protect the Home Owner from unsafe situations. In the case of Electrical Codes, the intent is to ensure there is enough power and that the power is handled safely.
Off-Grid codes can specify minimum amp ratings and auxiliary power supplies to ensure the home is supplied with adequate power at all times.
The code must cover standard house wiring and include guidelines for Direct Current (DC) power. There are also sections related to collection, storage, and conversion equipment.
Off-Grid Codes May Include:
- Standard domestic wiring requirements.
- Solar panel placement guidelines.
- DC minimum wiring requirements.
- Power storage and conversion guidelines.
- Auxiliary power generation requirements.
Code requirements in every state and county will vary. Before you start your move Off-Grid, check with the county or city Building Inspector’s office for a checklist.
Most municipalities are very helpful, as long as you follow the rules. If you are lucky, you will find a county with minimal requirements.
Enough Power All The Time
Electrical Codes often address the minimum power requirements of the modern home. Most jurisdictions in the US require a minimum of 100 Amp service in a single-family home.
This amount of power is necessitated by the electrical conveniences that modern society expects. Since an Off-Grid home may not include all these modern conveniences, the code for Off-Grid homes may enforce a different minimum power service standard.
There are some items that electrical codes may require, whether you want them or not.
Unexpected Off-Grid Code Requirements
- Grid access is available.
- A mechanical means of generating power.
- A means of pumping water at some specified pressure.
- An electrical engineer must design solar systems.
- A licensed contractor must install solar systems.
Such requirements intend to ensure homes have a consistent and safe power supply. Sufficient power must be available in the home at all times. If the sun does not shine for a week, you need a generator or a grid tie to get you through. Sanitary needs demand that potable water is available at all times.
If a home is not connected to a municipal water supply, an electric pump may be required to provide water. These are just a few unexpected items an electrical code may require.
Solar Safety Issues
Electricity is dangerous. According to the National Fire Protection Assoc., there are over 50,000 fires reported and 500 deaths caused in the US annually due to electrical issues.
Electrical codes are developed and enforced to help avoid such accidents. When we think of DC power, we usually think of 9-volt transistor batteries or 12-volt car batteries.
These items use low voltage and are not particularly dangerous under normal conditions. A solar array and battery bank large enough to run a home is a different beast.
Safety Issues With Solar Arrays
- Commonly create over 2500 watts of power.
- 250 volts of DC electricity is not uncommon.
- 40 amps of current are typical in a domestic array.
- Insufficient or damaged wire can cause fires.
- Improperly charged batteries can explode.
While codes are often seen as (and sometimes used as) unnecessary restrictions on liberty, they are intended to inform and protect.
A fair electrical code will allow home-owner to build the life they want while protecting them from what they don’t know. Don’t fight the code. Try to work with the governing bodies in your area to make the code work. If they don’t work with you, that may not be the place to live.
Those who choose to live off the grid do it for many reasons. None of those reasons is because it is easy. From the planning stages,
Off-Grid Living is work. Planning a Solar Off-Grid System is a learning experience. The local code is a learning tool. Use it!