Living Off the Grid in Arizona [Laws, Concerns, Climate]
Arizona has a high number of residents living off grid, and this is largely because living off the grid in Arizona is quite practical, if you’re in the right part of the state.
Though the southern regions of Arizona are hot and arid, northern Arizona is an entirely different story. Lush, green, and abundant in natural resources, you’ll have plenty of sun to power your solar, the laws are favorable to off-grid living, and there’s far more water than you might expect.
This leaves the big question: can you live off grid in Arizona?
You can certainly live off grid in Arizona. As in other states, laws regarding off grid living in Arizona differ between counties. Not all counties are equally suited for such a lifestyle, but several counties in Arizona offer some of the most attractive off-grid living you’ll find in the country thanks to relaxed regulations, the temperate climate, affordable land, and beautiful views.
In this article, we’ll discuss the realities of off the grid living in Arizona, including the climate, resource availability, and the laws surrounding alternative living, such as zoning laws, regulations governing renewable resources, and more.
Arizona Off Grid Living Laws – Zoning, Permits, and Homes
Zoning laws determine what you can do with your land. You might assume that just because you own land you can use it for whatever you desire, but that’s not actually the case. Strict regulations limit how you can utilize your land. Failing to follow these regulations can lead to serious consequences.
Luckily, Arizona zoning laws tend to be pretty accommodating towards off grid living, though you must keep in mind that laws vary between counties. So, let’s get the biggest question out of the way now.
Is it Legal to Live Off Grid in Arizona?
It is legal to live off the grid in Arizona, though regulations differ greatly among counties in the state. In some counties, particularly the more rural counties, laws surrounding renewable energy and off grid building are relaxed enough to make for great off grid living, though the more populated urban centers strictly regulate to the point of prohibiting off grid living. Water laws in particular tend to be problematic for those living off grid in AZ, which makes sense since the state is a desert.
Zoning Laws in AZ
In general, you’ll find that you’re able to grow plants and crops for personal use on most residentially zoned properties in AZ. However, laws surrounding the raising of livestock and small animals vary.
In Apache County, for instance, one of the more accommodating counties for this type of lifestyle, you’re free to raise small animals, livestock, and soil crops on any residential or agricultural zoned property. This even includes the smallest SF-10 zoned property, which is a single-family zone with a minimum size of 10,000 square feet (about a quarter of an acre).
Maricopa county sits at the opposite end of the spectrum as one of the more restrictive counties towards such uses, and even in Maricopa you can raise up to five hens on a residential property and maintain a garden with fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants. No livestock is permitted on residential properties, but if you get a property with a rural zoning then you can use it for farm activities.
Pima county, also considered one of the strictest AZ counties regarding off grid living, allows you to use residentially zoned property for agriculture and horticulture, which means you can both grow crops and raise animals/livestock, but only for personal use. You can keep any number of small animals like chickens and rabbits, as well as up to one head of livestock per 10,000 square feet of property space, provided you have a minimum of 36,000 square feet total land area.
Building Permits for Off Grid Living in Arizona
In Arizona, building permits are required for any building that you plan to live in. Some smaller accessory buildings may not require a permit, but they’re not legal to live in.
According to state law, building permits are necessary for all renovations and new structures with a value of $1,000 or higher. But it’s important to note that laws surrounding building permits and specific regulations are different in each county.
You can build single-story detached accessory buildings with a floor space of 200 square-feet or less without the need for any permits. However, as mentioned, you cannot live in that structure. Any building you plan to reside in will require permits, even in the most lenient counties.
Building permits for homes for single-family homes on both residentially and rurally zoned properties are generally quite stringent and pricey across the state, requiring many approvals and inspections throughout the building process.
There is one golden exception, however: Cochise County.
Cochise County has a special provision that makes it one of the best places in the country for off grid living. It’s called the Owner Builder Amendment, and it allows property owners to essentially opt out of permits and inspections. All buildings must still adhere to state codes, but you’ll save a lot of money and time since your plans won’t require approval and no inspections will be necessary either.
Many, upgrades to your property or home will require permits. Septic tanks and wells will require permits. Even installing a manufactured home on your property will require a permit.
However, there are many improvements you can make without permits in Arizona. In Apache and Cochise Counties, for example, permit-exempt projects include decks, water holding tanks, minor electrical systems, portable heating and cooking devices, and more.
In Apache County, you’ll need permits for everything, but there is one added advantage of owner-builders being allowed to build their own homes – no contractor required – just as long as you build everything to code, including obtaining the necessary inspections and permits.
Types of Homes for Living Off Grid in Arizona
There are many different ways to approach an off grid lifestyle in Arizona. Thankfully, the state is pretty receptive to multiple types of housing situations, including manufactured homes, RVs, and tiny homes.
Of course, you’ll have to stick to the counties to that are accommodating of such living situations, since not all counties in the state are so welcoming. But in some counties, you can even build homes from specialized materials like rammed earth, cobb, and clay.
Stick and Brick
Stick and brick homes can be built on most properties in Arizona, so long as you follow the proper building regulations and get all of the necessary permits and inspections along the way. The one exception to this rule is the Owner Builder Amendment in Cochise County that allows you to forgo inspections and permits on buildings on your own property.
Manufactured homes are allowed on most residential and rural properties throughout Arizona. For example, in Pima County, you’re allowed a single detached or one-family dwelling on any residential or rurally zoned property, which includes manufactured homes.
In Apache County, installing a manufactured home is quite simple and doesn’t even require connection to the electrical grid. You must get a septic system and 911 address. Then, you apply with permit fee, site plan, a hand drawn map to your property, documentation of the septic system and 911 address, and the name of the licensed installer who will be installing your home. Once installed, safety inspections will be completed before you receive a certificate of occupancy.
While manufactured and site-built homes are both welcome on most residential properties in Arizona, the same cannot be said for RVs, at least so far as they pertain to full time off grid living in AZ. Here, regulations are quite different in each county.
Full time RV living is not allowed in most counties on residentially-zoned property. Pima County allows you to live full time in an RV or mobile home only in RV and mobile home designated properties (RV and mobile home parks), rural homestead, rural residential, suburban homestead, multiple use properties. But on most residential properties, including single residence, mixed-dwelling, and multiple residence properties, you can only lived in an RV or mobile home temporarily while your site-built home is being constructed.
Tiny homes are very popular, especially among the off grid community. Low costs, easy upkeep, and minimalist features make tiny homes attractive, but, unfortunately, finding places that allow tiny homes for full time living can prove problematic.
Arizona happens to be a safe haven for tiny homes, where you can legally build or bring your tiny house to most places and won’t have to worry about being pushed out of town by excessive regulations.
Pima County, home of Tucson, is one place that’s quite welcoming to tiny homes after some changes to the building code in 2016. In Pima, tiny homes are defined as single family dwellings no larger than 400 square feet. If built on a permanent foundation, you can legally build a tiny home on any property with a zoning that allows for detached single family dwellings, which includes all residentially zoned properties.
You’ll be more restricted for tiny homes on trailers, even if you remove the suspension and axle components to permanently attach the home. These are treated more like mobile homes and allowed on only a few specialty property zones. You can, however, have a tiny home that’s built off-site and attached to a permanent foundation, so long as it never had wheels or suspension.
In Maricopa County, home of the state Capitol, Phoenix, tiny homes are any site built single family dwellings between 200 and 400 square feet. But if your tiny home was ever licensed as a travel vehicle, then RV laws apply instead. Site built tiny homes can be built on properties zoned rural or residential within Maricopa County.
Apache County is even more relaxed on tiny home regulations, considering any home under 600 square feet to be a tiny home. For site built homes, there’s a 200 square foot minimum size requirement, but for tiny homes built on trailers, the minimum size is reduced to just 160 square feet. Regulations are the same for tiny homes on trailers and those built on site within Apache County, but you’ll need to anchor your tiny home to a permanent foundation in order for the county to issue a certificate of occupancy.
You can even convert your premanufactured shed into a livable tiny home in Apache County if you complete the required set of upgrades.
In Cochise County, if you opt into the owner builder amendment, you’ll be able to build any size home that fits within state guidelines, so 200 square feet or more, and you won’t even need any permits or exemptions. Otherwise, the county allows permitted builds of tiny homes between 296 and 400 square feet in area.
Specialty Material Homes
Building with specialty materials is allowed in some areas of Arizona. Apache County allows you to build with clay, cobb, cordwood, straw bales, earthbags, and rammed earth, with most of these materials also being acceptable for building in Cochise County. Even Pima County allows you to build with a variety of different earth materials, including those that are mined and mixed on site, though they are subject to strength testing.
Off Grid Laws in Arizona – Utilities and Resources
Equally important as the zoning laws and types of homes you can have when living off grid in Arizona are the laws surrounding the utilities and resources you need to survive.
Arizona doesn’t limit your access to renewable resources the way many states do, which is one of the reasons why it’s such a great place for this lifestyle. Still, you’ll need to understand what you can and can’t do, particularly in regard to solar, water, and sewage.
Renewable Energy Laws and Incentives in Arizona
Across Arizona, you’ll find that renewable energy, particularly solar, is treated very differently.
For grid-tied systems that use solar panels to offset some of their electrical usage, there is little advantage anymore since residents can no longer get paid for the extra electricity produced by their systems.
Worse, some major electric companies are accused of antitrust violations like price fixing. Plus, you need additional equipment on your solar setup when you’re grid tied to prevent your system from causing any problems for the larger grid.
The situation looks a little better for anyone who’s planning on keeping their renewable energy system entirely off grid.
In Arizona, your home doesn’t have to connect to the electrical grid, but if you do have electricity, you’ll have to get permits for its installation and have it all inspected. Luckily, some countries, including Apache County, will actually let you install your own solar system.
Off-Grid Water and Water Conservation in Arizona
Arizona is a very dry state, receiving far less rain than the national average with annual rainfall ranging from three inches to 21 inches in different parts of the state.
Since water is a precious resource here, it’s hard to get rights to groundwater, but rainwater harvesting is legal and it’s easy to get permits for water conservation projects.
Throughout the state, the collection of rainwater for future use is legal on your property. You can use it for irrigation, livestock, watering your garden, washing your car, and more with little to no treatment, though treatment will be required if you intend to use the rainwater inside your home.
Arizona residents can get a tax credit equal to 75% of the cost of installing an agricultural water conservation system to conserve water for watering plants and livestock. There used to be more tax credits available for water conservation in Arizona, but they seem to have phased out after 2016.
There are still rebates available in specific municipalities like Tucson, Peoria, and Prescott.
In Tucson, you can get a rebate of up to $2,000 for harvesting rainwater, and up to $1,000 additional rebates for utilizing gray water systems.
Prescott offers rebates for rainwater cisterns and rain gardens, offering up to $500 rebates for either, plus, additional rebates for water conserving features like efficient washing machines, toilets, and even hot water recirculation systems.
Wells can be had throughout the state if you get a permit. These wells can be operated optimally by solar panels. But you cannot use most water that’s naturally on your property. Surface water rights in Arizona are very difficult to get, though permits for ponds are generally easier to procure.
Off-Grid Sewage Removal in Arizona
Septic tanks are a great option for off grid living in Arizona, and in this state, your septic tank does not have to be connected to public sewer lines.
In Pima County, you can only have septic tanks on residential properties that are at least one acre in size.
Apache County allows composting toilets and Wisconsin Mounds in addition to septic systems, though you’ll need a permit for any type of waste treatment and storage system.
Composting toilets are allowed throughout the state, though permits will be required everywhere and there are some strict regulations surrounding the disposal of the compost. Still, composting toilets are an acceptable option for dealing with your waste when you’re living off the grid in Arizona.
AZ Off Grid Living – Climate and Weather
The last important aspect of living off the grid in Arizona that we need to cover is the climate and weather. Weather can greatly affect your life when you live off grid, and those living in more temperate climates will have a more comfortable life overall.
If you’re not from Arizona, it’s easy to think of the state as one big desert, but that’s far from reality. There is a lot of desert here, but even the more sparse areas of desert are likely greener and more vibrant than you might think. In other regions of the state, you’ll find pine-forested mountains, hundreds of lakes, streams, and rivers, and comfortable temperatures you may not expect from a desert climate.
The central part of the state tends to be the hottest and driest. Phoenix is located pretty centrally in the state, so Maricopa County is definitely warm. This does make for very mild winters when it’s easy to keep warm but staying cool in the summer can be a challenge, especially when using an off grid electrical system. This county sees no annual snowfall and just 10 inches of rain but sees an incredible 296 sunny days per year! However, the average high in July is 105 degrees, and temperatures above 110 are not uncommon during the summer months.
Farther north, the climate becomes cooler. Most of northern Arizona has comfortable temperatures essentially year-round. Cities like Flagstaff, Show Low, and Payson enjoy mild summer temperatures and winters that aren’t anywhere near as cold or tough as what you’ll find in nearby states like Colorado and Utah.
Apache County, where you’ll find the quaint mountain towns of Show Low and Pinetop, has a summer high of just 87 degrees! It does get down to as low as 19 degrees in the winter though, with an average of 20 inches snowfall annually. Still, you get an average of 275 sunny days per year here, compared to the national average of 205.
The southern half of the state offers a bit of both climates, with warmer areas like Pima and Yuma Counties, in addition to places that don’t get as scorching hot in the summer, like Cochise County, where summer temperatures rarely get above 90.
Obviously, there’s plenty of sunlight just about anywhere in Arizona to power your disconnected life via solar. Depending on where you choose to live in the state, your main concern will either be heating or cooling your home.
Many people living off grid in rural parts of Arizona utilize propane for heat in the winter, but you can also use wood stoves and fireplaces since there’s plenty of wood available. In these northern regions, cooling is rarely a problem, even in the peak of summer, but it will be your main issue if you live in the central part of the stated, in which case you’ll need a serious battery bank and many solar panels if you wish to keep your home a livable temperature while getting all your power off grid.
Arizona is one of the best states for living off the grid thanks to easygoing regulations, a temperate climate, and lots of sunlight to power your home. If you’re already in the state or you’re ready to move here, check out our complete guide on living off the grid so you’ll be fully prepared to jump right into this lifestyle. But if you’re still trying to figure out the perfect place to start your off grid lifestyle, then check back soon for our article about the best states in the US for off grid living. You’re sure to find your perfect off grid paradise on that list!