Off the Grid Living in Florida
Nicknamed the sunshine state, Florida is known for its idyllic weather and beautiful shores. Few places are more attractive to those looking to unplug and live less connected to the grid.
But what is the reality of living off grid in Florida? Is it as great as you might expect?
Florida really is a great place to live off grid. From the temperate weather to the agreeable laws regarding off-grid living, this state has a lot to offer.
In this article, we’re going to discuss all the most important aspects of off the grid living in Florida, including the legality of off-grid utilities, the affordability of sustainable living here, and where you might look to start your off-grid lifestyle in the sunshine state.
Can You Live Off the Grid in Florida?
You can definitely live off grid in Florida, and you might even say it’s encouraged. Many state regulations incentivize renewable energy sources like solar and water conservation efforts such as rainwater collection. There are numerous rebates and programs in place that make off-grid living more accessible and affordable in Florida than many other states. Additionally, zoning laws make it easy to live off the grid in Florida on any agricultural or residential rural zoned property. And with some of the longest peak sunlight hours in the country, Florida has the ideal weather for an off-grid life.
Florida Off Grid Living Laws and Incentives
If you head far enough away from civilization and into the backcountry, you can live off grid pretty much anywhere. It might not be in accordance with the law, but there’s no one there to notice you.
That’s not the type of off-grid life we’re talking about though.
Instead, we’re talking about a life that’s still connected to the modern world, but disconnected from the fragile power grid and public utility companies that monopolize their industries.
You can’t live like that legally everywhere, but you can in Florida.
We’re going to discuss the most important aspects of living off the grid in Florida, including zoning laws, what types of homes you can live in, laws surrounding renewable energy, water, and wastewater removal, and rebates or tax incentives that are available to those going off grid.
But first, let’s cover one important question…
Is it Illegal to Live Off Grid in Florida?
No! Off the grid living in Florida is totally legal, and the relaxed regulations and additional incentives surrounding off grid living in Florida make it one of the most attractive states for such a lifestyle. For instance, it’s illegal for any entity to prevent you from installing renewable energy devices like solar panels, so your right to renewable energy is completely protected. Rainwater collection is encouraged, and most counties will help cover the installation cost. And if you live on residential rural or agriculturally zoned land, then you’ll also be able to raise livestock, grow crops, and a lot more, all within the full confines of the law.
Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living in Florida
No matter what state you live in, you’ll have to consider zoning whenever purchasing property. A property’s zoning will greatly affect what it can be used for. Slightly complicating the matter is the fact that zoning ordinances differ between counties.
Though there are many zoning districts, not all are applicable for off-grid living, and some may not be applicable for living at all.
For off the grid living in Florida, the most applicable zoning districts are the agricultural and rural residential districts.
You can also live off grid in many residentially zoned areas, but you’ll be a bit more limited in what you can do. You’ll be more likely to run into restrictive regulations regarding gardening, farming, keeping livestock, and more.
In general, agriculturally zoned land is some of the best land for living off grid in Florida.
As an example, take the land development regulations from Columbia County. On agricultural land, you can raise livestock, cultivate field crops, process and store food, build barns, build single-family homes, park mobile homes, build greenhouses and nurseries, and more.
The downside to agricultural land is that there are minimum lot sizes required to build homes on these properties.
Using the same Columbia County regulations as our example, you’d need a minimum of five acres lot area with a minimum lot width of 200 feet to build on land zoned A-3, and you can see how much larger of a lot you need to build on A-2 and A-1 zoning.
Rural Residential Zoning
Rural residential zoning allows for limited agricultural uses in low-population residential districts, making it a great property choice for living off grid in Florida.
We’ll continue to use the same Columbia County land development regulations as our example, but keep in mind that zoning regulations might not be the same in other counties, even in the same state.
On a rural residential property in Columbia County, you can raise livestock and poultry, cultivate fruits, berries, and field crops, process and store agricultural products, and other basic non-intensive agricultural uses. However, your property must be at least three-and-one-half acres.
You can also build single family dwellings and park mobile homes on property that’s zoned rural residential. There is still a minimum lot size for having a home on residential rural property, but it’s much more manageable with a minimum lot are of just one acre and a minimum lot width of 125 feet.
Types of Homes for Living Off the Grid in Florida
The different home types you can use for off grid living in Florida are as numerous as alternative lifestyles available today, but let’s just touch briefly on the most common types of alternative off-grid homes and how they fare in Florida.
Similar to zoning regulations, the laws regarding living in alternative homes vary from county to county, and some counties will be more favorable to alternative lifestyles than others.
In Columbia County, where we were looking at zoning regulations earlier, no residential dwelling can be built smaller than 450 square feet.
Since a home must be 400 square feet or smaller to classify as a tiny home, we can safely say that tiny homes are prohibited within Columbia County.
Disappointingly for tiny-home lovers, tiny homes this 450-square-foot minimum seems to be about average in the state, with some places having even higher minimum home sizes.
You can, however, build your tiny home on a trailer to have it fall under the jurisdiction of a mobile home instead.
Mobile homes can be placed on many properties as a single family dwelling, including residential rural and agricultural districts. They are subject to the 450-square-foot stipulation though. Anything smaller will not receive a permit for permanent living.
RV/Travel Trailers/Conversions etc.
In theory, you can live in an RV in Florida, but that’s not really the case in reality. Although an RV can be permitted for full-time living, they still fall prey to the 450-square-foot regulation. Few RVs are large enough to be approved for fulltime living.
Solar Laws and Incentives in Florida
Florida is one of the few states that will allow you to install solar panels that aren’t hooked to the grid. In fact, they have laws that strictly forbid any entity from preventing Florida citizens from installing any solar panels or renewable energy devices on their home, so long as it’s done in a safe manner.
There has been some confusion surrounding the legality of solar in Florida, with a major publication even claiming that solar panels on personal homes must shut down in the event of a grid failure, but that’s not quite true.
There are guidelines across the country in place that cause home solar systems to shut down when the grid goes down to prevent backflow of high-voltage electricity from personal systems going up the line and endangering workers fixing the problem.
However, you can legally circumvent this by having the proper devices installed on your system to disconnect it from the grid in case of failure, preventing the electricity that your home is producing from traveling into the system.
With the necessary devices installed, you can still have power from your panels and batteries, even when the rest of the grid goes down. This makes it possible to live off-grid in Florida without being limited to properties that are far from any cities and towns; one of the few places such a thing can be done.
As you might expect from a place nicknamed the sunshine state, it’s sunny enough here to provide plenty of power for living off grid in Florida just about anywhere. With an average 5.67 hours of peak sunlight daily, Florida is the 7th sunniest state, and a great place for powering your off-grid life with the sun.
Florida has ensured that no resident of the state can be prevented from using renewable energy sources, but solar power is even more attractive here because of the numerous rebates available for solar users in the state.
Rebates start at the federal level with the Solar investment tax credit, which currently allows a federal tax rebate on the cost of installing solar. For 2022, the rebate is set for 26%. So, if your solar system cost $10,000 to install, you’ll be able to claim $2600 back on your taxes. However, the rebate will drop to just 22% in 2023, and continue to drop each year thereafter.
In addition to that federal tax rebate, solar energy systems are exempt from state tax. This provides an immediate 6% savings, bringing you 32% total savings on the cost to install a solar system in Florida for 2022.
According to the 2022 Florida statutes, property owners are entitled to an “exemption of renewable energy source devices” that constitutes a rebate of “Eighty percent of the assessed value of a renewable energy source device.”
Altogether, that’s a 112% savings on your solar system! In other words, you can actually get paid to set up your off-grid solar system in Florida.
Off-Grid Water in Florida
Though it’s known as the sunshine state, Florida might be more aptly known as the wet state. Surrounded by water and covered in many lakes, swamps, ponds, and other water bodies, there’s water just about everywhere in Florida.
However, there are lots of laws surrounding the use of all that water, and you must pay attention to avoid any legal trouble. Even water on your land might require permits and permission before you can use it.
If there happens to be a body of water on or adjacent to your land, it’s easy to assume that you’ll be able to use it as a water source, but that’s not always the case.
You see, even though the water is on your land, you may not actually own the water, just the land beneath it. Some small water bodies are privately owned, but most are owned by the state. Even so, you do have certain rights regarding the use of water on or near your land.
Riparian rights are the rights of a landowner to use water that sits atop or adjacent to their land. In Florida, these include ingress and egress (entrance and exit), fishing, boating, and even bathing. Aside from these, a lot goes into Florida Riparian rights.
If you wish to use water from a pond, lake, or river that’s on your property or is property-adjacent, then you’ll need to get a water-use permit, unless you completely own the water and not just the land beneath it, which is somewhat rare.
If your property doesn’t have any water on it naturally, you could always build one. Most ponds will require an excavation permit to build, though some small ponds are exempt; mainly, stormwater and agricultural ponds.
Rainwater Collection in Florida
In addition to the numerous bodies of water scattered across Florida, you’ll also see some consistent rainfall, ranging from 45 inches to 73 inches annually throughout the state.
This is certainly a positive for anyone who wants to live off the grid in Florida since it means that water will never be scarce!
Of course, the rain wouldn’t be much help if you weren’t allowed to collect it, but in Florida, rainwater collection is highly encouraged.
Some areas even offer incentive programs, like the rain barrel program in Manatee County that offers residents a 55-gallon rainwater collection system for the meager price of just $37 out the door. For comparison, just a basic 55-gallon barrel just like the one in that kit costs over four times as much as that entire package, and that doesn’t include the other fittings, drain, instructions, stand, etc. that are included in the rain barrel program.
In Orlando, you can be refunded for the cost of installing a rainwater cistern, as well as receiving financial rebates for things like using ultra-low-flow toilets and using smart water monitors.
You’ll be able to collect a lot of rainwater in Florida simply based on the copious precipitation in the state. But no matter how much you collect, rainwater can’t constitute your only or even primary source of water.
Collected rainwater can be used for irrigation, watering plants, washing vehicles, pets, and livestock, but it can’t be used for drinking. For that, you’ll need to have a well installed if you want to go fully off grid.
Off-Grid Well Water in Florida
Being such a wet state, it makes sense to have a well to supply your water for off-grid living in Florida.
You’ll need to get a well construction permit before having your well installed. This permit ensures that your well is built up to state standards by a licensed water well contractor, so there’s no way for you to self-install a well here.
If you’re just planning to use the water for your home, then the well permit is your main concern. But if you also want to use your well water for irrigation, you might need an additional water-use permit before having the well installed.
In many places, regulations like these can be circumvented by recycling your gray water, which also conserves quite a lot of your potable water supply. But despite the lax regulations regarding rainwater collection, Florida isn’t quite so accepting of gray water.
Gray Water Recycling in Florida
You are allowed to collect gray water in Florida, but state regulations make it rather impractical to do so, while simultaneously ensuring that there’s no real reward for going through the effort.
Let’s start with the limited uses for gray water in Florida.
While many states allow you to use gray water for irrigation, in Florida, gray water cannot be used for any outdoor purpose. No car washing, irrigation, watering plants, or anything else.
You still can use gray water for a few select indoor uses. Namely, to flush your toilets.
On one hand, you can save a substantial amount of water by using only gray water to flush your toilets since flushing toilets is the highest use of water in the average home, constituting up to 24% of the water you use each day.
On the other hand, Florida law makes it prohibitively complicated and expensive to use your gray water at all. There are many requirements for your gray water system to meet, and very few legal uses for it.
For your gray water system, you’ll be required to install a filter system, a disinfection unit, a storage reservoir, and a dye injection unit. All gray water must be dyed blue or green and all pipes that carry gray water must be denoted by colored pipes and metal tags.
Off-Grid Sewage Removal in Florida
Your off-grid home needs some method of dealing with waste and blackwater. What are you going to do with toilet waste?
You could remain hooked up to the public sewer system and only live partially off the grid. Only problem is, you’ll likely be required to keep public water so long as you’re using the public sewer system. If you want to take your water off the grid, you’ll have to take your waste disposal offline as well.
Around 30% of Florida residents use septic systems to treat and dispose of their wastewater. To join them, a resident must apply for a permit with the Department of Health. Requirements include a fee, soil and percolation tests, a plot plan, and completed application packet.
Having a septic system doesn’t completely disconnect you from the grid though. Florida statute maintains that all septic systems must still be hooked up to public sewage systems.
Unfortunately, many counties in Florida package water and sewer bills together. So, even if you get your water from a well and use a septic system, you’ll still likely end up paying for both sewer and water from the county, despite the fact that you use neither.
Composting toilets are a simple and inexpensive, albeit, not very glamorous off-grid method of dealing with wastewater.
Thankfully, composting toilets are legal for use in Florida, so long as the waste is disposed of in accordance with state laws, and the model toilet used is on the list of composting toilets approved for use Florida.
There are some additional regulations that you’ll need to be aware of as well.
For instance, directly from Florida the Statute: “Solids removed from waterless, incinerating or organic waste composting toilets shall be mixed with lime, containerized, and disposed of with the solid waste from the establishment. Liquids discharging from waterless, incinerating or organic waste composting toilets shall be plumbed into the onsite system serving the establishment.”
Even though composting toilets are completely acceptable for use in Florida, you’ll still have to have another method of disposing of sewage. Either you’ll be using public sewers or having a septic tank installed, and even then, you’re still connected to public sewers!
On a brighter note, you’ll be able to get away with a smaller drain field for your septic system if you’re solely using composting toilets for all toilet wastes in the home.
In any permanent residence, outhouses or sanitary pit privies are strictly forbidden.
However, they can be used at “remote locations where electrical service is unavailable,” so long as that location is not used as a permanent residence.
Florida Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE)
We’ve already discussed several incentive programs related to clean energy and water conservation in Florida, but most of those are rebates that only pay on the backend. You’ll still have to cover the upfront costs, which can be significant since off grid living in Florida can get a bit pricey when first starting.
That’s where PACE steps in. PACE is a program that provides funding for residential energy conservation projects, including renewable energy generation, water conservation, and more.
PACE will cover 100% of the costs for upgrading your home. Instead of paying it back in monthly installments, an agreed upon special assessment will be added to the property tax bill. If you sell the property, this special assessment stays with the property since the financing is attached to the house and not to you.
If you’re hoping to start living off the grid in Florida but you’re worried about the potentially high costs upfront, PACE funding could help to make your off-grid dream more achievable.
The Cost of Off Grid Living in Florida
Florida laws combine with some of the best weather in the country (when they’re not experiencing hurricanes) to make living off grid in Florida better than almost anywhere else in the country.
The question is: how much does living off the grid in Florida cost?
Obviously, the answer to this is different for everyone. Off-grid living varies as much as our personalities, so it never looks quite the same for two different people. Still, we can compare the cost of living in Florida to other parts of the country, giving you a better idea of what to expect.
Let’s start by stating that Florida is an immensely popular state to live in. In August of 2022, four cities in Florida made it onto the list of the 10 cities that have had the most new transplants this year. Plus, Florida has the highest ratio of people moving to the state versus people leaving.
When it comes to cost of living, Florida is just 8.33% above the current national average. Not bad for such a popular state that’s surrounded by picturesque beaches!
Though Florida is middle of the pack in terms of property taxes, residents of the state actually pay 11% less in property taxes than the national average.
Unfortunately, the cost of purchasing property is much higher than most other states, with the state average sitting at nearly $30,000 per acre!
Thankfully, you’ll be able to cut your energy costs when living off the grid in Florida since no one can stop you from using renewable energy devices, as we discussed previously. Even better, you’ll be able to get most of your off-grid energy and water sources paid for through tax rebates, exemptions, and programs like PACE.
But some of the best financial incentives in Florida are what you don’t have to pay. In Florida, you don’t pay any personal income tax at all! And you pay a low state sales tax of just 6%.
Overall, Florida is one of the more affordable states for off grid living, with the exception of property costs.
Is it legal to use greywater in Florida?
It is technically legal to use gray water in Florida, but the legal uses are extremely limited and the regulations surrounding its use are numerous and prohibitive. Essentially, you can only use gray water for flushing toilet waste in Florida. You cannot use gray water for any exterior means like watering crops or livestock. To use gray water for flushing toilet waste, you’ll need a filter system, storage reservoir, disinfection unit, and a dye injection unit. All gray water must be decontaminated before storage and it must be dyed blue or green. Gray water pipes must be denoted by color and metal tags, and you’ll need the proper permits before installing your greywater system.
Can I live in an RV on my own property in Florida?
According to the law, you can live in an RV on your own property in Florida. However, there are regulations that make it impractical in most situations, primarily the minimum space requirements for full-time dwellings. The laws vary between counties, but most counties have a 450-square-foot minimum size for any home, and in some counties the minimum size is even larger. If your RV meets this minimum space requirement, then you can get it approved for fulltime living on your property. Otherwise, the only way to legally live in the RV would be in an RV park.
The Final Word
If you’re looking for a place with great weather and amicable laws for your off-grid life, then it’s hard to go wrong with the sunshine state. With plenty of sun, a fondness for renewable energy, and zoning districts that are perfect for building an off-grid home, you’ll find everything you need for off grid living in Florida.
The next step is to start preparing for your off-grid life by reading our Complete Guide to Off Grid Living for Beginners. This will help you figure out what you need to do to start moving your life off grid and get you thinking in the right direction.
Life is better disconnected!