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Though many use the terms off-grid living and homesteading to mean the same thing, they are actually very different. Homesteading is a legal term referring to land use exemptions. However, most regular folks use ‘homesteading’ to mean a lifestyle of simpler living. Whether you live in a suburb, inner-city, or out in the country, you can still enjoy a homestead lifestyle. Going Off-grid, however, is a bit different. Off-grid living means being fully responsible for how you live. While you can homestead in any state, many states have laws that limit how you can live off-grid.
The Legal Differences
One of the biggest differences between off-grid living and homesteading is the number of states in which homesteading is legal. Conversely, many states have laws and regulations that make off-grid living practically illegal. Homestead exemption laws protect landowners from creditor judgments and may give them tax breaks. Land use laws, utility requirements, buildings, and building codes directly affect your ability to live off-grid.
This difference in the laws and their application means that pursuing a homesteading lifestyle, and doing things like canning, gardening, and learning to hunt or fish, has few restrictions. Plus, your home is connected to public utilities, or access to water and sewage via a well and septic system while still staying attached to the electric grid. Solar power is an option in most states, whether homesteading or off-griding.
Building Laws and Zoning Requirements
The laws that will affect your ability to live off-grid are those based on electricity, water, waste, zoning, building codes, and regulations. You’ll also need to know whether your county or state requires you to have a Certificate of Occupancy before you’re allowed to inhabit an off-grid home. Conversely, with homesteading, you are assuming a level of dependence or acceptance of public oversight – such as building inspections.
If you want to live rurally on your homestead in a less friendly state you will have to learn the laws. You may have to install a septic system to dispose of sewage waste. The building inspector will have to sign off on your construction before you will be allowed to inhabit your home. Many off-griders are turning to tiny homes to dodge these requirements. Their small square footage means they often fall under the minimum square footage that requires an inspection. Many counties and municipalities, however, are beginning to make laws about these types of units.
Should I live off-grid?
Deciding between off-grid living versus homesteading when you are looking to buy property to build on is entirely personal. Your desired level of independent living will determine where the best states are for you to purchase land. Going off-grid, however, entirely limits your choices to states with few zoning laws and building requirements. These are states like Wyoming, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, or Vermont. States with a high population of the Amish tend to be more supportive of an off-grid lifestyle.
There are a lot of considerations when deciding between homesteading and off-grid living. The greatest considerations are – how much independence you want to have. Do you want to live with solar or other electricity generation? What sort of waste management system do you want to have in place? What restrictions your desired location has concerning off-grid living? Will you be able to survive without standard amenities? These are the differences between off-grid living, where you are responsible for your survival, and homesteading, where there is the safety net of some public utility involvement in your homes’ survival.