Many people are drawn to off grid living in Tennessee due to the reasonably priced off grid land, long growing season, and beautiful nature. Tennessee, located in the southeastern portion of the United States, is one of the best-suited southern states for living off grid.
The cost of living is low compared to the national average, and the taxes are what you expect them to be in a southern state. The climate makes it perfect for homesteading, as there are four seasons. The summer is humid, but there is a risk of snow and tornadoes. Overall, living off grid in Tennessee is highly achievable.
Is Living off the Grid in Tennessee Legal?
It is entirely legal to live off the grid in Tennessee. However, there are some urban places where it is illegal to live off grid due to building codes. Some legal issues you can encounter when living off grid are Tennessee’s sewage hookup requirements and alternative ways to dispose of waste.
Tennessee Building Codes and Permits
Most areas of Tennessee do not require building permits, but some do. Places like Chester County and Morgan County do not require building permits, but you still need a permit for electric and septic systems.
While you may not need permits, you must still follow building codes under the law. Tennessee follows the International Building Code, which explains the basic rules for codes, like electricity and plumbing, and what safety measures are in place. Tennessee’s building codes include the following:
- Building Code 2012
- Residential Code 2009
- Residential Code 2018
- Fire Code 2012
- Existing Building Code 2012
- Plumbing Code 2012
- Fuel Gas Code 2012
- Mechanical Code 2012
- Residential Energy Code
- National Electrical Code 2017
- Property Maintenance Code 2012
In the sections of Tennessee where no building codes are necessary, you can be risky and build a home that is not up to code. However, building a home that is not up to code is a considerable risk. For example, if local laws change, an inspector might show up at your property unannounced and fine you if you do not get your home up to code.
What Are the Zoning Laws for off Grid Living in Tennessee?
Zoning laws are necessary for some areas of Tennessee since they govern how you can use the land. They specify the types of constructions on your land, whether you can cultivate, and the minimum plot sizes.
Luckily, Tennessee’s zoning laws are relaxed compared to other states. Some sections of Tennessee have no zoning laws, meaning you can do whatever you want with your land. This makes it perfect for off grid living.
Much of Tennessee’s land is considered rural or agricultural, regarding zoning laws, and there are a few limitations on how you can use your property when living off grid in Tennessee. You are more likely to run into zoning issues if you live in either conservation zones or urban regions.
Before purchasing land, you should check with your local authorities about zoning laws and requirements in that area to ensure you know the laws before making a decision.
How to Qualify as a Farm in Tennessee
According to the Agricultural, Forest, and Open Space Land Act of 1976 (aka Greenbelt Law), Tennessee allows certain lands to be taxed at their use value and not their market value.
This can help you save money on your property taxes. Many living off the grid want to create a farm and live on a homestead, which is why this is important. To qualify as a farmer in Tennessee, you must meet these specific requirements.
- You must have a minimum gross income of $1,500 yearly from farming throughout a consecutive three-year period
- You must have at least 15 acres of land being used for agricultural use
Open space and forest land can also help you meet these requirements under Tennessee’s Greenbelt Law. Farmers can also qualify for a sales tax exemption.
How to Get off Grid Power in Tennessee
There are no restrictions in Tennessee to prohibit you from disconnecting from the electric grid. No refunds or state tax incentives are available if you decide to install solar energy.
While solar energy is typically excluded from property taxes in most states, that is not the case in Tennessee. If your new solar panels help raise the value of your home, you will have no choice but to pay higher property taxes. However, installing grid-tied solar panels offer certain advantages:
Tennessee does not provide subsidies for installing a solar system, but some counties do. You can apply for a 30 percent federal tax credit if you want to install your solar panels as cheaply.
Using wind power does offer some incentives and rebates, but they are not statewide. Like solar power, you can apply for local incentives and use the federal tax credit to install windmills for wind power.
Some other ways to produce off grid power are using different types of renewable resources, such as hydropower, geothermal energy, bioenergy, and fossil fuels.
How to Get Water for Tennessee off Grid Living
According to the law in Tennessee, you do not own the water on your land. Whether the water comes from the ground or the rain, it belongs to the state. Even though this law is in place, you can still use the water on your property without many restrictions.
Tennessee is considered a state with a surplus of water, and it typically doesn’t matter that you don’t own the water. While droughts do not happen often in Tennessee, there is a possibility of Tennessee experiencing a shortage. In that case, there will be water restrictions in place. These are some ways you can collect your water:
It is 100 percent legal to harvest rainwater in Tennessee for off grid living. You should know that many areas of Tennessee require you to follow building codes about drinking water if you plan to use rainwater for drinking.
While there are currently no statewide incentives to install a rainwater harvesting system, there are incentives in Nashville and Chattanooga.
While Tennessee legally owns the water you can use on your property, it is legal for you to use it as long as it is put to beneficial use, such as off grid showering. It is illegal for you to alter the course of the water or hinder the water rights of other Tennessee property owners.
If a stream borders two properties, their rights go to the middle of the stream. For example, you can divert a small portion of water to create a pond on your property, but if the diverting cause your neighbors to have less water, it is not allowed. A dispute between you and the neighbors regarding water diversion must be settled in court.
If there is a drought, domestic use withdrawals are allowed. This means that you and your neighbors can use the water for bathing, washing clothes, flushing toilets, or drinking but not to water crops.
If surface water is considered navigable, it is a public highway under Tennessee law. Navigable waters can be used for anyone, such as boating, fishing, or commerce.
Tennessee law will likely not allow you to put up a fence during this situation, and you will have the right to the water once it reaches its low watermark on your property. This circumstance is unlikely to happen off grid, likely because you will not live very close to neighbors.
Drilling a well on your property for groundwater is legal for living off grid in Tennessee, as water sampling is not required under state law. There are some restrictions:
- A permit is required for you to withdraw over 10,000 gallons per day
- The water must be used for beneficial purposes
- A licensed well driller must be used
Waste Removal for Off Grid Living in Tennessee
Tennessee law states that if you live near a sewage hookup, you must use it to dispose of sewage. This can be challenging as it hinders you from ultimately going off grid and being self-sufficient.
In some sections of Tennessee, the sewer ad water bill is combined, meaning you will need to pay a monthly water fee to dispose of your waste. If you live in a section of Tennessee that is not near any sewage hookups, you can use these alternative ways for waste removal.
Greywater recycling is regulated under the Tennessee plumbing code and allows you to use greywater for irrigation. It is also legal to use greywater from toilets and urinals, but it must be disinfected beforehand.
Typically, outhouses are not legal in Tennessee. They are allowed as the only form of waste removal if you do not have access to running water or sewage. Before installing an outhouse, you must get approval and a permit from a local inspector.
As long as it is an approved composting toilet model, they are generally legal in Tennessee. The same rule applies to composting toilets as it does to outhouses.
If running water and sewage are available, you cannot use a composting toilet. To legally operate a composting toilet, you must install a complex greywater system or septic.
Best Places to Live off Grid in Tennessee
It can be difficult to choose where to live off grid. While some live a sustainable life in Alaska, others would rather live somewhere with a mild climate. Tennessee offers some of the best places without a high crime rate and large population. Here are some of the best places to live off the grid:
Lincoln County is located in southern Tennessee and is a great place to live off grid and create a homestead. Lincoln County is about a four-hour drive west of Memphis. They have a low population, with only about 33,000 people living in a 570-square-mile area. Land prices are low, and so is the cost of living.
Wayne County is also in the southern part of the state and is one of the state’s largest counties. This is one of the best areas to live off grid since it is a large county with a low population. There are around 17,000 residents in Wayne County, all within a 734-square-mile area.
Marion County is in southern Tennessee. The real estate and cost of living in this county are some of the lowest in all of Tennessee. The population density here is low, with 29,000 people within a 500-square-mile area.
Franklin County, located in southern Tennessee, is a great place to live off grid. It has a low population density, with 41,000 people living in 553 square miles. The property price is low in Franklin County compared to other counties within the state.
Rutherford County is located in the center of Tennessee, about a three-hour drive west of Knoxville. It has a high population density but is an excellent place to live off the grid. There are around 260,000 residents living within 543 square miles. The cost of property is higher than the state average.
Gibson County is located in western Tennessee and has an excellent climate for off grid living and homesteading. The population density is low, with about 50,000 people living within 603 square miles. The cost of property and cost of living is low in Gibson County. It is simple to harvest rainwater in this county due to the climate.
Perry County is a small town located in western Tennessee. The cost of living, population density, and property prices are some of the lowest in the state. About 8,000 people live within 415 square miles. The land for sale here is inexpensive, and you should have no issues living off the grid in Perry County.
Living off grid in Tennessee is achievable and an excellent option for living a sustainable life. Doing your research before committing to a specific area is essential, as building codes and zoning laws can vary based on the county.
With the low crime rates, low cost of living, and low population in some of these counties, you can find a great place to build your homestead or even purchase a tiny house.