Off-Grid Laws in Alaska: Everything You Need to Know

If you ask a bunch of preppers what their ideal living arrangement is, I am willing to bet that the majority will tell you it is some form of off-grid living. The reasons why they want to live off grid will of course vary from person to person, but they usually run along one of several tracts.

flag of Alaska
flag of Alaska

Some folks want to live a simpler but more fulfilling lifestyle. Others want to reduce dependency on society to be prepared for the inevitable collapse. Others just want to be well away from people.

Whatever the reasons, living off-grid is not as easy as you might think as many of the practices associated with it are tightly regulated by law in many jurisdictions throughout the land.

Alaska is no different, but it is a notable exception. The vast majority of land in Alaska is outside of cities and other incorporated areas, and accordingly off-grid living is the only way to live!

But, in incorporated areas the laws are about as strict as or stricter than any other state and living off grid is largely impossible.

There’s a lot more to learn about Alaska’s off-grid laws, and I’ll tell you all about it in this article…

Can You Legally Live Off-Grid in Alaska?

Yes, you absolutely can. In fact, if you look at the proportions of incorporated to unincorporated areas, the vast majority of land in Alaska is strictly off-grid only, with absolutely no state or municipality-provided utilities or services.

This isn’t to say there aren’t recognizable communities in these places, but the ones that exist are all struggling and surviving together, depending upon each other.

On the other hand, the vast majority of the population of Alaska doesn’t live in unincorporated areas, and instead lives in towns and cities.

The vast majority of these towns and cities have the same services, utilities and amenities that you would recognize in any other American city, even if the way of life is very different.

In these places, you’ll face codes, laws, oversight and all of the other trappings of society we are used to, and here living off-grid is basically impossible.

In short, living in town, you’ll live on the grid like everyone else, and like it. But if you are living in the wilder, remoter parts of Alaska pretty much anything goes, though there are still energy and building codes that must be adhered to, although enforcement does vary greatly depending on how far out you are.

Where is it Best to Live Off-Grid in Alaska?

Choosing where to live off-grid in Alaska is very much a binary choice. In short, if you live in any city, even a little bitty city which would count as a village anywhere on the mainland, you’ll have to deal with strict laws, regs and codes on everything, a lot more than you’re probably thinking.

If you live outside of these zoned areas in the cities and towns, you’ll have a lot more freedom although you’ll still have to contend with some building codes and possibly some other restrictions depending on precisely where you are located.

If you want the true off-grid experience in Alaska, you need to head for the hinterlands of the interior.

What are the Off-Grid Electricity Laws in Alaska?

Generating your own off-grid electricity is surprisingly very variable in Alaska. For instance, wind turbines of all sizes (except the very smallest) are tightly regulated anywhere you’ll find zoning laws and even in the space is farther out you might run into trouble with building codes.

Don’t be surprised if, should you live too close to a population center, you’ll find wind power systems completely banned.

Things are a bit happier for solar power, though, as it is broadly legal throughout the state and there are very few laws restricting its usage in nearly any case.

If you’re planning on generating your own off-grid electricity, I would highly recommend leaning into solar if you think the weather will be amicable where you are or possibly even looking at thermoelectric power.

How Can You Qualify as a Farm in Alaska?

Outside of cities and other populated zones, pretty much all land can qualify as agricultural land in Alaska.

However, all agriculture and even small-scale farming has a lot going against it in the state, more than you might think.

Yes, the soil can be surprisingly rich and fertile compared to what some detractors would tell you, but all the volcanic ash and glacial minerals in the world won’t make up for some of the shortcomings in the state.

For starters, the soil temperatures invariably remain very cool, and the air temperature often much cooler.

The summers can be long, unnaturally long compared to the continental United States, but in many other areas the growing season is painfully short. This can make growing regularly productive crops very difficult.

Additionally, although it is not taxed, you do pay an “Alaska tax” of sorts for everything you’ll need to run your farm in the state: Alaska is so far away, so remote and so hazardous that absolutely everything you’ll need costs significantly more.

Everything from seeds to machine parts, fertilizer and other consumables will face significant markups just because you are in Alaska.

Combined with typically low rates of productivity and no guaranteed markup on produce to be sold at market, your margins that can be gained by farming, usually already low in other markets, can get vanishingly thin in this remote state.

Then, there is the cost of land itself. In the most amiable farming areas land can be quite expensive compared to typical land costs elsewhere in the state.

There are government assistance programs and other initiatives that can help people find and finance farmland in the state, but it is a tough sell and even tougher going if you are planning on subsistence farming.

Homeschooling in Alaska

Alaska is uniformly excellent when it comes to homeschooling, but even this state has laws that must be followed if you are considering the practice for your kids.

All children in the state aged 7 to 16 must be homeschooled or else attend schools in the school system of Alaska.

In any case, assuming you’re homeschooling your own children you do not need to get a permit, notify the school board or superintendent, have any special qualifications, or anything like that.

Alternately, if you want someone else to homeschool your children they must be a state-certified teacher. Homeschooling co-ops are popular and relatively common, however.

There are other special exemptions to know about when it comes to homeschooling also. There is a religious private school exemption that requires parents to file a private school report with a local school superintendent.

If this is done, the parent must then keep permanent records and attendance, and comply with state-mandated testing. Also, most worryingly, the parents must file a corporal discipline policy…

All in all, there’s a whole lot to like about Alaska’s homeschool laws and policies, mostly because they are extremely broad and the homeschool statute covers parents or other legal guardians pretty much from front to back.

Alaska Off-Grid Water Rights

Alaska’s water rights laws are worded very liberally on the side of the people, but in practice they are still regulated much like any other state.

As an example, in Alaska all water in the state is considered to belong to the people as a public resource. The state merely manages the water.

But, under Alaska law, just because water exists on, under, or over your property you do not necessarily have rights to it until you file for a permit through the Department of Natural Resources, or DNR.

Once the permit is approved, you must keep a certificate that is issued on your property and then you have the right to use the water on, under or over your land for whatever purpose you see fit.

What’s more, water rights in the state of Alaska always go with the property, unlike some states such as Montana where water rights are an entirely separate “property” that can be sold, traded or bartered on its own. If you sell your property, the water rights go with it, that’s it!

It is possible to get exemptions to this policy, but they are relatively rare and will require approval from the Department of Natural Resources.

Well Water in Alaska

Well water is hardly regulated in Alaska, and the installation of wells is barely more regulated.

Even lacking water rights, you can use a heck of a lot of well water before you need to technically have rights to use it: you must use more than 500 gallons a day from a single well for more than 10 calendar days a year, use more than 30,000 gallons from a single source for non-consumption purposes or use 5,000 gallons of water from a single well for consumption in a single day.

Even then it’s only a misdemeanor if you violate this statute…

Of course, you’ll want to have a permit to use a well, but anywhere outside of the largest or strictest cities there is no permit required to have a well installed and no requirement to submit a site plan or any other information.

However, well driller contractors only need a subcontractor’s license in the state and do not need to be specially trained or certified for the drilling or installation of a well to perform the task. You might say that Alaska is the Wild West when it comes to wells!

Alaska Laws on Surface Water

Alaska’s surface water laws are extremely permissive. Surface water can run across your property in the state and there is no permitting or water rights requirement to make use of it unless the usage is significant in the same way that it is for wells above.

But, if you’re making a go of off-grid residency in Alaska you are always advised to follow the law and get your permit to make proper use of your water because it also protects your rights and access to it.

Without it, someone else can, and will, come along and misappropriate it at their leisure and there won’t be one thing you can do about it.

Can You Harvest Rainwater in Alaska?

There are no state laws whatsoever concerning the harvesting of rainwater in Alaska.

But, as it should be expected by now you’ll find that many towns and cities have their own regulations for such specifically concerning non-potable water.

Furthermore the increasing adoption of the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) in many municipalities is similarly impacting citizens’ ability to harvest rainwater if you live in a populated area.

Another likely snag in these places is regulation and permitting required for water storage tanks, be they above or below ground.

Anchorage, for instance, requires submission of a site plan for any water storage tank above a certain size.

Can You Dam Your Property in Alaska?

Yes, so long as it does not interfere with anyone else’s water rights. You should also know that Alaska has special water rights regarding instream flow reservation.

If someone is able to apply for an instream flow reservation with the DNR because the activity of another person or a corporation could deplete or interfere with their own water, they might be able to stop you from doing what you’re doing with your dam legally.

Can You Dig a Pond on Your Property in Alaska?

Yes, if it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s water rights or potentially run afoul of instream flow reservation laws.

Are there any Navigable Water Laws to Know in Alaska?

Yes, though these are mostly nebulous throughout the state outside of the cities and other populated areas.

Generally, if someone has any water rights whatsoever concerning above ground water sources on their property you want to double-check to make sure you are not trespassing or interfering if you pass through.

What are the Graywater Laws in Alaska?

Gray water laws are extremely relaxed in rural areas, but far stricter in the populated zones as with all other laws that we’ve discussed so far in this article.

In short, you can probably use gray water for anything you want if you’re away from the towns and cities, but you’ll be subject to significantly more laws and restrictions, to include potentially excluding the use of gray water entirely, if you’re in town.

Off-Grid Sewage Laws in Alaska

Once again, the rules are sparse to non-existent concerning the off-grid treatment of human and other sewage waste if you are outside of cities.

Inside the cities, or any place that qualifies as a city, you’ll encounter shockingly intense restrictions or even a total ban on off-grid handling, storage and treatment.

For instance, some cities like Juneau mandate connecting to a sewer if a sewer line is within 200 ft or so of a property.

Fairbanks is the same, and staying disconnected in Anchorage or sewer is available is highly unlikely.

Something else to consider is that while the state does not mandate the installation of a septic system or require permitting for the installation thereof, they do mandate that you submit your plan and installation information about your septic system to a specialized online tracking portal.

There are also state requirements for approved septic tank materials… As you might have guessed, you’ll have a lot more to deal with if you want to install a septic system while in a city.

Are Compost Toilets Legal in Alaska?

Compost toilets are not illegal under state law in Alaska, and that means they are broadly legal.

However, using a compost toilet is considered storing human waste, meaning that the disposition of compost toilets falls under all applicable local laws.

Even in cities that are a little more relaxed regarding non-conventional sewer or septic systems, it’s likely that you’ll need to submit your plans and the model of your toilet for review before any permit for installation or use will be issued.

Anchorage is one such city where they aren’t completely out of the question, but the process for permitting will approve tiresome.

Any Other Off-Grid Laws to Worry About in Alaska?

Outhouses are legal throughout Alaska, but must meet various and sometimes strict setback requirements from any and all water sources.

As you might have guessed, outhouses are either regulated into oblivion or completely illegal in many cities.

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