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

For so many preppers, their number one desire both as a lifestyle and as a functional prep is to live off-grid. Living off-grid, disconnected from the utilities and infrastructure of society as we know it, is a major ongoing challenge, but it is one that is much closer to the way that all people have historically lived.

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And, ideally, living a life of radical self-sufficiency will make all but the most destructive disasters and crisis situations far less impactful.

But living off-grid is tough not just because it makes a living tougher, but also because every single state has its own laws, regulations and guidelines concerning how, when and where you can implement your off-grid strategies and desires.

Some states are more lenient, others are far more restrictive. Today will be looking at the off-grid laws of Colorado, a state that is sadly far more restrictive than it used to be…

I’ll tell you everything you need to know down below.

Can You Legally Live Off-Grid in Colorado?

Yes, off-grid living in Colorado is entirely possible, even today. In fact, living off-grid is legal in most places throughout Colorado.

But, and it’s a big but, the way Colorado says you can live off-grid is probably very different from the way you are imagining it!

Today throughout Colorado, the vast majority of counties have their own laws, codes, covenants, restrictions and guidelines for every facet of domestic life even for people living in the remotest and most rural places.

It didn’t always use to be that way….

Colorado had a very “frontier” attitude for most of its history, and if you were living outside of major population centers and well into the deep country, you could generally do as you pleased when it came to setting up your home and property.

But it’s just not that way today, and state and county laws, as well as many local municipal laws, will regulate everything from your wood-burning appliances to your sewage treatment or disposal system and building codes.

Permits, inspections, and ongoing certification will be a way of life.

It’s really sad when you think about it, but that is the way things are. Another factor is that all this bureaucracy leads to increasing costs for everything, including the certification and permitting process.

Expect to spend a pretty penny on the land and even more money trying to do what you want with it.

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

Happily, there are still a few holdout counties scattered throughout Colorado that make off-grid living more appealing, though these are far and few between.

If you truly want the least amount of government interference possible, Saguache County is one of the only remaining counties in the state that does not have any county codes which will interfere with building and other homestead processes.

Rio Grande County allows farming as a natural right of citizens even on land that is zoned residential, though you still have to contend with lot size minimums for drilling wells and utilizing certain sewage systems.

Montezuma County is one of another few counties that has resisted the increasing temptation to restrict and zone everything into oblivion.

It does have zoning laws, but compared to the rest of the state and they are typically relaxed and much of the county land is set aside for farming and other agricultural purposes.

Custer County is another good choice for homesteaders that want to farm, as they maintain both ranching and farming as a natural right of citizens, though regrettably there are still plenty of permit requirements.

HOAs are becoming increasingly invasive with the influx of wealthy residents. There are some hefty minimum land size requirements of 80 acres or more.

There are some other places besides, so this is not to say that Colorado is completely out of the question for people who desire an off-grid lifestyle, but it is nowhere near as cheap or near simple as it has been in years past, and ideal counties are extremely scarce.

What are the Off-Grid Electricity Laws in Colorado?

Solar power is big business and increasingly incentivized in Colorado, and because the state is typically soaked with sunshine throughout the year, it’s a great option for any would-be off greater residents.

There are many state and local incentive programs designed to entice citizens to utilize solar power, and in many places there are tax exemptions for installing them.

However, it is all but certain that county and local codes will have a lot to say about the specifics of your solar power system.

So you must do your homework before you pull the trigger on a purchase or else you might be stuck with a system that you cannot legally install.

How Can You Qualify as a Farm in Colorado?

There is lots of farmland in Colorado, or land suitable for use as farmland, and even better there are plenty of incentives to encourage people to obtain it.

However, qualifying as a farm and keeping that qualification is complicated and sometimes perilous, and if the classification of your land or zoning were to change you could be opening yourself up to massive tax liabilities.

The classification of agricultural land is determined by the Colorado Division of Property Taxation, or CDPT, and is dependent on one of four factors that must be met and maintained.

There’s an overview of each below, but as you might imagine, you’re highly advised to contact the CDPT directly and talk to a competent real estate attorney before you pull the trigger on any parcel of land…

First, any parcel of land there’s going to maintain an agricultural classification must have been used as a ranch or farm during the previous two years and during the current year.

Farm or ranch use is described as used for the grazing of livestock or the production of any agricultural products.

Second, the parcel must contain within its bounds 40 acres of forest land with owners enacting and maintaining an ongoing forest management plan.

This plan is described as the systematic cutting down and processing of trees to be sold to companies producing lumber or any other wood products.

No animal grazing or other agricultural products need be produced under this categorization.

The next way is that a parcel of land with a residence on it must be at least 80 acres in size and under the permanent protection of a conservation easement held in a land trust that meets state qualifications.

Importantly, prior to being placed in the conservation easement, the land must have been classified as agricultural.

And the last way is that the parcel of land in question uses groundwater for non-residential service use.

That means that any appropriated water is to be used for agricultural purposes or taking care of livestock.

Homeschooling in Colorado: What You Need to Know

Homeschooling in Colorado is possible, and generally the state is amenable to the practice, though you will have to adhere to strict requirements under Colorado law.

Your options for homeschooling include being traditionally homeschooled by a parent, legally designated guardian or any adult relative of the child that is designated by a parent or legal guardian.

Alternately, Colorado allows children to be homeschooled through what are referred to as independent schools, which basically means traditional homeschooling but with supervision of the teaching performed by the independent school established and designated by Colorado.

This method, notably, reduces the record-keeping requirements that parents would otherwise be responsible for.

Lastly, and most appealing to those who can afford it, a child may be homeschooled by an instructor, a certified teacher that holds a valid teaching certificate in the state of Colorado. This will alleviate the typical assessment, record-keeping, and notification requirements.

Except in the cases of option number two and three described above, parents will be responsible for a lot of bookkeeping on their child’s education.

School districts must be notified 14 days or more prior to a child beginning a homeschool program, teach a required curriculum of subjects over at least 172 days of instruction and keep records of the child’s attendance, testing, standards and immunization status.

It’s definitely a lot to do, but not out of line with similar homeschooling standards and other states.

Colorado Off-Grid Water Rights Generally

And we come to the big problem at last. Colorado is uniformly terrible, borderline tyrannical, when it comes to water rights, and only the uninitiated would think that the state’s designation of all surface and tributary water as public water is a good thing.

More importantly for most prospective off-grid property owners, is that your land must have water on the property, and you must have rights to use it, before you’re allowed to build there! This is truly a catch-22.

The bottom line is that any surface or tributary water on your property, regardless of all of the factors, can only be used if you get a permit to do so and the permitting process is invariably lengthy, expensive, and byzantine.

Complicating matters is that permitting sign-off is dependent on all sorts of factors inherent to your property itself, and depending on the type of water source on your property, the size of your property, and what you’re using the property for permitting might just be impossible!

This, more than anything else, is likely to completely derail your dreams of living off-grid in the great state of Colorado.

Well Water in Colorado

Well water laws and rights in Colorado are subject to permitting and all of the other issues described above, but in any case you’ll have to get an additional permit from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to even begin digging a well on your property.

Any property, no matter where it is, smaller than 35 acres may only use well water for household purposes.

To be perfectly clear, you cannot even use your well water outdoors for watering your garden.

If your property is larger than that, they cut off for residential indoor use, you can get a special well permit which will allow you to use the water outdoors although there are strict limits on how much can be pumped per minute.

You’ll also find that getting a permit for a well is even harder considering there are many “subject-tos” and exceptions.

The local plans of government, your proximity to water features, and many other factors might complicate or completely prohibit you from installing and using a well.

Colorado Laws on Surface Water

The surface water laws in Colorado are just like every other water law in the state: tedious, tiresome and tyrannical.

Again, any surface water of any kind, pond, lake, stream or river is not yours to use until you get a permit for use. Once that’s done, the water is considered appropriated.

Unlike some other states, surface water, but not belowground water, rights can be sold separate from the land itself.

Can You Harvest Rainwater in Colorado?

Believe it or not, Colorado has the audacity to highly regulate the harvesting of rainwater. It is legal throughout the state, but this won’t mean much to most off-grid homesteaders due to the strict guidelines.

Homeowners may only have a total of 110 gallons of harvested rainwater spread across no more than two rain barrels that collect directly from the roof of a residential structure. Rainwater is also only legal for outdoor, non-potable purposes.

Can You Dam Your Property in Colorado?

Generally not, although it’s not technically out of the question.

Building a dam on your property will create all sorts of havoc considering surface water use, prior appropriation and more. Invariably, you will be fined and probably sued, so don’t do it.

Can You Dig a Pond on Your Property in Colorado?

Only after obtaining a permit according to the process is outlined above. Just because there is no pond or other surface water feature on your property you’d otherwise have to seek a permit for, you still cannot dig a pond designed to fill with water or to hold rainwater without going through the mill for permission and certification.

Once again, contact the CDNR for more.

Are there any Navigable Water Laws to Know in Colorado?

Yes. Navigable water laws are closely tied to surface water laws and the rules of prior appropriation.

Remember, surface water rights are also distinct from the rest of a property, so no matter what kind of a good deal you get on a property and whatever kind of water rights you think you have you’ll need to have your title company perform all due diligence checking for prior agreements and covenants.

You might have very limited rights to what you think is actually your water on the surface!

What are the Graywater Laws in Colorado?

Graywater use is legal in Colorado for outdoor, non-potable purposes, and is also strictly limited by total gallons of output use per day. The rules and regulations for this are spelled out in Colorado Regulation 86.

As usual, no human or animal waste in the graywater, but Colorado further specifies that the gray water must not have originated from a dishwasher, utility sink or kitchen sink.

Homesteaders that are looking to make the most of gray water taken from their household will have their efforts severely hampered in Colorado if they want to stay on the right side of the law.

Off-Grid Sewage Laws in Colorado

Happily, Colorado is significantly more lenient regarding the dispensation of sewage in an off-grid property compared to the water laws throughout the state.

Most alternative means of disposing of, storing and handling waste are acceptable but in most places a septic system or sewer hookup is still required by law.

In short, you’ll have to comb through a lot of potential properties in various counties to find one that will suit your needs and allow you to deal with sewage and other waste the way you want to.

Are Compost Toilets Legal in Colorado?

Yes. Compost toilets are broadly legal throughout Colorado as long as they get a seal of approval from a nationally recognized testing lab.

However, compost toilets might be a redundant or even useless option depending on the local laws and regulations concerning the handling of and recycling of sewage according to the previous section.

You must double-check all of the requirements before you commit to a purchase and installation!

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

Yes, many, and frankly a whole lot more than we can even begin to get into here.

Concerning sewage and waste, outhouses, pit privies and latrines are essentially illegal throughout the land.

These may only be used on the most limited basis in the most remote areas where no other means of waste disposal are possible.

Remember, what is possible is determined by the laws of Colorado, not by your preferences or your own assessment.

Also, off-grid heat in the form of wood stoves, fireplaces and other wood-burning appliances is strictly regulated, and Colorado is nothing short of fanatical concerning air pollution.

Laws and standards for design, installation, use, performance and inspection are manifold.

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