Depending on who you ask in the prepping community, living off-grid is either the lifetime dream achievement when it comes to personal lifestyle, or the ultimate prep in terms of readiness.
Some folks just want to live life in a more vigorous but simple way, not caught up in and dependent upon the architecture of society.
Others want to be ready for the worst-case scenario, and completely self-sufficient. Both are valid and good reasons to go off-grid…
However, compared to eras past, living off-grid is no longer the basic mode of life.
Every, single state in the nation has laws concerning what you can do on your property, what rights you have, what you can live in and how you can build it.
This can make living on your own terms expensive, difficult, or even entirely impossible depending on what you want.
You’ll need to carefully research and understand these laws in any state you plan on living in, and today I’ll be helping you do just that for Michigan.
Can You Legally Live Off-Grid in Michigan?
It is typically legal to live off-grid in Michigan. Typically legal, and also only technically legal.
The reason why I say that is because no, there are no overt laws that make it plainly illegal to live disconnected from utility infrastructure at the state level…
However, you’ll find plenty of other laws both at the state, county and even municipal level that can make off-grid living so difficult as to be impossible. Assuming, of course, you want to do it legally.
You’ll have to contend with all sorts of Michigan building codes pretty much everywhere in the state, and although not all counties have identical laws, you’ll find enough overlap between various concepts that at some point an off-grid homestead becomes a functional impossibility.
Some of the most common laws in Michigan that will hamper off-grid homesteaders include the outright banning or regulating into obsolescence of non-traditional wastewater and sewage handling methods as well as mandates to be connected to septic or sewer lines if they are present, or even present on another property within a certain distance of your own.
Permitting is also a very big deal in Michigan, and you’ll need a permit to perform everything from basic plumbing and electrical work to installing a driveway or septic system and even for basic excavation.
That brings us to the next black mark tallied against Michigan when it comes to off-grid laws, and it is that they are highly aggressive regarding inspections.
Michigan relies upon small armies of state and county employees as well as contracted companies to sniff out anybody who might be violating laws, codes or ordinances, even in the remote parts of the state.
This means that if you decide to go rogue and say “screw it”, building your property and setting it up however you please where you might be out of sight from prying eyes, it will still rarely fail that eventually you’ll get a notice or a door knock from some state goon.
Be sure to keep this in mind as you read on, and consider that the state will spare no expense in verifying everything else that you’re about to learn is indeed done to their satisfaction as a concerns your property.
Where is it Best to Live Off-Grid in Michigan?
Frankly, the entire state makes it challenging to live truly off-grid.
There are a surprising number of unzoned counties, throughout the mainland and across the Great Lakes, concerning what kinds of properties can be built there and what sorts of structures can occupy them.
That is definitely encouraging, but the problem is that every single county is a little bit different, and might still have covenants and laws that can affect your off-grid adventure.
Broadly speaking, no matter where you go you are guaranteed to run into one and probably more hang-ups concerning:
- the species and number of animals that are allowed on a property
- the specific use case that is permitted for the property
- the minimum size of the real property
- a minimum size for a residential dwelling.
And in a best-case scenario, you’ll be dealing with all of those and then some.
But in a worst-case scenario, you still might bump up against a restriction that is effectively a deal-breaker depending on what you’re going to do on your off-grid homestead.
You’re only option is lengthy, mind-numbing and meticulous research to be doubly sure you have all of the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed.
What are the Off-Grid Electricity Laws in Michigan?
It is a small consolation, but the off-grid electricity generation laws in Michigan are generally amenable to our purposes.
There is no state-level requirement that you have your home wired to an electrical grid, though as expected local ordinances and codes might differ significantly.
Wind turbines and solar power both are broadly permitted, although you’ll need a permit to have either installed and except in the cases of the tiniest portable systems all must be installed and verified by licensed electricians.
Also, particularly in the case of wind turbines, virtually every populated area has zoning laws and other ordinances that will determine the maximum height, setback and other safety requirements of any large windmill or solar array.
How Can You Qualify as a Farm in Michigan?
Qualifying a property as an agricultural property under Michigan law is dependent on one of two factors.
The first is that the classification of the parcel has it previously been agricultural on the assessment rolls of the tax collector’s office.
The other is that more than 50% of the total acreage of the real property is devoted to agricultural use as defined by Michigan law MCL 324.36101.
An agricultural property is entitled to certain tax benefits, but as is always the case, the rules, regulations and exemptions are absolutely devious, designed to confuse, frustrate and annoy.
Homeschooling in Michigan: What You Need to Know
Michigan is a surprisingly good state for homeschooling, and subject to relatively little regulation. And there’s also no specific notice requirement in most circumstances.
Parents may choose to homeschool their children in their own homes but they must use an organized educational program that covers a variety of typical subject matter, including English, writing, civics, history, science, literature, reading, spelling and math.
For basic homeschooling, parents are not required to notify local school boards, education departments or any state government entity.
Note that this only applies to parents homeschooling their own children. The law is somewhat murkier on the subject of a non-parent or guardian.
Another option for homeschooling is under the auspices of a non-public school. To use this method, the teacher, even a parent, must have a valid teaching permit from the state, a teaching certificate or a bachelor’s degree.
That’s pretty much it when it comes to qualifications under this approach, but there are possible religious exemptions for parents only.
If going the non-public school route, there are reporting and notification requirements that must be followed, and the State Department of Education may request information from you in writing at any time.
There are of course requirements for subject matter as above, and additional requirements for high school grade students.
Michigan Off-Grid Water Rights Generally
This is where Michigan really starts to show its true colors concerning off-grid living.
Once again, off-grid water supplies are possible and not illegal in the state, but there are so many rules and regulations that it becomes very difficult or even impossible the closer you get to population centers.
Most notably, the state’s Michigan Housing Law mandates that every residential dwelling has running water if it is located in or around a town with 100,000 residents or more.
Lacking running water, the structure is reclassified as an illegal dwelling and subject to all sorts of punitive action.
Well Water in Michigan
Well water for off-grid consumption is a mixed bag in Michigan. The good news is that you don’t need to apply for water rights for any subterranean water, including well water.
It’s even possible for you to dig and install your own well yourself.
However, you’ll always need a permit to dig a well in the state whether or not you are digging one on your own or hiring a professional.
And in all cases well water must be sampled, tested, and approved by the county Health Department, and then the final approval and sign-off will be granted after a last inspection.
Michigan Laws on Surface Water
In Michigan, property owners may use any surface water that is on their property or adjacent to it.
However, that use must not infringe upon the water usage rights of any neighboring properties in any way, and cannot negatively impact the water source in question or other water sources.
Also, surface water laws and specifically riparian rights or only applicable to naturally occurring or formed waterways, not man-made ones.
Can You Harvest Rainwater in Michigan?
Happily, rainwater harvesting is one of the few off-grid essentials that are not tightly regulated in Michigan, or at least tightly regulated compared to everything else in the state.
You can typically store as much rainwater as you want in containers of any size, even very large ones, and then use that rainwater for any non-potable purpose.
You’ll also be happy to know that rebates are offered to residents who make use of harvested rainwater, though these are issued on a county-by-county basis, not at the state level.
However, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind because this is not something that you are totally free to pursue however you like.
Underground containers to hold harvested rainwater are legal, but larger containers will likely mandate an excavation permit as described above.
Similarly, the installation of any permanent rainwater cistern will probably need to be permitted. If you plan on using your harvested rainwater inside your home for any purpose, not just drinking, you’ll need to meet state codes – which are extremely rigorous.
Can You Dam Your Property in Michigan?
Yes, you can. However, the building of a dam is another permitted activity in Michigan, though you don’t need a permit to build a small one.
Any dam that is 6 feet or smaller does not require permitting so long as it withholds less than 5 acres of water.
Can You Dig a Pond on Your Property in Michigan?
Surprisingly, you can indeed dig a pond on your property in Michigan. Even more surprisingly, you don’t even need a permit!
Actually, you don’t need a permit to dig your pond unless it is within 500 feet of any other existing body of water.
As always, this is only the state requirement and it is highly likely that your municipal codes and regulations might be far more involved.
In fact, it isn’t out of the question that you would need two or more permits just to dig your pond: one for the excavation itself and another one for the installation of the pond or other water feature!
Are there any Navigable Water Laws to Know in Michigan?
Yes. All navigable water sources, with some exceptions applying to the Great Lakes, locks, and other service waterways, may be navigated freely so long as they are natural and not man-made.
This means you can travel down a stream or river crossing someone else’s property, but also that someone can travel down the stream or river crossing yours.
However, that does not give anyone using a waterway the right to put ashore or set foot on someone’s adjoining property.
What are the Graywater Laws in Michigan?
The graywater regulations in Michigan are kind of a mess, and not because they have an awful lot of them. Surprisingly enough, they don’t.
Michigan state law is generally minimal concerning the use and dispensation of gray water, both holding and disposal. In some areas, you can even get rid of graywater on the ground with no problems.
The trouble starts when you start getting down to local level regulations. This is because there are very few precise definitions concerning graywater, graywater systems and related technologies.
What we do know is that recycling and reprocessing graywater means you must meet all State Plumbing Code specifications and guidelines, and even for non-drinking purposes you might be forced under those codes to implement specific purification and filtration technologies prior to reuse.
Even more worryingly, the lack of overall guidance from the state on this matter is not a boon for citizens, and has instead let local inspectors run rampant as to what is and is not acceptable or permittable.
This means that, depending on where you live, you might have many options concerning gray water, or you might be subjected to a petty bureaucratic tyrant who will effectively outlaw it by fiat.
Off-Grid Sewage Laws in Michigan
Overall, Michigan tends to be non-permissive concerning off-grid sewage handling, disposal and treatment.
As a general rule, septic tanks are required and any residential property that is within 200 feet of a sewer must connect to it by law. This alone is enough to completely scrub any true off-grid plans depending on where you live.
Are Compost Toilets Legal in Michigan?
Compost toilets are broadly legal according to the state, but effective implementation is very challenging.
You must adhere to all tenants of the public health code, and also we set up to treat gray water in order to use one for legal processing of waste. And, as might be expected, you’ll once again need a permit.
It should be noted that this permitting process might be more or less stringent at the county or municipal level, further complicating the issue.
Using a composting toilet does not remove the need to be connected to a nearby sewer system like we just talked about.
As dumb as it is, the state might approve your use of the compost toilet for handling sewage, and still force you to connect to the sewer system whether or not you’re using a traditional toilet! Thanks, government!
Any Other Off-Grid Laws to Worry About in Michigan?
Some, but we’ve covered the bulk of them. An exhaustive list of all county and municipal laws that might interfere with your off-grid plans could easily be the size of a dictionary.
I do urge you to thoroughly research all applicable laws at every level of government before you purchase anything related to your off-grid homestead.
You will face many pitfalls and challenges along the way. This is a state where the services of a competent real estate attorney will be well worth the money.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.