Living Off the Grid in Florida: 17 Tips You Must Know

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Living Off the Grid in Florida: 17 Tips You Must Know

There are a multitude of things for you to know for living off the grid in Florida.

Living off the grid can be a daunting adventure if you enjoy luxurious privileges or it can be a glorious escape from overcrowded city life, especially if you wake up and the first thing you think of is a way out.

You’ve come across this article because you’ve entertained the idea of living off the grid in Florida, but what is living off the grid?

To start off, just think of the common facilities, items, and transport you use in your daily life.

There is access to electricity, water, and a supply of food at your home, because of the utility companies and you can afford food by working at a job.

So, when you don’t want to rely on the utility companies or your job for sustenance, you use living off the grid methods to access these resources.

Some consider living off the grid the art of survival and sustainably living on Earth, or a primitive lifestyle disconnecting from the societal connections of debt and materialism.

There’s the option of purchasing vacant land or living off public access areas that allow living off the grid, but whichever one you choose you’ll wake up knowing your time and hard work inches closer to a successful and self-sufficient lifestyle.

The next step is to do the research, and to assist you these are our 17 must know tips for living off the grid in Florida.

You may also want to check out the top counties to buy vacant land in Florida.

If you’ve purchased your own land rather than living on public access areas, determine if your development plan is ‘legal’ by doing proper due diligence.

Sometimes land surveyors or land-use attorneys assist in a more thorough due diligence.

Furthermore, we will also mention tips for living off the grid in an RV or tiny house on wheels in Florida.

1. Florida county zoning codes determine if living off the grid is legal.

All Florida counties regulate land use through a code called a zoning ordinance.

The good news is there are currently no state-wide regulations making it illegal to live off the grid in Florida, as long as it takes place on your own private property or land zoned for a specific public access use, such as RV usage.

You are not going to be able to build any kind of structure you want to for living off the grid, so take the time to research the zoning codes and understand the construction regulations.

All living off the grid development or construction plans must follow The Florida Building Code (also known as the Florida Statutes Chapter 553) which was adopted statewide and strictly enforced.

The Florida Building Code defines:

  • The structural integrity of a building.
  • The classification of usage by the occupants.
  • That current fire, electrical, plumbing and gas systems must be up to code and operational at construction.
  • The house’s foundation is properly sealed by a Florida licensed architect or engineer.

The Florida Building code was adopted after Hurricane Andrew exposed problems in Florida’s homes’ construction and was designed to protect health and safety.

After Hurricane Andrew, businesses left Florida fearing bankruptcy and insurance companies rose rates for Florida homeowners creating a crisis.

This insurance crisis forced the state to focus its attention on home construction such as wind-proofing homes.

In the end, the building code also helped standardize home construction across Florida.

2. The construction of all structures must follow the Florida Building Code, Florida Fire Prevention and the Life Safety Codes.

The Florida Fire Prevention Code was developed by the National Fire Protection Association, NFPA, to address all aspects of fire prevention and is easily found online or you could contact a local fire official.

The NFPA also established Life Safety codes to minimize loss of life in case of a fire and only relates to structures that humans occupy.

These NFPA codes are adopted as standards for compliance country-wide, so it is likely that if you follow these codes while living off the grid, you’ll also comply with your local county’s laws.

In Lee County, the building regulations design fire protection procedures referencing NFPA guidelines, as well as regulations for hazardous areas against floods and wind damage.

Florida is a state that has annual hurricanes creating hazards such as flooding and high wind speeds.

All homes must follow the Florida Building codes to protect everyone’s well-being.

The hazard zoning lines established in a Florida county assist in determining the risk category of property lots.

As an example, in Lee County the wind speed map diagrams the risk category of buildings and wind speeds up to 180 miles per hour.

It is best to review these diagrams or zoning lines to determine where and what are the hazards.

Ultimately you will want to rule out locations you will not be living off the grid.

When living off the grid your main focus is survivability, so if harsh conditions suddenly damage your house, it is detrimental to your livelihood.

Living in Florida with its hurricane season doesn’t have to seem like an uncertain investment as long as you research the local hazard zoning codes and regulations where your land is located.

3. A building permit must be issued on each project or structure for any installation, repair, moving, or demolition of a building, electrical, gas, or plumbing systems.  (FBC 105.1)

In order to start development on land, you’ve purchased Florida requires filling out a permit application to the building official.

Whether it is by a contractor or an owner, constructing to code establishes a safe and comfortable environment for all Florida citizens.

Some repairs on a single individual home do not require a permit.

In Lee County, a permit isn’t required if a repair doesn’t exceed $500.00.

An example of these kinds of repairs include replacement of a water heater, plumbing fixture, or roof repair of less than 25 percent of the total roof area.

In Lee County, these permits are valid for 180 days, and building officials grant extensions only if all technical codes are compliant.

If plans misrepresent the vision of the construction activity, building officials revoke the permit.

When building an off the grid home, check if there are expected timelines for a construction plan.

In Lee County, contractors must complete the foundation within the first six months of receiving the building permit.

When you finally decide on building a property, follow the Florida Building Codes or hire a licensed contractor to ensure all building codes are compliant.

4. Florida’s Building Code requires technologies that are off-the-grid friendly.

These technologies in windstorm loss prevention, energy efficiency, and others make it even more cost-effective to live off the grid.

Windstorm loss prevention techniques require installation of technologies such as gable-end bracing, secondary roof water barriers, and retrofitting roof-to-wall connections.

Following windstorm techniques strengthen your home and increase the length of your survivability.

Florida also has an Energy Efficiency Standard to promote energy conserving appliances and clean energy technologies like solar energy.

This energy efficiency standard reduces wasteful consumption, which is an attribute of sustainable living.

These standards are just the starting point to an easier off-the-grid lifestyle, as the building code requires additional technologies.

5. Florida averages 5+ hours of sunlight daily which is great for solar energy.

There is a Florida Solar Rights Act protecting owner’s rights to install solar energy panels on their property.

This prohibits any restrictions on solar panel installation, so you can still live off the grid using electricity.

There is no denying that solar energy is an expensive investment.

The initial purchases include multiple panels and a solar capturing compatible battery.

As an example, this owner in Florida spent $60,000 on his 32 solar panels.

Clean energy trends have grown over the years, and now there are more affordable solar panels and batteries available.

If you opt for cheaper solar panels, research its efficiency since this will affect how much energy wattage is captured.

Researchers give each panel a Standard Test Condition in 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and ideally, a 250-watt solar panel produces 250 watts of energy.

Unfortunately, your panel’s efficiency is 12 percent of the total 1000-watts of direct sunlight, therefore the panel is capturing only 120-watts of energy.

Is this enough electricity for your living off the grid lifestyle?

There are many energy consumption calculators online you can use to estimate your daily usages while living off the grid.

If you are still on the fence about the initial costs of solar energy, consider this tweet.

The diagram shows that overall there is a cap on money spent on solar energy, but the total wattage collected increases.

Buying top quality solar energy equipment saves you money in the long run.

There are other methods of energy collection such as wind turbines and biogas extraction systems.

Biogases are chemicals like methane, which release from livestock manure and composted food waste.

A biogas collection system diverts captured methane to heat your home or for cooking on a gas stove.

This is a marvelous way to eliminate food waste, establish indoor heating, and have compost for a garden.

6. Florida’s Lee County prohibits the removal of palm trees in any historic and scenic area. 

There are potential conflicts when you are developing land for living off the grid.

There are ordinances that protect the preservation of native species, historic, and scenic areas.

An example of a location that prohibits palm tree removal is Lee County’s McGregor Boulevard.

Another example is the outdoor lighting standard in Florida’s building code on sea turtle conservation.

This outdoor lighting standard requires that all windows or glass doors visible from the beach have tinted or film installed.

This ensures that no artificial light illuminates turtles’ nesting sites.

These standards are examples of the many protections on native species.

Be sure to check any land survey information for protected species or historic areas like this protected tree species list for Lee County.

Do these things before living off the grid, and it will definitely save you the headache of having to halt development work.

7. Most agriculture zoned lands allow livestock. 

It’s also a good tip to look outside city limits for finding land.

If you are trying to live off the grid, you’ll want to make sure the land you’ve chosen allows livestock and farming.

In Lee County, residential zones allow grazing livestock activities only if it does not disturb other residents.

Otherwise keeping livestock is likely illegal if not in an agriculture zoned district.

Rural lots are sometimes in agriculture zones, which often have more acreage too.

These lots are often more affordable in an agriculture zone.

You’ll find that rural lots for off the grid life are less restrictive, but still, it’s best to check the zoning regulations on raising livestock.

Lee County prohibits owners from cutting and clearing unused land for row crops.

Owners may use only previously cleared land purposed for agriculture production like row crops.

Please review the zoning regulations for your county to see if they allow clearing land for crops.

Also, make sure you check for conservation easements that may limit your ability to develop the land!

Besides growing crops, it is possible to sell what you grow in your garden.

If you are looking to sell your product, review the health and safety guidelines of your health department.

In Lee County, you will need a permit to sell and set up a temporary produce stand on your property.

Remember all these regulations are in place to protect the welfare of all.

8. There is no requirement to build access roads in counties like Lee County, unless developments include a 25 percent or larger increase in traffic generated, residential density or building size. 

It is necessary to propose a development plan for any access road construction with approval from the DOT (Division of Transportation) and Director of Development.

Property owners must continuously maintain private streets.

Then the county’s attorney’s office approves the legal document notifying responsibility for the maintenance of private streets.

If your neighbors complain of a degrading road, the county knows who to contact for repairs.

When you determine that an access road is necessary it should follow the right-of-way width specifications.

privately maintained street must be 40 feet to 45 feet wide in Lee County.

Otherwise, see if it’s a requirement to connect private property to public roads.

These regulations are in place to ensure safe road sharing, and to allow emergency vehicles access onto private properties.

So make your access roads according to the specifications in your county and DOT won’t bother you.

Even more importantly, before buying, check whether the property is landlocked.

9. Burying of trash, recyclables, or debris on a construction site, public or private property is not allowed.

Lee County requires all property owners to subscribe to a solid waste collection and disposal service.

If there is construction site debris on your property you are not allowed to bury it.

Rather it is the job of the contractor to dispose of all solid and recyclable wastes at a solid waste facility.

As the DOT prohibits any non-licensed contractors to transport waste on public streets.

This legislation allows franchise contractors to collect garbage and recyclables, which occurs weekly in residential districts.

Rather than getting slapped with a sanitation violation for hauling your own garbage, check the garbage disposal regulations in your county.

10. Every residence or land purposed for dwelling is required to have a method of disposing of human excrement only where sewage lines are available. 

Those in first world countries often take for granted their access to lavatories and don’t understand the workings of how human waste is ‘taken care of’.

Modern flush toilet works by mechanically using levers with the help of gravity to flush excrement down to a sewer line.

This method requires additional water to clean your toilet bowl and transport excrement to a water treatment facility.

These facilities filter the mixture through multiple steps to get the end product, clean potable water.

City sewage lines do not reach all off the grid rural properties.

Instead of sewage lines, rural properties have septic tanks to store this waste.

For living off the grid you either have access to the sewage line or a septic tank, so check which one is available in your county.

If an off the grid owner within the county does not connect with the sewer system or verify septic tank collection services, the county can make the connection without owner authorization.

These are the sewage connection charges for Lee County.

11. Outhouses are not allowed: all plumbing must be within a dwelling structure. 

Some counties require land or homes used as dwellings have plumbing fixtures within dwelling units.

It is illegal to build, connect, or remodel any sewer line without the written consent of the board of county commissioners.

The lavatory should connect to the public sewer system if the property line is not over two hundred feet from the sewer line.

If a property is not within two hundred feet of the public sewer line, those properties use septic tanks.

Unfortunately, there may be sewage disposal fees even if you are living off the grid and have a private water supply.

The county has the right to cut off the water supply, plug the sewage line, and not reconnect until the property owner pays the fees.

There is no such sewage disposal or collection service that is free of charge to anyone.

Lee County considers any sanitary violations guilty of a misdemeanor.

Florida’s legal cases for those living off the grid usually involve water usage and sewage fee fines. 

If you do not want any problems with the county pay the required fees to avoid getting kicked off your land.

Just by following these tips, you are adjusting to the laws, and code enforcers shouldn’t bother you.

12. Only Florida licensed water well contractors are authorized to drill, change, or plug wells deeper than thirty feet below the land surface. 

It is important to have a clean water resource like a well if you are not connected to a municipal water utility.

For living off the grid you will most likely rely on well water.

Each well construction in Lee County involves removing the sand, mud, drill cuttings, and all debris, before a county inspector collects a water sample.

If the sample returns sediment-free, you can use the well as a water resource.

Counties can also inspect test wells.

A test well assists in the exploration of water and water quality.

In Florida, only contractors plug or convert test wells to a production well.

A converted test well provides additional clean water for living off the grid.

You have to understand the construction and workings of your well, to rely on it as a water resource.

Well water is usually cheaper and contains more minerals than city water, but both are susceptible to contamination.

Water contaminations are deadly.

Animals can fall into these wells or a septic tank leak can easily contaminate wells.

Take into account how far your property is from the nearest hospital, and do not skip on those well inspections.

13. Check with local county health departments on drinking rainwater laws. 

If you do not want to deal with building a well, while living off the grid, another option is rainwater harvesting or collection system.

Florida is one of the wettest states in annual rainfall.

Living off the grid in Florida sounds more like a possibility when you just have to rely on a rainy day for water.

Aside from its decent inches of rain, Florida doesn’t have harsh winters.

Florida gets a range of 40 to 60 inches of rainwater annually during its wet season.

You can opt for saving rainwater in barrels, cistern, or catching it with the downspouts of roof runoff for living off the grid.

Overall about an inch of rainwater per 1,000 square feet approximates to collecting 600 gallons of water.

With that large volume of rainwater, while living off the grid you will use less groundwater resources, and reduce your vulnerability whenever there is a drought.

The legal jargon for collecting rainwater might go from illegal, needing a permit, to the health department recommending it only as water for plants, not drinking water.

It may even be that some counties may have water treatment recommendations and even offer tax incentives. 

It may be an issue if counties consider your saving rainwater system as directly damming water that would have some way or another runoff into the public water system.

Rainwater collected by downspouts of roof runoff deals with different laws too.

Please check with the local county if it is legal to collect rainwater.

14. In Lee County living in an RV as a permanent resident is prohibited as of September 16, 1985. 

The following sections will cover recreational vehicle living.

In some Florida counties, laws prohibit living off the grid in an RV.

There are work-a-rounds for RV living because ultimately it matters where you park your RV.

Living in an RV lowers living costs because you don’t have to build a house.

Usually RV parks or campground offer amenities like water hookups, electricity, cable, and even gyms.

It is possible to opt for a deeded RV lot instead of living on vacant land.

Living in an RV community provides the security and convenience of neighbors.

15. RV(s) may only be placed on a park that was approved or zoned for recreational vehicle park use. 

The county does give out temporary permits to tax-exempt charitable organizations, 501(c)(3) in commercial-zoned properties.

Usually, the duration of the temporary permit is no more than six months in one calendar year and the number of RVs may not exceed six at a time.

Florida’s zoning regulations depend on the creation of the lot’s record.

These regulations stretch back to the year 1968.

For example, lots zoned before an effective date cannot be less than 1,200 square feet.

Currently from Florida’s zoning ordinance of 1993, the minimum RV district lots should be 2,000 square feet.

In Florida, these RV regulations may include having an added minimum width of 40 feet, 5 feet from the side lot line, 10 feet from the street right-of-way, 15 feet from the park perimeter, and at least 10 feet from other RVs.

16.  RV parking is not allowed on residential zoned property. 

There are exceptions to this ordinance in residential zones, such as temporary deliveries, an emergency-on-call status employee-owned truck from a public utility, or if an owner parks an RV in a completely enclosed building or garage.

Otherwise in Florida’s Lee County, code enforcers give out citations and can tow your living off the grid RV if there are repeat violations.

Unfortunately, no new RV parks are being developed or expanded on coastal high-hazard areas.

This is because of drainage problems, maintaining native vegetation, and other life safety requirements in Florida.

17. Refer to each Florida local zoning regulations for tiny home dwelling. 

Another growing genre of living structures in the last decade is tiny homes.

Living off the grid in a tiny home and claiming it as your permanent residence in some counties is not legal.

This is because of the minimum square footage required of a ‘building used for dwelling’.

For example, regulations in Lee County would not allow a 300 square feet tiny home for living off the grid, if the minimum requirement for a single-family building is 1200 square footage.

A tiny home on wheels might count even as a recreational vehicle, RV, and may fall under RV usage legislation.

For example, Lee County’s RV zoned lots require a tie-down or a sealed foundation.

This is because of hurricane flood elevation and the wind speed hazards, which would expose individuals living in off the grid.

Your tiny home will need to have a sealed foundation to comply with the Lee County’s requirement.

Another obscure thing tiny homes may fall under is ‘camping’.

In other states, not just Florida, it is illegal to camp on your own land for over 2 weeks.

If your tiny home meets the minimum square footage and doesn’t violate any zoning regulations, you can build it on your land.

Like all other development plans, each tiny home construction plan must comply with Florida’s building codes.

Granted these are just several of the things we thought you should know to start homesteading or living off the grid in Florida.

We recommend you do your due diligence and even take advantage of a land-use attorney for additional legal assistance.

Don’t get us wrong, we know that initially this lifestyle is unlike other investments.

You have to set aside enough for purchasing land, drilling a well, setting up power, and building a home.

Much like the living off the grid lifestyle, everything you gain is for the future.

You end up with fewer costs because you consume less– less water, less fast food, less energy.

By living off the grid you’ve become more eco-friendly, and it can be quite fulfilling to know you have reduced your carbon footprint on Earth.

You live sustainably by only eating what you grow in your garden. Water your garden with the rainwater you’ve collected after setting up a rainwater collection system.

Just by repurposing your waste as energy, you’re changing your mindset to invest in quality rather than quantity.

You live off the grid committing to a life of self-sufficiency, hard work and survival.

There is no distraction from the duties of obtaining food, water, and maintaining a roof over your head.

The county ordinance and its legal restrictions may scare you away from living off the grid in Florida.

Remember that ordinances exist to ensure good health and safety of you and all of Florida’s residents.

Even with all the zoning regulations and ordinances of your county, we hope these things help you choose the perfect land for living off the grid.

Hopefully, the 17 tips we recommend assist you in your search for the land in a Florida county fitting your living off the grid needs.

Sarah Lee

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