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Challenges face off the gridders in Indiana

Water shortages like this one in Texas will become more common.
RJ Sharpe

As America's energy woes become more firmly entrenched, interest in off the grid living has never been higher. Technological advancements have brought energy generation solutions within reach of more Hoosiers, and the social stigma associated with living off the grid is melting away. Even so, challenges remain. In fact, the biggest challenges are from local and county governments who discourage building anything out of the ordinary, even if it results in significant energy and water savings.

One such example deals with septic systems. The rationale for requiring septic is that it is necessary to maintain public health. It's technologically possible to install incinerating or self-composting toilets and recycle gray water without any loss in sanitation, but most Indiana counties will not even consider issuing a building permit without a septic system.

Height restrictions may limit the property owner's ability to install efficient wind turbines. Subdivision restrictions may limit the ability to install solar panels. Rainwater harvesting is discouraged due to the possibility that it will lead to mosquito infestations.

As is usually the case with change, most of these concerns are reasonable. That said, undesirable effects can be mitigated relatively easily. That's what happened in San Marcos, Texas, where the city approved gray water recycling last year provided that steps were taken to maintain public sanitation. The Texas city was facing a severe water shortage and needed to take drastic action. One year later, it is clear that public health has not been compromised.

Here at home, if you're thinking of buying that perfect piece of rural property and building off the grid, make sure you do your homework up front. Talk to county officials and determine how receptive they are to what you want to do. If they're open and you think you can make it work, forge ahead. If not, look elsewhere.

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