Off Grid Home Forums Technical Discussion Failed escape in British Columbia

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    Five years ago, wishing to escape from modern day Canada, I bought 22 rural acres, in the middle of the province of B.C. .

    I believed, foolishly, that I could build a log cabin & shop, utilize natural power sources, and lengthen the distance between myself & “the establishment”. What I discovered, however, was that the local district would not allow me to make any moves without first entering their maze of fees, permits, inspections, etc.

    In order to build any living structure, I first had to have a septic system designed($1,500), installed($15,000 – $30,000), and inspected($800 – $1,000).

    Then, a driveway, with culvert, would have to be installed & inspected($8,000 -$10,000).

    The area where I bought the property – near Prince George – seems to be in a constant state of “economic downturn”, ergo, lack of permanent, full-time employment. Meanwhile, in the city where I live, Vancouver, I have more than enough work, but the low quality of live that a city provides(subjective).

    Are there people living off the grid in B.C., whom have been able to clear the obstacles without going broke in the process? My property is zoned “small holdings”. How do I develop and avoid the costs of having to pay licensed installers, designers, engineers, etc?

    I’d appreciate any advice/suggestions before I decide to dump the property & move to Asia, where I can get more done with a bribe!




    Have you ever considered composting toilets and greywater recycling/reuse systems? There is alot of info here in postings and articles and also just typing it into a search engine will bring you alot of results. Some sites leave me with unanswered questions but along with this website, the others I’ve found most helpful, thorough and straightforward so far is and wikipedia.

    Here are just a few links off of the very immense website that range from how to’s, legal issues to which states are visionary states or not, and much much more(there is also an email correspondense somewhere on the site that talks about issues very similar to yours but I cannot find at the moment, but you might if you look through). You should definitly be able to use composting and water recycling, if done properly, especially if you live in the country (and should save you alot of money and trouble, and you could possibly build your own far more inexpensively while being up to code (there are also educational resources on the site for that also):

    a letter against septic systems/sewers to local officials:

    “Sewer battles in Bolinas and Monte Rio” “(a great, humorous article by Lloyd Khan)”:

    “Sewer Hookup in Ontario, How to Avoid Being Forced”:


    “greywater central” w/more info about greywater regulation if you scroll down:

    “Common Greywater Errors and Preferred Practices”:

    Wikipedia composting toilet info:

    “Toronto Healthy House” info:

    The Small House Society Resources For Life “mobile hermatage”:)

    GOOD LUCK, hope some of it helps in some way!!


    Maybe take a look at buying on the Queen Charlottes (Haida Gwaii). Property is relatively cheap. Government is very local. I am living in Masset and enquired of our mayor if there was any bylaw against or regarding wind turbines on my property (which is in town). He said no problem.

    Outside of towns there is a Skeena Regional Management District. Lots of people do many innovative things on their properties. However most do have septic. Our local Coop has been selling composting toilets for the past few years though. Any help I can be.


    Reading the book ‘Off-Grid’ by Nick Rosen made me realise that some locations are far more ‘off-grid’ friendly than others.


    Mike I currently live near Prince George in Hixon. If you read this how about connecting up for a discussion? you made the mistake of asking the bureaucrats to help you.

    They will always say NO! or sometimes a qualified ‘maybe’ provided you pay $$$ for permits, inspections, etc. that justifies their existence. There are ways and means of circumventing these obstructions without breakinbg the laws, just slipping through the loop holes. My wife’s uncle lives here off-grid and I know of half a dozen off-grid homes, one of them new, currently under construction.


    elnav,(or anyone), i’m looking at property in your area, though 100 mile area is more likely. i intend to go off-grid and build something simple. sure could use some help, as far as what i’m allowed to do, and who i should or shouldn’t ask, for permits etc… i’d like to build underground. simple foundation,(8′)maybe24x48′, with a metal shed roof. self composting toilet, solar etc… . if that’s too much hassle and money, maybe a cabin on skids.


    Cedar Steve

    What size / kind of property are you looking at? Totally undeveloped property is obviously cheaper but can raise flags as soon as you attempt to build anything. However if you do buy undeveloped land you can say you are looking for a hunting camp base and bring a camper for starters.

    Buying an existing residence (old farmstead) that has become derelict may give you a property that has some existing road access ( culvert in ditch) and electrical service power pole thus eliminating a hassle to get relevant permits. A new power pole and service for example will run $1000 permit and a ditch culvert could involve some expenses just to place a regulation culvert.

    Water drainage is sometimes the most critical for inspection. Last year willow creek up near Prince George flooded a property and the run off washed out two culverts then proceeded to undercut the actual highway. Hwy 97 was cut off for several hours. This is why inspectors are so fuzzy when it comes to proper ditch drainage.

    A hunting camp does not require a new septic bed installation but a full time residence does. So application for a building permit automatically brings in the topic of septic systems. A hunting camp on the other hand is considered temporary and for the most part it is assumed you have a camper with a self contained toilet and holding tank thus no inspection is required. A new recent trend is to buy shipping containers to place on a property as storage containers. “Big Blue Box” is one company with branch offices in PG Abbotsford Kelowna etc and I have seen them equip these boxes with doors and windows. Being steel clad they are practically vandal proof when closed up.

    Unless you know someone in the area with digging machinery or own your own construction company digging holes can become very expensive. Up her much of the area is glacial till and gravel beds. Digging any size of hole can involve real power or even blasting. Buying land that is rock free puts you into a higher price range because the land is more desirable and fetches a higher price. Two families recently moved into the area. One of them plan to go off-grid but for the moment uses the existing hydro service. This is not a bad approach since it sidesteps the whole issue of permits. The property is in effect grandfathered with whatever existing facilities are there.


    Cedar steve if you prefer you can send me a private email (2elnav at


    elnav, i sent you an email. not sure you got it. i agree with everything youve said, especially about getting a place already set up with a dwelling, hydro etc… i plan on having a backhoe to do my own digging. thanks, and let me know if you got my email. later, steve.


    For those people interested in micro hydrogeneration look up Banki turbines. These can be undershot wheels and if flow volume is sufficient even low head installations will provide some power generation. The Pelton wheel or Harris turbine require greater pressure (higher head) in order to deliver their best output.

    Some areas have restrictions on what flowing water is designated fish habitat. Most juristictions will not allow dams or restrictive water confinement also called impoundment or ponding on fish habitat waters. But if you have a trickling runnel of water barely enough to be called a stream and practically free falling down a cliff, embankment or cliff you could build a catchment to build up volume and release water in bursts to drive the waterturbine at the required speed to produce real power.



    For several decades now we (collective) have been bombarded with exhortations to reduce our energy consumption. Meanwhile newer and supposedly better plastic gadgets and solar this and solar that has been advertised in every possible way as the wave of the future.

    Last week while killing time waiting for a doctor’s report to be ready I dropped into the local museum. My companion immediately asked the curator if the museum sold a couple of books and he named them by title. She immediately led him to the giftshop bookshelf and pulled out the volumes. He told me these were written by his wife’s grandfather and he had helped edit the proofs.

    As we wandered around the museum, he and I repeatedly saw household items we recalled having bought or used that were identical or similar but when they were new. Lest you think we are a pair of ancient octogenarians,let me point out both of us are not yet old enough to collect old age pensions.

    The point of this is to highlight that all of these old ‘museum pieces’ did not use electric power and in the context of today’s green conscious society would be considered green and beneficial in the drive to reduce our carbon footprint.

    Most objects were made of wood and a few bits of metal. Virtually all of the devices could be repaired by a handy person using nothing but hand tools or at most a drill and saw. Some of the objects were 100 years old and still serviceable while a few were only 40 years old but still in working order. That begs the question why do most modern household tools made from plastic and high tech stainless steel or whatever only seem to last a couple of years.

    The thoughtful person may even ponder which of these products are more benign to the environment. Modern plastic or old wood and brass or iron..

    I suspect that as the off-grid movement grows and expands we will see a revival in using these non electric household objects. So called ‘time savers’ using electric power really are not saving us any time when you take into consideration how long it takes to dig it out of the kitchen drawer, plug in the right attachment, shift things around so the cord reaches the work area and only then do the actual task. Not to mention which most competent and tool handy porsons could make one of the ‘museum pieces” but cannot manufacture the plastic and stainless steel version.

    Lets face it how technical does it have to be to open a can or slice an apple or cut a cheese block. I did see one item not seen in a plastic version. It was a blue berry picking scoop. Its just a box with a wooden handle and big 4” nail fingers to comb out the berries from the bush branches. I used to live next door to several commercial berry picking plantations and never did see any such tool in use by the commercial growers /pickers.

    It will be interesting to see how many of the non electric household appliances get revived.



    Mike’s disillusionment with local government is not unique to BC or Prince George. However, in the process of helping Cedar Steve find a suitable property I have discovered there are in fact more options that Mike (original poster and thread founder) evidently was not aware of. The key is to gain ‘local’ knowledge from residents as well as checking out local regulations. Temporary and vacation properties often have different rules and restrictions compared to permanent residence situations. Camping out temporarily can be a way to ‘break the ice’ and spend time in the local community and general area. Sometimes you can get permission to camp out somewhere from existing land owners even if that specific property is not for sale. This can be done in a van, RV, trailer or tent while you explore a neighborhood. Camping vehicles are more often than not self contained and would not leave an undesirable ‘footprint” such as garbage or sanitation residue. Long time residents may be able to point out where and how r regulations have built in flexibility not usually mentioned by local government when you first ask.

    Rob Chipman

    el nav:

    You seem to know a fair bit about this topic. I’m selling 1.88 acres about 40 minutes west of Quesnel. The Regional District told me there were no inspections there (outside their jurisdiction)but that anyone building would have to comply with the BC building code and have a septic field ok’d by the regional health authority and be set back a minimum amount (25 feet, approx., I think) from the water.

    Its got an outhouse on it now, and a place to camp or put a trailer. What stops someone from building a simple cabin and either using the outhouse or a composting toilet? Any thoughts?

    This place is on the road from Quesnel to Nazko. I’ve got pics at

    Can you have road access and still be off-grid? Does that count?


    Hey Rob that’s my friend’s lake. John and Jean Tibbles are good friends of mine and neighbours. To answer your question. Regulations changed a couple of years ago. Too many litle lakes wer getting contaminated by leaching from inadequate sanitation facilities. This lake is the drinking water supply for people using shoreline properties as vacation spots. The outhouse was evidently built before the new regulations came into effect.

    Unfortunately your property is too small to accomodate a properly designed lagoon system.

    Chubb Lake Camp was originally built some 40 years ago and still have their lagoon system. Last year it was drained, inspected and put back into service.

    It was probably inspected by the same Health Inspector you would be dealing with. He seems like a reasonable fellow.

    If you had a composting toilet installed you likely would not get hassled by the health department if you put up a small cabin or ‘shed’. Putting in a camping trailer but still on wheels does not constitute a ‘building” and therefore does not fall under the building code as a building.

    The intent is to preserve the pristine water quality of the lake. Presumably you also use the lake as a source of washing and drinking water. The Tibbles do.

    If you were to start construction of a permanent home which might eventually be occupied by a large family, the Health Authority is saying a proper sewage disposal system is required.

    Concerning road access, yes you can still be off-grid even if you can drive in.


    The 25 foot setback being referred to is for buildings, not septic beds.

    You cannot build any structure closer than 25 feet from the shore line.

    that is only common sense. Lake levels do vary according to precipitation and ice floes could cause damage to a structure placed right at the shore.

    From your own website:

    “This property is outside of a mandatory building inspection area, meaning all you have to do to be legal is maintain the proper setback from the lake”

    Septic beds must be kept at least 100 feet away from a well or source of water used in the building. Depending on the percolation rate of that specific ground this may have to be increased.

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