Off the Grid in Wyoming: Choose the Right Place for Your Modern Home
The United States government granted 1.6 million homes covering 270 million acres of land in the Lower 48 United States between 1862 and 1934.
That’s more than four times the amount of land Wyoming gives away for free to people wanting to develop and live in their own homes. Any adult, including immigrants and women, can apply as long as they do not take up arms against the United States
Decades later, there is a new land rush around Wyoming and the West driven by the same basic desire for independence and self-sufficiency, and more people want to live more simply off the power grid. As has been the case with homeowners for nearly 150 years, making this happen starts with a piece of land.
Today, that means browsing real estate listings and purchasing your land. At that time, homeowners were eligible for 160 acres of free land, mostly in the western states. Amendments to the Homestead Act later increased the size of the free land to a full section, or 640 acres.
Homesteaders who found a way to make it work knew they needed land with water, good soil and timber, and game animals and fish nearby.
In other words, the best places for homes in the Lower 48 were mostly gone by the early 1930s.
The days of free government land giveaways are long gone, but that doesn’t mean the homesteader spirit is dead. Prospective homeowners continue to shop for land, and Wyoming is one state with an abundance of land for sale at affordable off-grid prices.
What defines off-grid ownership?
Former Wyoming Governor Mike Sullivan described the Cowboy State as a small town with unusually long streets. For many looking for it, available off-the-grid properties in Wyoming are at the end of those long streets.
Using equity from the sale of a previous home to acquire another home is the typical path for most people. Bankers and real estate agents understand and accommodate this type of buyer because it is familiar to them.
But someone trying to buy a remote property and build on it would be much better off using any money they have to buy land outright and then pay as they build a new home off the grid.
For most people wanting to become homeowners, this means developing a long-term plan.
As you begin your real estate search, it’s a good idea not to get too impressed while reading property listings.
For example, a 40-acre parcel priced at $15,900 ($397.50 per acre) near Wamswater in Sweetwater County was described as “exotic and rocky…perfect for your dream home.” The listing states that the space “offers unparalleled tranquility with 300 days of sunshine,” and just 256 miles west of this location is Cisco Beach, (Bear Lake State Park, Utah) a place for “good relaxation.”
The property was listed by a Virginia company that misspelled Wamsutter on the listing and touted the “big-city feel” of Fort Collins, Colorado, as a good reason to move to Sweetwater County.
While this piece of land near Wamsutter may be the chargrila area of south-central Wyoming, there are many other more affordable properties listed by agents who actually live here.
There’s a 5-acre property in Natrona County listed for $24,499, a 38-acre parcel in Carbon County for $20,999, and a 35-acre parcel in Albany County listed for $26,000.
Once a buyer has narrowed down their search, it’s important to walk through the property and look thoroughly for things like seismic wires, barrels, any evidence of hazardous waste, or anything else that looks out of place.
It’s also a good idea to check county maps or use an app like OnX Hunt to see who owns nearby properties. Knowing this may provide clues about future development.
Supply and demand
Many people shop for off-grid properties in Wyoming and Montana.
Trampus Corder, owner of Corder and Associates, a land brokerage based in Fort Benton, Montana, said a lot of the calls he gets are from people he calls “dreamers.”
The dreamer in this case basically means someone looking for a pebble in a 100-pound bag of pinto beans.
“They want running water and deer, elk, moose and other wildlife, but you don’t find that on 10 acres,” he said. “Any property with developed water will sell for a much higher price than most off-grid buyers are willing to pay.”
Corder said demand for off-grid properties is steady, and in Wyoming and Montana the market has not experienced the large fluctuations seen in Arizona and Colorado. It is located in the middle of the territory in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota.
He added that Canadians are buying up land in Montana along the border, while the Chinese are buying up undeveloped land in North Dakota. People from Colorado shop and buy land in Wyoming and Montana, while Californians shop in Colorado.
“International buyers are buying land in the western states, but prices in Wyoming and Montana are flat,” Corder said. “We are seeing small ripples in the market in Wyoming and Montana compared to the large price increases in Colorado, California and Arizona.”
Water: the limiting factor
Off-grid energy development technology has made life easier for many homeowners, but water development remains the biggest challenge.
Corder said county records are available that will reveal the depths of nearby water wells. Using this information, along with talking to water well drilling companies, will provide a good idea of how much it will cost to drill a well on your property.
The Wyoming State Engineer’s Office is another source of information about water wells and permits. In some areas, it may be possible for landowners to tap into a perched aquifer and place a hand pump well by drilling a well point.
Another option is rainwater and surface water harvesting.
During the early stages of home construction, transporting water in 5-gallon or larger containers is typical. Water development on an off-grid property is an in-depth topic in itself for a future installment of this series on homes in Wyoming.
Access to property
Henry David Thoreau may have captured the unparalleled optimism of the American homeowner when he said, “I have made myself rich by reducing my wants.”
People who live in remote areas of Wyoming must often find creative alternatives to accessing their property during the winter. Snowfall is a distinct possibility and being able to last a few days without access to the outside world is crucial.
In Sublette County and elsewhere, there are people who leave their cars in parking lots near a plowed county road or state highway and use snowmobiles to travel home during the winter.
Corder said it’s wise to visit any property under consideration for purchase during the winter. Neighbors can also be a helpful resource in resolving access issues.
Other stories in this series
Off the Grid in Wyoming: It’s not easy to live simply