Are you considering to start a homestead in Idaho?
If so, you’ve come to the right place!
Idaho is one of my favorite states because of its beautiful landscapes, its rich farmland, and the laid back style of life. It’s also homesteading friendly, boasting more than 60,000 homesteads throughout the state.
As new homesteaders are searching for a place to establish their roots, I know a lot of questions come up and uncertainty may settle in. I hope this blog answers all the questions and concerns that you may be having if you are considering Idaho as the state to settle down in to start your homestead.
What is Idaho's homesteading law?
Idaho’s homesteading law can be found in Section 55, Chapter 10 of the Idaho Statutes. It serves to protect a person’s permanent dwelling place (including a mobile home) during times of financial crisis.
Does Idaho have a homesteading exemption?
Yes. Idaho’s homestead exemption grants the owner $100,000 protection from creditors so long that a Declaration of a Homestead is on file. In other words, as a homeowner, your primary residence (and any other personal property worth up to 100k that was previously declared under the Homestead document) cannot be seized even if you have pending debts.
If you missed it, the keyword here is filing a “Declaration of a Homestead.”
According to Section 55-1004, “An owner who selects a homestead from unimproved or improved land that is not yet occupied as a homestead must execute a declaration of homestead and file the same for record in the office of the recorder of the county in which the land is located.”
Without a declaration, the State won’t grant you this kind of protection. If you have previously filed this paperwork for a different property, you will need to submit all the paperwork again with your new permanent residence. Idaho only allows one property (your primary residence) to be recorded in your Homestead Declaration.
PROS and CONS of Homesteading in Idaho
- The laws primarily benefit homesteaders, with regard to owner-built homes, homeschooling your children, growing your crops and raising livestock on your property.
- It’s mostly a conservative state, although due to the influx of migration some cities are becoming predominantly liberal. (This could be a pro or con depending on your political affiliation.)
- Rich and fertile soil makes it great for growing crops.
- Diverse climates and ecosystems throughout the state.
- Low to mild humidity, in most places.
- Very few natural disasters to worry about, aside from occasional wildfires and strong winds in some places.
- Idaho has great outdoor activities, skiing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, backpacking, hunting, fishing.
- A lot of untouched wilderness and free-roaming wildlife.
- Low population.
- Mostly friendly and like-minded people that are willing to help others.
- Low crime rate.
- Weather extremes are common in some cities. You can expect an occasional frost or snowstorm in June and then a few days with 100-degree weather in July.
- Some people have experienced severe racism, especially in Northern Idaho. This can be the result of Aryan Nations- a white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and neo-Nazi terrorist organization that was founded in the 1970s. It originated in Hayden, Idaho, just 7 miles north of Coeur d’Alene. Although the original compound of the Aryan Nations has been destroyed and the organization leader died years ago, the remnants of racism may still be felt throughout the North.
Every state will have its pros and cons, so I hope this list wasn’t enough to help you make up your mind entirely. Not so fast!
Idaho is an amazing place with an abundance of natural resources. Continue reading to see if the Gem State is fit to become your new home sweet home.
Is Idaho the right state for you?
Moving your family to start a homestead is no easy task. There are many factors involved so it’s impossible to give a definite answer.
Although it’s difficult to find a place that meets all the requirements that one finds ideal in a homestead, many people have a general idea of certain things they must have, and others that can be compromised.
I broke down 22 of the “make it or break it” requirements that go into planning a homestead. This way, you can get a better idea if Idaho is indeed the right place for you!
Make it or Break it requirements
Idaho’s climate is very diverse. The northern part of the state is typically much colder and receives a lot more rain and snow throughout the year. The southern part of the state is drier, and consequently much warmer, especially during the summer months. To get a more accurate idea of each city’s climate, you can check out this link to US Climate Data.
An important thing to consider is solar and wind energy. If you’re looking into building an off-grid home that is sustained either by solar or wind power, make sure to find a place that offers plenty of sunshine and/or wind year-round.
The Weather Atlas gives a detailed overview of the climate in every city of Idaho, including the average amount of sunshine per city. For example, click here to see a graph of Boise’s yearly average daylight and sunshine hours. You can do the same search for any city of your choosing.
2. Annual Average Precipitation
The amount of rain and snowfall is very important for any homestead because consistent irrigation is a huge deal. Idaho is abundant in the amount of water it receives every year, but it varies between the northern and southern regions. The US Climate Data website offers insight into the annual precipitation details for every city.
3. Natural Disasters
Other than wildfires and high-speed gusts of wind, Idaho doesn’t experience major natural disasters. This makes it a perfect place for building a homestead without the fear that all your hard work will be destroyed in a moment’s notice.
Idaho Firewise is an organization that instructs people on how to build low-ignition homes and landscapes. I recommend checking them out. Also, strengthen any structures in order to protect your animals and crops in the event of high-speed winds.
When looking at land, you’ll want to keep in mind the work that is required to cultivate something on it. If you’re willing to put in the work and/or have the necessary equipment, you may be fine with the rocky terrain. If not, you may want to look for properties that have some established trees and the terrain has been previously used or somewhat prepared for planting seeds. Surely in Idaho, you’ll be able to find both of these, it’s just a matter of what resources you have and what your budget is.
5. Soil Quality
Idaho is known for having some of the best soil in the nation. The condition of your soil is directly correlated to the success of your crops. I’m not an expert on this but I found a good resource from the US Department of Agriculture which provides some information on the soil health of Idaho. You can find that information here.
6. Growing Season
Some places in Idaho (the valleys) allow you to grow your crops for about 7 months out of the year, while the mountainous regions located in higher altitudes (northern and central region) will typically have a short growing season. Successful homesteads can be found all throughout Idaho, so a short growing season shouldn’t be a discouraging factor entirely. The key to maximizing the growth potential of your garden is choosing the right plants and learning the techniques that work best for those climates.
This website from the University of Idaho, provides amazing information on all sorts of gardening topics including planting, landscaping, insects, and other pests.
The University of Idaho also created a couple of guides which specifically discuss techniques to successfully grow vegetables in high altitudes and short-season climates. You can find the Introduction to Short-Season Gardening here and Choosing and Growing Adapted Vegetable Varieties here.
Another cool resource is Dave’s Garden. This website tool gives you an idea of how many days a city’s growing season will be. If you’re looking into several different areas, you can easily make a comparison of when to expect the first and last freeze based on the estimates given on their website.
7. Access To Water
Having access to water on your property is perhaps the most important factor when you’re considering to start a homestead.
Receiving an abundance of rain and snow does not guarantee that your crops will have enough water year-round. Water is also necessary for all other aspects of life, like drinking and hygiene.
Buying your property with pre-existing water rights is beneficial and recommended because they’re not easy to obtain otherwise. Water rights give you the ability to use (not own) the State’s public water by means of diversion of lakes and rivers to your property. Make sure you’re clear on the limits of the water rights that come with your property because the licenses differ. You must stay within the limits of your license to avoid penalties.
It’s favorable to have water rights especially if the property is larger than one acre AND if it’s located in the west/desert areas.
You can visit Idaho’s Department of Water Resources for all the information you need concerning water rights.
Drilling a well or having one on the property is another option many homesteaders take advantage of, but it’s definitely something you have to plan and budget for.
8. Possible Restrictions / Legal Considerations
- Laws on the ownership of livestock and other animals:
Idaho allows the raising of animals for both domestic and commercial purposes. Keep in mind that you might have to apply for permits prior to owning certain animals. The laws governing animals can be found in the Idaho Statutes: Title 25.
- Zoning laws:
The Idaho Statutes (Title 67, Chapter 65) discuss the planning of how local land is to be used. Section 67-6511 specifically discusses zoning issues. It states that each governing area (counties in this case) have the authority to make and enforce their own zoning laws.
To find information on zoning restrictions for a specific county, Google the name of the city followed by “Idaho zoning map”.
- HOAs and CC&Rs:
Homeowners Associations establish Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions in their neighborhoods. Rules might work well for some people, but I’m willing to bet that the majority of homesteaders are the kind of people who want to build their own homes their way. If the home or property you’re interested in is part of an HOA, look into their CC&Rs before purchasing it. Think about the future goal of your homestead and make sure that it can be met by looking at the regulations set by the HOA first.
- Reservation of Rights:
Before buying property, be aware of any “Reservation of Rights” in a deed. A Reservation of Rights allows the seller of a property to maintain ownership over certain property rights (such as water rights, mineral rights, timber rights, and so on) even after the property has been sold to someone else. In other words, you may think you own all the land, but some of the resources available there might actually not belong to you. You can read an in-depth explanation of common Reservation of Rights here.
Always ask if the property is on reservation land or has deeded access. Some reservations have been created around private properties and they may charge or revoke road access at any time.
- Living in an RV / tent:
I’ve read countless forum threads about people who plan to purchase a few acres of land and live in their RV while they’re in the process of building their home. In theory, this sounds like a brilliant idea. While it’s acceptable in some places throughout Idaho, it’s not allowed everywhere (possibly to prevent squatters). Look into CC&Rs and local laws before you decide to make this decision. Regulations may vary from county to county.
9. Building Codes
The problem most homesteaders face is that they have to jump many hoops before they can build their dream home. Building codes are not only tedious but very costly.
Many people have moved to Idaho because the building codes are a lot more lenient when compared to other states. According to my research, the Northern part of the State has fewer regulations than the South.
Building codes are determined and enforced locally, so be sure that you’re well aware of what you’re getting into before buying a property. If you’re looking to build your home from earthy-materials, you may need to find land in the boonies where the codes are less restrictive.
10. Tax Considerations
Idaho has a Homeowners and Property Tax Exemption. Once you’ve qualified for a Homesteader’s Exemption, you can claim it in your taxes. The exemption significantly lowers your property taxes by reducing the taxable value of your home by 50%, but no more than $100,000, as well as up to one acre of land. You must own your home before the 1st of January (of the year you’re applying for) and apply for the exemption before April 15th. Talk to your County Assessor or visit the Idaho State Tax Commission website for more information.
11. Distance To Town
In Idaho you can find properties that are located within reasonable distance to the city as well as properties that are completely remote. There are benefits and drawbacks to each, but your preference is what is most important. If you’re looking at purchasing property in Idaho but haven’t made the trip to visit yet, you can look at Google Earth and Google Maps to get an idea of what stores are available in or near the city you’re interested in. Note that they may not be 100% up to date, but it’s possibly the most accurate free resource available.
If your property is far from town, think of transportation options. You will likely need a 4WD vehicle in the winter.
12. Internet Access
While the internet has only been around for a few short decades, it has become a prime source of contact and communication. Although people are perfectly capable of living completely off the grid, many of us have a personal desire and need to stay in touch with the rest of the world, even if it’s only through online means. Living completely secluded will have its challenges, but is feasible if you have the means to stay connected (virtually, that is).
Internet accessibility is vital for those who have online businesses or blogs, and/or are homeschooling their children.
Idaho is the 42nd most connected state, with only 20% of the population being underserved. This means that 80% of Idahoans have access to two or more internet providers. You can find detailed information on internet coverage per city right here.
13. Population Density
Idaho has a low population density. Over the last several years, the U.S. Census Bureau has taken notice of the rapid population growth. In 2018, Forbes called Boise the fastest-growing city in the country. It is expected that the numbers will continue to increase for two primary reasons- there is a lot of migration coming from other states/ countries, and the number of births in the state have outnumbered the number of deaths. To see a complete review and statistics on the population of Idaho, click here.
14. Job Opportunities
Job hunting is a major struggle for those moving to Idaho, particularly in the Northern region. Wages are said to be low when compared to other parts of the country, considering the cost of living. It’s recommended that wherever you choose to move to, you have a job offer already secured. If your job or business is online, make sure you have reliable internet connection wherever you’re going.
Building a community of like-minded individuals is an important factor, especially when starting a homestead. All the tasks that come with making a homestead successful are challenging. Finding a place within a community that shows support for each other is vital.
Idaho has developed a culture of the homesteading lifestyle. The people are known to be kind and helpful. Some claim that the northern regions are a bit extreme in their political beliefs, however there’s no better way to determine whether you’d fit in or not without traveling there first.
I encourage you narrow down your search to a couple of cities, if possible. Then, plan a trip to explore and make contact with the community, whether it be by getting involved in some events or reaching out to them via social media. Once you’ve gotten a feel for a place, you can make your decision.
16. Raising A Family
Idaho is a family-friendly state. I read through countless forums and spoke with several Idahoans who agree that it’s a wonderful place to raise their kids.
17. Vaccination Regulations
Vaccinations are a bit of a controversial subject, but I know it’s an important issue for many homesteaders with kids. Idaho gives parents the freedom to refuse the vaccination of their children for religious, medical or other personal reasons. You can read more about Idaho’s vaccine requirements, laws, and exemptions on the National Vaccine Information Center’s website.
18. Homeschooling Regulations
Homeschooling is very common in Idaho. Many homesteaders plan to homeschool their children and incorporate daily farming chores as part of their kid’s school curriculum. Idaho is one of the states which gives parents the freedom to do so. To learn about your homeschooling rights and how to start, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSDLA)’s website has great information.
An alternative to homeschooling is Connections Academy which allows children in grades K-12 to enroll in public school online for free.
19. Foraging Opportunities
Idaho offers an abundant amount of edible plants that can be found in the wild. Can you say fully organic and pesticide free?!
Recently I read a blog about an Idahoan couple that goes on nature hikes with the intent of picking berries and other wild plants. They prepare the food they collect in many creative ways, such as BBQ sauce, ice cream, and jam.
Not only does foraging cut the cost of buying groceries, but it’s also an incredible educational opportunity for the whole family. Learning to identify edible plants and preserve them for future use is a skill I believe every person should acquire.
20. Hunting / Fishing Laws
Residents and nonresidents of Idaho can hunt and fish in specified areas throughout the State. The laws vary depending on the animal that you’re interested in hunting. You can find all the resources you need on Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game website.
Everyone is required to obtain a hunting and/or fishing license. You can find information on the license fees and where to purchase them right here.
This Hunt Planner gives you a lot of resources, including interactive maps and area details, of all the places you can hunt throughout Idaho.
If you have questions about the laws on off-road vehicles, you can find some answers here.
21. Gun Laws
Residents of Idaho over the age of 18 do not need a permit to purchase or possess a rifle, shotgun, or handgun. Concealed carry is permitted for residents over the age of 21 under good standing with the law. To read all the details on Idaho’s Gun and Weapon Law, you can visit their official website here.
22. Crime Rate
Idaho is one of the states with the lowest property and violent crime rates in the nation. SafeHome.org made a comprehensive investigation to identify Idaho’s 25 safest cities. They don’t only examine the current data but also analyze crime trends. Luckily, the crime trend is lowering in several places. You can find their full report here.
The State of Idaho’s official website offers interactive maps and specific data about sex offenders, crime statistics, and arrest activity by city.
Which area of Idaho is best for homesteading?
There’s no right or wrong answer here. It really comes down to what you and your family want.
North, Central, and Southern Idaho are very diverse in terms of the land, natural resources, people, and culture. Before getting your heart set on a specific region, you should decide which requirements are important to you in a homestead. This will help you narrow down and determine which area is more suitable to you based on your personal preferences.
For instance, do you envision yourself living in a completely remote area surrounded by the forest? Or would you rather live near the city with a large enough property that allows you to meet the needs of a self-sustained life?
Fun fact: The majority of Idaho’s agriculture is located in the Midwest because of the soil quality and temperate climate. If growing crops is your priority, you may want to start looking in this area. If you’re interested in raising livestock and other animals, you can easily look into other regions so long that water is easily accessible.
Northern and Central Idaho
Note: Don’t be alarmed by the amount of “cons” that outnumber the “pros”. These are merely things to consider and I’m not trying to discourage anyone from homesteading there.
- It’s a very green, mountainous, and heavily forested region full of rivers and lakes. It is said to be Idaho’s most beautiful region, due to its untouched jaw-dropping scenery.
- Smaller towns offer cheaper land, but are more difficult to get to.
- The valleys receive a few inches of snow at a time. Expect a lot of snow in the mountains.
- The North and South have different time zones. The time zone in the North is set to Pacific Time (PDT).
- Short summers and long, cold winters. You can expect a lot of snow in the mountains. Some locals have mentioned that dump trucks will come on occasion to remove snow because they’ve run out of space to plow the roads.
- Shorter growing season (when compared to the South). In high mountain areas, the growing season can be as short as 60 days. In the valleys, it can be as short as 90 days. This could be a difficult adjustment for new homesteaders. You may want to consider building a thermal green house.
- The terrain is rocky in many areas. It might be difficult to grow food to fully sustain you year-round but still not an impossible task if you work hard to prepare the land and improve the soil.
- There isn’t enough rainfall during summer months (especially July and August) so you will need to think of an irrigation solution to sustain your garden.
- People seem to be more independent. Staying on good terms with your neighbors is important.
- Jobs can be difficult or nearly impossible to find. Job wages are generally low.
- Land is priced very high especially if you consider the quality of the roads, jobs, and schools in the area.
- The Panhandle - The Panhandle refers to the region farthest to the North of Idaho, encompassing 10 counties. It’s considered an outdoor enthusiast’s playground because of the forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife that can be found in the region. It’s also known to be the area that has loose building codes and is a bit more lenient when it comes to living in an RV on your property.
- Sandpoint - Sandpoint is green and lush. It has “mild” winters compared to the mountain towns. It’s a nice city to raise kids but jobs can be difficult to find. There’s a thriving hippie population in this area. Property, whether you’re renting or buying, is pricey in Sandpoint.
- Coeur d’Alene - CDA is very green and forested, due to the amount of rain and snow it receives. It’s colder than other areas. Some say that it has become too commercialized for homesteading, but it’s still a nice town to raise kids. Buying and renting property is very expensive in Coeur d’Alene. Just an hour north of Coeur d’Alene is Bonner County which has lower taxes and may be a more suitable place if you’re on a budget.
- North Central
- Moscow - Also known as the “dry pea, lentil, and soybean capital of the world”. It’s a laid back town with a local farmer’s market. If you’re a hippie, you’ll fit in just fine. It will probably be a continuously thriving area since there are a couple of universities nearby.
- Lewiston - Located in the center of the State just south of Moscow, Lewiston is a nice city to live in and work at. The people are said to be friendly and you can establish a good sense of community among your neighbors. Crops do very well there. The growing season is much longer than the majority of Northern and Central Idaho because the climate is hot in the summer and mild in the winter.
- Orofino - The growing season in Orofino is longer than other cities within the North/ Central regions. The farm ground is said to be exceptional.
Southeastern and Southwestern Idaho
- Longer growing season (when compared to the North).
- In the winter, the valleys receive a few inches of snow at a time. Expect a lot of snow in the mountains and in the Southeastern portion of the State.
- The soil is great for growing a garden, but there is a lot of volcanic rock below the surface making it difficult to toil.
- The North and South have different time zones. The time zone in the South is set to Mountain Time (MDT).
- Water can become scarce, especially during the summer.
- Some parts in the South are desert-like with extreme summer and winter temperatures.
- It can get very windy, especially in the Southeast.
- Treasure Valley - The Treasure valley is also known as Idaho’s Banana Belt because it’s a region where the tropical-like climate is generally warmer than other parts of the state. This valley is composed of five counties in southwestern Idaho, reaching beyond the Oregon state line. Compared to the rest of Idaho, the Treasure Valley is one of the few places where it doesn’t get bitter cold during the winter. It’s also one of the most diverse agricultural regions with the potential to improve and increase the production of your crops.
- Boise - Boise is reasonably arid. It has a relatively short winter (with lows in the 20s to teens) and long summers (with highs in the 90s/ 100s sometimes). It doesn’t get too humid. Boise is an up and coming city, with a huge influx of people. According to the Census Bureau, its the nation’s 7th fastest growing city. Many crops do well in the Boise area, specifically corn and potatoes.
- Mountain Home - Mountain home is sandwiched between the Treasure Valley and Magic Valley, in the county of Elmore. It may not be the best place for a homestead because it’s desert-like climate is typically very dry, making it hard to farm. There may be more limitations on water and the soil may be difficult for growing a garden. The summers tend to be way too hot while the winters tend to be way too cold. Plus, it’s super windy. Glen’s Ferry, also located in the Elmore County, is said to be a bit nicer and a better option for homesteading.
Tips before taking the plunge!
- Take a few trips to Idaho before committing to move. I would encourage you to travel to a couple of cities that you believe you would like to establish your homestead. Travel to those places at least once in the summer and once in the winter to get a feel for the seasonal changes, especially if you’re not accustomed to extreme temperatures.
- When you visit Idaho, meet the locals and ask them questions! Get insight from the people who might one day become your neighbors.
- If you’re interested in buying land but don’t know where to start, Land Watch is a great place to look. On their website you can get an idea of price ranges and what types of properties are currently available. I recommend leasing property for about 6 months before choosing a definite place to buy and settle. Finding a location you love and see long-term value in is vital. If you’re concerned about making the wrong choice and don’t want to potentially waste a bunch of money, get a feel for the land by living in it first.
- Buy property WITH water rights attached to the land, especially if you’re considering planting larger crops.
- Look into wind power because it’s windy in many areas, especially in the desert. Solar power is another great option for the places that get a lot of sunshine every year.
- Have a solid 6 months of savings to make the transition less stressful.
- Learn canning and food preservation skills.
- Think about how you’re going to plant and harvest your crops if you’re planning to have a large-scale garden. Will you need machinery or expensive equipment? If so, is there a co-op where you can share the equipment with your neighbors for a cheaper cost, rather than having to buy it yourself.
- Do you have very specific questions? City Data is an online forum where you can ask anything you want to the residents of any state. I find that people on that site are helpful and resourceful.
Idaho made it to my top 12 US States for homesteading. Find out which other 11 states made the list!
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