Building Codes for DIY Straw Bale


Building codes and building permits must be considered before any building plans are put in to place. There are many areas in the US where codes are either nonexistent or amenable for DIY building.

On the other hand, locations in some California coastal cities expect high fees for building permits to make the smallest alteration to an existing building. In some areas of Minnesota, permits to cut down a tree on a lakeside lot requite an expensive permit. Urban and suburban locations are much more likely to be restrictive than rural areas.

Thankfully, there are areas where codes and restrictions are very relaxed for the DIY builder.  In the United States, we have codes at the national, state, county, and municipal levels. In theory, they have commonalities. I have not seen this to be true. Codes can be all over the place depending on your site and building material such as straw bale or sand bag or other natural material that is your preference for your building.

If you are casting about for a state or county in which you can use natural materials and DIY building practices, you might try a variety of forums on the net. I suggest searching “no building codes.” I would also suggest that once you have a tentative location, that you find a realtor that specializes in raw land and discuss your building preferences. You might also check directly with the local county or municipal Planning and Zoning commission in your area of interest.

Codes change, often with a change in commissioners, so be sure of your information before you purchase your land.

In our case, we live in a county that has provision for DIY builders thanks to a citizens group who lobbied for change and won. Cochise County Individual and Property Rights Association, CCIPRA, successfully held off passage of draconian regulations in our building codes. Their continued efforts can be seen at the following url – littlebigdog.net.

One of the bureaucratic paradigms CCIPRA has stopped can best be read in a quote from their site, “For example, in our county Zoning Regulations, Article 3 Section 307 says "Any use not permitted  ... is specifically prohibited ...." .

While there are political positions in their organization at variance from ours, we are thankful to this group for the efforts that enabled us to move here and build our beautiful homestead. Grassroots citizens groups can work.

Our code now provides for DIY building without inspections other than septic. Simply providing an accurate site map with the locations of roads, washes, wells, building and septic sites in addition to a “perc” test with a septic design from a licensed contractor does the job. In addition to those criteria, the land must be zoned RU4 or rural land of four acres or more. As a consequence, we were able to build a lovely adobe cottage and two straw bale buildings, a utility building and our home ourselves with a permit that cost $500.

While this situation is probably unique to our county in specifics, building codes with similar accommodations for DIY builders can be found. We wish you good luck in finding just the right site for your dream homestead.


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