Building Permits for Straw Bale Houses

Written by Andrew Morrison

Building PermitsAs many of you know from my previous posts, I am a big fan of building permits. I know that sounds weird since so many builders and architects have horror stories about working with building inspectors, but that has not been my experience in most cases. I have had a couple run ins with lousy inspectors who are on a power trip, but they have been few and far between. In the end, even those less than admirable inspectors signed off on our projects and so the long term effects of their annoyance was not measurable.

Over the years it has been relatively difficult, in some areas more than others, to get building permits for straw bale homes. The main reason for this was a lack of education in the building departments. Many inspectors and plan checkers had simply never heard of straw bale construction and they had certainly never inspected one. This is still true in many locations; however, the prominence of bale houses around the world is starting to have a real impact on the number of jurisdictions that are not familiar with bale construction.

Even more exciting is the inclusion of a straw bale construction section in the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC). This newly approved provision will have a large impact on the ability to get permits for bale projects because even if an inspector has not heard of the technique before, you can still point to the code sections that allow for it. Problems solved. I’ll be giving some new information to you all soon from Martin Hammer, one of the people behind the code approval, so stay tuned for that update. In the meantime, keep these bullet points in mind when looking for permit approvals.

  • Have a quality set of plans with enough detail to make the approval easy and without over detailing. Too much detail can get you stuck once the project gets started. For example, you may want to change your exterior window trim detail, so don’t give too much input there. Simply say “trim” if the building department will accept that.
  • Be professional in your presentation when you deliver the plans.
  • Know what the building department’s concerns are about straw bale construction, or any aspect of the project for that matter, so that you can address them directly in your presentation.
  • Know the code. Be firm in your knowledge of the code in case the inspector tries to mandate something that the code does not require.
  • Be respectful of the officials you work with. No need to expect a fight. Rather, expect a professional relationship and prepare for making a stand if need be.

Want to learn more about straw bale houses and how to build one? Want to do so for FREE? Sign up for our totally free 16 Day Straw Bale eCourse! Find out more HERE.

15 Responses

  1. How do straw bale homes stand up to earthquakes compared to the traditional home?
    Is stucco the only cover to a straw bale home, or is wood permissible?


  2. Hi Gary. Bale homes do incredibly well in earthquakes. There has been significant testing to show that they perform even better than conventional construction. You can use other siding besides plaster; however, a plaster skim coat is always needed to provide fire resistance. This can be done underneath a finish siding of your choice.

  3. Hi James. It depends where you live and what version of the IRC is in effect. There is a code section specific to straw bale construction in the 2015 IRC that you can point to when applying for construction permits. Typically, some engineering is required when the jurisdiction is working outside of the 2015 IRC (which most locations still are). Best of success to you.

  4. I’m building my home in LA and want to be up to date on the codes and regulations. I went to the website and saw there are many versions/books of city codes there. Which ones do you recommend I purchase?


  5. There is a national straw bale code in the 2015 IRC (Appendix S) that governs straw bale structures. You would need to see if that has been adopted by your local jurisdiction. I would call them and ask directly if they would honor a home built in accordance with the guidelines of Appendix S.

  6. Is it permitted to build to code with a permit a 400 sq ft Strawbale cob house in Navajo County AZ?

  7. Hi Rebecca, You will have to check with Navajo County to verify if you will need a permit or not. Each municipality has its own regulations and size requirements.

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