Building Codes: Getting Approval for Straw Bale Homes

Written by Andrew Morrison

international code councilI receive a ton of questions about building codes and whether or not a certain state covers straw bale construction in their building code. Here’s what I recommend you do to find out whether or not your state has a building code for alternative construction and what to do if they do not.

1. Buy the code book for your state. You will need the code book no matter what structure you build, so you may as well buy it now. Use the following site to research what code book is required in your area.

2. Once you have the code book (make sure you get any local or state addendum to the code book when you order it), check for an alternative building section.

3. If there is nothing for alternative homes or straw bale in particular, then call your building department and let them know you plan to build an alternative home and that you intend to use approved building codes from another state or an engineer for the design.

4. You may need an engineer, but you may be able to simply use a state recognized code like the one in Oregon. Of course the code in Oregon is different than the details I show in my straw bale videos because it is outdated; however, you can use it as a base and then move forward from there.

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4 Responses

  1. Hello Andrew, I’m just the road from you in Klamath Co. I have 4 acres up on Bly Mtn. Pass that I’d like to build a small strawbale house on.How can I get a code book? Klamath Co. is very republican and not too friendly to off gridders because that can’t make any money off us. Any help with contacts over here you know of? I am in Mesa Az. for the winter. Will be on my property the first of May. Don’t think I can build till the summer of 2016 or 17. Thanks, Larry

  2. Hi Larry. I don’t know any builders over there. That said, you can contact Nabil Taha at Precision Structural Engineering, Inc in Klamath Falls as he may have some contacts. He has engineered a lot of straw bale homes for me and others over the years. Tell him I sent you. In terms of the code book, it is simply an addendum to the IRC. If you buy the IRC for Oregon, it will have that in it.

  3. Hi Andrew. My partner and I are planning to purchase a property in the near future and build a post & beam strawbale home. There are alternative building provisions in our provincial building code (British Columbia), plus we have a copy of the ASRi “Straw Bale Alternative Solutions Resource” to assist us in meeting those codes. We’ve been studying your book, “A Modern Look At Straw Bale Construction.” The International Straw Bale Building Registry also indicates that there are a number of strawbale homes within the region we hope to build, although from what I can tell not all of them were optimally built. We certainly have a lot to learn before we build, but are continuing to study.

    All that said, I have heard some horror stories about district offices that are not open to entertaining alternative building methods, either due to unfamiliarity or bad experiences. We want to avoid purchasing in a community that will arbitrarily block our efforts, so I feel it makes sense to touch bases with the local planning offices and to feel them out before we make our purchase. I also don’t want to bungle the first contact and get off to a bad start with them. Can you recommend ways to initially broach the subject with planners/permitting officers that would reduce the risk of putting off anyone unfamiliar with strawbale construction, and facilitate growing a strong relationship with them?

  4. To me, it’s about being honest and open at this stage. I would contact them by phone at first and say you are considering moving into the community and that you want to build a high efficiency, natural home. Start by describing the house as generally as possible, i.e. super energy efficient, natural materials that eliminate VOCs, locally sourced materials (as much as possible), and with a focus on long term living in the area. From there, you can ease your way into discussing the type of construction you plan to use: a post and beam framed home with cellulose block insulation. From there, you can ask if they have any concerns about natural building options such as straw bale construction. The idea is to work them into approving the project by discussing the “why” before the “what” of the project. Do this by phone and somewhat anonymously so that if they say no, you can ask what their concerns are. This allows to gather all of their concerns (make sure you get them all) and then address them in your next conversation. If they say: “no, too risky for fire” you can specifically address that with the 3 party findings regarding fire and can show them the ASTM testing video as proof. If they say “no, too risky for structural failure” you can show them the engineering results of the tested systems we use or point them to the International Code Council’s (ICC) approval of a straw bale specific building code in the International Residential Code’s (IRC) 2015 version, Appendix S. Good luck!

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