We Have a National Straw Bale Building Code!

Written by Andrew Morrison


This is perhaps the most exciting day in straw bale construction history. A proposed appendix on straw bale construction was approved at the International Code Council’s (ICC) Final Action Hearings in Atlantic City on October 4, 2013!  The appendix will be included in the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC) for one- and two-family dwellings. This means we now have a national straw bale building code! In case it is not clear exactly what this means and why I’m so excited, let me explain.

man with plansThe IRC is the basis for the Residential Building Code in virtually every jurisdiction in the US.   So once these jurisdictions adopt the 2015 IRC, there will be a straw bale code for almost every jurisdiction in the United States. No more convincing building inspectors that your idea isn’t crazy. No more wondering if the plan checker will allow you to build the house of your dreams. You will be able to cite the national code and move forward with your construction process, with a permit.

It should be noted that appendices in the IRC are not integral with the body of the IRC, and must be explicitly adopted by jurisdictions using the IRC.  But it is expected that the vast majority will adopt the straw bale appendix because it fills a great need.  Even if your jurisdiction does not adopt the appendix, you could cite it in the NATIONAL model code, which would carry enormous weight, and likely be used as the de facto code.

There are some restrictions within the straw bale appendix, most of which are appropriate for the proper use of straw bale construction; however, others are a bit conservative as a means of gaining acceptance in ICC’s approval process.   The appendix is a living document, and will evolve over time through ICC’s review process every three years. It was an important step to get “in the door” and now we can allow the appendix to evolve over time.

This is a huge and historic step for straw bale construction with far reaching implications. For example, obtaining financing through conventional channels should become easier with the acceptance of straw bale construction into the IRC. Banks’ concerns about structural longevity, fire resistance, moisture issues, etc. are clearly addressed in the code. The same can be said about the insurance industry. These establishments shy away from risk so having the IRC approval will help put lenders and insurer’s minds at ease. That can certainly make the process much simpler for homeowners moving forward.

straw bale building code authorsThe lead author of the appendix is California architect Martin Hammer. Martin has been working on draft straw bale codes since 2001 for the State of California, the International Green Construction Code, and the International Building Code. But these efforts and the approved IRC appendix were made possible by invaluable efforts and contributions from many other straw bale practitioners and experts.

In particular, Kevin Donahue SE, Mark Aschheim PE, Dan Smith, Architect, John Swearingen, David Eisenberg, and Jane Andersen PE. Members of the Global Straw Building Network also contributed, including Laura Bartels, Andy Mueller, Bill Steen, Derek Roff, Graeme North, and Jacob Racusin. Ongoing support from Maurice and Joy Bennett, former directors of the California Straw Building Association (CASBA), was also vital to the effort.

Of course the fruit of any labor can be traced to its roots and branches. Martin Hammer wishes to acknowledge the pioneers of straw bale building, especially Matts Myhrman and Judy Knox, and Bill and Athena Steen. He also acknowledges Matts Myhrrman and David Eisenberg as authors of the first-ever straw bale code, in Arizona in 1995,  the many people involved in testing and research of straw bale building over the last 20 years, and the entire inspiring straw bale building community worldwide.

Moving forward in a continuing effort to increase acceptance of straw bale building techniques in an even wider market, a straw bale construction appendix is expected to be proposed for the 2018 International Building Code (IBC) in January 2015. The IBC governs all structures in its jurisdictions except one- and two-family dwellings which are covered by the IRC.

This would create a path to permits for all residential structures not covered by the IRC (multi family dwellings, for example) as well as commercial and all other governed structures (churches, schools, offices, etc.). In addition, a peer review is under way regarding a FEMA P-695 analysis of the seismic performance of plastered straw bale wall systems. This analysis and review is required for new structural systems in the IBC.

IRC Approved Appendix Click on the PDF to check out the straw bale construction appendix in its approved form.   (Note that an effort will also be made to add illustrations and explanations for the 2015 IRC with Commentary)

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.

36 Responses

  1. That’s very good news ! But the link to the PDF file of the straw bale construction appendix is not working. Thanks to fix that.

  2. The pdf doesn’t seem to be linked to the documentation – would love to be able to read it though! Very exciting news

  3. WELL guys, I can’t say I’m thrilled about the idea. My reason for building with SB was to tell governing bodies to stick their code where the sun ain’t shinin , I can do it on my own I don’t need their help. Our gov is a mess why would you trust them with your special knowledge? Their just going to ruin it as usual. But on the other hand , if it allows people to build in cities then I can see the benefit. This is just my personal opinion. I love what you all do , keep up the great work!

  4. It doesn’t appear that the PDF link is working. I would love to read the proposed appendix, if you can fix the link.

  5. This is great news Andrew!

    I can’t wait to see the code but had trouble with the .pdf link – is there another place to view it?

  6. The PDF link for the IRC building code is not working. You may want to revise this for everyone to see. Thank you for all of your efforts!!!

  7. I have such mixed emotions on this. On the one hand, huzzah! We have a standard to aspire to! Also, it’ll be harder for code enforcement to say no!
    On the other hand, why must everything be hampered by code? At least allow for experimental exemptions.

  8. Very cool Andrew. Thanks for sharing. I met David Eisenberg last October at the Natural Building Colloquium near Medford. This guy is a trail blazer and is doing some very cool stuff out of there organization based out of Tucson AZ called the Development Center for Appropriate Technology.
    Keep up the good work budy.

  9. Hi,
    I would like to read the pdf file of the code regulations but I can not click on it. Is there another link for it?
    Would be greatfull, thank you!

  10. A wonderful step forward. There is, however, something wrong with the pdf image in that it doesn’t provide a link to the document itself for download. Could you provide a new link please so we can read the new code? Thanks.

  11. Keep in mind Jason that the code was written and submitted by straw bale architects, engineers, builders, and folks who have long been working with bales, not by the government agencies. They simply approved the code for us so more people can have access to building with bales. I hear your point, just want to make sure we are on the same page. Thanks for the feedback.

  12. Fantastic news Andrew!!!, hasn’t this taken a long time. I first got interested in strawbale building in 1976 after I bought my first copy of The Book of Seed. Thank you for everyone who persevered, we sure needed this.

  13. Congratulations for this great news.

    – Professional rules of straw bales building in France in 2012
    – National straw bale building code in USA in 2013

    – And in 2014? Germany?

    Best regards

  14. Whoo-hoo! You have worked long and hard to bring this to fruition. Cudos for being among the ambassadors to promote this home building alternative.

  15. As much as I love straw bale and have worked to further its success, the hard work for the code approval came from others, not me. 🙂 all thanks go to them…

  16. Hip hip hooray! Thank you all for your hard work and creating a code that considers the saftey and well being of the whole planet and it’s inhabitants!!

  17. This is great news… will still be limited to a length of 25 feet unless we pay an engineer on load bearing? Would love to read this.


  18. Hi Michael. I would suggest getting a copy of the code and siting it in your meetings and application. It shows that this is a viable, ICC approved building system that is recognized in the national building code. That is a good starting point for any conversation about straw bale construction legality! Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

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