Natural Building Blog

Earthbag Building & Other Natural Building Methods

Counties with Few or No Building Codes

Many readers are looking for inexpensive land where they can build their earthbag home. Unfortunately, building codes are often overly restrictive and make it difficult to build with alternative materials such as earthbags, straw bales, etc. But the good news is some counties have very few code barriers. As explained in previous posts, these counties are typically in remote, rural areas.

While responding to a reader’s inquiry about this subject, I realized it wouldn’t be very difficult to locate these lenient areas if several volunteers worked together. One possibility is for each person to take one state, contact the regional building authority in each county and then compile a list of counties with few or no building codes.

I’m guessing each state could be canvassed in about eight hours or less by using the Internet to locate the phone numbers. This is made easy because most counties now have their own websites. You could probably ignore highly developed counties to save time. Some counties post their building codes and related information on their websites, although it may be faster to call each county building department and ask a few questions about their policies on alternative building: What building code do they use? Do they require a building permit? What are their policies on building with straw bales, earthbags and other similar materials? Do you need special approval (engineer’s stamp) to build with alternative building materials? What’s the minimum house size allowed by code?

Once you locate one county that’s open to alternative building you might ask them if they know of other counties with similar policies. I would also do some background research. For instance, you may find a site like Sustainable Building Codes Blog by Tom Meyers. Mr. Meyers posts about this very issue and offers lots of good advice. One post says “Our current area of preference lies in the heart of Delta County, Colorado. This is one of 11 or so counties in the state with no adopted building code.” There you go! Send him an email and maybe he will tell you which counties in Colorado are code-free.

Out of curiosity I searched the Delta County website, clicked on Departments, then Planning and Community Development, then Building Information. Sure enough, it clearly states “No building permit is required for the construction and placement of any structures in the unincorporated area of Delta County.”

To get the ball rolling, I’ll help coordinate the process. I suggest each volunteer collect a list of county websites from one state (those with few or no building codes) and send them to me. I’ll make a new web page and post the results as they come in. Email me at strawhouses [at] yahoo.com if you would like to volunteer for one state.

←More from Codes

286 Responses to “Counties with Few or No Building Codes”

  1. Ivan Sirko says:

    I know that what I’m about to write sounds unpatriotic, but its not intended that way. Its just the fact of the matter as it stands today; If you want a chance at “unsupervised” living, or being able to build and develop yur own home and land in the way you see fit, then you will HAVE TO LEAVE the U.S. at some point. You may indeed find some enclave in Alaska or Oregon or some other beutiful spot that for now lets you build and live in the manner you want, but in the end it will all come down to the same restrictive, opressive place that you seek to escape from, and now matter how remote it will eventually fall under the domain of THE STATE. My advice; sell out now, cash out from every corner you can, and go somwhere that hasn’t been tainted. Costa RIca still has options, as does Panama, Belize and a host of other stable democratic countries. Get out now, and in 2020 when the U.S. is completely entrenched in war internatinally and complete government control domestically you will wipe your brow and say “whew, escaped just in time”…

  2. Ron says:

    Susan, you better look up what your county codes are.Don’t just take anyone’s word on it.

  3. Susan says:

    Hello – I’m glad to see this important post because code and zoning regulations are my main hesitation in getting involved with natural building or tiny homes. Has there been any effort to consolidate this info into one quick-reference page (ideal with a map)? International listings would be very appreciated too. Also, must mention that some of the zoning info regarding tiny homes seems to conflict with what I read here (haven’t read the book though): http://thetinylife.com/tiny-house-building-codes/

  4. Nathan Reid says:

    Update on Texas building codes: codes are set by the state, and as of 2010 counties can require you to get a building permit (and many of them do). All the counties directly around Austin require permits now. Bell county doesn’t require them but most of the county is inside of city ETJ’s.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      What about the remote, rural counties? If they get too strict, they’ll slow the pace of new construction. I suspect there will be some areas that will continue to attract artisans, natural builders, etc. Please keep us posted. Texas is very popular among natural builders and our readership.

  5. Jeff Smith says:

    Hi Robert- Owen gave me the thumbs up to post our website on his blog. If you are looking for land, we have a site that is dedicated to land-only. Please check out http://www.allacres.com and search whichever areas you want. We have listings nationwide. A land specialist in that area might be able to help you decipher the building codes situation, or even help with your wish list.
    Good luck!
    Jeff Smith, Director, AllAcres.com

  6. Linton Wells says:

    Here in Kentucky, if you’re within nearly any city limits, even a small one, there is a very good chance some small town bureaucrat makes his/her living off of building permits and watching over your shoulder. But if you’re outside of city limits, you have a much better chance of building freedom. There are many Kentucky counties, even those that have adopted building codes county-wide, that exempt any structure built on a “farm”. Most of those counties define “farm” as 10 acres or more. In general, the closer to a big city you are, the more building code bureacracy you can expect. For instance, Lexington KY is Fayette KY, which has county wide building code regardless of acreage size. So does adjoining Clark county. But moving to the east just 1 more county to Montgomery county, “farms” of 10 acres or more have no building code required/no building permit required. As this board points out, there is no single source of info for what counties/places around the USA have no building permits required. First step is to find a general area you’d like to live in, then start calling the counties in that area and see what they tell you. And again, stay away from land inside any city limits, in general. The more rural you’re willing to go, the higher your probabilities of finding no building permit area. Out in the “sticks” of Kentucky (way far away from even WalMart or other big box retailers), there is still land that’s very cheap at size of about 10 acres. In just a few years, when inflation kicks in and self-suffiency becomes even more important, I expect prices we see for land today will seem rather incredibly cheap. Land has nowhere to go from here but up in my opinion, nearly everywhere. Real assets are king in an inflationary economy, which is where we’re headed in the future in my view. Maybe not next year or even the year after, but someday… The high debt has been taken on, the dollar money has been printed, and the global economy’s piper must someday be paid.

  7. Robert says:

    I am interested in finding some land in Kentucky, My primary concern is being able to build a large 10 to 12 ft stone privacy wall surrounding the property, I look at all kinds of rural areas and farm lands for sale on the internet and one thing I have notice is you never see any place that has a large privacy wall surrounding the property any more and that is something that is very important to me any help would be appreciate…

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Privacy walls are not so common any more because they’re very labor and time intensive. You could spend years building a wall around a small farm or homestead. If you really want one then figure out a way to mechanize it. We have two articles on our blog that discuss ways of using bobcats to speed the work. The best system is the Earth Home Builder machine. You could use the same machine to build structures on your land. You could even use your experience to launch a construction business using the technique. http://www.naturalbuildingblog.com/yurok-native-reservation-earthbag-build/

  8. Johnd939 says:

    I like this post, enjoyed this one thankyou for posting.

  9. Stephen says:

    This is a great idea, where it’s possible. But please keep in mind that in many cities or counties where there’s a building code, the law also prohibits you from living in any kind of trailer.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Well, actually the tiny houses on wheels (no foundation) are allowed in many or most places from what I hear because they fall under a different category of non-permanent houses because there’s no foundation. Also, some are below the minimum square footage.

  10. Jeff Smith says:

    Hey All! I just came across this blog, as sustainable living is something that I’ve always been super interested in, and while I don’t have any updates on building codes, our website is a “land only” listing site…kind of like Zillow, or Trulia, but we feature acreage/tracts, etc nationwide. I figured I’d post about it here, because it could be used as a good resource for people looking to buy land to build on. Also, there is a social media aspect that allows you to create a profile, and invite others to join…so you might be able to keep in touch with/find similar community members that way. Check it out, and if you like the concept, please register. Also, Owen if it is okay with you, I’d like to offer an opportunity for individuals to post in our forums as well. Any land related topic is welcome! As it grows, it could be a good way to find local land agents too who might be knowledgeable about local building requirements, etc. My name is Jeff Smith, I’m the Director Of Operations for the site, and you can reach me at Ads@AllAcres.com if you have any questions. Thanks for reading, and let me know if I can help spread the message in any way! Thanks Owen!

  11. Love says:

    Howdy Owen, Our site provides details how to transition off the grid and build free housing. We simply use volunteers and natural materials that are from landfills, re-purposed and donated materials.

    We are also working on expanding the Pockets of Freedom.

    Keep up the good work!

  12. Scott says:

    Great blog! Our organization is building Free Housing & Free Organic Food Everywhere! We will go where there are no codes!

    http://www.freeyourmindandthink.com/freehousingandfoodproject/

    • Owen Geiger says:

      You’ll have to send me more specifics before publishing this on our blog. There are few or no details on your website that I could find that explain exactly how to do this.

  13. America's Daughter says:

    I also wonder if zoning laws apply to building underground?

  14. America's Daughter says:

    I’ve heard of people building a small house on a trailer with wheels to avoid building regulations. You could use a solar panel and composting toilet so you can be off grid. You would have to have the trailer licensed but what you put on the trailer is your business and no one else’s. This would be great if you had a some land in the country to park it on.

  15. Malcolm says:

    In West Virginia, plumbing and electrical codes only apply if you’re hooked up to the grid.

  16. Stu says:

    When a county has no code, the state agency, such as a plumbing and electrical board may have jurisdiction, as in the case of Delta County, Colorado

  17. Shellback says:

    For anyone interested – Eureka County in Northern Nevada has no building codes.

  18. Ivan says:

    I guess I dont follow; Mexico is the “real deal” because you know someone from there, and that person says drugs and crime are a problem there? I like to think of smaller, non-industrialized/military countries as providing the best haven. Belize and Costa Rica come to mind…

  19. globetrotten says:

    To Realdeal-best place for living in Mexico. Have a friend who works for me at a restaurant-she is from a small town in Southern Mexico and her father who still lives there, said even there, it is bad as to drugs and crimes.

  20. Ron says:

    Ivan, climate change is part of the whole agenda 21 stuff. Personal property rights aren’t a concern for the global elite.

  21. Ivan says:

    Unfortunatley, fees, regulations and fines are only a preview of the coming decades. Regarding property rights, this country will be under complete lockdown, and soon. This isn’t meant to be “anti-America” in the least, but the sad fact is that the powers that be and those that influence/control them do not have what you might call a “Jeffersonion” perspective about what individual freedoms we the people should enjoy. Hard as it is to move, your (our) best bet will be to emmigrate. Many places still offer the freedom to live and develop the life you as an individual choose. Dont let the already brain-dead mainstream confuse you; quality of life is not measured by how many big screens per capita the population enjoys. Its how they spend (or have to spend) their time that counts. And in many places around the world that time can still be spent in a way you choose as oppossed to the way you must.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      This might be a good time to mention the Trans-Pacific Partnership that’s being rolled out by the world’s largest corporations. Their aim is to make even more money by these agreements, and that includes crushing the little guy along the way. They plan to control virtually every aspect of business — the Internet, medical care, banking, etc. A whistleblower leaked the secret documents to WikiLeaks. From the little bit of research I’ve done, this looks like the worst thing to come along in a long time. Some would interpret this as a big step toward world government. It will impact people worldwide, and that’s why I mention it here.
      http://thenewamerican.com/economy/item/16929-trans-pacific-partnership-ready-for-christmas-delivery

  22. Ron says:

    I mean every single thing you do. It is a bit going over board for me. Five hundred dollar a day fines for not having your solar set up approved. Two battery’s and a panel. Sorry im just into the whole being free thing.

  23. Ron says:

    You better have your ducks in a row. Septic approved before you do anything. Some friends told me of a whole cabin that was taken down over codes. Theres multiple inspections needed. One for each separate thing done. If your anywhere near Valle, beware!

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Yes, there are inspections after each main step of construction. You can’t just build something and then have it inspected when finished.

  24. Ron says:

    Mohave county seems to have some common sense. Yavapi county went to the 2005? codes, I was reading where they thought the new international codes were tough to meet and would put many contractors out of business. The R rating for walls, it was stated that it couldn’t be done with two by fours for the wall studs, the insulation needed would mean thicker studs. Coconino codes are like something out of a place where only the wealthy could afford to meet all the requirements and inspections. For readers this is all in Arizona. I find this info by just using a search engine and ask about building codes for various county’s. A desirable place with a lack of code cops, seems to be the Ozarks. A place with water and decent scenery. Right now im considering eastern Texas. Many of the places mentioned in Colorado are pretty bleak.(windy) I look at water and the ability to grow food, southern parts of the country make this easier. The wife isn’t into the snow much either. Of course whatever works for each person…

  25. Ivan says:

    Iv’e heard that Coconino has adopted many of the insane regulatory codes found in CA and elswhere. “International Building Code” and “New Urbanism” at work. Yavapai county still allows some freedom to the owner builder and as a result the process is much cheaper and hassle-free. Probably won’t be long until “they” put a stop to it and force them to comply with the new world vision of ultimate state control.

  26. Mike says:

    I’m in Coconino county and I’m building a 1000sf pole barn as an accessory structure, using plans/materials from hansenpolebuildings.com. The permitting process has been an ordeal. As a primary residence it’s probably a lot worse. One thing for certain is you will probably need to have engineer stamped plans as the building department doesn’t have much experience with pole buildings. Another consideration is that it’s most likely you will require an alternative septic system which is probably about $25,000 minimum. If you’re in Baderville or any high water table area it will be closer to $40,000. There are a few limited areas in the county that could get by with a traditional septic (closer to $5k), so you might luck out but that will be the big question. Also, it must stand up to 105mph wind gusts for a lot of the areas east of Flagstaff. See page 15 here for geographic specific requirements: http://coconino.az.gov/DocumentCenter/View/1506
    I know it’s a late reply but answer back if you still have questions.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      I certainly wouldn’t pay $25,000 or $40,000 for a crapper. Time to look elsewhere.

      Pole barns are extremely common. Many companies sell engineered kits. They should breeze through the planning department process if they have half a clue.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      I certainly wouldn’t pay $25,000 or $40,000 for a crapper. Time to look elsewhere.

      Pole barns are extremely common. Many companies sell engineered kits. They should breeze through the planning department process if they have half a clue.

  27. Ron says:

    I was trying to see how the person building in Coconino county(valle area) did with permits and such. I tend to look for az posts.
    So far I did figure out that Mohave county seems reasonable about building. Its a dry hot area though.
    Golden Valley does have a large aquafier running under it though. Lots of washes from when it rains, lots of flood zone. I figure the ability to dig a well or even catch rain run off in a tank would be good there.

    +

  28. Ron says:

    Hi. im curious how your build went and any problems with permits and such?

  29. Ron says:

    I read where a man was told he needed a sewage treatment plant on his remote property in Valle. He was quoted forty thousand for such a system.(He wrote this, just repeating what he said) Im still considering a lot. But im going to run my alternative ideas past Coconino county first. Watson wick or a holding tank that can be pumped out. I get the vibe that building anything in the area is discouraged.

  30. RealDeal says:

    One word to solve all your code problems: M E X I C O.
    The US is finished, you think youre free but you are taxed and restricted to death. Ive lived in Mexico for 10 years, you can build whatever you want, where you want. The only limitation is the size of your wallet.

  31. Carroll says:

    Thanks for this blog. It’s opened a new avenue to check out. VERY helpful…..

  32. Ken says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Finally, finally, I got some land, 22.65 acres, in the Okanogan Highlands, near Chesaw, Washington!!! I would love to meet my natural building/permaculture Cascadian neighbors! Is there anybody reading this who lives in Okanogan County or nearby across the border in Canada?

    First steps:

    1. As soon as possible I’m going to get myself a biodiesel pickup truck. Then rent some place near my land and move there from Portland, Oregon, to my new digs in the Chesaw/Oroville area.

    2. My land has been surveyed previously but three of the four corner pins are yet to be found. Anyone know of a good place in the area where I could rent a good metal detector?

    3. I’d like to discuss with experienced persons: septic system, composting toilets(I know the county has a short list of approved composting toilets.), and your dealings with the county officials concerning these things. I’ve talked with many of them many times in my preparing to make my land purchase and on the whole they seemed quite reasonable. It would be good to hear other peoples experiences with them though.

    Forward!

    Ken

    • Jay says:

      Congratulations.

      I’m not from there, but I have visited before. It’s some amazingly beautiful country. I can easily see why you have chosen to buy land there.

      The weather can have extremes of hot and cold, but it also can have stretches of sublime serenity.

      You’re in the heart of volcano country, so you should be able to easily find pumice or scoria to assist your building efforts. That will greatly help in protecting yourself from the extremes in weather.

      I wish you the best. Enjoy not only your land, but I hope you enjoy the process of building as well.

      • Ken says:

        So scoria is in abundance in the Okanogan Highlands. That’s good to know. Thanks!

        • Owen Geiger says:

          Put the words scoria or lava rock plus the name of your state in a search engine and you’ll soon know where to get it.

        • Jay says:

          I’m not a geological expert on the Okanogan Highlands.

          Don’t take my comment as a claim that scoria and pumice are abundant in that general area. That I’m not certain about.

          I do know that the Highlands have a very volcanic history, and where there are volcanos, there usually is an abundant supply of scoria and pumice. Whether that general concept applies to the specific case of the Okanogan Highlands, or to your land in particular I cannot say. Not every volcanic area will be abundant in scoria or pumice.

          However, if I were in your place, the first thing I would do would be to conduct a much more detailed survey of my land. I would find an opportunity to visit my land and hike every square meter. I would take a shovel, or possibly a post hole digger, and dig core samples at a large variety of locations. I suggest taking samples of the various soil types that exist in various areas on the land. I suggest printing off a satellite photo of the property and using it as a map, and plotting the locations of various sites where you dig holes. Learn what you already have under your feet. One might go by a dumpster somewhere and get a hundred clear plastic drink bottles, and conduct a hundred or more shake tests of all the various locations you plot on your satellite photo map of your land.

          What types of soils and rock exist in the low lying areas near the surface? 1 foot down? 2 feet down? etc?

          What types of soils exist in the higher up areas of the land near the surface? 1 foot down? 2 feed down? etc?

          Same on the slopes?

          In wooded areas?

          What kinds of rocks exist in all these areas, and are any useful for construction?

          What kinds of clays? Are they useful for construction?
          Don’t be afraid of investigating the clays further to see which ones might make good plasters or other useful building materials.
          http://www.earthbagstructures.com/PDFs/SoilTestsforEarthbag.pdf

          What areas of the land have very strong solid bedrock that would make a fantastic already constructed foundation for a home?

          Is their scoria or pumice on the land just waiting for the new owner to dig it up?

          Keep detailed records for future reference. You may discover all kinds of things about your land that may not seem very important right now, but later on, you’ll be glad you kept the records so that you can go back and find something later on.

          Make it a fun activity. Enjoy it. Make a camping trip out of it. Spend time on your land.

          Spend time on your land when it is raining, and watch how the water flows, where water might tend to gather or collect, what areas get muddy, and what areas stay high and dry.

          Get close to the plant life too. Map out exactly what types of plants are growing in every area on the satellite photo map. Do you have wooded underbrush areas that have lots of saplings that can be useful for construction? Do you have recently fallen trees that could be milled for lumber?

          Conduct your own Lewis and Clark expedition onto your own land. Lewis and Clark were not the first humans on any portion of the land they traveled, but they were the first ones to keep detailed records of the lands they traveled. Those records are what made their journey legendary because those records informed everyone what was out there.

          For what it’s worth, that’s one of the first things I suggest doing. I also suggest that it may be one of the most enjoyable and useful things you may ever do on your land.

          • Ken says:

            Hi Jay,

            I must say that I thoroughly enjoy your replies.

            Right now, I’m living in Portland Oregon; with breaks, a nine hour drive to my land As soon as possible I intend to move right on up there. Then I’ll be able to visit my land most every day. I will hike every square meter. You betcha!

            Shake tests? What are they for and how do you do them? Please explain. Thanks.

            What kinds of clays? Being an old ceramics major I am particularly interested in whether or not there is clay there.

            “Spend time on your land.” Hey don’t worry. I am on my spiritual path and it leads to my land.

            Next year I plan to build a combination Earthbag/Strawbale Earthship. I will be posting updates regularly, right here. :-)

          • Jay says:

            Hey Ken,

            I provided a link in my previous comment. Here it is again.

            http://www.earthbagstructures.com/PDFs/SoilTestsforEarthbag.pdf

            The document is written by Patti Stouter, and that link is from one of Owen’s and Kelly’s websites. It describes the detailed procedures for soil testing. I recommend reading the entire document and implementing what it teaches as you deem appropriate.

            The shake test is but only one of the many tests that document describes.

            Obviously, you can and should do what you think is best. For what it’s worth, I think I would create a notebook that includes a page or two of notes about each borehole site one gets earth samples from and tests. Plot each site on a satellite photo map of the property. (If you have a GPS make sure to record the GPS coordinates of each location too.)

            While conducting this expedition survey of your own land, don’t be afraid to take photos, collect plant specimines, note any springs or other water sources, and pretty much anything of significance that you discover. The Lewis and Clark analogy was not made entirely in jest. It’s an apt metaphor.

            I would want to know every plant and animal species on my land. I would want to know what is edible and what is not edible. I would want to learn about the life cycle of each plant and animal life form. I would want to know and understand as many details about the ground itself. I would want to know where the clay soils are, where gravels, stones, and large rock formations exist. Do you have any running springs or streams that could be candidates for micro-hydro power? Are there natural land formations that tend to funnel the wind into one specific area making it a prime location for wind power? I’d try to plot all that information on a map, and place numbered pointers all over that map that cross reference each site to a page in my notebook where test results and detailed information can be recorded.

            You can get as detailed as you wish.

            That satellite map with all the coordinates… that map eventually can become the basis of a permaculture plan… if you so choose to move in that direction.

            That map can be your guide to all the building materials already available on your land.

            That map can be important in selecting building sites that are close to the available building materials already available on the land, minimizing hauling.

            That map can be your guide to wild harvesting of edible food that is already growing on your land.

            That map and notebook can also help guide you in years to come as you make changes to your land. You’ll have a record of how things were before you arrive, and be able to objectively compare the impacts of your activities.

            This process can be as detailed or as simple as you choose to make it. Clearly you don’t want to get so caught up in collecting data that you don’t get your construction work done. Yet it is wise to have a baseline of data to help you do that construction work and build your life on your new land. Somewhere there is a happy zone in the middle that is best for you and your lifestyle. Nature tends to like equilibriums. I wish you the best in finding yours.

            Have fun!

          • Ken says:

            Jay,

            Yeah, I forgot to click on the link. But I have now skimmed through it and now have a copy of SOIL TESTS FOR EARTHBAGS on my desktop, to be referred to in detail at the appropriate time. Thanks for the info!

  33. ProfessorRico says:

    Hi everyone,
    I have been building earthbag dome greenhouses in Montana, and have discovered that Stillwater County does not have building codes! They warn to follow state guidelines, but it seems that they don’t care what you build out there.

    Can someone verify this beyond the county website? Does anyone live in Montana? I am not there anymore, but would definitely consider buying some land in Stillwater County if the no codes thing turns out to be real. Real, as in, they don’t come knocking it down because they have ‘permit regulations’ or something, like Klamath County, Oregon.

    Still hunting. Still looking to build. Too bad America isn’t really free. Getting a passport next week, so maybe I will post soon from a country that has more building liberty.

    Take care all

    • Owen Geiger says:

      If you can tolerate the cold weather then Montana is one of the freest, least restrictive states for building. Superinsulated buildings are recommended.

  34. Kristine says:

    As of 2013 (I see that there are questions about this from other years), do you know what the basic requirements for Coconino County, AZ are? My husband and I were thinking about buying land there and building a small 1,000 sq. ft. pole barn home (which I would assume would be in the $50,000 to $60,000 price range for someone to help us build) until which time that we could afford to build our “dream home.”

    Also, were could I find such basic info? Without large pdf files, that don’t really answer my question? Thanks!!

    • Owen Geiger says:

      For specific building requirements you have to contact the local building authorities.

      • jr23 says:

        some codes make sense i do not think many people will built truly unsafe homes but the international code . is promulgated by 100% government employees there is no participation of trades, builders,property owners, developers or even consumer groups and at the last meeting the consensus was to reject fire sprinklers but som fire marshals or chiefs burst in with a stacked batch of votes to ram the measure through they did not participate in any other aspect of the meeting and for the added thousands in cost and in some places it raises your water bill hundreds a yr because it requires a larger water service it gives .20% that’s 2 tenths % of Survivability in a fire over working smoke detectors. stopping smoking in bed wold be a higher Survivability this was rejected by most states and local gov. but other localities add to code as a reward for there local unions Phila forbids plastic pipe and water less urinals to be plumed etc etc/

  35. Owen Geiger says:

    From Jay:
    I wouldn’t recommend anyone move to anywhere in Michigan.

    Their government is simply too oppressive. The Governor has the right to declare an “emergency” and override locally elected government authority. The takeovers have consistently resulted in local citizens’ rights getting trampled, and the civic debt ballooning further out of control than it has ever been.

    Local citizens have no rights.

    The citizens of the State of Michigan voted to repeal the law that granted these dictatorial powers to take over local governments,

    http://www.annarbor.com/news/proposal-1-defeated-michigan-voters-repeal-emergency-manager-law/

    but the State dictators passed a new dictatorship law to replace it. This time they used loopholes to pass a law that cannot be repealed by the voters.

    Michigan is not a place I would recommend anyone move to or start a business.

  36. Cyrus says:

    its one thing to have standardized building codes..you dont want people living in unsafe structures (though fact is that the few counties without that do permit alternative or non-permitted construction are known for unique custom homes and tasteful design), but the real racket is requiring hook up to public water and electricity for a permit to be issued. Off-grid development should be allowed as long as the structure is sound and to code, having to connect to the grid is pure politics and money and a very real erosion on our civil liberties.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Good point. Thanks for sharing. We can add this point to the list of unfair housing practices. There are so many important angles to this topic, any one of which is enough to make you shake your head in disgust and look elsewhere for a more citizen friendly environment. This blog post has always been our #1 most popular one because this topic is so important. For sure, building codes and all the associated housing regulations are the main determining factor in housing costs. So look hard for areas with minimal codes or be prepared to pay several times more for a home.

      Update: Communities should be encouraging off-grid, self-reliant living, not forcing people into dependency on fragile, expensive grids. But we all know why they do it. The rich who are in power create rules like this to make themselves richer.

  37. R. B. says:

    Well you can scratch Oklahoma off the list of alternative building friendly states. As of November 2012 all sorts of international codes are to be enforced state wide even in rural areas see emphasis to this in the email sent out by the state to all counties. http://www.ok.gov/oubcc/ and this link for email http://www.ok.gov/oubcc/documents/Email%20Alert%20to%20Jurisdictions%20-%20Adoption%20of%20IRC%202009%20and%20ICC%202009%20%20NEC%202011%20.pdf
    I moved to Oklahoma from California to build what I want and how I want it and now that is taken away by a signature on a governmental decree….

    where has our freedom gone… our countries founders are rolling over in their graves… perhaps it will be time to start looking for areas outside the USA….

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Thanks for the update. You’re right, our freedoms and constitutional rights are gradually eroding away. It’s a real shame. About the only thing you can do is vote with your feet — move to another area where there are still no or few codes. Even if the next place adopts the ICC, your place would be grandfathered in if the permit is taken out beforehand. Research each state for any pending legislation on building codes. Also, choose a low population state where they’re unlikely to change the code any time soon. States with strong traditional values and liberty loving citizens would be a good choice.

      Sort of off-topic, but closely related: Sedgwick, Maine is first town to declare total food sovereignty, opposing state and federal laws http://www.naturalnews.com/039633_Sedgwick_food_freedom_federal_laws.html
      (These sort of people would probably make good neighbors.)

  38. Ken says:

    Recently a friend mentioned to me the idea of leasing Indian land as a way to avoid paying any county building permit fees, etc., and even taxes too. I wonder what all the pros and cons would be? Does anyone know the details for this possible way to go?

    • Owen Geiger says:

      You’ll want to research this carefully. Two things I know from experience: 1. Some Native American communities have building codes (often fairly lax, but there are codes you’ll have to follow). 2. Many of these areas are very dangerous and have some of the highest crime rates in the US. Imagine what would happen if the economy continued to decline and government assistance was cut off at some point (a real possibility).

  39. Maritza Rengistius says:

    The following link on the Energy Star page there is a link trail head of all the states codes. This initial page has the current definition of International Residential Code, then the link to Energy Codes Ocean with various interactive US maps showing which states have codes, what kinds and if they are mandatory. What a boondoggle!
    Thank you for all the posts and info so far! I too am trying to find the right place to build and how. Starting to think that maybe making adobe bricks may make the grade for a lot of these obstacles that are in the way. So finding land with good soil and enough sun to dry the bricks could be a factor…

    http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=bldrs_lenders_raters.nh_IRC

    Here;s the direct link to Energy Codes Ocean:

    http://energycodesocean.org/code-status

  40. mike says:

    Some people mentioned Yavapai County in AZ as one such county that allows earthbag homes, etc.

    This site has some rural land there:
    http://www.myazland.com

    Government site for the county:
    http://www.yavapai.us/

  41. Luke says:

    HEY OWEN

    I am 23 and looking at land in southern Colorado to build my earthbag off grid freedom palace.

    However, I am well aware of the esoteric occult like darkness our country is headed (hah). I have much concern for my sustainable future and the future of my home. Like in 20-30 years when things are really screwed and the world loses most of its population as the new order emerges…

    Lets all pray it does not.

  42. kelly says:

    We own land in Lincoln County KY, currently an old trailor home is on the property but really is un-livable even though my brother does live there, it is covered in black mold. We are interested in building an Earth bag home there but are not sure about the buliding codes. We need to build on the cheep as money is a major factor. Any ideas or anyone who could help show us the technique and lives near by would be greatly appreciated.

  43. Ken says:

    Update:

    I am still searching for the right property for what I want to do.

    Recap:
    I would like to establish a small business, specifically a commercial camp with the unique feature of the campers building their own permanent seasonal shelters.  It would be a matter of multiple structures on one property, made primarily from natural materials and recycled materials.  They would be built using green building methods such as earthbag, strawbale, cob, etc.  It would be a very affordable place where people who like building things could come and learn about natural building methods as they make their own shelter, that they would be able to come back to and camp out inside of repeatedly into the future.

    Starting in 2010 I began researching Klamath County, Oregon. In August of 2011 I found out that the Klamath County building code would not allow my project.

    Then I looked at several states and counties finally focusing on Saguache County, Colorado. But I was unable to connect with a sympathetic realtor, and being that I want to plant trees I decided that the land is too dry (high desert) anyway.

    Then I turned my attention back to Oregon and I have recently found out that Oregon State land use law will not allow my project.

    I have now begun looking at Washington State and British Columbia.

    So the journey continues….

    • Zana Hart says:

      I live in Saguache County and I am surprised you couldn’t find a realtor to work with, but I don’t have specific suggestions as I’m not up on who is doing real estate now.

      We ARE in a serious drought and that is a good reason to think of other places, as any trees planted would likely need regular water. We water our fruit trees, planted in the past couple of years, and even most of the trees planted before we bought this place.

  44. Owen Geiger says:

    Update on the evictions and harassment in Antelope Valley, California. Now we know for sure why people were forced off their land.
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/04/06/the-ugly-battle-between-rural-residents-and-alternative-energy-mandates-in-california/

  45. Shellback says:

    Owen – great link – thanks for bringing that up.

    This trend is something I’ve been telling people about for years. I have worked with these “well intentioned” fools. The high priests of hyper-urbanization who would gleefully herd people into fashionable ghetto’s and strip them of choice and thereby freedom – all in the name of protecting the global climate.

    Most people don’t or won’t believe it because it sounds too ridiculous and Orwellian. But it is TRUE and it is happening. California is in the midst
    of a “planned” collective suicide….not the conventional suicide. But the death of freedom in California – the death of CHOICE. In the future their will be very little choice remaining in California. To me that is a good definition
    of tyranny.

    I’m so glad we escaped that evolving nightmare…

    • Owen Geiger says:

      I shudder to think I almost moved to California at one time.

      California is sort of at the forefront of what’s happening all across the country (and world) in terms of adopting ‘green standards’ or UN Agenda 21 standards (agenda for the 21st century). They’re using the green agenda and sustainable development as buzzwords and cover to pass highly restrictive regulations as you say. See the book “Behind the Green Mask”.
      http://www.amazon.com/BEHIND-THE-GREEN-MASK-Agenda/dp/0615494544

      • Shellback says:

        Thanks Owen…I look forward to it. The cover graphic is certainly compelling and, I believe….appropriate. I hope we can all manage to somehow evade this tide.

    • Ron says:

      What? California has been like that for years.In Arizona we get folks from California that bring their crazy thinking with them.

  46. Owen Geiger says:

    Another example of government overreach: California Declares War on Suburbia
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303302504577323353434618474.html

    The state of California wants you packed into condos. They are trying to drastically reduce the number of single family residences.

  47. If you expand to countries with few or no building codes, I can help out with the Dominican Republic.

  48. d says:

    Great site with Colorado’s building codes by county http://www.coloradoenergy.org/codes/colorado.aspx

  49. Owen Geiger says:

    From: mysoulawakening

    Hi Joshua, Owen, and All,

    I hope my little bit of info here helps you. I’m in the process of buying land here in Texas, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned during the process.

    1.) Texas Building Codes: In Texas the cities govern the building codes, so if you live “Outside of City Limits”, you do not have to worry about building codes.

    2) “Outside of City Limits”: To buy outside city limits, you are “confined” to rural areas. Most all of the cities have a website, on their site you can typically view a PDF showing a map of their city limits. In Texas, cities are also allowed to extend their reach to an “ETJ”, ie “Extra Territorial Jurisdiction”. Living within an ETJ means you must still abide by their building codes, not all cities have an ETJ. HOWEVER, an adjacent cities ETJ may extend out into what you might perceive as a separate city, so make sure you check their City Limits/ETJ maps as well! (If you can’t find a website for the city, google often has a map showing their city limits, although you should call the city directly to determine accuracy.)

    3) FINANCING: If you plan on financing through a bank, be ready to be very patient…very very patient. Otherwise, I HIGHLY recommend buying only what you can afford OR owner financing! Be prepared to put 25-50% down when Owner Financing. Also, owners generally wish to get loan paid off in shorter term, mine requested 1-2 years, settled on 18 months.

    4) CRAIGSLIST!! After a lot of hunting else where, I found my property there. *Remember that Craigslist’s search engine isn’t as “smart” as Google’s, so change wording to get best results, ie: search “owner financing”, then “owner financed”, etc.

    5) DRIVE AROUND: This is VERY helpful. Drive around the areas you love that you know are out of city limits, you would be surprised how many properties are “For Sale By Owner”, but owners don’t advertise other than a homemade sign on the lawn.

    6) RESTRICTIONS! It’s not just building codes you have to worry about. Don’t forget that properties may carry restrictions, even if these restrictions are 30 years old from the original owner, it’s still something you must be weary of. I came across several properties that I loved, only to find out they had tough restrictions. Read the wording carefully, and make sure your home wouldn’t violate restrictions. Best yet, get one with no restrictions

    7) Flood Plain: This bit also applies to anyone anywhere, but do check FEMA website to make sure you aren’t in any flood plain.

    8) Deed Records and Appraisal Districts (taxes): Once you see a property you like, find your counties “Appraisal District”. Each county has one, most counties have websites where you can do this all online. If the county is small, call them up, Texas has the sweetest people just waiting for something to do in these little counties! ;) My county and most neighboring counties had a website, there I could find their appraised value, yearly taxes, exact property line info, etc. ALSO, once here you can find a number that corresponds to the records at the County Clerk’s office. Again, in larger counties, all this info was available online. Off of the County Clerk’s website you could go to “Public Records” and look up Deed information. Here you can find a complete description of the property, any restrictions on the property, important easement information, AND how much the current owner paid for the property. That last bit of info is invaluable when it comes to the negotiating table!

    7) TAX SALES! Did you know that when a property owner doesn’t pay their taxes, the county will sell their property at auction for only the cost of the unpaid taxes and fees?! I didn’t know that. This was something I wish I would have known sooner, and will definitely keep my eye on from now on for future real estate investments. Each county has their own way of doing it. Most commission a lawyer and the lawyer posts the available listings on their website. In any case, they are required by law to put a notice in a local newspaper publication (they will be found in the “legal” section of the paper. Search for “_____ County Tax sale”. Do your research! Make sure there aren’t any liens on the property. The owner of the property I am purchasing bought the land at auction, it is appraised at $21,000, I am buying it for $13,000, he paid ONLY $1,500 for it at auction!!! Buying someone elses property at auction because they couldn’t afford it seems cold, I know, but in honest, most of the properties I’ve come across are being sold because the owner departed from this earth.

    I hope this helps you and/or anyone else out there who are looking for a piece of the LoneStar state!

    • oldtimer47 says:

      Owen,

      Craigslist search alternative – Here is the syntax to use for most search engines. I avoid google because of their ‘spying’ etc.

      “owner financing texas” site:craigslist.org using duckduckgo.com for the search turned up three (3) properties in Texas. Following duckduckgo.com’s suggestion of removing the ” before and after the search text turned up a very long list.

      This is an excellent way to search almost any site.

      Hope this helps.
      David

      • Owen Geiger says:

        Ha! I tried it on a whim and instantly turned up a great project that I didn’t see on google. Thanks. See today’s post about The Island Earthbag Project.

        The lesson here is no single source is perfect for everything. It pays to be diligent and seek out other options, resources, etc.

        Update: I found two more topics for future blog posts.

  50. ron says:

    A funny thing ive run into is laws about poultry.So many! Many places you cant have them,others only hens and no roosters.And some places you cant slaughter any chickens on your own property.
    My latest thoughts lean to multiple buildings under 120 square feet to avoid permits.In az they are thought of as accesory buildings,so in reality your suppose to have an main building that has a permit.Also if they are not permanant structures and i can move if needed.sunrise domes is a site ive looked at for small domes,twelve foot is under 120 sq.foot.Right now i found
    there are a lot of propertys on ebay for sale east of holbrook.And ive been looking at golden valley.

  51. Owen Geiger says:

    Here’s a comment from Instructables.com
    http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Build-Dirt-Cheap-Houses/
    “If you can purchase land in agricultural zoning, check the codes for building barns. Usually you can have an “office” in a barn, plus a bathroom. In my area, you can have a bathroom and office area, but not a full kitchen. Of course, once the permits are pulled, the structure built and signed off on, who’s going to know what modifications you make?”

  52. dean says:

    has any one every built or know of anyone building a earthbag, straw-bale or earth ship in switzerland. As I would like to do so in the next couple of years and was wondering about building codes and restrictions etc

  53. Larry Jones says:

    Okay, I have read through this thread and understand that my particular county (Apache County, Arizona) where we own land and are wanting to build our earth bag home charges an arm and a leg for permits, but will they issue a permit for these types of homes? I did find where New Mexico has added code for earthen buildings due to the popularity of adobe in their state, but did not see anything via Google on Arizona and specifically, Apache County. I would much rather go the earthbag route, and will have to budget extra for permits, but am curious if they are progressive at all in these types of building materials like sand bags, straw bales, etc. Any idea? Thanks!

    • ron says:

      Funny you would think az would be all relaxed.But you better get on the sites that cover codes,youll end up needing multiple permits and mabe studys and only a certain time frame to build.Its a pain.check it out before you build.

    • Hayes says:

      If anyone needs earthbags, there are 5000 for sale here:

      http://elpaso.en.craigslist.org/mat/2839799471.html

    • karin says:

      what did you find out about apache county, am hoping to build earthbag home there, but just beginning research. Navajo county inspector said if I could get an engineer to signoff, he would too, that was a year ago, before I found structure1.com. Any apache county info appreciated.
      karin

  54. Ken says:

    Hi WestcliffDan. That property I’m looking at in the Centennial Ranch area is about 35 acres and within it there’s a little valley with a stream running through the bottom of it. You say there’s high wind. I wonder if there would be less wind down in that little valley? Where ever I end up, I plan on planting trees. I know that there are at least a couple species of trees that can serve as wind breaks. I wonder if planting a whole mess of such trees all around the ridges overlooking this little valley would eventually solve the high winds problem?

    • Ken, planting trees is a solution for the Centennial Ranch area but one we did not want to wait on while enduring the winds coming off the sangre di cristo mountains. Young trees here need a deer fence so they get a chance to grow. Most trees would need watering as well. Folks do place structures in a valley and avoid the ridges when they can so that is a proven concept for the area.

  55. Ken says:

    I’m looking at some property in southern Custer County, Colorado, via the Internet. I know that there’s almost no codes in the unincorporated part of the county. Martin and Tope is the real estate company listing the property. The property is located in the Centennial Ranch area. Can anyone tell me what the pros and cons are of the Centennial Ranch area in terms of buying property there? Any tips?

    • Owen Geiger says:

      I know someone building an earthbag house near Westcliff. I love it up there. I’d have rate Custer County as one of my favorite places.

    • Hey Ken, I am in Rosita, which is just north of centennial ranch, temporarily while my earthbag house remains a work in progress. My perc test failed – not enough soil over bedrock – so looking at septic alternatives here before proceeding with the build.

      I looked at the Centennial Ranch properties too and unless you like high winds I cannot recommend it. The major cons for these properties: there are no trees on 99 percent of the lots, the roads are private and not maintained by the county. Those acreages are like “loss leaders”. The pros are lot size, low cost and the view. I ended up buying ten acres off grid east of Westcliff.

      You will want to download the homeowners packet from custer county planning and zoning. The most important things to work out are septic, well/rain harvesting/water hauling and handling your trash(…we have bears here).

      Have fun researching and planning! I really must start documenting progress in my blog… :)

  56. Galadriel says:

    Here’s something I found, might be helpful:

    http://www.census.gov/construction/bps/pdf/appendixd2010.pdf

    • Ron says:

      Well id make dam sure your earth bag building is legal before id do all the labor to build one.Many of the posts seem to be of foreign countrys where things are a lot more lax. Ive been told mexico is good for this,they really dont care what you build.

  57. nogridster says:

    I would also counsel you all to be careful of any property that has ANY easements on it. The government (local, state, and Feds) have the right to enter ANY property WITHOUT your permission if they have a utility easement. This means they can come onto YOUR property to “look around” anytime they choose if they have an easement. Once on the property – they can then note and report any “unusual” or illegal structures or activities. This is yet another way they can violate your private property.

  58. Nick says:

    Pulaski County in Kentucky only applies a building code to commercial buildings, as is stated on their county web site – I was interested because I became aware of some land for sale there.

    I also hear that even though Tennessee is subject to a statewide building code, it’s not enforced equally. Many of the smaller/poorer counties don’t enforce the state codes, unless I assume, you happen to annoy them.

    Although tedious, a person could search each county of the state they’re interested in, during the course of 3 or 4 hour internet search of county web sites.

    • Nick says:

      Idaho County, Idaho only needs a septic permit and you can build what you want.

    • Dustin says:

      It takes longer than that, most rural areas don’t have complete information published. Calling them doesn’t help either, because they don’t know and want you to feel their authority to make up whatever sounds right. I look for land advertised as having no building codes, to help me narrow the search. Otherwise, you’ll waste your whole life at it and still have no certainty that the data is accurate.

  59. Owen Geiger says:

    Austin, Texas: criminal offense for building codes
    http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/code/compliance/comply.htm

    Here’s another similar article. I thought code violations were a civil matter. This may be true in some areas, but not all. This is crazy. Every house has some defects. This means you could be jailed or lose your property if you can’t afford to pay for one of these fines. This has a lot of potential for abuse!

    “Failure to comply with City codes may result in criminal charges being filed against you, a lien being placed on your property for the cost of clearance or repair, and/or demolition of dangerous structures. “

  60. Owen Geiger says:

    They want to put liens against your property for code violations in New York
    http://www.stopthetaxshift.org/fees-fines-and-other-local-revenues/49-enforcement-of-unpaid-building-code-fines

    Counties and municipalities are having difficulty collecting fines from code violations. I think will pass.

    “The Solution: Permit municipalities to convert unpaid building code, property maintenance and nuisance criminal fines (after adjudication) to liens on real property and to include them on municipal tax bills. This will give municipalities a more viable and effective method of collecting these outstanding fines.”

  61. Owen Geiger says:

    Criminal penalties for non-permitted buildings http://permaculture-hawaii.com/pipermail/laakea-events/2011q3/000003.html

    Hawaii has a new bill before the legislature to punish building code violators with criminal penalties versus civil penalties. Please search your state and report back. I want to know if this is a wider trend.

    • Haim Vital says:

      Owen, I have been researching a move to the big island for a couple of years now.

      From how I understand it, the law being considered in Hawaii is actually the new International building code. [probably just American pushing their international standards]

      Apparently they have the choice to amend it, which is what the people are trying to get the guys in Puna to do… whether they do or not will be interesting as most folks live in un-permitted structures.

      Seeing this is a new “International building” law, I would suppose all states are looking at this… you should check it out to see if this is the case. It does not seem like this is something they advertise.

      • Owen Geiger says:

        I’ve known about the international code for about 10 years. It sounds like you’re saying all states may eventually adopt the international code? Maybe, but so far there’s a lot of resistance. It drives up the cost of construction, makes code enforcement more difficult, etc. And with the bursting of the housing bubble… I don’t see how some communities can afford it.

    • Haim Vital says:

      p.s.

      I would add, what gets me about the permits in America is they are basically useless.
      Consider:
      – Hurricane Florida
      – Fire California
      – Cold as siberia Upper P. Michigan.

      The above 2x4s and drywall just dont hold up well to.
      People slave their whole life just to not be able to pass something on to their kids. Their kids too must slave, etc. and are not allowed to freely create and innovate.

      Take the way walls are built in the country I live.
      Many of the houses, not all, are built with bricks from this Austrian company.
      [The first pic of the four is typical for wall structures here. - Im in Hungary by the way.]

      http://www.wienerberger.com/brands-products/porotherm-bricks-ceiling-system/product-range-porotherm/exterior-walls

      Not suggesting this over earthbag, but what I am suggesting is that Americans have been and are continuing to be ripped off in quality and in price.

      What may have been necessary many moons ago, building with stick, [actually log cabins are better than the 2x4s they use now with their "hurricane clips"], has turned into an industry of greed that would break down if quality homes, [structurally], were made available for the same, if not lower prices.

      Where would the dear insurance companies be? God forbid. ;)

      Anyway… land of the free. Man Thomas J. wouldn’t recognize the country. ;)

      • Owen Geiger says:

        I agree 100%. I think I’ll turn this idea into a blog post. Americans are being conned big time. I’ve known this for years, of course. That’s why I got into natural building. I was absolutely disgusted with the con artist mentality, rip off materials and unhealthy nature of it all. Thanks for sharing.

    • Haim says:

      Another area people are being ripped off is with the prices of ‘green energy’.
      Green energy is fine, its the artificially inflated prices that get me.

      i.e. apparently on solar panel company in Puna of Big Island, [not confirmed], used to be part of Helco [perhaps one of the highest cost of electricity stateside per Kw], and later became ‘independent.’

      They only sell grid-tied systems.

      The point is Helco also uses windfarms to help give the island electricity and passes off insane cost to the locals…

      At any rate I believe you and I both agree about the rip off… and I believe its because people dont really realize what kind of alternatives are there.

      Take the solar powered heater made out of beer/soda cans.
      [first heard about some Hungarian doing it here, as our heating can be around $400 a month in gas prices for a double story house... not really efficient build in this cold climate], anyway – incase you havent seen, though I bet you have, here is a link:

      p.s
      Yes, do make a blog post about the rip off… the more people that realize it, the better. [Just as long as good examples are shown as alternatives, which I know you are doing.]

      The people I tell about how houses are here are typically surprised and then find some excuse as to why they have to pay the prices – understandable after generations having to slave for something that is a basic human right… a place to sleep.

  62. Ken says:

    justinslick,

    My desire for my idea of an alternative campground has not diminished. The quest for the right place to do it continues.

    One possibility for frugal travel could be to get in touch with counter culture intentional communities of which there are many around the country. You might be able to stay at these places each for a couple days in return for a little sweat equity. They are interesting places to visit and would certainly add to the enjoyment of your travels. Go to: http://directory.ic.org/

    Re: Establishing a low-cost campground
    A bare-bones campground would still require some type of toilet facility. Maybe an off the grid area of some county somewhere might allow an outhouse.

    It’s a neat idea worth pursuing. As you dig into it you’ll find out more about the costs involved. For instance, charging $5 per customer might cover the yearly taxes but may leave little left for anything else.

    But where there’s a will there’s a way!
    Good luck in your endeavor.

  63. Owen Geiger says:

    Here’s the latest food gestapo news. (It’s sort of off topic, but not really. It’s part of a larger plan to take away our rights.) A picnic at Quail Hollow Farm, an organic community supported agriculture (CSA) farm in southern Nevada got raided and the food was ordered destroyed. They had to pour bleach over organic potatoes, etc. to be sure no one would eat them. This is very similar to the Rawesome Food raid reported earlier.

    Update: They should have called their lawyer immediately. It later became apparent the out of control health dept. worker didn’t have a court order or arrest warrant. There was no legal authority! She was eventually escorted off the premises by the police, but not before hundreds of pounds of food was destroyed.

    • Dustin says:

      If you won’t shoot, you’ve already lost. Is the Food Gestapo news covered elsewhere? It seems a bit OT… Somebody has to be pissed-off enough to make a website…

    • nogridster says:

      the system requires your submission. Those of us that don’t want to live in the system are forced to live outside of it. When we choose to live another path; we choose segregation, misunderstanding and even animosity.

  64. v. zephyr says:

    I looking at land in Yavapai county, Arizona.

    I’ve spoken to the county and they have said alternative building techniques (including but not limited to earth Bag) are fine, but they require an engineer’s stamp of approval on the plans and materials.

    I’m really new to all of this, and only began looking into earth bag building a few weeks ago, and now it seems like everything.. information, opportunity, etc… is coming at me so fast, haha

    On the one hand, that’s good, on the other, it’s pretty overwhelming.

    Thanks for making this site, and for being so responsive to everyone who has questions and comments for you.

  65. Owen Geiger says:

    Wow, has anyone heard of the federal gov land grab along the northern border? Homeland Security is preparing to take complete control over land within 100 miles of the Canadian border. The public will no longer have access to the area. It’s not clear if this will be only in Montana or not. About 1/3 of Montana is planned to be seized. Homeland Security will be erecting fences and “forward operating bases”. [Shaking my head in disbelief.]
    http://www.montanahuntersandanglers.org/issues_nationalsecurity.html

    Update: This Facebook page says “The White House is planning to lock up more than 13 million acres of land in 11 western states, including more than 2.5 million in Montana alone — much of which is privately owned. Some of that land belongs to private citizens who have no idea that the federal government is planning to kick them off their ranches.”
    http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=394580658568

    • Rick the Canuck says:

      Rats!
      The US Government has discovered our Canadian plan to invade Montana!
      Now our entire invasion force of 3 DH Beavers, a pick-up truck loaded with decent beer and 4 lumberjacks armed with hockey sticks will have to find another route.
      Don’t laugh – that’s all it took to burn down The White House the last time!

      There’s no way we can use the BC border crossing – the queues are horrendous.

    • WestcliffeDan says:

      Unfortunately this applies nationwide and includes the coasts as well. The larger effect here is the waiver of dozens of environmental and health laws during the inititial period of this proposed bill. There is a 5 year sunset in place which might let it expire but I doubt the bureaucrats and politicians would let that happen.

      I am already putting together my response and will forward to the senators and reps here in Colorado and hope everyone else that cares about thier own health, welfare and free access to our national parks and monuments does the same quickly. See what happens when there is any kind of distraction provided by the mainstream media……it is sickening really…

    • Nathaniel says:

      I encourage everyone to go to https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/112/hr1505 and use it to write a letter to their congress critter urging them to oppose this. Right now 77% of users oppose it; we can push that percentage much higher. Politicians are basically cowards; if enough of their constituents complain, they’ll start to fear for their job if they act inappropriately.

    • ron says:

      Yes we need to protect you from those violent Canadian terrorist.
      Or to keep you from escapeing our beloved motherland.(say this with a russian accent)

    • Ken says:

      Re: Homeland Security Land Grab

      I can’t believe it! Just the other day I was talking by phone to a planner in Flathead County, Montana, up by the Canadian border. The conversation went very well and the best news was that Flathead County has no building codes. So at first glance it looks like Flathead County is right up there with Delta County, Colorado, as a place with significantly less regulation.

      • Owen Geiger says:

        That’s great, but what about choosing a zone that’s being militarized by HS? They may grab all private land within the 100 mile border zone at some point.

        • Ken says:

          We can only hope that enough people will complain to their “congress critters” and that abomination of a bill will be defeated. (I’d write to mine except at the moment I don’t have one. Wu resigned. Special election for my Oregon congressional district is coming up in January.)

          • Owen Geiger says:

            The militarization of borders like this reminds me of the Soviet Union. And to do this next to Canada, one of the best countries in the world, is just ludicrous.

    • Ken says:

      After reviewing this post, Ive decided that it’s just based on Teabagger paranoia. Homeland Security preparing to take complete control over land within 100 miles of the Canadian border, including private property, is never going to happen. If Glen Beck says it, you know it’s not true.

      • Owen Geiger says:

        I don’t listen to people like Glen Beck, and I’m not a Teabagger, repub or dem. Just reporting on bits and pieces of news that I come across. Draw your own conclusions.

        • Ken says:

          I didn’t think that you listen to people like Glen Beck, or that you’re a Teabagger, or repub. I now see that my last post wasn’t worded right. I should have wrote: “After reviewing the Facebook page …” That’s what I meant. Nothing wrong with your post. It was the Facebook page from which I drew my conclusion. My screw-up. Sorry if I ruffled any feathers.

          O by the way, I’m still not getting any follow-up comments by email.

          • Owen Geiger says:

            Sorry, I totally misunderstood. Email glitch: leave a comment on the post about “Are you having trouble with this site?” and hopefully Kelly’s wife will see it. She’s the webmaster for the site. If that doesn’t work, write Kelly. His address is under About Us at the top of the page.

  66. Ken Nelson says:

    Hello Set Go,
    Well the way I see it, there are “campgrounds”, there are “not campgrounds”, and then there’s a gray area in between. Maybe the word “camp” would fit best for what I’d like to do. But at any rate, with all kinds of building restrictions it makes it difficult to be creative or innovative and turn a new idea into a reality.

    That property I talked about was zoned Non Resource. An earlier property I looked at was in a pocket inside a national forest and its zoning prohibited any kind of building.

  67. Set Go says:

    PS: Also, the person who wanted to put a campground in Southern OR–well if people put permanent dwellings on land, this is not really a campground. It wasn’t clear from your post what kind of land location was it–you had mentioned National Forest. If it was a pocket inside National forest, they might have limitations on density on the land.

    I’m not a structural engineer (the other kind)–why is it not possible to have alternative buildings approved and stamped by the engineer, if they do meet standards and code, load, etc? I was thinking of buying a yurt and my understanding is that they do get stamped by CA engineer and do get approved by counties, as soon as they’re stamped and proper foundation is built (yurts turned out to be not a cost-effective option though, but that’s another topic)

  68. Set Go says:

    Owen Geiger, in reply–I don’t think it’s OK to let people build whatever they want, as this will lead to unqualified people building dangerous housing. You never experienced a major earthquake–but I remember how people were buried alive under the buildings and died slow death there. I’m never going to forget this.

    Also, in the event of a disaster (earthquake, hurricane, flood, etc)–guess who’s going to pick the tab for rescue? The fire department of the county is going to be pulling the bodies out of rubbish and the state hospitals, etc. Don’t tell me that people can just waive their rescue when they buy a property… they will not want that. A person may learn how to build a safe building–how does the county know if their building is safe, though, without inspection and that it’s not some wacko who puts kids or renters, or employees in unsafe housing, or that future buyers will not be endangered possibly?

    What kind of tens of thousands in permits are you talking about?–may be for a huge structure? Then, may be people shouldn’t build huge structures and oversized homes; also they should consider curbing the breeding, as the world is overpopulated/resources destroyed, and if one wants to have a bunch of kids and put them in a big house, they better be prepared to pay for a permit for a safe building. I know of one person who put up some illegal shack and had kids living in it… that while he had more than enough money for permitted stuff–well luckily the Big One didn’t hit California, because his shack was located close to…San Andreas fault, in SF Bay area. There’s no way around building permits in zones prone to disasters, plus they don’t want people burning in their houses due to faulty electric. Someone hires shady contractor who puts up a crappy building… then they burn–the whole point of a permit/inspection to protect from this situation, whether we like it or not.

    Who wants lakes, streams polluted by faulty septics? That’s a point of permitting. Who wants septic stuff to be on neighbor’s property? Or, some fuming enterprise polluting the air next to the house of neighbors.. so zoning makes sense. It all makes sense. As to depriving people from the chance to build a house.. well Montana has no codes, so people can build there, or they can buy a foreclosed existing low-end house. Or, they can put a mobile home on land–cheaper permits, pre-done inspections at factor. Or, they can buy a condo–no permits.

    Everyone wants a piece of prime land… nice climate, beautiful scenery. Well, the country is over populated and everyone just can’t have that perfect location or situation, unfortunately. Building permits are not that expensive, compared to actual cost of construction–even though they are too pricey. As to building alternative kinds of housing in seismic zones etc.. I can see the point, think of it, if it is generally not known how strong the structure is, the potential ramifications are great. If the state engineer approved the plans… they should allow it, if not, it may be unsafe. I’m a potential home buyer, I do not want to deal with something that may kill me–just today I got shaken by the quake.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Just a few things to think about…
      – I live in an area with no codes and things are just fine, thanks. Some make it sound like the sky will fall if we don’t have thousands of codes.
      – I’ve heard and seen fire trucks here only three times in six years. (One was for a small grass fire.) People are smart enough to build sensibly if the gov would get out of the way. I used to hear and see fire trucks frequently in the US. So it’s obvious to me that all those codes aren’t as effective as some claim.
      – Earthbag houses can easily be made fire resistant and earthquake resistant. Why isn’t the government promoting this method and encouraging all the other sustainable building methods? (Hint: they don’t care because no one is making lots of money and paying them off.)
      – I’m not against all building codes. I can see some guidelines for urban areas and commercial structures. A small guidebook of practical construction techniques that make sense for the area would be way better than the current bloated bureaucracy (Note my video listed here on Sackett Vs. EPA for how ridiculous things can get.)
      – At least give people the right to opt out. This may very well make selling the home more difficult in the future when they’re required to disclose this fact to prospective home buyers, but at least people have a choice.
      – You say permits are not that expensive, but fail to mention that codes often increase the cost of construction by tens of thousands of dollars.
      – People shouldn’t have to move to Montana or other ‘middle of nowhere’ place so they can build their own home without excessive gov intrusion.
      – Take a tour of new low end modular houses for sale. Absolute rubbish. They reek with formaldehyde and other chemicals. They would burn like crazy in a fire. They’ll fall apart in a few years… and yet they meet code. See how ridiculous things are? A crap trailer house gets permitted while a rock solid earthbag house probably wouldn’t get accepted without months of haggling and thousands in fees.
      – Septic tanks: I lived in an area of Colorado that had polluted ground water from septic tanks! So obviously the existing codes there failed to prevent the problem. More proof that the current system doesn’t work correctly. Maybe they should have been promoting composting toilets.
      – The US has lots of regulatory agencies — EPA, FDA… yet look at all the cancer causing unhealthy junk food, GMOs, polluted rivers, oil in the Gulf, fluoride in the drinking water, unsafe pharmaceuticals, pollution from gas drilling (see Gas Land movie), etc. etc. etc. Why are these things “approved”? What did the SEC do to curb corruption on Wall Street? Virtually nothing, even after being warned repeatedly with specific information from whistleblowers. It’s obvious to me that these agencies are in the pocket of big corporations and not looking out for the interests of the American people.
      – The US is going broke. The states, counties and cities are going broke or are in poor financial shape. Who’s going to pay for all these gov agencies? Where will the money come from? (Hint: get ready for higher taxes.) Now that things are ripping apart at the seams, maybe people will step back and look for better solutions.

  69. Owen Geiger says:

    Here’s a video that shows how the current system is running out of control. This couple in Idaho got all the necessary permits and now the EPA is taking them to court to block the construction of their home. They might be fined $32,000/day for resisting the EPA decision.

  70. Set Go says:

    I have mixed feelings about permit issues… (I’m a to-be homewoner, and yes permits are extremely overpriced). HOWEVER, I’m in California, which is mostly erarthquake zone (and a few flood zones too). So, if the quake hits… you’re gonna WISH and be thankful you’re in a structure engineered to standards. So permits make sense to me. I remember piles of coffins on the streets in a country where I grew up (poorly engineered buildings + big quake = a lot of victims). An earthquake causing the roof to fall down on you or you being trapped because doors jammed and you burning alive… not fun. This is what can happen. Or, a sudden flood and your house not being on proper foundation… not a fun scenario. Sliding land (here, lots of land has slope), etc.

  71. Alexei says:

    http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=4757417486238559449&postID=3527234668281925883

    Tom Meyers posted a list of Colorado counties that currently have no adopted building code:

    Cheyenne
    Conejos
    Custer
    Delta
    Dolores
    Kit Carson
    Mineral
    Phillips
    Prowers
    Saguache
    Yuma

    Be aware that many of these counties have cities or towns located within them that do adopt codes. You will need to be in an unincorporated portion to avoid municipal jurisdiction oversight. Of all the counties, Delta will be the most receptive to alternative construction techniques and lifestyles. We own land in Hotchkiss that is a bit more conservative with libertarian leanings. Paonia is more liberal with less of the statist attitude that seems to be pervasive in that realm. Land in the unincorporated county surrounding these spaces is your best bet for freedom from regulatory oversight.

    The other counties mentioned above on the eastern plains are mostly rural agriculture land. They are self sufficient, but pretty conservative. Might not be your cup of tea. The counties in the south are more free spirited.

    Also consider New Mexico around the Taos area. Kingston is another good choice. Also Mimbres outside of Silver City. Lots of off grid and alternative construction in those places. The state has a comprehensive building code but is largely unenforced outside of the major cities. Lots of political shenanigans in the CID department (the one responsible for code enforcement) extending back to the Richardson days. That may be changing as the old machine is cleaned out. Ultimately that may lead to more uniform enforcement of their laws in the rural areas.

    All this said, I still suggest considering locations where alternative construction HAS been approved under an adopted code. These locations have building officials that “get it”. They will likely be very helpful and assist rather than hinder the process. Best of luck!

  72. Wild Willie says:

    Hey guys new to your post I am interested in finding a place where I can build my own place without a lot of restrictions. I have been in the construction field for over 33 years as an electrician. As far as running your wire between the bags any inspector worth his salt will not let that fly due to the requirements for securing the wire. I assume you are taking about Romex however anything that would be in contact with earth filled bag you should consider running UF Cable which is a direct burial Romex but either way it still would need to meet the requirements for securing it not just layed in between bags. Anyhow just my 2 cents if anyone knows of any locations close to northern New Mexico that would fit the minimum code requirements of building would love to hear from you.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Northern NM / southern CO is a great spot for earthbag. The scoria mine is nearby (search our blog for lots of ways to use it), it’s super beautiful, lots of affordable rural land. Building supply centers are within a reasonable drive (plan ahead to reduce trips). I think you could find out of the way places where codes are not rigorously enforced. They may only check your septic and electrical. One guy said they only check the septic, and all you have to do is send them a photo! Home building is in a slump. Counties are eager for revenue. So I think the scales are tipping in favor of more lenient code enforcement. Remember, it’s up to the local building department how strictly they want to enforce the codes. Just because it’s on the books doesn’t mean everything is rigorously enforced. I’ve even heard of a county in Nebraska who voted to close their building department to save money. Who knows, this could catch on.

      We usually recommend running electrical wire in the recesses between bags. This makes the wire easy to get to. I use nails pounded in at an angle to hold the wire in place and then cover with 2″-3″ of plaster. This may not pass code in all areas, so check what local code officials want. UF cable would be a step up in quality without getting into the work and expense of running conduit. If you have any details to add, feel free to share.

  73. Ken says:

    I have just finished reading with great interest this entire blog article including the accompanying comments. I have recently and painfully become aware of the problem of overly restrictive county building codes.

    I have been tying to find and buy in Klamath County, Oregon, the right property for the creation of a unique type of commercial campsite, for about the past year and a half. I focused my search in Klamath County because it seems to have the largest selection of low priced property in Oregon. I have encountered various problems on this journey that can be summed up by the following:

    If the price was right, then the zoning was wrong. If the price and zoning were right, then it lacked mineral rights. If the property had the right price, the right zoning, and mineral rights were included in the deal, then it lacked legal access. And finally, with the last property I looked at (with great interest – 41 acres at $14,000) all of the above details were in order, but then the Klamath County Building and Planning Departments informed me that I wouldn’t be allowed to do what I want to do.

    My dream is to establish a camp with the unique feature of the campers building their own basic semi-permanent to permanent shelters, made primarily from the natural materials on the property; a kind of architectural art project. It would be their creation to come back to again and again to camp out in and continue building it or improve it further. I envision a lot of green building of all sorts. Only green building would be allowed. It would be a low cost way for people to experience green building in a small scale sort of way. It could be an introduction to green building for some and perhaps eventually many folks.

    Here is the email they sent me:

    “Ken,
    A number of County staff persons have been in discussions with you about your idea for a campground in the Non-Resource Zone.  The various discussions have been regarding the laws and regulations that apply.  While we endeavor to be helpful to applicants, we cannot spend so much time on any one project as to be acting as a consultant.  Our role is primarily to review completed proposals and determine if they meet the planning and building codes.  If you need clarification as to what the regulations allow, you will need to seek professional help from qualified individuals.  They can also help in being sure any submittals to the County for permits are complete.

    There are also some basic code requirements that need to be clear.  The Non-Resource Zone only allows campgrounds as a conditional use because it allows “All conditional uses in the Exclusive Farm Use, Forestry, and Forestry/Range Zones.”  Both of the campgrounds allowed as conditional uses in the EFU and Forestry Zones state that camping sites may be occupied by a tent, travel trailer or recreational vehicle.  The spaces cannot be occupied by a permanent structure. 
     
    The Non-Resource Zone does allow a single-family dwelling on each parcel, so one dwelling would be allowed, but not considered part of the campground.

    I hope this clarifies the County’s position in providing limited help to applicants.  When you have specific plans for the County to review, you will need to start with the Planning Division and the conditional use permit review.  A pre-application conference is available for a fee of $300.”

    Boy O boy, doesn’t that suck!

    Where, specifically, in Oregon or in any western state would be the best place to look for land, to do what I want to do?

    • Owen Geiger says:

      The bottom line is there’s a growing population that’s competing for limited resources such as land. At some point there are too many people competing for too few resources. Choosing a highly desirable area such as you have makes the process even more difficult. On top of everything you have endless building codes and restrictions of all sort. You’ve only scratched the surface and will likely encounter endless codes for public restrooms, campfire restrictions, parking regulations, access for fire fighting equipment, setbacks from lot lines, creating fire breaks around the buildings, rules for how big the roads have to be, etc. etc. etc. I think you get my point. Eventually it’s almost impossible to do what you want in certain areas. You need to look elsewhere where there’s more space and fewer people. That typically means fewer restrictions and lower cost land, but it also means the area is more remote and may no longer be practical for what you want to do. I know eastern Oregon is much more sparsely populated than western Oregon, so I would be inclined to look farther east. Look for a resort type area near national parks, big lakes, etc. that will draw vacationers.

    • justinslick says:

      Ken,

      I know it’s been a few months since you posted this, but I’m wondering if you’re still looking into the possibilities of an alternative campground?

      I’m very, very interested in frugal travel, but the infrastructure for it in this country is fairly awful. For the past nine weeks, I’ve been traveling around the United States very cheaply, and I’ve gradually been able to get myself down around the $10/day mark.

      But I’ve done this by sleeping in my vehicle and seeking out BLM & National Forest land to camp on.

      Travel infrastructure in this country is (almost) as frustrating as building code, and there’s nothing more disheartening to a frugal traveler than seeing a 95% empty campground that still wants to charge $21 to throw down a tent for the night.

      During the past few weeks, I’ve been tossing around the idea of trying to establish a low-cost campground, although I definitely hadn’t gotten as far into the planning as you had.

      My idea was to try and find cheap enough land to establish a bare-bones campground, similar to what you’d find in a National Forest. None of the typical amenities (like electric hook-ups, dump stations, showers, laundry, wifi) that make your typical “RV Park” so expensive.

      Basically just a place to pitch a tent for a night or two with a really low fee like 5 or 6 bucks. I’m thinking five dollars might be low enough to be affordable for folks who able to pay $15 or $20 dollars for a place to stay for the night. (The reason I say that is because in my current situation, I could probably budget for a $5 tent site, but absolutely cannot afford to camp for $20 bucks a night).

      Because there are no amenities, I’m hoping it’d be possible to cut the overhead enough to charge very little and still be profitable…

      Then (and the reason I’m posting this here), I was hoping to use the revenue from the tent sites to fund low-cost alternative building projects on the land, either for use as cheap housing or maybe even studio space for artists.

      I’m young and naive and still in the honeymoon phase with this idea, but I was thinking how great it would be for there to be a whole bunch of places like this scattered along established travel routes that could serve as an affordable travel option for people who don’t need luxury, but just want to get out and see the country.

      The way I see it if KOA Campgrounds were like Blockbuster Stores, these campgrounds would be like Redbox–low cost, bare bones, etc.

      Anyway, I was thinking about maybe using a campaign at one of the community/crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo to raise funding. I don’t know if this could ever work, but I saw your post and thought it might be nice to get my thoughts out there. Feel free to bring me back to earth!

      • Owen Geiger says:

        This might work in the right location where there are lots of tourists near a major attraction. But I have my doubts about other areas. It seems to me that most people would stay on BLM or forest service land instead of paying $5 if there are no services. Maybe there’s a middle ground where you offer showers, toilets and camping in a well traveled area. It wouldn’t have to be way out in the wilderness. Many people are looking for places like this near big cities to beat the high cost of rent. They have jobs but don’t want to spend all their money on rent.

        Have you seen this site? Mobile Kodgers http://mobilecodgers.blogspot.com/

  74. Dustin says:

    “and because earthships are practical and beautiful”

    And earthbag homes aren’t? Earthbag buildings can be made to resemble the conventional, domes, roundhouses, etc. You could build an Earthship-type home that looks just like one made of tires… Of course, I’m preaching to the Pope here. ;-)

  75. Dustin says:

    Did Michael Reynolds give up so easily? Earthships are a drastically overpriced lie of homebuilding, but he made it happen. If we can accomplish that with earthbags…

    • Owen Geiger says:

      We can definitely accomplish at least the same level of success, because earthbags are faster and easier to build with. He’s successful because he has been promoting the same thing for 35 years or so (and because earthships are practical and beautiful).

  76. fredflintstone says:

    A couple of things – those of you planning to challenge the authority of the bureaucrats – good luck with that. You play their game or they put you in jail or take away all that you own.

    And those thinking of hiding in the trees – there is this neat website called Google Maps – go click on the satellite view for your location – it’s really cool guess what, ALL THE COUNTY GOVTS USE IT TO LOOK FOR UNPERMITTED BUILDINGS.

    IMO – there are two ways to do this – look for counties that EXPLICITY do not require building permits – or at least minimal ones. People with anecdotes about recent builds and easy processes are probably the best way to do this. The second option is to wait for these counties to go broke (just like Hall County in NE did) and lay off all their building ‘officials’. This is inevitable as the economy spirals into the toilet. In that vein you should look for counties that are having big money problems.

    The bright side of the econ crash is that land prices should crater over the next few years and with them many counties should be forced to lay of bureaucrats. That’s my dream and I’m sticking to it LOL

  77. Owen Geiger says:

    Here’s a new blog post on a related topic: Battle for the California Desert http://earthbagbuilding.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/battle-for-the-california-desert/

    Nuisance Abatement Teams are raiding people’s homes to extract fines and confiscate land for petty offenses.

  78. WestcliffeDan says:

    Here are some finds that should help you build structures in Colorado. This is for those counties that do not do permit inspections themselves. After spending too much time searching through the maze of web portals that is Colorados’ web presence I finally produced something of value. These provide an abstract of the code/practice expected when seeking a permit.

    http://www.dora.state.co.us/electrical/forms/HomeownerPermits.pdf

    http://www.dora.state.co.us/plumbing/forms/HomeownerGuideforPlumbingandGasPipingInstall.pdf

    The electrical permit is the more valuable of the two. I now know that running wire between bags themselves will, legally, not be possible. The first, “rough in”, inspection requires everything to be in sight. I will surface mount on interior walls.

    I am finding the more time I spend now finding answers the fewer suprises I will encounter during the actual build.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Just for clarification, we recommend running electrical wire in the recess between bags. This means it’s accessible for inspection, but yet the finished wiring will be fairly well protected with 2″-3″ of plaster. Put stakes between bags for attaching electrical boxes.

  79. Ron says:

    Coconino county,AZ Ive heard some horror storys about daily fines for not having permits,the area ive been interested is close to the grand canyon.Im not sure if I’ll have problems with an Icosa dome,small solar setup and outside watson wick setup or storage tank for sewage.Anyone who lives in the area of us-64 and us 180 id like to hear from you.

    • tony says:

      hey i have land in coconino in valle. az like you were asking… are you still following these dreams from 2011? 1. A detached structure shall meet the setback requirements of the main building for the front and
      street side yard areas.
      2. A detached accessory structure which does not exceed 15 feet in height and 600 sq. ft. in area, may
      be located within an interior side yard or rear yard; provided, however, that such structure shall not
      be located closer than five feet to an interior side or rear lot line.
      3. A detached accessory structure which exceeds 15 feet, or 600 square feet in area, in height shall
      maintain the same minimum side and rear setbacks as required for the main dwelling.
      4. A detached structure shall maintain a minimum 10 feet separation from the main structure.

      this is the good one for your sheds and etc….as long as you arent living in it…
      6. Although not requiring a building permit, accessory structures with less than 120 square feet of
      roof area must meet the above minimum setbacks.

      • Ivan says:

        I’ve read that Yavapai county is where one may build off grid (see this link: http://earthship.com/pockets-of-freedom )…from the map in the link it shows Coconino county in red, meaning they dont allow off-grid-owner built houses. Do you have any recent info about changes to the county code in yavapai?

        • Owen Geiger says:

          You’ll need to go and suss out the situation firsthand by talking to locals, particularly those who have recently built homes. The building department publishes a list of new homes and their addresses. You could find some that were built with sustainable materials and then talk to the homeowners to see how they were treated. The bottom line is some departments are friendly and open minded to these sorts of things (alternative building materials) and some aren’t. Don’t skimp on the research phase. If you don’t see any homes being built with sustainable materials (adobe, straw bale, earthbags, earthships, etc.) then that’s a huge red flag.

  80. Owen Geiger says:

    From Nicholas:
    My mother owns land in Mason County West Virginia and Pulaski County Kentucky neither of those require a building permit for residential structures built in rural areas… as a matter of fact most counties in rural West Virginia don’t require building permits unless the structure is intended for commercial or public use.

  81. Dustin says:

    Yes, you could canvass them in 8 hours or less. But getting a straight, informed, honest answer… Well… Good luck.

    Government is as dishonest and uneducated as it is bloated.

    I was trying to do my part and contribute here, but I can’t figure a way to get accurate information out of these people. I think they just make it up as they go…

  82. Dustin says:

    Bump for notification…

  83. Dustin says:

    Anybody got a heads-up in south-eastern AZ?

  84. todd says:

    Hi all. Thought you might want a couple more counties that permits are not required in. Red River county in Texas is one, (look up Clarksville Texas) and the other is Pike County in Missouri, (look up Bowling Green, Missouri). I live in Bowling Green, only 75 miles from St Louis, and it is a very beautiful place, with a heavy Amish population.

  85. Scott says:

    Here’s a cool little fact found in Article XX, section 6 of Colorado’s Constitution.

    “Section 6. Home rule for cities and towns.

    The people of each city or town of this state, having a population of two thousand inhabitants as determined by the last preceding census taken under the authority of the United States, the state of Colorado or said city or town, are hereby vested with, and they shall always have, power to make, amend, add to or replace the charter of said city or town, which shall be its organic law and extend to all its local and municipal matters.

    Such charter and the ordinances made pursuant thereto in such matters shall supersede within the territorial limits and other jurisdiction of said city or town any law of the state in conflict therewith”

    ————————-

    http://www.michie.com/colorado/lpext.dll?f=templates&fn=main-h.htm&cp=

    http://www.jasonstilwell.com/articles/hr%20in%20us%20-%20colorado.pdf

    Seems as if the people of each town/city that have elected Home Rule have the freedom to create their own “rules”.

  86. Owen Geiger says:

    A reader who is going to build an earthbag house in Westcliffe, Colorado sent me the following message. I was very surprised to hear there are almost no codes in the unincorporated part of the county (outside of town). Westcliffe is one of my all time favorite places for hiking, camping and hunting. Lots of great memories up there.

    “The town of Westcliffe is small and it feels like the county is even smaller. Custer county population is smaller than the town of Frederick where I currently reside! The town itself has building codes so folks going with alternative building methods should avoid it and consider unincorporated Custer county.

    Custer county has a website with all permits and forms online. I recommend the Homeowners packet that has everything needed before deciding to relocate: http://www.custercountygov.com/index.php?pg=informational_docs

    We were initially considering a yurt. That caused our realtor to raise an eyebrow. We finally reconsidered due to fire danger and bears. Lots of bears…

    We worked with the local realtors, Martin and Tope, http://www.martinandtope.com

    Land is costly +/- 2000 per acre. We had wanted to get at least 35 acres for a resonable amount. There is a lot of land that is reasonable but, there is always a “but” isn’t there? Most parcels that size have no trees and lots of wind. This is why we settled for ~10 acres, to get the trees and the cost was less than 2k per acre. We were lucky to get a parcel that was not listed yet. Of couse there is another “but”. A parcel that is less than 35 acres is now limited to in-house use only for any well water. My plan is to capture rainwater for use outside the house.”

  87. Hayes says:

    From Elizabeth, the main contact, at the Custer County Planning and Zoning:

    “Good Morning Hayes,

    It is true that Custer County has not adopted a building code. We have adopted Zoning Regulations, however. Permits must be obtained for structures and septic systems through this office, electric, plumbing and well permits are obtained through the state.

    If you wish, you can visit our web page at CusterCountyGov.com. Click on Planning and Zoning for information about this office, the Homeowners’ Packet is particularly helpful.

    The both of the incorporated towns of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe have adopted building codes.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Elizabeth”

  88. Hayes says:

    I’m constantly seeing Custer County, CO as a place without building codes. Even in Herb Terry’s book it’s listed as being without codes.

    But what is this here: http://www.custercountygov.com/index.php?pg=permits

    Am I misunderstanding that page? I’ve skimmed through the PDF’s and that county seems to be full of rules and costs for building.

  89. Rick says:

    North of the border, Prince Edward Island has no code or building inspections outside the 2 cities. A permit ($200), septic permit; and final inspections of electric and plumbing are all that’s required. Time taken was 34 minutes for the whole permit business,and they fill the blanks in for you. I’m currently building my own house, conventional structure but very energy efficient. Land $10,000 for an acre.
    I would welcome a summary by somebody of which US counties require what, as I fancy building down in the southwest.

  90. Andrew says:

    Jim: I am interested in and have started some preliminary work towards building an Earth Bag home in Delaware or Essex County NY. If you have any updates about areas with minimal codes (the thought of finding zero codes in NY is an idea that sounds D.O.A.) in NY or in the region that you want to share I’d appreciate it. Thank you !!

  91. Hayes says:

    I just had a somewhat lengthy phone conversation with the planning and zoning department of Pershing County, NV and the codes there are very strict… and costly. They even limit which brand of bags you can use and what type of filler for the bags (for earthbag homes). They also come out and inspect every little detail before you move forward in any phase. The total estimated cost rapidly exceeded $10,000 in permits and stamps before I stopped counting.

    It’s too bad, Pershing County has several 40 acre lots between $3000-$7000.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      That’s outrageous. Sometimes it’s not worth struggling against the system. Move on to greener pastures. There are lots of places begging for newcomers and their business. Even building a low cost home with earthbags, you’ll be a positive boost to the economy with buying all sorts of things (food, gas, tools, hardware to name a few).

    • Johnny payphone says:

      If I may chime in about Pershing County (this is the only website I’ve found on this subject) my experiences there have been thus: It is more conservative in its building codes than you’d expect from Nevada, but nowhere near as much as California or even around Tahoe in Nevada. I’d consider it a progressive county (for Nevada) in regards to solar and other mainstream alternative energy. But here’s the real crux: You’re dealing with a system with a face. You know who the inspector is going to be (there’s only one) and you can go down and ask him up front if he’s going to have a problem with something. This has its advantages and disadvantages, but I find it less frustrating than the faceless guesswork of a big city buildings department.

  92. Hayes says:

    Hi Owen, can you elaborate or link to a source on the lack of building codes in rural New Mexico? For instance, is it the entire state, certain counties, areas with a minimum distance from cities, etc. I’m purchasing land very soon now, and definitely want a spot without building codes.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      I used to live in New Mexico so I know they have a state wide code. There’s no such thing as areas without codes in NM. But the codes are not equally enforced. There are remote areas where all you have to do is submit a photo of your septic system. Inspectors don’t even bother to come out to the site. I think something like this is similar in many remote areas. The cost of driving to some remote areas means inspections are scarce or non-existent.

  93. Eric says:

    Does anyone know someone who got busted for not complying? Id love to hear about their experience. Even if you havent got busted, id love to hear you experience
    Im strongly considering this and want to weigh pros and cons

    • Owen Geiger says:

      I know of one illegal straw bale structure where the guys got busted. I’m pretty sure they had to tear it down, although I never went back to check.

    • Barb says:

      We owned 70 acres in Lake County CO, surrounded by national forest with the exception of one small strip privately owned. The only access was a seasonal forest service road. Once the snow fell, the only way to get up there was snowmobile, snowshoeing, ultimately a snowcat. It was a very isolated chunk of land. After living up there in a 100 sq. ft cabin with loft for about a year, we came into a small inheritance and decided to build on. The window of warm weather at 11,000 + feet is about 4 months so we made the decision to build without getting proper permits, etc. telling ourselves it would be easier to get forgiveness than permission.
      The additional structure was still rather small, 16 x 30 feet with loft space.
      Amazingly, with the help of a couple friends, we finished, at least got it dried in, that summer. We lived up there through the next winter, working on the interior.
      Long story short, someone turned us in. I don’t even want to elaborate on that part of our lives, but in spite of all our efforts, the county would not approve the structure, and 2 years after completing our dream home, we were forced to tear it down.
      We left Lake County and never looked back.
      I only write about it now because I want you to think real hard before you act. It is insane on so many levels that they denied us, but we had challenged their authority, and apparently nothing else mattered.
      We are now searching for land on which to build an earthbag house, and intend to find a place where a landowner has the right to build as they choose. It probably will not be in Colorado. Water is, of course, the other issue here.
      At any rate, good luck in whatever you ultimately decide to do.

  94. Owen Geiger says:

    My latest blog post is on Passive Houses that use 90% less energy: http://earthbagbuilding.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/passive-houses-use-90-less-energy-%e2%80%93-really/

    Even though mechanical heating and cooling systems (HVAC) are typically not required on Passive Houses, building inspectors will likely require you to install them. So you can do all the research, design an incredibly efficient home and still have to buy unnecessary or over-sized heating and cooling systems. Is this fair?

    This is not a personal attack against building officials, who have always been very nice to me. All I’m saying here is to vote with your wallet, vote with your feet and move to areas that don’t have ridiculous building requirements.

  95. Hayes says:

    I’m surprised no one has asked the question of, “What happens when I build an Earthbag home with no permits and no permission at all?”.

    In a few months, I plan on doing just this (a 2160 sqft home), most likely in NV. I’m going to hire a well driller and a septic installer, then do the rest myself. The very thought of having to pay the county in order to improve their area, or moreover, MY land, sends my blood pressure through the roof.

    So back to the question, what are the legal ramifications if one day some fat cat official comes by and sees a full blown home sitting on the land. Do they take the land from me and tear it down?

    • Owen Geiger says:

      They typically have legal ability to red tag it (halt construction) and demolish the structure as a risk to public safety.

      Edited to add: All this is done at your expense, of course. They’ll charge you for demolition, fines, etc. Ask your local code enforcement agents and they will verify this is true.

      • Nate says:

        What a world we live in, huh?

        • Owen Geiger says:

          It’s a crazy situation. People have been able to build their own homes as they choose since the beginning of time. This can still be done in many places, and so I’ve chosen to live in areas with lenient or non-existing codes for the last 10 years or so. That is, Crestone Colorado, rural New Mexico, and now Thailand.

      • Eric says:

        Ive actually just asked owen that and he forwarded me here. Thanks owen. I heard that northern nv actually has few or no codes… I live in vegas and was looking at doing the same in utah. I want that area, close enough so i can work on it on my weekends., so im going to go for low profile, hidden by trees. I dont want anyone knowing its there anyway, might as well keep the agents out too. I guess i gotta do my research on undergroynd houses again.

    • nogridster says:

      I’m with you man. The system is set up to provide these small governments with no real plausible reason to extort money from you, other than some vague notion of “protecting” other people…what a laugh. Building codes and permits in general suck hard and are designed to provide income for the local government and kickback type money for their friends in the local trade unions. The funny thing is I secure permits for my clients for a living.

      To answer your question – they cannot take the land from you except through lien as a result of a judgement and default by you. Yes they can order you to tear down the house; but what is more likely is that they would order you to expose the electrical wiring, the plumbing, and some of the structural infrastructure of the house – the roof and foundation structure. Then they would fine you heavily – and not even have the decency to give you a reach-around.

  96. Thanks! I will keep you posted, i put a blog on that site and I make entries when I have something to share.

    I thought about making a workshop after the first dome is up, would anyone be interested? I just don’t want to post on CL and attract the bad freaks…I only want good freaks. ;) It would be free, and I could make a bunch of chili. You would have to have an RV with a bathroom.

    I don’t know where that guy got 120 square feet from…I suppose that is what I get for listening to a county official. I have planned the domes to be 16 feet in diameter, to make best use of the electrical conduit pipe (comes in 10′ sticks). The math works out to almost no waste. A 13 foot dome was right at 120, so I suppose the 16 will be about 170.

    From what I have discovered, if you don’t install a septic then the county usually could not care less. In the West Coconino county area, at least. They make a lot of huff about building permits and occupancy statues, but the people west of Williams just put up any old thing and nobody says squat.

    I guess I will find out! I will be the guinea pig. If it came down to it, I would claim that the local statues cannot trump the state constitution (take land, remove buildings, etc..).

    And yeah, Colorado is not only expensive land, but you better make a lot of bread to just live there, too. Gas is 20% higher, food, too. Up in the hills, that is, where building codes won’t matter.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Keep us posted on your project. We will promote your workshop for free. Send the announcement when ready to Kelly Hart (he does the workshop announcements).

      I’ll check out your blog when I have a chance.

      And that’s a good point about living costs in remote areas. They’re probably higher most of the time unless you’re in a great agricultural area where everyone is growing lots of food. And even then there’s gas, propane and things you can’t grow. It all adds up. Those little grocery stories often charge way more.

  97. Robert Long says:

    You can add Montezuma Co. to the list for non commercial buildings.

    http://www.co.montezuma.co.us/newsite/planningfaq.html

    Bob Long….

  98. jason says:

    Oregon county missouri and some other areas of Missouri have no building codes. They also have some nice inexpensive land. Unfortunately I am scared of the local politics there. I did some traveling when I was younger, not that long ago, and Missouri was not a good place to be if you stand out. If I could figure out a way around those potential problems, I would buy there. I would also check Tennessee as I know there are four or five counties that did not adopt minimum standards when the rest of the state did just last year.

    • Terrel Shumway says:

      The Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) found that out the hard way in the 1830’s. The extermination order, allowing anyone to kill any Mormon on sight, was not rescinded until 1976.

      I am interested in knowing whether you “stand out” by building a hobbit hole on your 8.7 acre lot in the middle of nowhere (Pike county between Farber and Vandaila).

      • Owen Geiger says:

        I didn’t know about the Mormon extermination issue. How terrible.

        Who are you referring to when you say “I am interested in knowing whether you “stand out” by building a hobbit hole…”

  99. The map idea is a good one, we need more input to make a really accurate map. I am finding that some counties that appear ‘green’ are actually average, and the ‘red’ ones are about average. Average being a planned permit with codes and inspections. I know of no place where you can build what you want, without some level of codes or inspections…they just don’t enforce them because they are too rural.

    You should find a place with affordable land that you can live in comfortably, and spread the light of sustainable building, I suppose. I am building in Coconino county in Arizona, and they are (so far) polite and accommodating. I figure two permits, one set of plans, and a couple of inspections for the electrical/water and I can build whatever. The IBC lists what we do as ‘earth berm’ or concrete work, and Coconino is beginning a sustainable housing program (focusing mainly on strawbale).

    This is how I feel now, however, and I reserve the right to complain when they get less than accommodating. It is, after all, MY land.

    I am building a 120 square foot cabin with the ebag technique and we will see how it goes. The guy I was talking to at the county was saying I would get an award if I built it…I guess now there is a question as to whether or not he was being funny about the codes…

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Keep us posted. You have a great project planned.

    • Leia K says:

      Hi Professor Rico, I just bought 2 acres with my husband in Coconino county, AZ. 20 miles from Willams, Az. My husband and I are interested in building an EarthBag retreat from the city. I called the Coconino city planner and he said if it’s under 170 square feet, no permit required. Why do you need two permits for 120 square feet? The award is real =) It’s here.

      http://www.coconino.az.gov/comdev.aspx?id=148

      Good luck. My husband is an electrical engineer and I am an artist so will keep you posted on what we decide to do. Should be interesting. =)

    • nogridster says:

      Hello:

      We are looking into northern Arizona as a possible building place. Do you know what the status is of building codes in the other counties besides Coconino County? thanks

      • Owen Geiger says:

        You’ll have to search county by county. Most counties now have websites with the basic info. But like another reader said, you need to contact them directly for the details after you’ve narrowed down your choices.

  100. tm says:

    hi, does anyone know about rensselaer county, ny and how the building codes for earthship-like homes might be enforced in areas such as schodack/nassau/sand lake?

  101. Owen Geiger says:

    Great article about building codes in Nebraska (where I grew up, by the way). Only 20 cities have building inspections. Electrical wiring is inspected on a state level. Partly due to budgetary constraints, Hall County is going to abolish all county building codes and the county building inspector position. All you need in most parts of Nebraska is a zoning permit that controls safe distances between houses.

    Omaha World Herald
    Hall County to end building codes
    http://www.omaha.com/article/20100831/NEWS01/709019995

  102. Owen Geiger says:

    From Nancy:

    I searched further and found two very helpful sites with alot of information on which counties have no building codes. I thought I’d share the info with you.

    http://www.access-board.gov/links/state-colorado.htm
    This site has a list of many Colorado Counties that do and do not have codes, as well as about 20 with no information.

    This next link gives information for all the counties I checked except Phillips and Yuma counties.
    http://www.coloradoenergy.org/codes/codes.aspx?County=Saguache (just replace Saguache with another county name to get general building and energy code information and contact information. Note: leave a space between words of 2 word counties)

    From these two sites it appears that these are the counties in Colorado with no building codes.
    Delta
    Cheyenne
    Crowley
    Morgan
    Custer
    Kiowa
    Kit Carson
    Mineral
    Saguache

    Unable to determine: Phillips, Yuma

  103. Dave Collins says:

    Also, many of the smaller counties in West Virginia require only a small fee for the initial structure and improvements assessment. (That’s an assessment, for tax purposes, not an inspection for code adherence.) My brother built a home in 2006 in Braxton County, WV and was not required to have permits or inspections. The electric company did require a private third-party inspection before the turned on the power, and the natural gas company performed their own inspection before hooking up the gas.

  104. Dave Collins says:

    Virginia has adopted a statewide building code, but does make accomodations for alternative building methods. In September, I helped my in-laws finish their rural straw bale home. The building inspectors will require evidence that the construction method meets a minimum standard for strength, safety, etc. Our “evidence” was a signed statement from an mechanical engineering professor at our local university and some sketches and load charts. An hour later, we had a building permit in hand and had to pay a few hundred bucks for the inspection at the end of the month.

    All in all, not a terrible experience. I had expected much worse.

  105. MountainFreak says:

    You can scratch Saguache County off the list. http://www.saguachecounty.net/depts/landuse/docs/LandUseCode.pdf Not only do they require permits and inspections but they are subject to state wide building codes as are all counties in Colorado.

    • Kelly Hart says:

      I actually live in Saguache county, and can say that they definitely do not have or enforce building codes as such. Yes, you do need to get a building permit to proceed with building in the county, but they do not have a structural code, such as the International Residential Code, nor do they have inspections. The permit is really just to make sure that they get any new buildings on the rolls for tax assessment.

      Colorado does have mandatory codes for plumbing and electrical work, though, so it is necessary to get these permits and have these utilities inspected by state inspectors.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      This is a good example of what I just said above about the pockets of freedom map. Good idea, but it may not be at all accurate. It all depends on people’s interpretation of what’s going on. In this case, someone thinks Saguache County is too restrictive (yes, there is paperwork involved), but actually Saguache County is one of the most lenient areas in the country, which has helped it become a hotbed of natural building innovation. There’s over 100 alternative structures in this tiny village!

    • KR says:

      Please help me to understand why it is all of my personal information is required for me to add to the map of pockets of “freedom”. Are you sure these are the “right” people putting together this info? Hmmm…………….. I’ll pass.

  106. Jason D says:

    Hello, I was wondering if there are any counties in Montana with no building codes. I would like to build one of these small houses shown on your site. Any info would be really appreciated. Thank you.

  107. bob spahle says:

    i took naders course about 8 yrs ago and finally got my land and ducks in a row to start building.i live 60 miles outside tucson az,at 4400ft elevation.they just changed the building codes here where now you can do an opt out(if your on 4 acres)that lets you build anything with no inspections except for septic.hope to start building in sept
    anyone interested in helping please contact me at-obtiki@hotmail.com

    • Owen Geiger says:

      This is great news! Thanks for sharing. This is the sort of common sense balance that’s desperately needed in building codes.

    • eee says:

      Hi,
      I’m interested in buying land about an hour away from Tucson AZ. What counties have an ‘opt out’ program? Thank you. Goodluck building!

  108. Hi! Building codes are a big problem. This is something I have discovered in my area of Western Kentucky: While checking county building codes, you will find that while the big city (or cities) of a given county may have restrictive codes, but if you go into a rural area of that same county, there may be little to no restrictions at all. In Calloway County, Kentucky, for example, in Murray, the county seat, full-fledged ICC building codes are enforced, but if you move out into the rural part of the county, the only building codes pertain to how far away from the property line you have to build, sign placements, fencing, and very rudimentary things.

    Just a thought… Even if you research the counties, be sure to also research the small towns and rural areas in the county, because their codes will be different.

  109. Richard says:

    Awesome, thanks, Owen!

    You can add Saguache county, CO, also…but local subs will have really weird HOA’s.

    Jim, I have to agree with the others…compromising with building codes and the people that enforce them is not liberty. I have personally seen a county fine someone tens of thousands of dollars for an ‘improper septic system’ (along with other violations), and levied against the property (which was only worth about $15k). They had to sell it, and the geodesic house they built was destroyed.

    We are trying to find the few liberated counties left…we don’t want to pay $1300 for a permit, $300 for an inspection, electrical, plumbing, blueprints and professional plans…and then they can just say ‘nope’ and make you rip it all apart.

    That kind of environment is not where I want to build my self-sustaining home. A place where people, as earnest as they may be, that you don’t know can drive up to your house one day and tell you to tear it down…because you didn’t pay them.

    No.

    Mesa County, Costilla County, Park County, Fremont County (irony), and Lake County all have building codes, and Park is absolutely insane.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Anything is possible. Who knows what will happen in 20 years. But I know and have seen tons of people living in non-code structures in many parts of Colorado, where I lived for about 30 years. Places like Saguache and Delta county are good examples. Also, many other places don’t enforce the rules if you’re way out of sight and don’t cause problems. Remote areas are really desperate for business. Almost no one would move there if if things were too strict.

  110. Owen Geiger says:

    You can add Montezuma county, Colorado to the list of counties with few or no building codes.

  111. Jim Lawrence says:

    Thanks, I understand Owen. Change is hard, and humans resist it. I’ll post once we get started on the whole shebang with any successes.

  112. Owen Geiger says:

    Hi Jim. What you say may work in a few instances, but in most cases it just won’t work. We’re warning people in advance to try and save people hundreds of hours of frustration and thousands of dollars in fees.

  113. Kelly Hart says:

    There is an ebook available now that lists all of the places around the US where there are no building codes, and you can order this by going to http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/building_codes.htm#books

  114. Jim Lawrence says:

    Here’s my still-uninformed opinion from what I’ve been able to learn up here in the northeast (upstate NY).
    I hope to be working with Iliona Khalili, wife of the late Nader Khalili, who coincidentally has an adobe dome building project in nearby Nassau, NY. She hopes to build a large community dome and is or will be working with building code people to grow acceptance in this rural but still populated area of the country.
    My opinion is that we should not be seeking to avoid bureaucracy but engage in relationship with local code people. Up here that translates to researching who’s built alternative structures so far (there are a few geodesic domes and some straw bale houses locally) and finding out how they interfaced with the “authorities”, then look toward working with those most flexible and willing to learn along with us.
    I share what I believe is a broad hope that we will discover and develop the human side of the equation, to find ways to spread and grow this style of low-cost, enduring architecture into the cultural awareness.
    I will pass on what I learn from our association with Iliona and our own journey to building adobe domes on a few acres of land here in the rolling hill farm country of upstate NY or western Mass, which is where we prefer to live.
    I’ve already worked a bit with a local solar power company with progressive ideas – SolAqua – and they’re interested in a sustainable community right next to Chatham, NY, about 10 minutes from me in the other direction from Nassau.
    I believe we will find ways to work in relationship with the code people rather than feel we must run away from the bureaucracy. Compromises will no doubt be required…but we will find ways to build what we want, where we want (within reason in these “pioneer” days) and that’s how we’ll be moving forward.
    Building code people are just people. If we seek out the ones with a more open heart, I bet we can get them excited too, even as we learn what we need to learn to educate them, and ourselves.
    That’s my dream anyway.

    • Nate says:

      Why should I have to appeal to a bureaucrat to perform private work on private land, especially land far away from other structures and people? Wouldn’t it be highly objectionable if the government required a license to get a tattoo, wear provocative clothing, or advocate unpopular beliefs? What’s the diff? My body, my choice; my land, my choice. Shouldn’t we pioneers be activists for fewer restrictions on human freedom rather than accepting their seeming inevitability?

      • Owen Geiger says:

        I agree about buttressing, but it’s not always needed. For example, the first projects in Haiti will likely be small transitional shelters. Plus, Nabil was focusing on the wall basics.

        We present our buttressing suggestions here: http://earthbagbuilding.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/reinforced-earthbag-buttresses-for-earthquake-zones/

      • Owen Geiger says:

        They’re supposedly concerned about the safety of future inhabitants if you ever sell the land. Trouble is, they take this to absurd levels that prevent millions of people from affording their own homes. There needs to be some sort of opt-out clause, where if you don’t build to code then you must disclose this fact if you ever sell. Potential buyers could inspect the home (or hire a private home inspector) and decide for themselves if it’s safe or not.

      • There needs to be a balance between individual rights and common good. Yes, codes can be burdensome but they can also protect the health and safety of citizens. I live in an area of the country (Eastern Kentucky) that has either recently adopted building codes or has very lax building codes. (Look at Kentucky counties south of I-64 and east of I-75) Developers build crappy houses and scam people who don’t have the money or knowledge to get the houses inspected properly and thus don’t know what they are getting into. They leave once wild areas slashed and trashed. Also,we have houses upstream from us that straight pipe raw sewage into creeks as well as industry that dumps nasty stuff into our waterways. We have few creeks that are swimmable and a sketchy groundwater supply. (thus we a cistern)

        I prefer having codes that allow for experimental building that balances owner-builders rights to live in a structure of their choosing without threatening the health and safety of their neighbors or people who may live in the home after the builder sells. Taos, New Mexico has an experimental building code that appear to release the municipality for liability to allow for alternative building. http://greenbuildingcodes.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/experimental-bldg-code-taos-new-mexico.pdf
        Humboldt County, California has a pretty liberal owner-builder code as well. http://co.humboldt.ca.us/countycode/t3d3c1-5.pdf

        I’m a part of a group working for green building codes for our fast growing county. We’ve done straw bale, cob and earthbag in the county with the blessing of the planning administrator but he’s getting overburdened with requests. He has asked us to come up with some kind of green building code to stop the piecemeal approval process. There are some who want to stay under the radar with alternative building and I’m fine with that because, for the most part, they do care about others and the health of the environment. But there are others who don’t live in the homes they build nor even in the state, who are just looking for loophole to make a quick profit. That is when building codes are needed.

      • nogridster says:

        I’m with you Nate – those fatass bureaucrats are nothing more than mafia that just want to get “a taste” screw that. They can f-off. I am not going to ask “permission” to build a house on my own land, nor am I going to bow and scrape, or doff my hat to the local lord. Luckily we still have some places where we can turn around and breathe without having to ask a “by your leave” from some self-important petty bureaucrat.

      • Jeff Tell says:

        This man has the right idea. The “state” is out of control and needs to be reigned in. We should be working to get codes rolled back in non-urban areas.

        • nogridster says:

          As an environmental scientist my primary focus over many years has been to help my clients permit their projects. Over the years the amount of regulation has grown to unbelievable levels. To the extent that, in a representative republic, we create our own reality – it would appear we Americans have allowed others to create a monster that is choking us all on our “collective” need for order and control. As a long-time devotee of Ayn Rand – I detest the amount of regulation and permitting our “system” requires from people just to do basic things like start a business. My Canadian clients say they prefer to start their businesses almost anywhere else but America. How sad and ironic.

          For myself, I find great comfort in helping entrepreneurs get through the “system” – so they can get on to producing wealth and building things of value. Government, as such, is a destroyer; and is at this point in our history the only real limit to our freedom to express ourselves as individuals. My wife and I have been planning our “free” place in Idaho. We plan to buy (cash down) maybe 10 acres and build an earth bag home. My chief concern is living in an area where we have total privacy, good constitutional gun laws, minimal government intrusion into our lives, and low taxes. Looks like it is getting much harder to find what our fore-fathers took for granted….to simply be left alone.

          • Dustin says:

            “As an environmental scientist my primary focus over many years has been to help my clients permit their projects. Over the years the amount of regulation has grown to unbelievable levels. To the extent that, in a representative republic, we create our own reality – it would appear we Americans have allowed others to create a monster that is choking us all on our “collective” need for order and control. As a long-time devotee of Ayn Rand – I detest the amount of regulation and permitting our “system” requires from people just to do basic things like start a business. My Canadian clients say they prefer to start their businesses almost anywhere else but America. How sad and ironic.

            For myself, I find great comfort in helping entrepreneurs get through the “system” – so they can get on to producing wealth and building things of value. Government, as such, is a destroyer; and is at this point in our history the only real limit to our freedom to express ourselves as individuals. My wife and I have been planning our “free” place in Idaho. We plan to buy (cash down) maybe 10 acres and build an earth bag home. My chief concern is living in an area where we have total privacy, good constitutional gun laws, minimal government intrusion into our lives, and low taxes. Looks like it is getting much harder to find what our fore-fathers took for granted….to simply be left alone.”

            ^^^ THIS! THIS! THIS! ^^^

            America is a Dead Lie. South-east coast of TX, maybe… But I’m leaning more towards leaving the country altogether. Still working on that stuff you pointed me towards, Dr. Geiger! I really appreciate your help!

          • Owen Geiger says:

            Things keep getting worse with no end in sight. Soon gov regulators will be on your property to enforce the National Animal ID System (NAIS), which will reclassify land as “premises” (a synonym for the word tenement). This puts land in a different legal category than property, and this will likely change or nullify your constitutional rights.
            http://www.newswithviews.com/brownfield/brownfield59.htm

            And then there’s the new FDA Food Safety Bill (note the Orwellian titles they come up with = War is Peace, etc.) that prohibits selling of produce without 20 pages or so of paperwork, intrusive gov inspections of your farm, farm equipment, fees for testing, etc. It’s just being rolled out, but that’s what is behind the raids on raw milk, lemonade stands, raw cheese, etc. like at Rawesome Foods in LA and Amish dairies (watch the YouTube videos). They’re even starting to harass people for growing a home garden (only selectively as they roll things out). So this isn’t conspiracy, the regulations are passed and starting to be enforced. Soon they’ll be able to come to your farm and inspect the gas mileage and emissions of your tractor, maintenance logs of all equipment, test groundwater runoff, examine use of all fertilizers and chemicals, make sure you’re only using Monsanto seeds (just kidding, but that’s probably next). And then they’re going to ban all health supplements, including natural vitamin C, etc. under Codex Alimentarius. The Health Ranger does a good job of covering these topics. http://www.healthranger.org/. See also NaturalNews.com http://www.naturalnews.com/030863_food_safety_bill_Codex_Alimentarius.html

    • Hetzel says:

      Im curious to how the Upstate Ny build went? I too am from Upstate and am trying to figure out if my town is lax enough! My husband wont build without a permit (Im ready to just go ahead and do it). I can only find a application for a permit, but no real info as to what the codes are! Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance!

      • Owen Geiger says:

        You can usually get the codes and building regs online on the county website. Sometimes you have to go to their office and ask for a packet of info for new owner builders. It’s also helpful making friends in the building industry who know the codes.

    • Terrel Shumway says:

      I think this post hits the nail on the head.

      It is not enough to go off and hide in the woods. Yes, it’s nice to have some privacy and occasionally some solitude. (I would love it. My wife would go berserk.) But if we want our grandchildren to enjoy that too, we need to learn to live with others who may not share our beliefs or values. We cannot change the world by running away from it.

      The key to changing the world is community — people working together to achieve a common purpose. It is relatively easy for *them* to overwhelm a guy hiding in the woods, even if he has a shotgun. It is slightly more difficult to overwhelm a large, highly-visible intentional community.

      • Owen Geiger says:

        Let’s not forget that many times you don’t have to go way off in the woods. Sometimes you can find places that are 25 minutes to an hour away with far fewer building regulations. Large cities are the worst. Lower populated areas typically have fewer regulations.

  115. Richard says:

    Well…still no luck with building codes and counties. It seems that the last few places left without building codes are adopting them. I searched Arizona, New Mexico (statewide, and even Taos has them, but they are ‘not enforced’), and Colorado.

    With the ‘no enforcement’ going on…what is to stop the county from coming in at any time and just laying you out with a whopping fine? Or even worse, tearing the house down? No enforcement means they have something if they want it.

    Delta county it is, then.

    If anyone finds any more, please post them!

  116. Dr. PJ says:

    Hello Owen
    Do you know of any earthbag builders or just folks knowledgeable in this art in Panama? It seems most of the people building with earthbags and those who contract their services for such are in midwest/west coast states of the U.S., not to mention Europe, Africa and Asia.
    Thanks in advance.
    Dr. PJ

    P.S. is the jury still out on whether tropical, rainy climates like Florida’s or central America’s are conducive to earthbag buildings? I’d like to know what solutions have been made.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      I don’t know of any projects in Panama. There’s been a fair amount of interest in Mexico.

      Earthbag is very good for tropical countries. That’s really how I got into this. I started by looking for viable solutions to rebuilding after the 2004 Asian tsunami.

  117. Richard says:

    I can add a county that is definitely off of the list for low or no codes…

    Apache county, Arizona wants $1300 for a permit to build anything on any piece of land, with three inspections (before, during, and after, I suppose), and you have to submit professional plans with a “stamp”.

    Might as well build in the city.

    Arizona counties vary greatly by codes, so I will post my findings as I research land in each county.

    • acipra says:

      Richard, I can tell you this about Apache County Building codes. They just became somewhat legal in the last couple years. As they had failed to ever follow the ARS when adopting the former building codes and or building ordinances.

      I and some other property owners are filing a complaint with the Justice department for violation of our civil rights by the county denying our due process rights.
      Of all the code violations ever sent and or recorded as a guilty finding against their property was ever allowed to defend the alleged violation at any type of hearing. Niether a criminal nor a civil hearing.

      http://acipra.wordpress.com/category/home-page/

  118. Owen Geiger says:

    Yeah, it’s easy to get old tires. Most businesses have to pay a dump fee and are very happy to give them away.

    I love all the sustainable features in Earthships, but have come to realize you can have all these things in an earthbag or strawbale house at a fraction of the labor.

    Many places out west without codes are not the greatest places to live: hot in the summer (desert-like conditions), cold in the winter, remote (high cost of commuting), lack of community and so on.

    I would look for a place with community, such as Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri, Crestone, Colorado, Ashville, NC (see http://www.kleiwerks.org), Berea and other areas in Kentucky. Google ecovillage plus the state you are interested in.

  119. Richard says:

    I am also very interested in the counties with few to no BC’s, and Delta is the only one I knew about before coming here.

    What about Nevada, or Arizona?

    I am building a similar structure, and cannot stand the condescension I am getting from these old farts who think I am just trying to get out of paying fees.

    I will move anywhere in the west without building codes…even Kansas!

    I just cannot comprehend why people have to make this so difficult. What is the point of trying to build an Earthship for next to nothing when they gouge you on fees and fines for stuff we are trying to get away from?

    Check out my page and tell me how easy it would be to build my house…I mean, the codes situation is retarded. This dome would be 10x stronger than any wood box.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Fantastic idea, Richard. I’m behind you all the way. This can definitely work. One challenge is preventing water from entering the home when it’s recessed in the ground. You’ll need covered entries and good detailing.

      And it looks like you’ve noticed our approach is vastly different than rammed tires — no high fees, no penalties, etc. Our goal is to provide basic information and plans so people can build affordably.

      Also note, earthbags are way, way faster than building with rammed tires. I tell people to ram one tire and a couple of earthbags and compare it for themselves. (One rammed tire can take around 30 minutes versus around 5 minutes per earthbag.)

    • Erin says:

      Hi –

      I have given alot of thought to the legal arguments that could be used to challenge some of these building codes, the basis for which is presumably the health and safety of residents of the county/state. You could challenge the constitutionality of some building codes by saying their rigourous enforcement lacks a “rational basis”….won’t get into the Supreme Court jurisprudence but you basically point out the hypocrisy by showing that the state allows polluters to dump crap in the rivers (harmful to ppl) and pollute the air or as in WV, blow the tops off of mountains, the list goes on…..just a thought.

      • Owen Geiger says:

        Building codes are heavily entrenched now in communities and seen as essential by many. It will be very difficult to change the current situation.

      • nogridster says:

        Hi Erin: With all respect – I must politely disagree with you on the issue of environmental regulation. As an environmental scientist for 20 years – and someone who makes my living helping my clients secure environmental permits for their projects, including extensive work as an adviser to public agencies – I cannot think of any state which “allows” people to dump pollutants in rivers, or pollute the air.

        In fact the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, the Endangered Species Act, the Oil Pollution Prevention Act, the Coastal Zone Protection Act, and a thousand others strictly regulate what constituents, and in what concentrations any material may be put into the environment. The list of regulated chemicals in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is staggering, the database lists many thousands of chemicals and their various compounds and isotopes.

        Naturally there is some difference of opinion as to what constitutes a pollutant. Some compounds are easily identified as a pollutant due to their extreme toxicity (e.g.. benzene’s, VOC’s, certain pesticides…etc..), others are less easily discernible – often the difference between “harmless” and toxic is merely the dosage. Dosage is confusing and can be strongly influenced by medium (air, water, groundwater), dispersal methods, time, environmental persistence, half-life, degradation, reaction to other environmental factors like UV light degradation…etc… The list goes on. But if your argument is that the “government” should regulate EVERYTHING. (Please forgive me if I have overstated your belief) Then you would degrade and eliminate our freedom entirely. The environments ability to mend itself is amazing and only now becoming more understood. If you remember the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico – a few years ago – it was said (by some) that the oil would persist for generations; and yet to some people’s amazement – it was found that a huge bloom of micro-algae was quickly consuming most of the petroleum. To us in the industry this was no surprise but actually predicted.

        Obviously I am not arguing that pollution is okay – what I am arguing is that the environmental laws we have are very capable of limiting and stopping the majority of pollution contributing causes and that we should all be VERY careful when we attempt to argue that more laws are needed. I personally believe we all live under a crushing blanket of over regulation….and in many discrete and overt ways they limit and diminish our freedom.

      • Erin says:

        I meant that the environmental laws are not being enforced; we do have dirty air, dirty rivers etc…..that is the hypocrisy…if building codes are strictly enforced against a few people who want to build safe, organic homes but the laws are not enforced against polluters then you have at least an argument for challenging the current building codes. I am talking about a strictly legal technical position that, ideally, would allow people to build earthbag (or other “alternative” building material) homes in areas where you would have a hard time getting a building permit currently.

        • Owen Geiger says:

          Yeah, I see your point, but the system is so broken and corrupt that you’re probably better off 1. moving to rural areas with few codes, 2. hiring an engineer to gain code approval if you want to live closer to civilization. Trying to ‘fight’ or sue the system would likely be a long, costly and futile process. So you’re probably right in a technical sense, but for me life is too short to buck the system too much. Maybe what you say would work if you have lots of time, enjoy politics and live in an area with a lot of progressive thinkers.

        • ron says:

          The problem is everything is tilted towards A stick house with an septic system.
          How many cant perk after buying property.thats why i liked the watson wick idea.Or seperating the grey n black water and holding waste to be pumped off or finding a way to use it,(biogas?) Ive also considered the wisdom of snowbirds.Have two places to set up camp for the weather and migrate.A yurt or portable dome house would work for this.The ability to move could be a big plus.weather and strife,politics.stay mobile.

      • Erin says:

        Yes the codes are decidedly slanted towards the construction industry…..but after I read on this very site that earthbags have been given building permits in my native Kentucky (in Berea) I thought “hot damn!” now I can build a house in my old Kentucky home hee hee. I work in Manhattan in the rat race but want to be able to have a place to always come back to at a low cost and do consulting jobs up here for a few months or longer. I don’t want to be in the position of many forclosure victims have been in ….at an old age…still paying a mortgage…don’t want to have to worry about that at retirement. I think, what with the widespread education on “green building codes”, there are probably many more code enforcement people who would be open-minded on this than one might initially think. As far as the dreaded perc test….ugh…don’t wanna think about that,

        • Owen Geiger says:

          It will be far easier to gain code approval in places like Kentucky than populated urban areas. Like you say, you’ll always have a nest egg and place to vacation and retire.

  120. Jim Lawrence says:

    Thanks Owen. By the yard it’s hard, by the inch it’s a cinch. I’ll stay connected.

  121. Jim Lawrence says:

    Owen, given the repressive, construction-industry supporting nature of building code authorities nationwide, is there any hope of even considering building an earthbag home in a state like Mass. that has a state building code?

    Can these entities be sued? Or do we all have to move to a state with minimal/no codes to be free (in America!) to build our dream homes using alternatives to fire-prone, inefficent, ridiculously expensive rectilinear structures?

    • Owen Geiger says:

      The easiest way is to live in remote, rural areas where codes are few and far between (or not rigorously enforced). But things are looking brighter if you live in more densely populated areas. Two engineers have recently volunteered to work with us. It’s too early to say what will happen, but getting engineering approval for earthbag building in the near future looks promising. A county could be sued for refusing stamped plans.

  122. Debby Hall says:

    Owen, I am very excited that I found this site, I’ve read this articles over and over again, plus many others on earthbag dwellings…what I want to know is, has anyone approached ..people in Haiti about building more of these homes,shelters there? I would think that with all the rubble combined with other material these would make better shelters than the tents? Plus, it would give the Haitians the opportunity to build their own homes and rebuild their lives. I would love to attend one of your workshops..in would have to be in the future, so I will stay posted on your future workshops. I’m from SD. and we have some earth-dwelling homes around here and I’ve always wanted one..thanks again for all your work and information that you provide..take care.

  123. Chris says:

    We are working with a gentleman in Panama who uses a simialr but slightly different technique. They use one continuous, long bag like a snake and just keep coiling it around and around and up and over framed cutouts (for windows and doors). It seems that this may be slightly stronger that stacking individual bags. Barbed wire running longitudinally (buried between) along each layer make it very stable and shake proof.

    Good luck with the good earth!

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Long tubes are very strong, however they have to be special ordered and are more difficult to find. They’re also more difficult to fill. The extra time and trouble may only be worthwhile for seismic areas or other special applications.

  124. Earthbag structures or buildings remind me of igloos in a dessert or a countryside.
    Great idea by the way of gathering all interested parties, it is never impossible to locate all counties with no or limited building codes but then again, seeking for “volunteers” would prove hard to do if i may say,
    not unless the volunteer too is interested to build a structure for himself.

  125. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Listmans and csstone, Dean Sheffield. Dean Sheffield said: Counties with Few or No Building Codes « Earthbag Building Blog http://bit.ly/7UZVW5 [...]

    • Garry Wood says:

      Hi Owen,

      Just wanted to chime in by saying that the county around Cody, Wyoming has no building codes. My brother lives there and built his own home with only a septic permit needed. He is not prove to new ideas and went with a log home. I told him he should appreciate the idea of a dirtbag home since it has been around a long time and, well, with the brotherly love I have for him, I had to mention something about being a dirtbag himself.

      Garry

Leave a Reply