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.