Building Permits for Straw Bale Houses

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

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

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

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

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

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13 Responses to Building Permits for Straw Bale Houses

  1. Avatar
    runningwolf Thu, February 19, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    you are right on….Re: permits

    if you have a class coming up in new mexico give me a note….

  2. Andrew
    Andrew Fri, February 20, 2015 at 9:21 am #

    The closest I have this year is in Texas. You can learn more about the class under the workshops tab above.

  3. Avatar
    Gary Wed, April 22, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

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


  4. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Sun, June 7, 2015 at 9:46 am #

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

  5. Avatar
    dave keyser Sat, January 9, 2016 at 8:41 am #

    where can I get a complete set of building codes

  6. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Mon, January 11, 2016 at 1:01 pm #

    Hi Dave. You can review the 2012 IRC code here. If you want a newer version of the IRC, I believe that you would need to purchase it on line. Further, you will need to look at local amendments and additions to the code as those vary from place to place.

  7. Avatar
    James Tue, April 19, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

    What are the permits and certifications needed to build a straw bale home?

  8. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Thu, April 21, 2016 at 11:17 am #

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

  9. Avatar
    Kent Swanbeck Sun, June 26, 2016 at 10:08 pm #

    where are YOU? Thanks, kent

  10. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Fri, July 15, 2016 at 10:31 am #

    Southern Oregon for me Kent.

  11. Avatar
    Jessica De La Cruz Bravo Sun, July 17, 2016 at 12:15 pm #

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


  12. Avatar
    Jessica De La Cruz Bravo Sun, July 17, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

  13. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Tue, August 2, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

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

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