Choose Rural Areas with Few Building Codes

For ease of getting a permit for earthbag houses, buy rural land with few or no building restrictions. Ask building officials about building restrictions before buying land! Some will let you build with alternative materials (earthbag, strawbale, adobe, etc.), some won’t. Although alternative materials are allowed by code, some counties make the process so difficult that it’s not worth the trouble. In contrast, some counties have almost no building restrictions except septic systems. It makes no sense, but that’s the way it is. The world desperately needs sustainable housing, but yet all these codes create barriers to alternative building methods and increase cost of construction.

Building codes were written by the insurance, steel, concrete and timber industries to protect their interests and maximize profits. The same thing is happening today with lobbyists in Washington, and that’s why things are so screwed up.

Even if your building officials allow you to build an earthbag house, it will likely cost several times more than it has to. They’ll want concrete foundations, concrete floors, factory trusses, certified wood, etc. Figure $80/sq. ft. minimum in the city instead of $10/sq. ft. do-it-yourself in rural areas. Example: 846 sq. ft. x $80/sq. ft. = $67,680

This is conservative. You’ll likely pay a lot more after permits, engineering fees, utility hookups, etc. And if you hire contractors to do everything, the cost could double. And at this point you may need a home loan, which drives up the price even more. This is part of the reason why there’s a housing crisis and over a billion people can’t afford housing.

You’ll need to talk to your building officials since codes vary county to county. Even a few miles outside the city in a rural county may mean virtually no codes. Try to locate other houses made with alternative building materials. Print various articles and pictures from our websites (,, etc.) and show your building department. Pin them down on specifics. They’ll say something like “you’ll need stamped drawings from an engineer or architect.” Find out exactly what they want.

Building in a city shoots down most options. In most cases it’s not worth the time struggling against the system. Maybe you’ll find a local architect or engineer who specializes in alternative/green building and can help you through the process. Do a google search using key phrases.

13 thoughts on “Choose Rural Areas with Few Building Codes”

  1. Politicians always have, currently do, and always will comply with only one thing; [deleted text]. As Green and generally Peaceful people, most visitors to this site will find the notion repugnant, and rightly so. But if you don’t fight fire with fire, you’ll always lose. These are ugly people and they don’t care. They aren’t uneducated. They know full-well their evil intents. If you aren’t willing to [deleted text], then you deserve what you tolerate. Those who beat their swords into plowshares will always plow for those who do not.

    Owen: A few controversial words were deleted so we can stay on topic.

  2. Points well taken. Additionally, I think we have to consider that the products used for building now are very different from what was available just a hundred years ago; builders are profit oriented and will do what is necessary to make as much profit as possible (as a general rule); we have no tradition of owner built houses since the beginning of the mass market market; and some people who think they can do it themselves, can’t. And to do anything different from business as usual requires thoughtful care and consideration, something officeholders are usually not prepared for or willing to do. AND it takes time and effort to change the ways people do things. It’s a cultural shift badly needed but difficult to achieve.
    I have a computer but don’t use all its features since i would have to spend a lot of time learning new ways and i don’t have that many hours left in my life….but my grandchildren can do many more things than i can… maybe it’s a generational thing. Young people have the energy and the knowledge while we older folks have the desire but not the time or inclination to learn what we need to. Perhaps if we started insisting on younger people running the codes programs? Or some such….now i’ve spent quite many of my allotted minutes, just thinking and typing about the issue.
    Onward and upward, young people. You are the future…..

    • That’s why we encourage the use of natural materials. They’re relatively simple to learn and safe to use. People have been building this way for thousands of years without books, complex codes and regulations, etc. It’s time to return to these time tested ways, and incorporate improvements.

  3. About the odd insistance on septic tank codes in otherwise relaxed areas- I was talking about my confusion with some of the building codes and resistance to things like the reed/wetland greywater recycling with a friend of mine who happens to be a doctor who worked for a while on the border between US and Mexico.

    Apparently a lot of the horror the establishment feels about composting toilets/greywater wetlands has to do with hepatitis risk. Hepatitis is pretty sturdy, it likes to spread through water contamination, and it would only take one group of people doing it wrong to increase everyone’s health risk dramatically.

    When you’re on secluded acerage people will care a lot less than if you’re in a suburb, especially about grey water, for this very reason.

    I thought that was interesting, since hepatitis as a health risk isn’t exactly something I think about a lot, you know?

    • Hepatitis isn’t a concern if you do things correctly. I recommend the Jenkins $25 composting toilet. His system has proven safe over a 30 year period. You can download his book for free:
      (His latest version is $10).

      Safe greywater systems are explained in detail by Oasis Design: For example, you can run underground lines from your sinks and showers to fruit trees.

      But instead of these simple, common sense solutions, most local governments require septic systems that are proven to contaminate groundwater. It’s crazy.

  4. Yes, Crestone is a great example, Artist types, that are spiritual minded…should be the model for the rest of the world.

    In our recent travels through that area of southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico we would often see old adobe ruins sitting next to a mobile home, the thoughts that come to my mind are that these people think they have “upgraded” to modern living…quite the in a tin can that is a bitch to heat in the winter and and a sweat box in the summer…is not an upgrade. Maybe they are lazy and don’t want to do the maintenance that these structures require, it seems pretty obvious that these old adobes have been there for decades, so have survived a few generations…

    • Exactly. This is what I’m saying, too. And examples of this are available wherever you go if one has an open mind and takes the time to investigate.

      It’s shocking to me how something so shoddy as a trailer house can be approved by building codes and somehow people believe the lies and feel safe.

  5. I’d like to make a few more comments about building codes since this is such an important topic.

    For one, I’ve been an advocate of the poor for many years looking for affordable housing solutions. See: I say this so you’ll have a better perspective on where I’m coming from.

    Through many different experiences I’ve learned of solutions that are superior to conventional building codes. One good example is Crestone, Colorado. This community has done a good job of balancing safety concerns with common sense. Although codes are almost non-existent in Crestone, there are common sense guidelines and a building committee that offers suggestions and steers people in the right direction. It’s the total opposite of the typical big government approach.

    The result? You won’t see many stick framed houses in Crestone! Homeowners there have spoken loud and clear through their choices. On almost every block you’ll find strawbale, earthbag, adobe, earthships, etc. The houses are perfectly safe and sound, and this can be confirmed by visiting.

    The success of low interference/less intrusive code systems in this city and many others around world simply shoots down the big government approach that makes it impossible for millions of people to afford their own homes.

    For those in favor of the current big government approach, you are effectively telling people “No, you can’t have your own home. And if you build a home without government approval, we are going to tear it down and bill you for it.

    Try that in my community and people will just laugh. Who are you? What right do you have to tell others they can’t have an affordable home? Try going to dozens of countries, say, Uganda. Go and tell them they can’t live in their traditional earth-built roundhouses because they don’t meet code! And to take it to the logical extreme, try to tear their houses down “for their own good” and see what happens.

    • Great post. I’ve been to Crestone, Colorado a couple of times and it’s cool to see all the alternatives homes. It’s like Crestone has carved out a little niche in the country. Do you know of any other areas similar to Crestone? Do you know of a list of code friendly communities?

      • Crestone seems to be the leader in this area, but there’s also a lot interest from folks living in ecovillages. I would search google for “ecovillage natural building”, “ecovillage earthbag”, etc. to locate groups who are building like this. (Note: don’t use quotes in your actual search query.)

  6. I guess I’d just as soon have safety glass as not…..

    Some people are simply ignorant of the physics of building and would build a deathtrap without some way to keep them from their own folly…..others are just dumb.

    So I’ll accept some level of “safety police” lest the house i might buy fall down around my ears or injure me because of faulty construction.

    Do you really want to see anarchy in construction?

    • Remember that people have been building their own homes for millenia and many of these structures have lasted hundreds of years. Modern building codes are just a few decades old and have created some of the shoddiest housing imaginable. You can build a house to code that will literally fall apart in 20-30 years, emit noxious fumes day and night, be at extreme risk of fire, destroy the environment, waste a ridiculous amount of energy and require 30 year mortages.

      So although codes do offer some useful guidelines (it’s not a simple black/white topic), in my opinion the shortcomings outweigh the advantages. People should have a right to build their own home without oppressive regulation. And if they decide to sell, it’s reasonable to require full disclosure on how the house was built, and potential owners can weigh that risk before buying.

      And to prove the point, I live where codes are virtually non-existent, and guess what? Everything is fine! Most modern houses in the area actually surpass those in code compliant areas. Give people some credit, okay? People aren’t stupid. Everyone wants houses that are strong and durable, and affordable. Code compliance would price them out of the market and they’d be living in shacks and trailers, just like tens of millions of Americans. I, and the people of my community say “no thanks” to the building codes.

      I just realized the other day that I’ve only heard one fire truck in the last four years. House fires were fairly routine wherever I have lived over the years. Not here. They almost never happen because, again, people have used common sense and avoided the shoddy stick frame and sheetrock paradigm (2x4s covered with gypsum board). This code approved system is a joke. The offgassing from OSB (oriented strand board) and other modern materials kills more people than the actual fires. Again, I say no thanks to these ‘approved’ building methods.

      No one is suggesting not using safety glass, etc. People are capable of making good decisions, as evidenced by thousands of communities all over the world that have lasted for centuries (built long before modern building codes).

  7. One of the biggest drivers for early building codes pertained to fireplaces, and how poorly built ones were spontaneously combusting..the insurance companies pushed for this to reduce there losses but also cities and other municipalities…chicago fire 1900’s any one. The cities jumped on the bandwagon to keep their fire-fighting costs down. and to protect the people

    Now days most homes do not have fireplaces, and the “safety police” have stepped in to protect us all…ie 4″ max spacing on deck rails, tempered glass near doors, etc.

    If people were not so lawsuit happy this would not have reached the levels we see today.


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