Lenient Building Codes in Upstate NY

Upstate New York
Upstate New York

Great news for natural builders and homesteaders in New York — from Bill, one of our readers. Is it just me or does there seem to be a growing number of areas with more reasonable building requirements?

“I’m planning on building in upstate NY and using the actual law to my benefit- by building a single family residence under 1500 square feet I won’t have to use an architect or engineer and can build using the materials of my choice. It’s not exactly a code free situation, but it does give me some more flexibility in my construction plans, and it’s surprisingly permissive in a liberal, highly restrictive state like NY.

It’s a bit of a battle through the legalese, but basically while still requiring me to meet code requirements, I can submit my own plans, or simple plans readily available from the internet and save the cost of using an engineer or architect to design a small home. §1203.3(a)(3)(i) states that building plans must be submitted in accordance with the education law, and the education law says that there’s no requirement for single family residences under 1500 square feet to be designed by an architect or engineer.

I’m hoping to use this to push small affordable homes in upstate NY, starting with my own- of course there are still obstacles to be overcome, but I’m hopeful that by taking an informed and educated approach and working with the local code officer I’ll be able to build my dream home without TOO much burdensome and unnecessary jumping through hoops. I’m a firm believer that engineers and architects provide a critical and valuable service with large buildings but are an unnecessary budget item in a simple, relatively small home.

Love your website, it’s been the basis of a lot of my plans to create an off-grid homestead!”

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13 thoughts on “Lenient Building Codes in Upstate NY”

  1. Hi, I’m looking to see if anyone was successful with this or has any advice about the process? I’m interested in building a natural home for myself on some land, but also interested in making these tools and methods more easily accessible to the public.
    I’m in Real Estate and there’s a huge need for affordable and sustainable homes – people want it, the access just isn’t there. I’m looking for advice and connections to help change this.

  2. Has any of you got some success building earthbags legally in Upstate New York?

    I have been trying for a few months now, and can’t even find a professional engineer to help.

    Do you know any engineer that can help with alternative building in Upstate New York?


  3. Just make sure you have your t’s crossed and your i’s dotted if you have to deal with the Adirondack Park Agency. They are an entire nightmare on top of anything you have to think about with the NYS building code.

  4. I’m in upstate NY and want to build my own home .. I want a insulated earthbag home .. Nothing big just enough for me and a spare room .. What is the building law now that it’s been a couple years .. I still gotta figure out what soil is best for me to use to insulate my earthbag house .. half of it will be underground. Please help if you can.

    • Highly populated states like NY and CA have very strict building codes. That means building with natural materials will be difficult or even impossible unless you’re building a very small, remote off grid cabin in the woods. And even then code officials will likely find out about it and make you tear it down. We’re living in crazy times. This is why we keep advising people to move to rural areas where codes are less strict.

      Let’s say you want to build a tiny cabin anyway. The most sensible way in my opinion is to use straw bales and possibly some wood poles. This would be way faster and easier to build than earthbags. Stack the bales on gravel bags. Search our blog for a previous story called the Straw Bale Yurt. That design would work well for you. Then download the free straw bale book by Matts Myhrman. That story is also here on our blog. That’s all you need.

      Half underground: This is not necessary because a tiny strawbale cabin will be super insulated. An underground portion as you describe would probably have water problems. It’s not worth the risk.

      • Wow! This is great and so informative. I was hoping to build earth-bag building as well, but I guess strawbale may be better. I too am in Upstate NY, but it IS rural in Orleans County. Thank you so much for your helpful info!

        • I know it’s a long shot getting a reply after so long…but was wondering how your situation is going? I just started research a couple months ago. Wooooooww…so much law and brick walls. I just want a little off-grid cabin somewhere near the ADKS!

  5. Comment from Cleareye10 at Instructables.com:
    “People have to demand that local government butt out of the building code and enforcement business. Let individuals decide for themselves what they want and how to build it. We would have real communities that way, not the fake, look alike subdivisions controlled like condominium complexes.”

    • Exactly!
      And We call our Country the Land of the Free!
      I do too want to build an small house or cabin made out of rocks, stones, bricks, mud, logs, wood, etc AND I’m very interested to buy land by acreage with other like minded people OR if possible apply to existing ICs in NY, CT’s communities where I could buy a parcel or lot and become a member as well.


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