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Areas that allow earthbag construction?


Joined: Dec 16, 2010
Posts: 1
I want to buy some acreage, build an earthbag home and have a permaculture garden, but do not want to deal with building codes and inspections. Is there a list of counties/states with no/lax building codes anywhere?  The only place I know of without building codes is Delta County, Colorado, but it gets very little rain and extreme weather. I also read somewhere that if you buy land off the road in Puna, Hawaii they will not enforce building codes. Chile is also supposed to have very lax enforcement of building codes. 

Where is everyone here building their homes? Does the local government hassle you about your home or garden?

Joined: Dec 04, 2010
Posts: 79
Whether a piece of land has zoning and requires permits or not should not stop you from creating an earthbag building.  The following link is of an open house in Austin Texas, where a couple built a fully permitted earthbag house.  Unfortunately, this is short notice as the open house is tomorrow, Saturday morning.  They plan to create a website and workshops about how they went about doing it, including the permit process, though.
Sherry Willis

Joined: Jun 09, 2010
Posts: 29
Location: Missouri
Southern Missouri has lots of counties with no building codes and very inexpensive real estate available.  However; you pay for that with low paying jobs.

Good luck!


Joined: Dec 01, 2010
Posts: 158
Location: Abilene, KS
Dickinson Co, Kansas just requires a building permit $50, and you have to have a septic tank or lagoon inspection, so you'd have to pay for that system. Doesn't mean that you have to use it, though.  What they don't know, won't hurt them.  Nothing else. Higher taxes because tornado took out schools in one town, however.
Also, last I heard was Ottawa Co, Ks just required a building permit, no inspections again.  Again, higher taxes because of a new grade school.
Check out southern Colorado, cheap land, but very depressed job wise, I have heard.  Our son is looking for land that he can pretty much live just camping on several months at a time.  Any place that will allow a permanent RV life should be okay with earthbag, I'd guess.

Old homesteads with falling down houses would be a good deal, as wells would be dug already - they can be repaired, and with today's technology, bad well water can be made safe to drink.  There would probably be power to the site, maybe a usable outbuilding, or at least scrap laying around to use for projects.

The more you're out in the boonies, the cheaper the land is going to be, and possibly no restrictions or inspections, but talk to locals to see if there's a drug running problem, flooding or weird stuff happening, too.  Jobs might be a challenge.  Good luck!  We're still living in a construction zone, never could have moved in when we did in most areas.

I sure would make a couple phone calls without giving my name to find out some of the quirky 'laws' some areas have before you buy any land.  Might check into 99 year leases from farmers on their wasteland.  Works in theory, but I have only heard of one person that accomplished it out here.  Most farmers don't want to part with a tablespoon of dirt.

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

Joined: May 12, 2010
Posts: 52
If you make the earthbag small enough it wont require a permit.
In Washington the largest size you can build without a permit is up to 200Sq Ft.

The international permit line is 120Sq Ft. so, a 10 x 12 ft room is OK

It would be a circle with a 6 1/8 radius , or just more than that.

That is a 12 foot diameter and you can have a stem wall that is a couple of feet or so and that means your little dome-room can have a decent ceiling height.

The emergency kit (really just a long tube of sandbag material) is just about that size, so you should be able to do this readily and inexpensively.

Have fun,

Jason Johnson

Joined: Jan 21, 2011
Posts: 1
Location: 96771 Big Island of Hawaii. Puna Side
There is a lot of land in Puna that is thick jungle. A lot of people have very nice not necessarily permitted houses tucked away out of sight of everyone. And unless you knew it was there....You wouldn't know
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame

Joined: May 23, 2010
Posts: 488
Location: Foothills north of L.A., zone 9ish mediterranean
Earthbag domes are permitted under california building code, which is the toughest code in the US due to seismic issues.  That fact alone should help convince your friendly neighborhood beureacrats to let you have a crack at it. 
John Abacene

Joined: Oct 07, 2010
Posts: 114
Unfortunately, - especially regarding Washington/PNW, since 2007 in most cases, those counties that will allow a shed under 200 sq. feet have a string of prerequisites, including a well, a septic system and a house first being built in that order. So you need a shed to safely store the materials or tools to build that house, septic system, well, or anything else? - out of luck. Gotta go into debt building everything else first, cart-before-the-horse.
That is what has been stopping me in Klamath County, OR, or in AZ. Not sure where I can go where I can just build a safe, solid structure out of concrete/shotcrete... I REALLY wanted to build in the Pacific Northwest or AZ, but its looking like that is just not going to happen. Really ticks me off too. My father, his father, and on back had a shot at the American dream, but these lousy bureaucrats the last generation or so have flushed it right down the drain!
Joe Woodall

Joined: Nov 25, 2010
Posts: 43
Please understand That, We Don't Build With Earthbags, as it might would be too wasteful of materials and/or too expensive compared to what we build , but we do it like this, no matter where were building at :

A) Start with the right location i.e. No Inspections Areas If Possible ~ so less explaining ( over & over ! )
B ) If you must have that conversation, start with the right words in that conversation,
when/if speaking to building inspection departments.

As in

1.) "Were building an all masonry building" and want to explore our plan details with you.
2. Then say as little as you can, so as not to raise any issues not yet conceived of by the inspector.

Because of the problems I perceive with bags and that method of construction, I would probably suggest to all a more traditional Rammed Earth Construction process , as your already doing the work, with bag construction but not getting all the benefits.

I hope that help more than it hurts the conversation.

Best Regards,

Joe Woodall , Architect
Georgia Adobe Ecoitecture

Joe Woodall, Rogue Ecoitect
Georgia Adobe Rammed Earth Homes (TM)
John Abacene

Joined: Oct 07, 2010
Posts: 114
Joe Woodall : Simple, common-sense advice. Useful and appreciated.

I was actually hoping to build with shot-crete/concrete. However, since you refer to masonry construction, and I can hope that you know more than a little about it, one method I was thinking of using was a form of masonry.
What this would be is casting large custom concrete "bricks" in place to form the wall, likely bonding to previous bricks/castings as each sets. That wall would likely be between 8 inches to 12 inches thick.
The plan would be to cast as large a "brick" as I can pour, either from a cement mixer, or from a mostly full 55 gallon drum (approx. 45-50 gallons at a time, per brick/pour)
- Any thoughts as to advantages/disadvantages/complications with doing it this way?

My biggest problems again, would be the technicalities of paying for a well, and other annoying technicalities of building code/dept. Of course: Location, Location, Location. But I really have my heart set on either Oregon/Pacific Northwest or Arizona. I found only one place where building codes are few, Greenlee County, on the eastern border of the State, but the whole county seems to be a copper mine, with almost no land available, much less affordable.

I cannot live where there is any real humidity, because I would be absolutely miserable. I would prefer not to live in places with likelihood of tornadoes or flooding, etc. which really limits where I could go.
It really comes down to "getting away with" build something perfectly safe, extremely solid, durable, and very long lasting - but as many 'permies' know, building with any unconventional or uncommon method can be problematic.
In my case, especially where S. Oregon/Klamath County is concerned, its really about defeating not only the building codes/dept. but as I have discovered, its really about a certain clique' there, where there is a deliberate effort to either keep people out that they even think they don't like, or keeping people out altogether for some reason. Just look up "Klamath forest estates" for a starting point of the general area, scan around using google earth, and you will see that there are very, very, VERY few homes or anything out there, despite very low land prices. I could get 5 acres for $3,000 - $5,000, and often without even document, etc fees. But it seems the only way to build there would be to have a whole lot of money to get everything built at once, and to have an attorney on retainer. - This is after having communication with various people, including local representatives, real estate agents, the building code department, etc. In fact, I cannot even get anyone to give me names or contact info for those responsible for the local codes, whom I would presume to be the county board of supervisors, whom I cannot even find in a net search.
There is something real fishy and possibly under-handed going on there I think.
Joe Woodall

Joined: Nov 25, 2010
Posts: 43
Well, I Appreciate the complement. I fear that simple is all I can be from afar.

As to the location to build upon, that's a judgment call only you can make , but one that I normally start by a 1st hand contact with the code officials. Begin a discussion about Masonry homes and see where they lead you. Often the best results, come from you being a good listener to the "Master" , and God Knows, everyone likes to thought of as, a swami of knowledge .

If adversary is discovered, as you talk, swing the discussion over towards "test Buildings" and TV, Radio & Newspaper coverage, and getting their assistance and onsite participation for future green building in their county . Be sure and ask if the county commissioners should be present, when new things are tried and the media is present to photograph them . Cooperation comes often as easily from the threat of bad press, as it does from a bowl of sugar for flies. When given the choice they will choose to help you & green construction that can benefit the community , especially when its just a test structure. By the way your going to be the test dummy, using it daily and recording the results for posterity, for maybe the next 20+ years.

On your big "concrete Blocks" that's done all the time, but it Sounds Expensive to me unless your running a Ready Mix Plant and have a lot of free back hauls to dump somewhere. I prefer Rammed Earth ( Sand & Clay ) and the traditional methods of the same, as its often a material that was at least partially purchased, with the property and thus saves you and the maybe your client, some money.

Hope that helps !,

Best Regards
Joe Woodall, Architect
Georgia Adobe Ecoitecture.
Dee Dee Foley

Joined: Nov 26, 2013
Posts: 5
There is a book called "No Building Codes" where some guy checked all the states and counties to see what there restrictions are. It was reviewed somewhere here on Permies. I do not know if it is still available.

Here is a link to Owen Geiger take on No building code counties
John Abacene

Joined: Oct 07, 2010
Posts: 114
That book has been out of date for over two years last I saw - contacted the guy a couple years ago, he said he would have a new edition out that coming October - and didn't.
I agree. Here's the link:
subject: Areas that allow earthbag construction?