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GSBN:Fwd: SB codes on the books: It's been ten years
Forwarding for Mark, whose laptop died.
From: Mark Piepkorn mark@...
Subject: SB codes on the books: It's been ten years
I've been asked to put together a short update for
Environmental Building News - a few hundred words at most - as a
ten-year retrospect piece on SB and the codes in North America. (The
January '96 piece is inserted below for your reference.)
I'd like permission to quote your responses as from an
interview. EBN quotes tend to be one-liners, so don't worry being
coherent; chances are good that I may not get to use any of it
A bunch of questions in a big wad, not all of which I expect
answers to - and completely independent musings are absolutely
welcome and encouraged: Any thoughts in hindsight about SB codes a
decade on? Is it generally easier than it used to be to get building
permits? Do most SB houses seem to be permitted, under the radar, or
in unenforced areas? Is there even a need for specific SB codes? -
there doesn't seem to have been any adopted anywhere in over five
years. Would more SB codes actually be a bad thing at this point?
Care to hazard a wild guess about how many SB houses there actually
are in North America? (The SB Registry has just over 1100 listings,
some minor fraction of what's really out there; how to quantify? I
remember the CASBA folks going ape some years ago trying to come up
with a reasonably accurate number just for northern CA, and pretty
much failing.) What percentage would you guesstimate are owner-built
vs contractor-built these days?, owner-as-contractor?
These are the codes and code-related mandates that come to mind - am
I missing any?
California (state mandate for local jurisdictions to allow SB;
Nevada (state mandate for local jurisdictions to allow SB)
New Mexico (state code)
Things I'm sure I won't talk about in the piece, but that
I've been thinking about: Is SB in North America getting too big for
its britches?, is the charm and joy still there?, is it becoming
high-tech, high-price, high-concept... falling into some of the very
problems most of its early proponents sought to short-circuit? - an
option that's truly affordable, eminently owner-buildable,
personally empowering, a deeply deeply ecological representative of
an environmentally championing lifestyle steeped in social
justice... and - most particularly - transformative. Is SB still
transformative and magical?
- - - - -
Straw Bale Construction Gains Legitimacy of Codes
What's Happening - Environmental Building News January/February 1996
The distinction of being the first government body to officially
adopt a straw-bale construction code goes to the Napa County
(California) Board of Supervisors. The Board adopted the voluntary
guidelines in Californiaâs new law, based on Assembly Bill 1314. The
guidelines still require an engineerâs stamp on all plans, however,
as does every building type in California except wood-frame
construction of two stories or less.
More specific and comprehensive code language has been adopted as a
local amendment to the 1994 Uniform Building Code (UBC) by the City
of Tucson and Pima County, New Mexico. This is a prescriptive code
for both load-bearing and non-load-bearing straw-bale construction.
(For more on these prescriptive standards, see EBN Vol. 4, No. 3,
page 14.) County and City officials are continuing to work with
local straw-bale builders to create a performance-based code as
well, which would allow more flexibility in construction methods
than the new prescriptive code.
Californiaâs Assembly Bill 1314 was based on the language now
adopted in Pima County, but due to last-minute adjustments to the
Pima codes, the California guidelines are slightly less restrictive.
The differences concern allowable loads on a bale wall and the
length of unbuttressed bale walls, according to straw-bale expert
David Eisenberg, who has been instrumental in writing the amendment.
Prior to the adoption of these codes, legally condoned straw-bale
structures were typically approved under special code provisions
allowing for ãalternative materials and methods.ä Working under
these provisions requires builders to prove the adequacy of the
method to an officialâs satisfaction for each structure. The new
codes allow building permits to be issued without any such special
In a related measure, Nevadaâs Assembly Bill 171 was signed into
law, requiring each local government to ãamend its building codes to
permit the use of straw or other materials and technologies which
conserve scarce natural resources·in the construction of a structure
and the use of solar energy for the heating of a structure, to the
extent the local climate allows, as intended by: [the applicable
For more information:
Development Center for Appropriate Technology
P.O. Box 41144
Tucson, AZ 85717
Out on Bale, (un)Ltd.
1037 East Linden Street
Tucson, AZ 85719
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