[GSBN] Status of Straw Bale Construction and codes

martin hammer mfhammer at pacbell.net
Wed Nov 9 18:10:46 CST 2011


Everyone,

Bad news and good news regarding the proposed Strawbale Construction section
of the International Green Construction Code (IGCC).  The bad news is very
bad.  Strawbale Construction was eliminated from the IGCC and it was not
even heard at the Final Action Hearings that concluded Sunday.

Without going into the complex circumstances and procedure, three weeks ago
a proponent of a related Code Change Proposal withdrew it, which caused the
section to be eliminated.  The proponent was a Building Official who is
significantly less biased and more interested in public welfare than the
many industry representatives involved, who as a rule are interested in
protecting their territory.  This building official was the only person in a
position to do what he did.  He maintains it was his decision, but also
acknowledged the influence of other opponents (industry representatives).  I
was unknowingly exposed to this action, which amounted to (or felt like) a
stab in the back.

The most legitimate criticism by opponents was that the IGCC process did not
include committee members qualified to judge the structural aspects of the
proposed SB code.  Although there is truth to this, I argued (among other
things) that the code was created by licensed design professionals and
academics experienced in design, construction and testing of strawbale
buildings (including many from the GSBN who were kind enough to write
letters of support).  This includes Mark Aschheim (CE professor Santa Clara
University) who wrote detailed analysis and rationale for the seismic
provisions.  

At the other end of the spectrum were absurd comments, such as strawbale
construction was ³not a green subject².  Or that there is no uniformity from
one bale to the next.  The latter comment coming from a representative of
the American Wood Council, which promotes a material (wood) where each piece
is unique.  Comments such as these speak of ignorance at best, or more
likely obstructionism.

So what could possibly be the good news?  I have refocused my energy on
proposing strawbale construction for inclusion in the International Building
Code (IBC).  Proposals are due Jan 3, 2012.  The IBC is where strawbale
construction ultimately belongs (the IGCC would have been a nice step, but
with limited effect).  Once in the IBC (and probably the International
Residential Code), it would as a matter of course become part of the
building code of virtually every jurisdiction in the US.

Almost every opponent of SB Construction in the IGCC stated it ³doesn¹t
belong in the IGCC, it belongs in the IBC².  I¹ve written an e-mail
³anticipating their support in principle² as I notified them of my IBC
intention.  The International Code Council, the body that facilitates and
oversees the writing and publication of the I-Codes, has been very helpful
throughout, and as one staff architect recently stated - ³As long as you
persevere we will be backing you.²

The IGCC effort was not wasted.  The language as it stands is much more
³code ready² than it was at the beginning of the process 2 years ago.  I now
have written objections from opponents, many of which I have addressed (the
legitimate ones) and made changes resulting in a better code.  It is on many
more people¹s radar (mostly in a good way).  The structural provisions are
undergoing further review by a task force organized by Mark Aschheim and are
being placed on the plate of the Building Seismic Safety Commission, an
important commission that advises the ICC.

With my intention to submit this to the ICC on 12/24/11 (my internal
deadline), I offer to send the current version to those interested in making
comments.

At least three people from this list were kind enough to make donations to
CASBA to help cover expenses for the IGCC effort.  I here offer to return
those donations (contact me or Maurice Bennett), but will also suggest that
they instead be used toward expenses of the even more important IBC effort.
The first Hearings will occur in Dallas at the end of April.

That¹s all for now on the code front.  I will either succeed with this
before I die (with significant help from my SB friends), or have the straw
bale code engraved on my tombstone.   But I now have a new plan and renewed
optimism about straw bale in the IBC.  Onward.

Martin Hammer

PS ­ A note of thanks to David Eisenberg for his continued support.

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