Legalizing Sustainability: Part 1

Natural buildings have long been restricted to code-less municipalities (mainly rural, libertarian areas), and to those who have the financial resources to pay for extensive engineering. Even with approved, stamped engineer plans, building officials still have retained the power to say no to natural homes.

Webb_Municipal_BuildingThat has been changing all over the United States recently, and here in Denver it looks like we are further opening the door.

Within the next year, the City of Denver will be adopting the 2015 International Building Codes (I-Codes). The I-Codes are a huge set of rules to help ensure buildings are built safely, and they will mean an enormous overhaul to the current building codes in Denver.

Due to the hard work of a lot of devoted individuals, the 2015 I-Codes include two appendices related to natural building. One of these is on strawbale and the other is on light straw clay. These appendices give folks parameters on which to design code-approved strawbale homes and use light straw clay insulation. This means you can not only receive a permit for this type of construction, but also that the city MUST issue you a permit if you are following the code.

Here is the catch. Municipalities are not required to adopt the appendices of the I-Codes.

20150320_152214Advocacy is one of Common Earth’s main goals, so we jumped right on in to this process and submitted a proposal to the City of Denver requesting that they outright adopt both of these appendices. The proposal was accepted and reviewed by a committe on March 20th, 2015. There were some important concerns raised around how to inspect these unfamiliar construction techniques, but the committee overwhelmingly supported these appendices and approved both of them! If these appendices make it through the rest of the review process (more on that to come), we hope to be able to fill in the gaps and offer the city inspectors a training on how to properly inspect for these appendices.

This is a huge step towards natural building becoming more widely accepted, and it can’t be said enough that we are building on the hard work of a lot of individuals who came before us. Not just the folks who ingeniously started stacking bales over 130 years ago, or the generations of builders and craftsmen that refined wattle & daub into light straw clay as we know it today, but we particularly owe enormous gratitude to those who have labored over writing and gathering support for these appendices. To name just a couple: Martin Hammer and Paula Baker-Laporte. Please check back in to hear about the public review process as the codes continue on to City Council. We invite you to become more involved and help us build on the exciting momentum towards change in the building industry!