CASBA

Straw Bale Code Updates

October 2013

Straw bale as a construction material and building system has just taken an huge step into the mainstream.   After countless meetings, hearings, revisions, and hours of work, strawbale building will now be part of the national building code.


The Straw Bale Construction appendix was approved at the International Code Council (ICC) Final Action Hearings in Atlantic City on Oct 4, 2013. It will be included in the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC) which covers one- and two-family dwellings and is in use or adopted in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  

Although straw bale building has become accepted in many parts of the country, having specific language about it in a national code will help further legitimize it as a viable construction method and make the planning and approval process easier.  

While few jurisdictions have their own straw bale code, straw bale buildings are usually approved through the Alternate Methods & Materials section of the code that states that the intent of the code is not to prevent the use of any particular material. It provides a route for alternate designs or materials “provided the Building Official finds that the proposed material, design or method complies with the at least the equivalent of that prescribed” by the code and is at least equal in “suitability, strength, effectiveness, fire resistance, durability, safety, and sanitation.” It allows the Building Official to require proof to support the claims made about a method or material.

This clause has worked well for many, especially after money was raised in 2001 to do the ASTM fire testing and the fire resistance report became available. But the burden of proof always fell to the owner/builder/architect and there was room for subjectivity in the interpretation, enough room for an overly-cautious building official to deny approval based on bias or misunderstanding.

The use of the Alternate Methods & Materials clause also gave banks and insurance companies room for doubt and some refused to lend or insure on anything “alternative.”

Although the 2015 IRC will not go into effect until 2015 and not every jurisdiction will adopt it, it already sends a strong message of legitimacy and national precedent. It is sure to help many who would still struggle with a reluctant Building Department, a skeptical bank, or a conservative insurer.  Here in California we can expect its adoption in the 2016 code adoption cycle, to take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

California Straw Building Association (CASBA) member and architect Martin Hammer has been working on straw bale building code for the last decade and was the lead author of the Straw Bale Construction appendix. Many others were involved in the long and sometimes difficult process including David Eisenberg, Lara Bartels, Kevin Donahue, Mark Ascheim, Dan Smith, John Swearingen, Jane Andersen, Andy Muller, Bill Steen, Derek Roff, Graeme North, Jacob Racusin and Maurice & Joy Bennett of the California Straw Building Association.

January 2013

Proposal for the International Residential Code!

On January 3, 2013 CASBA member and architect Martin Hammer, proposed a Straw Bale Construction appendix for inclusion in the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC).  On March 11, 2013 the proposal will made public by the International Code Council (ICC) (www.iccsafe.org), and the proposal will go through public hearings during the last week of April, 2013 in Dallas, TX.

The Draft proposal, along with a wealth of supporting documentation (testing and research reports, academic studies), is available on the website of the Ecological Building Network.

The IRC is a model code that applies to one- and two-family dwellings.  It is used as the basis for the Residential Code in virtually every State, County and Municipal jurisdiction in the United States.

Anyone interested in commenting on the proposed code can send Martin an e-mail at mfhammer@pacbell.net.  Modifications will be possible in June and July, 2013.

Core members of CASBA’s Code Committee:

  • Martin Hammer, Architect – Chair
  • Mark Aschheim, PE, Prof. of Civil Engineering, Santa Clara University
  • Kevin Donahue, SE, KDSE Engineers
  • David Eisenberg, Dir., Development Center for Appropriate Technology
  • Dan Smith, Architect, DSA Architects
  • John Swearingen, Principal, Skillful-Means Design/Build

Support Needed

Please consider supporting this important effort with a donation to CASBA.  This demanding work is done on a volunteer basis, but significant travel and lodging expenses are incurred while providing necessary testimony at code hearings.  Your support will make a difference! 

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