We get a code update from Martin Hammer, the main and contributing author of the two most recently adopted U.S. strawbale building codes
By Andrew Morrison
There has been so much talk over the years around the “straw bale building table” about building codes and how they get in the way of our ability to build with natural materials. I have heard people talk about how building officials have ruined their dreams time and again, and stories about building officials requiring so many “over the top” details in a home that building it became impossible. You can imagine, therefore, that I tend to shock people when I tell them that I actually like building officials and that I prefer job sites that have an inspection process over those where no building officials visit the site. Let me explain.
If you have ever been to a job site where no building inspections take place and no plan review is required, you may have seen what I have seen: a house that is built below code with several omissions and/or mistakes which put the occupants at risk. For example, deciding to save a little money by not installing collar-ties between your rafters could lead to the roof’s collapse and your death or injury. That’s certainly not worth the money saved. Just because you are not required to build to code doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. A lot of thought has gone in to developing the building codes we use both here in the States and abroad. You may find that some are overkill and some are unnecessary based on the scope of your project; however, I strongly recommend that you adopt as many of the code provisions as you can in order to provide a safe home for you and your family.
This is a sidebar as part of the Code approval article in upcoming Issue #61.
The International Code Council (ICC) and its series of International Codes, carry with their name the implication of global applicability, use, and acceptance. The ICC was formed in 1994 as a non-profit entity to replace three regional organizations in the United States that historically developed a model building code for their respective region. Since their first publication in 2000, the I-Codes have been used primarily in the United States.
However, the ICC develops its codes for broader application, and states it is “dedicated to developing model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures.” In addition to the U.S. the ICC has offices in Latin American, and generally supports the use of its codes internationally.
An appendix on Light Straw-Clay Construction was also approved for inclusion in the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC). To date only the states of New Mexico and Oregon have a section on Light Straw-Clay Construction in their building code. The proposal received a 6-3 approval vote at Building Committee Hearings in Dallas in April 2013. After public testimony and immediately before the vote, one committee member encouraged approval, commenting, “This is the future.”
The appendix governs the use of light straw-clay “as a non-bearing building material and wall infill system”. It is limited to one-story structures, except it allows structures greater than one-story “in accordance with an approved design by a registered design professional.” It is also limited to use in Seismic Design Categories A and B, but this includes approximately 85% of the contiguous United States. Use in higher seismic risk categories can occur through the “alternative means and methods” section of the code with an engineered design.
The appendix proposal was submitted by architect Paula Baker-Laporte, who along with husband Robert Laporte form the company EcoNest (www.econesthomes.com) as the leading practitioners of light straw-clay construction in the U.S.
The appendix was co-authored by architects Paula Baker-Laporte and Martin Hammer, with significant input from Richard Duncan, PE and Robert Baker-Laporte. Practitioners from mid-west, including Lou Host-Jablonski, Architect, Sue Thering, and Doug Piltingsrud, contributed to the Commentary, which is expected to make the appendix more flexible in its application.
The full text of the appendix as it will appear in the 2015 IRC can be downloaded at:
Additional text and illustrations are planned to be included in the “2015 IRC Code and Commentary”
Contact: Paula Baker-Laporte at [email protected]
By Martin Hammer
October 14, 2013 marked an historic day in the history of strawbale construction and natural building. A proposed appendix on Strawbale Construction, and a separate appendix on Light Straw-Clay Construction, were approved at the International Code Council (ICC) Final Action Hearings in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Both appendices will be included in the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC) for one- and two-family dwellings. (See sidebar regarding the Light Straw-Clay appendix.)
This has far reaching implications, because the IRC is the basis for the Residential Building Code in virtually every jurisdiction in the United States. In addition to making permitting easier, obtaining financing and insurance through conventional channels is expected to become much easier, because concerns about structural capacity, fire resistance, moisture issues, etc. are clearly addressed in the code
A more recent post with a more in depth explanation of the ramification of this code appendix can be found here.
On October 14, 2013 the International Code Council (ICC) approved final action RB473-13 as a new Appendix R in the upcoming 2015 version of the International Residential Code (IRC).
The approval marks the latest advance of straw bale construction in the building codes and permitting process. It is the highest approval to be granted for the construction method and will be adopted by thousands of jurisdictions around the United States in and after 2015.
The process of creating the IRC appendix was spearheaded by Martin Hammer of Builders Without Borders representing the California Straw Building Association, the Colorado Straw Bale Association, the Straw Bale Construction Association –New Mexico, the Ontario Straw Bale Building Coalition, the Development Center for Appropriate Technology and the Ecological Building Network.
Thousands of hours of work have been donated by Martin and various individuals within the straw bale construction community to make this milestone a reality. We thank all of them for their hard work and look forward to even more widespread acceptance of straw bale building in the construction trades.
A copy of the approved appendix can be downloaded here: