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There are many alternative building methods that rely on recycling or sustainable materials, e.g.

  • Earthships (and other rammed earth techniques)
  • Earthbags
  • Wattle and daub
  • Earth-sheltered
  • Straw bale

and even log cabins and shipping containers. A lot of these seem to be used in off-the-beaten-path locations because

  1. the people building them aren't living where they can earn a sizable living, so they depend on materials that they can harvest,
  2. there's much less access to readily-available standard building materials and
  3. there is much less of a requirement to meet stringent building codes.

Which sustainable building techniques have the best chance of passing building codes in locations where the requirements aren't so lenient?

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    Are you interested in IN, the USA or anywhere? For example in NSW, straw bale is fairly widely accepted, even in some high-density urban areas. Also note that Earthships specifically are not socially or financially sustainable as they rely on huge amounts of labour, so to be affordable the labour has to be free. Thus they meet the "sustainable materials" test (loosely speaking, since they ignore the embodied energy and toxics on the basis that the tyres are recovered material) but not most other measures of sustainability. – Móż Nov 26 '15 at 3:49
  • Is that any more true of Earthships than of other techniques? I know that rammed earth is used in Africa, for example, and that doesn't seem to require any less labor than Earthships. – Scott Deerwester Nov 27 '15 at 15:59
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    The tyres seem to be an exceptionally labour-inefficient container for rammed earth. They amount to making rammed earth bricks in place, where a normal wall just has forms and you run up and down working on a 2-3m long section at a time, instead of a .5m section. Also, much of the pounding is to get the earth to actually fill the tyre, especially the bit where you're pounding the middle down in an effort to get the outside edges to go up. Normal forms are designed to be easy to fill. The difference is dramatic in practice, 3-4 people can build so much more wall in a week without the tyres. – Móż Nov 27 '15 at 20:49
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    That reminds me... I had forgotten [compressed earth blocks] (dirtcheapbuilder.com/Home_Building/Earth_Block_Construction.htm) as a building technique. That would have the advantages of Earth ships without the need for tires. – Scott Deerwester Nov 27 '15 at 21:30
  • Scott, we're still wondering what your question is. – Móż Nov 27 '15 at 21:36
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Strawbale has established codes in many jurisdictions. Try the SB-R-US group on Yahoo groups for details. Note: 2 story bale is much dicier for standards.

Notably: California has a bale code that is accepted in active earthquake zones.

CMHC in Canada will loan money on bale houses, and has model codes

I've not heard of an earth shelter building that didn't require an engineer's stamp on the drawings to be accepted. Too much weight to work with.

A better approach that wattle & daub is leichtlehm. This is the tradition filling in medieval and renaisance timber frame construction. Put up the frame, then infill with a mix of straw moistend with a clay slip. Pack, the forms, and move to the next bay. Let dry for 3 months, and plaster. Works well especially in mild climates. Try looking for code examples from England. They do a lot of restoration of that era of building.

Earth bags should come under the same or similar rules as adobe.

I know this isn't a complete answer, but it may get you started.

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