Where Can I Get a Permit for An Earthship home?


Active member
Sep 26, 2023
The current answer, according to this source, is New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia. This is somewhat surprising due to the fact that the first developer of these homes, Micheal Reynolds, faced a court battle in New Mexico over his construction of these unusual homes due to the non-compliance with building codes, as per this video. (This article puts that down to dissatisfied early adopters, though, so perhaps he has improved his designs since then.)

Other than a history of lawsuits, obstacles you may run into building an Earthship include:
1. Local building codes. Since Earthships are unusual and contain a lot of systems that ordinary houses don't have, it's possible that your house could run afoul of some code. These houses contain a rain catching system, solar panels, a greenhouse area that serves as the sewer to use waste to grow plants. Codes that require houses to be close together because of the electric grid or look a certain way may preclude an Earthship from being built.
2. Longer permit review times and more inspections: If your local building department has never heard of an Earthship house before, expect more scrutiny and longer wait times.
3. Necessary changes to the design due the climate: Earthships were originally designed to be built in deserts. In colder climates, a heating system may need to be installed in order to prevent the occupants and plants from freezing. A sustainable option may be a wood stove, for those who don't want to use fossil fuels for heat. Folks in colder climates should also consider the Alaskan dry cabin model of off-grid housing, which may have some advantages over an Earthship.

What helps these permits get through:
1. Having your design stamped by an architect or an engineer, according to this source:
“Generally, there’s a way to work around it,” Basehart said. “All of our buildings are stamped by an architect or engineer so that right there takes a lot of liability off of the county or the city. So there’s ways around it, but yes it can and has been challenging.”
2. State history of approving the permits.

You can read more here.
United States
Thanks for sharing! I noticed Pennsylvania listed as one of the states where you can legally build an Earthship and immediately thought of Amish country. I understand that those parts of the Midwest wouldn't be ideal for Earthships due to their cold winters but the Amish's struggles with building codes do seem to parallel Mike Reynolds' Earthship experience to some extent.

In Pennsylvania, you're exempted from building code related to wood, plumbing and electrical wiring if you can sign an affidavit affirming that you're part of "a recognized religious sect" whose teachings conflict with the code's provisions (per this article). This may be ridiculous given the differences in off-grid and Amish cultures, but I wonder if any Earthship builders have considered trying to qualify under this exemption for purposes of reducing the bureaucratic hurdles they face. Aside from this state-wide exemption, I also imagine that Pennsylvania's more Amish-controlled counties might offer more general flexibility in terms of building codes, and that this could also work in Earthship builders' favor.
In my opinion, the challenges faced by Earthship builders, such as legal battles and local building codes, can be quite daunting. It's fascinating how some states like New Mexico have a history of approving these permits, while others remain skeptical. Ensuring an architect or engineer stamps the design seems like a smart workaround to navigate the hurdles.