Building An Earthship In California: Laws, Codes, And Tips

You can’t always build whatever you want on your land. Sometimes, building an off-grid home is against the building codes in your state. Can I build an Earthship in California? Earthships are a unique type of off-grid home that you can build for as little as 20,000 dollars. However, building codes in many places make it difficult or impossible to build legal Earthships. Do California’s laws permit these homes? 

Can I build an Earthship in California?

Yes, you can build an Earthship in California. While there are a lot of restrictions on what you can build in that state, off-grid homes, including Earthships, are allowed. If you go to your local authorities and ask for permission to build an Earthship, they will let you. 

California is a great climate for building Earthships. Earthships work best in hot and dry climates. When people started building Earthships in the United States, they started in the southwestern deserts. 

What Are Earthships?

Earthships are a newer (late 20th century) type of alternative home made out of natural and repurposed materials. They are designed to maintain the same temperature at all times without heating or air conditioning. 

A properly built Earthship will maintain a temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit regardless of the temperature outside. Earthships use natural cross-ventilation to keep the air reasonably cool even in a hot desert environment. 

Earthships were first constructed in New Mexico and were created by architect Michael Reynolds. One of the best things about Earthships is how easy they are to construct. A typical Earthship is a single-story building that people with limited building skills can put together.

American Building Codes

American building codes are complicated and not simple to read and understand. You may therefore have to call the authorities and ask questions before you build anything. Your Earthship will need to be legal according to state, federal, and local laws. 

Sometimes, you can’t build an Earthship in your preferred location and will have to go elsewhere. Some areas simply don’t allow off-grid homes and require every legal home to be on the power grid. 

Restrictions can be different from state to state and even from county to county. One county might have almost no regulations, another might have strict requirements. Before you start work, buy land, or hire anyone, you should talk to the local building department. 

What Are the Laws in California? 

California has very high permit fees and strict building regulations. However, you can still build an Earthship in California easily. The laws do not forbid off-grid homes or homes constructed in this way. 

Electricity Laws in California

Formerly, California was a state where off-grid homes were not allowed. Everything had to be connected to the grid. Thankfully, this is no longer true and off-grid homes are allowed. 

Solar Power

California is a very pro-solar state, so all new homes up to 3 stories high require solar panels. California is also very friendly to anyone who wants to use solar panels off-grid. However, everything will still have to meet the standards of several building codes. 

Wind Power

California has clear laws about what types of wind power systems are legal or illegal. While there are a lot of rules, it is at least easy to tell what types of wind power systems are legal. Some of the rules are:

  • You can have a wind energy system of up to 65 feet on only one acre of property.
  • A “small wind energy system” cannot have a total capacity of more than 50KW.
  • A turbine cannot be taller than 80 feet on a 5-acre piece of land. 
  • You can connect your system to the grid without having to worry about insurance.

Water Laws

Harvesting rainwater from your roof is completely legal and doesn’t require a permit. A permit is needed to harvest rainwater that falls into a pond. California even encourages people to collect and use rainwater, including offering rebates. 

Other Laws

Your home must meet strict electrical/fire/building codes in California. Since they are so strict, you will need to ask a lot of questions and make sure everything you are doing is legal.

Despite the strict laws, you can still build an Earthship home that is completely legal. There are no laws against composting toilets in California. 

Are Earthships Expensive? 

While Earthships are cheaper than traditional homes, they can still cost a lot of money. The best way to build an Earthship cheaply is to build it yourself. This takes a lot of time, but you can save a fortune by not hiring a construction company. 

There is a huge range of prices – anywhere from $20,000 to $500,000 is about right. While some people have luck selling their Earthships, others can’t find interested buyers. 

Why is a Hot and Dry Climate Best for Earthships?

Some people build Earthships in colder and wetter climates, such as Canada. Earthships can work as affordable alternative housing in any environment. 

However, their biggest advantage is that they can remain reasonably cool during a very hot day. They don’t work as well against the cold against the heat. You may need a heating source if you build an Earthship in a cold environment. 

What Are Their Advantages Over Conventional Homes?

Earthships are very environmentally friendly, plus much cheaper than conventional homes. Reynolds designed Earthships to have three main advantages:

  • The building materials should be environmentally friendly – either local or recycled.
  • An Earthship should not have to be connected to the electrical grid.
  • It should be easy to build, you should not need much or any construction experience. 

Earthships are usually built out of earth-filled tires. This sort of building requires little skill, has a minimal environmental impact, and provides adequate shelter without access to the power grid. 

What Are Their Advantages Over Other Off-Grid Homes?

Earthships are easier to build than many other types of sustainable structures. They are also better at taking care of your needs for power, shelter, water, and food than many other types of off-grid homes. 

They are some of the best affordable structures for hot arid environments. 

Earthships can take care of many different human needs easily. Heating and cooling are free and solar and wind power provide electricity. Even in the desert, you can use water harvesting to get water for free and store the water for a long time. 

Earthships do not always use earth-filled tires. You can build Earthships or similar buildings using bags of earth, adobe, concrete, or stone. 

Earthships do an excellent job of absorbing heat during the day and getting rid of it during the night. 

Are Earthships Worth It? 

While some people manage to put Earthships together for only $10,000 or even less, $100,000 is a more common price. You might even spend $500,000 on an Earthship if you want a big, luxurious one. Earthships are relatively cheap, but their costs still overlap with regular homes. 

Since an average home in the United States today costs $428,700, $100,000 is quite cheap. You can also save a fortune on water and electricity over the decades. 

Despite how much labor, permits, and materials cost, they are an affordable alternative to regular homes. Earthships are also a great choice for everyone who cares about the environment. They are a way of building and living in a home that minimizes the environmental cost. 

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