Where Can I Build an Earthship Legally?

5 min read

Over the past few years, Earthships have become increasingly popular. Many people are realizing the importance of creating a self-sufficient and environmentally friendly home, which is precisely what an Earthship does. This home uses renewable energy from solar and recycles water from waste. It is the ideal home if you want to make the world a better place.

The problem with Earthships is that you can’t build them everywhere for several reasons.

Here in the US, some of the states where you can legally build an Earthship are New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, Florida, and Virginia. We will discuss in detail why you can’t build Earthships everywhere and what you can do if you live in an area where such homes are not permitted.

Are You Allowed to Build an Earthship Anywhere?

Everyone knows that Earthships promote sustainable living. However, why would the authorities not permit the creation of such a home? After all, don’t we all want to reduce our carbon footprint? As you will see later on, there are valid reasons why Earthships are not permitted in some states.

First and foremost, an Earthship performs exceptionally well in a desert climate. If you build one in an area that experiences low temperatures, the Earthship may be inhabitable because it doesn’t feature an HVAC system.

Below are some factors that determine whether you can or can’t build an Earthship:

1. Legal Constraints

The first challenge you will most likely get when building an Earthship is from your local laws. Unlike traditional homes, Earthships have a unique design. These designs are not in most building codes. Therefore, this brings a lot of confusion at the local state council offices. Before building an Earthship, you must visit the local authorities and check what the building codes say. It is also essential that you look at the Zoning laws as well.

Depending on how friendly your local building officials are, they may give you a permit to construct an Earthship. Because yours is not an ordinary home, this process may take longer to review. Secondly, regular inspections will be carried out to determine how safe your structure is. Another hiccup that you may face is in regards to going off-grid. Some states require that homes be built close to one another because of the electricity grid.

Here in the US, most laws vary from one state to another. Regarding Earthships, you will most likely get a permit if the local building authorities have encountered a similar case. If they have never heard about such a thing, being the first resident in that state to build an Earthship is going to be tough. In the states we listed earlier, there are Earthships that already exist, which means that they got permits from the local governments.

In those states, it’s easier to obtain a permit if you want to go off-grid.

2. Climatic Conditions

Another factor that can come in between you and your dream home is climatic conditions. Unlike permits where one can push the authorities till they grant you permission, we have no control over the weather. These homes work best in desert areas where the temperatures are high. Even when you look at the first Earthships in the US, they were built in the Southwestern deserts.

As mentioned earlier, there are no air conditioning systems in an Earthship. You have to rely on the sun for heat. If you build an Earthship in an extremely cold environment, what happens is that the temperatures will fall drastically due to limited sun exposure. At night, all occupants in the Earthship will freeze.

This is not to say that you can’t build an Earthship in a cold climate. If you must, you will have to make specific changes, such as creating a backup heat source. You also need to have a comprehensive insulation system installed.

Which States Can I Build an Earthship Legally?

We have already seen why certain states are more conducive to building an Earthship than others. Below is a list of states where you can build an Earthship without facing a lot of difficulties.

1. New Mexico

When you look at the history of Earthships, the first ones were built in New Mexico, some distance away from the Rio Grande. Micheal Reynolds developed this design. It is from this state of New Mexico that Earthships spread to other parts of the country. And now, Earthships can be found in different parts of the world. For a state that boasts of such a rich history with Earthships, you should easily get a permit, and the climatic conditions are ideal for such a home.

2. Arizona

Bordering New Mexico from the West, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Arizona is also a state where Earthships are legal. Arizona features the same climatic conditions and considering that Earthships were invented in the state next to them, you won’t face many challenges when building one here. You can find some Earthships around Tucson.

3. Florida

Even though it is located very far from New Mexico, Florida is one of the states known to embrace many cultures. According to Treehugger, the first Earthship in Florida was built in 2017 in Manatee County.

It was built by Bryan Roberts, the founder of Eco-Tech Construction. This Earthship, though constructed far from the Southwestern desert, the architect created an impressive design. The walls were made of salvaged tires, and the house recycled everything. Power was solely obtained from solar panels.

For Bryan, building the first Earthship in Florida wasn’t easy. However, he opened the door for many Florida residents. The building laws here are a bit strict, but if one person managed to do it. That is an indication that it’s possible.

4. California

This is another state that has stringent building laws. However, we love California because they permit the building of off-grid homes, and Earthships being one of them, you have to head out to your local building offices and ask for permission.

These are not the only states where you can get permission to be an Earthship. Others include:

  • Colorado
  • Wyoming
  • Virginia
  • Pennsylvania
  • Nevada

The green light to build Earthships in these states is because some have already been built there. And if others have obtained permits to do so, you too can if you want to build a home off the grid.

What to Do If Earthships are Not Permitted in Your State?

Unfortunately, Earthships are not legal in all states in the US. Building one can be challenging in areas where such homes have no history. Obviously, the biggest challenge is legal constraints. If you are worried about the climate, you can always implement natural heat sources such as wood.

If you can’t get a permit, you can talk to the local building department. If they are unfamiliar with the concept of Earthships, explain the benefits and construction design. It is essential that you already have an architectural design before visiting your local building offices. If you are persuasive enough, they should give you a special permit.

In case they decline, you can seek help from environmental organizations and activists. These groups can present an application for an Earthship on your behalf. Should you not succeed, please do not build one without permission.

What If I Build an Earthship Illegally?

Erecting a structure without your local council’s permission is against the law. And you can be penalized while the structure is demolished. Building an Earthship is not cheap. Even though it requires natural and sustainable materials, these are things that will cost you money. If you build it without permission and it’s demolished, you will have lost a significant investment.

The best approach is always to follow the proper channels. Head over to your local building offices, and ask for permission. If you reside in these states, getting a permit should be easy. If not, you can always be the first person to get one.

Is an Earthship Worth Investing Your Time and Resources In?

Earthships can save you a lot of money on utilities in the long run. Building one will have you forget about high electricity and water bills. By switching to solar energy and recycling water, you will pay $0 for utilities every month.

On the downside, however, the initial cost of building an Earthship is relatively high. On average, an Earthship can cost you $100,000. If you want to build a big one, brace yourself to art with more than half a million dollars. Earthship fees skyrocket due to labor costs, permits, excavations, and design. But once it is erected, you will enjoy leading a sustainable life without relying on electricity and other man-made resources.

Before starting such a project, it is essential to compare costs vs. benefits. Cost aside, another factor you need to consider is the state you want to build the Earthship in. it will be easier if you plan to build it in a state with a history of Earthships. 

Victoria Miller

I'm the founder of NTT. I live in Miami, Florida, and enjoy learning everything there is to know about tiny spaces.