Can I Build a House Anywhere?

Today’s real estate market is short on housing as of October 2022, but you may wonder just how short. According to Freddie Mac, the shortage was 3.8 Million in 2020. Some builders now speculate we are closer to a shortage of 5 Million homes in 2022.

What are we doing about the shortage of homes in the U.S.?

You may also wonder what builders are doing about it, and that answer is quite a lot! So much in fact that according to the U.S. Census Building Permits Survey, More than 1 million units were approved, though not necessarily built yet, in the first seven months of 2022, up 34% from the same time in 2019.

The other part of the problem is there are not enough laborers, contractors, and builders to do the work.

With the housing shortage, does alternative housing make sense?

That depends. If you are going to build the home yourself, meaning you will buy the land, acquire all of the permits, and build your house to code—you can build a house yourself.

In the U.S., you can’t just build a house anywhere. You need to own the land. All of the land in the U.S. is owned by a private citizen, company, or government.

Alternative housing could be an answer to your housing problem

When most people think of alternative housing, they think about driving on a rural road, pulling off in the woods, and building a cabin. While a log house is a form of alternative housing, that dream bubble will need to pop unless you figure out who owns the land and purchase it from them.

However, you can now build a home if you buy the land.

But slow your roll; that also means you must start researching the local building codes to see what type of house they will permit you to build. Yes, you can’t just put up a tiny house, a cob home, or an earthbag house. The local building official may only allow you to build a house of a particular size.

Without an architect to help you get plans approved for alternative materials home, you may need to go with a stick-built traditional home of a minimum size. The materials and sizes vary by municipality and state, so there will be quite a bit of upfront research in building an alternative housing option.

What types of homes are approved almost everywhere?

Homes built more like traditional, wood frame houses will be approved in the U.S. Modular homes, prefabricated homes, and log cabins, whose plans are similar to any typical house, is likely to get the stamp of approval from the local building inspector or planning commission.

However, every house, built everywhere, must go through the approval process. You can buy land and start building without permits, only to be hit by fines and double permits halfway into your build.

This doesn’t mean you can’t build a house out of alternative materials; you just need the proper permissions. 

Construction laws for building a house – the hammer and nails of it all.

Before digging a hole, you must understand what you can legally build on your property. It starts with zoning and approval, then local ordinances, building plans, and permits, and you can finally start your project.


Zoning laws tell you how the land can be used and what type of building can be built. Zoning information is available to the public and the county courthouse.

To ensure there are no restrictions or regulations that would prevent you from building the home you want to build in the location you want to build it, you’ll need to talk to the local planning board, city approval, and local zoning office and get their permission. Once you receive permission, you can buy the lot.


Once you own the lot, you can look at the parcel map to be sure it is an approved building site. With the APN (assessor’s parcel number), you can search records online and go to the county courthouse, the recorder’s office, or the tax assessor’s office to see if you are allowed to build.

But before you start, be sure there are no covenants with neighbors or ordinances from a group or Homeowner’s Association (HOA) with rules you’ll need to follow.

Ordinances and covenants

No matter what you think you’re going to build, you’ll need to have it comply with local ordinances and covenants. Your land might be approved for a particular build type but not another. There may be other restrictions on how small, large, or high you can build your house. A HOS may also have a specific style or look of a home and yard that you’ll need to follow.

When you get approval for your plan, get a copy of the approval in writing. With written approval, you should be good to build.

Building codes

Zoning determines land use, while building codes deal with physical structures. In the U.S., these codes are a standard covered under the International Building Code (IBC). These codes regulate plumbing, electrical, fire protection, and building materials.

Your project’s engineer, builder, or contractor will ensure the build meets the code; however, if you’re building the house yourself, that job is up to you. Many codes are available by searching online. Also, check with your city for a copy of their approved building codes.


Before you begin building, you’ll need to have your plans approved at your local building code office. FEMA has a checklist to help you understand the permitting process. This includes drawings of the structure’s exterior, floor plans, measurements, elevation view, and materials for the exterior and interior.

Whoever obtains the permit for the build is considered the contractor. The contractor is responsible, legally, for any construction-related damages. As the homeowner, this could be you or the contractors you hire. Be sure any of your hired hands are pulling the proper permits for the job.

Depending on the situation, you could need electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and even grading permits. An experienced contractor will pull all the permits when needed.

How can you build a house without permits?

In the U.S., you can’t, at least not for long and get away with it. Eventually, an assessor or county representative will find you out. However, there are other types of alternative housing you may be able to own and live in without permits as long as you own the land.

You’ll still want to check with your local building or motor vehicle department to understand the rules and regulations. In most states, you can park a recreational vehicle, van camper, schoolie, converted box truck, converted ambulance home, or any other converted vehicle on your own land, without a permit. You’ll need to follow the proper licensing through your state for the vehicle, but you can then live in it. As always, be sure to check the rules in your state, so you don’t get caught by new regulations.

You can build a house anywhere if you own the land and go through the proper approval and permitting process for your area. It’s not as fun to think about the freedom alternative housing can bring, but think about the freedom you’ll have after you are approved for your alternative home.


Eva is a freelance copywriter specializing in all things real estate, B2B, PropTech, ReTech, CRETech. Owning rental property herself, Eva's love of real estate has turned into a passion for alternative housing options and educating people about the different types of housing available.

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