I bought land! It's in California, in the Sierra Foothills, on the way to some of the nearest and dearest places of my itty-bitty childhood.
[Me as a naked baby in the Sierras]
After reading the Build a Better World book I want to build a wofati (of course). I know there isn't an official version 1.0 yet but maybe this could be unofficial 0.10. I'm wondering if one of these could be code-compliant in California. How do I get a rough sense of whether or not I should be even looking at wofatis given my building codes? Hire any architect or designer for an hour? Find an architect or designer who is alt-building specific? Where do I find someone like that? Or a Structural Engineer like that? I read a tip to check with the EcoBuilding Guild (Oregon and Washington based) and they recommended I talk to the Master Builder's guild in my area, which is the Western Regional Master Builders Association. Anyone ever work with them? I'll reach out to them and let y'all know what I find out.
I'm also contacting my local forestry and fire departments for things like small timber from fire-prevention programs (there might not be enough straight timber on my land, which has a lot of oak and brush, but the neighborhood is full of various pines) and I'll be posting the results of those investigations here.
Anyone have any info on post footings? Are people doing creosote? How long is a post expected to last in something like a gravel footing?
I have saved up a chunk of money for land projects. For people who have built this kind of structure, what do you wish you could have paid someone to do? Things I'm thinking of paying for:
Local lumber sourcing/peeling/delivering
People who have built wofatis to come help me
People with timberframing experience to help with frame (I've never used a chainsaw before, but would love to learn from someone who knows what they're doing)
People with rocket mass heater experience to help with building one of those
Plumbing and Electricity? (Are any of the Wheaton Labs wofatis hooked up with plumbing/electricity?)
Are YOU planning on building a wofati or timber-beamed structure?
Are there rough engineering tables of the kind in the 5$ and up Underground House book that are wofati-specific?
Is there some kind of open-source repository for current wofati development at Wheaton Labs that I could be invited to as an independent contributor? (Crossing my fingers Paul sees this)
[The land, the guy we bought the land from, a probably-dead tree]
So it does sound like the footings are a large part of the issue, but that getting an architect/engineer to sign off is the real ticket. I will focus my efforts there, but if anyone knows of where to find such a blessed creature (architect/engineer willing to work with me on these kinds of plans) I'd love to hear ideas.
I spoke with my gracious aunt, the rock-climbing millionaire ballerina who was there at the beginning of the Green Building Thing in Seattle and has done some rural development as well. I'm going to share the things we talked about even if it's a Big No Duh for everyone else:
Going without the code: Find a design/build contractor in the area. Ask them the ins and outs and whether or not inspectors are inspecting. Keep in mind, electrical/plumbing contractors would be bound by the code, so you'd likely have to do everything yourself, but she didn't think that was totally nuts. She also mentioned how a lot of people get around code, which is to build up to code and then remove that thing, but since we're going for the sustainable, resource-minimized solution, she says that doesn't work for us (so glad she gets it).
I shared with her the idea that Mike Oehler mentions in his book, which is to try to contact universities to see if they want to collaborate, which could make approval much easier, and she thought it sounded like a good idea. She referenced the Center for the Built Environment in Seattle, but I think I'd first try to contact UC Berkeley Architecture Department faculty who work on sustainability and see if they'll answer any questions (they're in California, in my neighborhood, and once upon a time were a bunch of hippies, so maybe some of that legacy remains). I also know that the Earthship folks work with the Western Colorado University, so it's not unprecedented.
Next on my exploit-family-connections list is my Uncle the Architect. I have to think of good questions to ask him, so any suggestions would be appreciated.
The fire prevention folks haven't called me back yet about what happens to thinned timber, so I'll call them again today.
I also kinda want to share backup plans if 100% wofati doesn't pan out. I do really want to do roundwood timber framing, and I think that's acceptable code-wise, but I'll investigate. If I have to have a concrete foundation, I guess that wouldn't be the end of the world. And if I can't do earth-bermed at all, I'd go the straw-bale or straw-slip route with a metal roof, which I've always liked, and could get rice straw from in-state if not from the immediate area. And once this structure is built, I'd still build a wofati but maybe not for permanent human habitation.
Thanks for the likes on my initial post, it's encouraging me to keep posting updates.
doesnt western cedar last a long time as posts in the ground?
don't know how it is out there but everytime i've gone to visit the dept of forestry folks they are more than happy to have visitors as long as they are not out fighting a fire and answer all my stupid and not so stupid questions and refer me to other sources if they don't know. there is nothing like personal visit its much more meaningful than phone call or email
I'm still here! The plan is still alive! We have an architect we're working with for a site plan. He's done a permie design course, I'm so pleased. I think I'm also on the way to convincing him to doing some partial wofati stuff mixed maybe with roundwood timber framing that's above ground and straw-bale wrapped. And now he knows all about rocket mass heaters. It's really a relief to have a guide through this process. Hopefully after this we'll still have the energy to experiment with more structures.
I think what you’re trying to say is that you are interested in building an earth-sheltered outbuilding where you plan to cook and process foods and store your extra bedding materials. Surely not a building for human habitation, because that would involve a lot of expensive engineering work and require many code compliances that aren’t possible with wofati construction methods. That being said, for however strict people make you believe California’s codes are, it’s a big state. And if you have rural land away from neighbors, it’s going to take a lot of effort to get inspectors attention.
Roundwood construction is allowed, but extremely expensive. Wood must be graded to be permitted. If you buy a 2x4 at Home Depot you’ll se something like “#2 or better” stamped on it, grading the lumber. Complete logs are ungraded, and so cannot be approved by permitting processes. Outbuildings, however, are not subject to such regulations. Aren’t they lovely? A nice place to park a tractor in, and maybe even a cot or two.
I don’t think you’ll find the forestry department a source of buildable lumber. I’m sure they didn’t respond because they were confused. Fuels reduction usually results in mastication (woodchips) and small logs (2’-3’ long) that can be moved by 1-2 people by hand into burn piles.