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Finance, code issues, wofati build

Posts: 3
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First time posting here. Thanks Paul for all your work on this, it's a great part of my day.

So my partner and I are in a situation that has me interpreting building codes for Missoula county (ICC 2009, from what I can tell) and trying to understand nuances of rural development and lot loans. A good friend of ours is giving us first shot and a great price on a really great piece of land in the Potomac. It's pretty much everything that we could/would/do want: varied terrain, south facing slope, natural spring, butted up to The Nature Conservancy, and exactly 30 minutes from where I sit in our little house on the northside. So.... dream of dreams we live on, in, and with this land, and so then first things first: a home. We, just so happens, love green building. I love the wofati building designs Paul. Nothing would fit into this piece of land as well as it would.

Now comes the problem: financing. We're not really in a bad financial situation right now, but we're young, we've made our mistakes. We would qualify for enough. If we could build the residence from the materials and resources that are on the land (wofati style) we wouldn't need more than $115,000 for both the cost of the land and the home. That's a big guestimate on my part, I can't imagine needing much more. Unless you bill yourself for labor. The kind of loan we would need is a "lot loan", I think. I believe it would give us a couple of years to build the house and allow us the money to purchase the land right up front. Upon completion of the build period, or two years, whichever comes first I believe, the loan is due. The land can then be reassessed with the new residence on it and the whole property moved into a fixed rate mortgage. I get some of that stuff, as much as I can. And what I don't know, I can rely on my top-notch team of financial whizzes down at Sterling Savings for.

What I'm really unsure about is building codes, particularly those in use here in Missoula County, and then the process of the whole thing too. What I really believe I need to be able to do is make sure that any residence that gets designed/built will be rock solid in ICC, 2009 ed., the building codes that I believe are in place in Missoula County. What I am in need of is the advice or guidance of someone or anyone who has been through anything like this before. Here are some questions from the off the top of my head.

I think the bank might be more inclined to work with a general contractor, just because... so do you know of any general contractors that would be into a low-cost environmentally friendly construction project around Missoula?

I am pretty capable with pencils, drawing up plans, and drafting. Might I be able to draft my own set of working plans and have them approved by the county? Do I need to have an architect look them over? What is the approval process?

What are those sneaky inspectors looking for and what problems do they tend to find, if they do, with earth covered housing?

Are outhouses sanitary under any circumstance in Missoula County? been wondering about that one for a while...

Anywho- I'll take anything you've got. Thanks for reading and posting if you do.

Posts: 167
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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This may be a bit off-topic, so I apologize if I'm butting in here. But do you need a proper house right away? Could you live in a trailer on the land for a year or two or more? A yurt? Something less expensive?

I say this because...

1) I abhor debt and I try to encourage people I know (and those who don't even ask me, like you, lol) to try and avoid it at all costs. If you are young then you can afford to live simply for a little while and pay cash for your built home.

2) by not borrowing you aren't under the pressure of getting a financial institution to approve it. honestly, no matter who you talk to or how much reading you do nobody will "guarantee" financing until they've seen the final product. I've heard horror stories of people doing what you suggested only to have their building denied as "approved for financing" after borrowing to get it built, nd now they are in very deep

3) by financing the house yourself, you can take your time. you are not on anybody's schedule. you can pay as you get the money, take the time to do it right.

4) the time this buys you is...I cannot stress this enough...priceless in that it allows you to live on the land and really get to know it before you start building. believe me, everybody says it and I've lived in now myself, if we had built when we first bought the place we would have made some regrettable mistakes. taking time to get to know this land has been worth more than any amount of money, and will make our future home that much better and more suited to the land.

My family of four is living in a 25 year old single-wide 2 bdrm mobile home. Yep, it's small for us and Yep, it is ugly. But it is warm and dry and we're saving and waiting until we have cash in hand before we start building our house on our property. I have friends who lived with their three kids in an RV and a small yurt for over a year before building their straw bale home. I would find the smallest, cheapest situation you can live with on your land, and then save up the money for building a proper home while getting to know your land. You can research building codes, etc during that time as well.

Anyways, that is just MHO and worth what you paid for it.
Posts: 104
Location: Southern Oregon
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I'm a contractor in Oregon so I will share my thoughts/ideas/interpretations of your situation. First off, in response to Mariah, I agree that its preferable to get a mortgage-free and bank-free paid off place, it sounds like their situation is more of an, this-is-the-place-we-want-how-do-we-make-it-happen, rather then a, we-want-the-best-place-for-our-available-funds. If they could pay off the land or have an owner carry them for some time that might work, but it sounds like they need to build a house in order to have some equity that will make a bank want to refinance them favorably.

So here is our situation: there is a perfect piece of land, that needs a perfect little home on it, built as naturally and green as possible, yet still make it a.) not over budget and b.) attractive/code enough for the building division. First lets answer questions.

~As long as it is built well and to code, I can't imagine it would matter that much to a bank in the end. Having a contractor is going to cost you, and while it certainly would make everything easier, its not necessary. I personally would rather more homes be homeowner built, even if it meant less work for me.

~You can totally draw and submit your own plans. They will look at them and if something is missing or wrong, they will tell you, you fix it, submit them again. The only caveat is that if your design is unique or unusual, they may require you have an engineer look at it. I'm in the middle of a large addition on my home using a type of ICF called Faswall, so i had an engineer take my preliminary plans and streamline them and print them using autoCAD, including his engineered changes. He charged by the hour and total is was less then $2000.

~I've found inspectors to be nice/lienient more often then not. They are rarely sneaky or trying to bust you for no reason, since they get paid the same no matter what. If you are nice with them, treat them like people, show them anything they ask pertaining to the building, they will focus on true safety violations and not be nit picky. However, if you are edgy, shady, have a messy/dangerous work site, and if they see a pattern in the work that is questionable, then they will comb through everything you do and point out violations. Even if they find violations, its not the end of the world, and of course you are allowed to fix them. They probably won't charge you extra if they have to come out an extra time, unless its reccuring. Here's a golden key: ASK QUESTIONS! Inspectors LOVE to be engaged in the project. You can totally pique their brain, ask about what the code means about such and such and why, ask about whats next or which inspection is next, ask about a way to do such and such. Most are retired builders themselves, and we builders love to give ideas or views about people projects. They have no problems with people doing their own work when they know that person is aware of what they are doing and interested in doing it right. Some people get all worked up about code compliance, but really there aren't that many codes that are ridiculous. Most actually make sense.

~I'm fairly sure that outhouses are legal and code compliant in most counties in the US. Again, ask lots of questions! Especially at the building division office, even before you have plans, you can totally go in and just talk to them, ask them questions, tell them what you want to do and ask how it can be done. They are there to help you, and you're interest in doing it transparently speaks volumes to them. They don't get their money unless you are able to build, so its in their interest to help.

Whew! Building is quite a process, but it can be fun! Lets talk about options: Not knowing what your personal needs/wants/boundaries are, I will just ramble.

I would imagine you will want to start small, able to easily expand, but big enough to be able to get financing.

I imagine you are full of inspiration, as am I, from this site. However, I would caution you to start simple. Having a simple secured base of operations will allow the creative juice to flow freely as you design further and aquire materials.
Personally, I would probably build using light clay-straw insulation with a timber frame skeleton or larsen truss stud wall, which is what my shop will be once I finish the house. It uses many aspects of standard construction so its easier for the building division to comprehend it. It allows for fairly unlimited design possibilities, while giving a dense, well insulated, hygroscopic, green wall that doesn't use harmful materials and is easy to do the labor yourself.

Strawbale is another popular option. Great insulation, still generally requires a rigid structure such as timber framing. Pretty easy to do, lots of room for artistic interpretation.

Cob is of course popular as well. I personally haven't worked with it but I hear its labor intensive (heavy) and can take a long time to fully dry out.

Rammed earth is another one I really like, but again haven't done. You have to set very strong forms, which might get costly, but once its done its one of the most stout building material, comparable with concrete.

Of course WOFATI or similar style underground/earth bermed structures are popular on here. I haven't seen as many examples as I've heard discussed, so I'm not sure how many people are actually doing this, aside from the Earthship concept, and I would imagine it would be the toughest to permit, as there aren't many codes that pertain to underground houses that aren't made of concrete. I'm not very well informed on this subject, so if anyone has experience dealing with codes or inspectors regarding this style I'd be interested in hearing. =)


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