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Codes/ Inspectors and "alternative" builds  RSS feed

 
Tim Canton
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We are looking for any info out there about dealing with building inspectors and code issues when building with cob, earthbags, etc etc. We live in a fairly rural county but it doesn't seem like anywhere is totally safe from inspectors anymore.

is it best to try and just avoid the process? buy a piece of land with old existing structure to avoid the issues of empty land? A code approved strawbale here is more than a stick built because it has to be engineered. I mean people are building from cob, adobe, earthships, etc etc. How are you avoiding legal issues while doing so?

Thanks in advance
 
R Scott
Posts: 3358
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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My loophole is farm buildings are exempt. I can have all the chicken coops, goat shelters, etc. I want. I have a very big doghouse

Not really.

Seriously, it is an issue these days. Even if the county doesn't have zoning when you buy the land doesn't mean they won't try to add it later and make it retro active--I had issues with that and friends went through an absolute nightmare.

There can be exemptions for small houses, existing structures, farms, low income, HUNTING CABINS, or any number of things. But the biggest thing is to not piss off the neighbors or the petty tyrants (from the dept. of make you sad). If you keep the peace and don't do something obviously unsafe things usually go OK. But if someone complains, they can find a rule you are breaking as it is impossible to meet all the conflicting rules.
 
Ben Plummer
gardener
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Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b
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One of my favorite people blogged about his county council attempting to greatly expand the list of things that people wouldn't be allowed to do on their property. Eventually it escalated and mobs showed up at the council meetings with guns and nooses. I wish the residents here had the same spirit.
 
Brian Knight
Posts: 554
Location: Asheville NC
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I dont want to start a political debate so I will be doing best to keep it relevant to title. You say nowhere is safe from inspectors but the inspectors are just trying to keep us safe. Iam surprised how many unregulated areas there are in this great country. Its a very localized issue and your situation will largely depend on just how regulated things are in your rural county.

You might very well be able to build whatever you want and never get questioned about it. I do find that forgiveness is easier than permission most of the time but the not always part can lead to some serious issues.

Why risk serious issues and why insist on avoiding county/building code (or whatever) approval? I certainly dont agree with everything the building code and inspectors want but codes and inspectors are really just trying to create a minimum level of safety and performance. A code built house is the cheapest and poorest performing home we are allowed to build. Shouldnt we be striving to exceed minimum standards?

If you guys think building codes are harsh now just wait to see what happens as states begin to adopt IECC 2012. This code will be updated in 2015(not that states or counties will adopt it right away). The entire home building industry is at the very beginning of a massive upswing in the performance of new homes and buildings.

There is room in the system for alternative structures. It will take patience, tactful and diplomatic skills, perhaps an engineer but anything is possible. You list several "alternatives" there, two of which will have a hard time meeting R value recommendations in most US climates without very thick walls. Settling on the particular alternative design would be the first step to approaching the building department. There are many methods of construction the code department will readily accept that outperform many of the alternative methods.

Alternative construction often needs engineers because there are no standard engineered tests and tables to refer to like there is for more typical construction. Stawbale (walls) can be just as strong and insulated as stick built but the connection details often differ and inspectors are certainly not engineers. They dont know if that post in the bale can withstand the lateral force that it may be subjected to under high winds, snows or siesmic events. Inspectors wouldnt know if the post to roof connection would prevent uplift in your county's wind zone, and they would be more likely to call you on it if it looked undersized without an engineer involved.

Ive heard of some inspectors totally accepting alternative and un engineered construction. Some of them can be quite reasonable and recognize that what you have built is just as strong as a more typical assembly. Of course some inspectors are the exact opposite and wont accept standard practices because they are pissed of that day. The range from county to county and inspector to inspector is immense. I just urge you to follow current codes as best as possible as they will keep your home safer, more comfortable, durable and energy efficient.
 
Ben Plummer
gardener
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Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b
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"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." - Helen Keller
 
Brian Knight
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Location: Asheville NC
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Great quote that I agree with. Glad she didn't build my house though.
 
Ben Plummer
gardener
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Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b
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Glad the greatest people I've known didn't ask permission to build their homes. Old age killed them, not structural engineering. Those cabins are still standing and sound, even if their builders are sadly gone. We'll probably never agree on this subject. You have your reasons, I have mine. Never asked for anyone to keep me safe, though during my childhood it was expected of my parents, which they did and I am grateful for that.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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First, for folks that read whatever I write, knows I am a staunch traditional, and indigenous architecture advocate, and builder-preservationist of same. You may also have picked up on the "banter" that Brian, and I can have over certain "nit-picky" details...(Hi Brian.) Bought I would be hard pressed to change a single thing about his entry in relationship to "codes" other than one little fact he did not quite state clearly. ALL AREAS of the country are regulated, (as far as I know) by the IBC (International Building Code.) Now in areas like rural Vermont (allegedly having the highest concentration of Architects in North America) this IBC is not enforced, nor do we have building inspectors, or certificates of occupancy, (except in some of the major towns and cities,) but the IBC is a state wide expectation, as it is in ALL states. (please correct me if you are in an area that has zero code regulations-but I have found none.)

Ben, I loved your quote of Helen Keller, but must tell you that it has absolutely nothing to do with "best practices" in regards to facilitating architecture, and it's "means, methods, and materials," nor should it. I also teach adventure sports (caving, rock climbing, wilderness travel, etc.) but that does not mean I or my clients take needless risk. Do we expect "safety and security" in the "bush" absolutely not...it is more than a superstition, its an illusion. That does not mean we do not conduct ourselves safely. I and my clients are all still among the breathing because of it, (though I have been clinically dead three times, hospitalized for snake bit five times, drown and struck by lightning more times than I can now count, all among other misguided adventures on my part...you should all be laughing at this point, I am as it is the only way to stay sane with the life I have lived.) This superstition and illusion of safety in day to day life is something we all struggle with, but not building your home with the expectation of it protecting generations to come (safely) is unwarranted, and misguided.

For folks facing a building inspection agent, or code enforcement officer, try your best to learn the system in your area as it applies to you. I have made some great friends along the way with these folks and when they do become adversarial, that has a simple solution...get a PE. I facilitate NO major undertaking, (domestic, commercial or public,) that does not get the "fuzzy eyeball" of my professional engineer. He and his team are always there to help and support, and there is nothing to make a "code officer" with a Napoleonic complex put their tails between there legs faster than having well drafted documentation of you building system, and a great big PE stamp of approval saying the project is A-O.K.
 
Ben Plummer
gardener
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Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b
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Edit: This is a "debate" and this isn't supposed to happen here. I've learned way too much from all of you to let bureaucracy get in the way.
 
Philip Durso
Posts: 142
Location: Missoula, Montana (zone 4)
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My plan...(local laws may not apply). If a home is built on wheels & within traffic code it is considered a trailer. If you happen to park it EXTREMELY close next to a walk-in greenhouse on the south side and well built tent on the north side I don't see what they could have a problem with. Unless their problem is with the greenhouse or the tent or the trailer. My first greenhouse-trailer-tent (GTT) will be a all in one "Tiny House" model. Then as I settle in I'd like to dedicate a GTT as a bedroom. Then do one as a bathroom..ect. Building it using WOFOTI & David Allan solar home design principles I think I can create a nice thermal flywheel effect.
 
Brian Knight
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Location: Asheville NC
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Thats an interesting concept Philip and dont see any reason it couldnt work with the right details. Hi Jay, I agree that where we disagree usually falls in the nitpick range. I liked your big picture response.

Its true that a very small % lose their life from building failures and think that if codes didnt exist it would be higher, certainly not lower. Its not just about death statistics and structural failures though. Basic codes cover many things from CO poisoning to improper roof flashing and water barriers. There are millions of people on the East Coast experiencing mold, rot and high humidity due to our wet weather, faulty workmanship and poor construction details. Future codes and current inspectors are sure to get more strict in this area for the betterment of society. Its very expensive to fix these problems after construction compared to doing it right the first time.

This thread also makes me think of my former neighbor who passed away a few years ago. Her home was very uncomfortable in extreme weather as it was leaky and poorly insulated. She was on a very limited income and couldnt afford to condition it to comfortable levels. I cant help but wonder if she could have lived longer or had more comfort in her final years if building codes had enforced higher performing homes like they are now finally beginning to do.

It is very rare for a home or building to "end" with the original owner/builder. Our society is constantly on the move, changing locations and exchanging property. Homes and buildings are built with finite resources and require even more resources to maintain. Meeting these minimum standards is pretty easy and the future inhabitants are sure to be thankful for builders and owners that exceed them.



 
John Polk
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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There are very many shoddy building contractors out there in the real world.
Building codes are in place as an attempt to keep a minimum, safe practices/materials standard in place.

Can you imagine how many death traps these shysters would build if there was no attempt to regulate them & their practices?

The regulations were meant to protect us from these unscrupulous builders who have neither the technical skills, nor ethics to construct a durable dwelling that will last for multiple generations.

 
Jay C. White Cloud
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John has really pointed out the "tiger" in the room with this post.

If you are in the building trades in some fashion, and/or have travelled to third world countries where there is a paradigm shift from the natural and traditional "owner builder" concept, you would begin to understand why we have building codes. Even in areas where there is still a cultural norm for village members to build their own homes, you can often see a decline in architectural quality, as old ways are abandon or forgotten because of the creeping insidious nature of poorer building practices and materials. When the "anglo european cultures" started to influence none contextual building practices in places like Pakistan, Northern India and the Himalayas, you often see a shift from traditional earth and timber folk architecture. For example dhajji dewari, bhatar, or kullu construction, just to name a few, are shifted into shoddier facsimiles of the original. Often built with concrete of a very shoddy quality and of course a man made product of the industrial age, all falling short of the the original natural designs that took millenia to evolve. The "modern" structures then fail during major weather and seismic events. Many of these regions are developing their own codes that not only condon traditional building methods, but are beginning to mandate them as well, all to the chagrin of "corporate" manufactures of industrial building materials and practices.
 
Adam Moore
Posts: 123
Location: Mansfield, Ohio Zone 5b percip 44"
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I was looking into building a 1000 square foot passive solar house but I didn't want a septic system. I wanted to use a composting toilet. The health department told me they would not allow the electric turned on or allow an occupancy certificate unless I had one. So I haven't built yet. It seems like it might be easier to just buy a small house with land and remodel it to what I need. I didn't even try to see if they would give me an occupancy cert if there was no heating system except a rocket mass heater, lol. I did think about claiming that my structure was a greenhouse because there would be 100% glazing covering the south wall. I was going to follow the design from thenaturalhome.com I wonder if there would be any repercussions if they found out I was living there? I just wanted a cheap passive solar home that I could build for myself without debt. Safety is not the issue because it would be build to code except for the lack of a heating system and septic. Maybe worse case is I would have to go off grid and not have insurance coverage because of the rocket mass heater? Maybe with concrete walls and a metal roof, lack of insurance isn't a big deal?
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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My lessons from ten years building and living in two unpermitted cabins in rural Georgia:
1. Go off-grid. The electric utility won't hook up to an unpermitted building. One way around this is to arrange for a construction site pole. I'm not sure how long the place can remain a construction site, though.
2. Forget insurance. The insurance company will try to verify that there is actually a building present on the land, and will contact the county to ascertain this.
3. Build small. Word varies from place to place but often there is a minimum size below which permits are either not required or the building is overlooked on survey. Mostly what the county is after is tax revenue, and so they are really interested in catching those building large "improvements" on the sly. Aerial surveys are used to find these, as well as marijuana gardens and so on. So stay small, and concealed if possible. This could be construed as a good argument to build underground....the challenge would be to accomplish this quickly enough so the construction process isn't noticed on a flyover.
4. Often any additional buildings, provided they are small, are overlooked so long as there is an official, permitted or long-standing structure on the land.
5. Depending on how well the offices in your county center communicate with one another, it may be prudent to have a post office box in town rather than a mailbox at your driveway. Having no official street address does complicate things for deliveries like UPS, etc. For some years we relied on friends in town to receive packages for us.
6. If you have a well drilled, try to have it either out of sight of the building or in advance of it. Call it an irrigation well, and have them cap it and go away. Then come back and put in your own pump and water system......
7. Lay low. Most importantly, as stated above, don't piss off the neighbors. A complaint filed by a neighbor is a sure fire way to trigger an investigation. If you have the money, put up a good fence....against their dogs and your own. Dog issues are the most common cause of trouble between rural neighbors.
 
Tim Canton
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This kind of turned into a debate, which wasn't really the objective but anyway. While I respect the Idea that codes are put in place to protect us I don't buy into it at all. Anymore than any other facet of the government exists to protect people. It exists to drive Industry, banks, and keeping people in debt. Lots of "coded" houses make people immensely sick in many different ways and lots of shoddy construction is coded while techniques used for centuries are discarded.

Also with all due respect to everyone I personally have a hard time associating permaculture with most modern "green" building processes etc. High energy inputs upfront to create "efficient " houses is not regenerative.

Anyway the real question is how to use more permaculture style techniques without harassment for caring about the future?
Brian Knight, I live near Asheville also and even in this "progressive" area you can't build anything like this with inspectors. There is what 1 strawbale in the county and my understanding is it was more material intensive than a stick bult because of coding it? The surrounding counties being more rural you have a better chance of staying off radar but.....


So how do you get away with a cob house (lots of clay here), eartship style, earth bag, etc etc

I am just looking for solutions here

build a garage?
slap a small crappy old trailer in?
just stay undiscovered?

come on I know lots of you have done it.

Thanks Y'all
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Tim,

I hear your frustration with code in general and really know about NC issues with it, main reason I moved to Vermont after living down there. I also liked your statement: "It exists to drive Industry, banks, and keeping people in debt. Lots of "coded" houses make people immensely sick in many different ways and lots of shoddy construction is coded while techniques used for centuries are discarded."

I agree with that about 95% plus some. There is good intent behind premiss of building code, just like I believe, especially in this country, we try our best with the democratic process (though much of it is broken for exactly the reasons you stated above about Industry, banks, and keeping the average citizen a heavily indebted consumer of "big business" products.) I will also note that I have seen a lot of DIY "green," and "natural" buildings that aren't going to last either because of simple principles of architecture which basic code would have addressed if it had been followed, (but that is little compared to all the industrial poisons inside most coded structures...so trust me, I hear your aggravation Tim, and stand with you in it.)

Now for what you're asking...What do you do?

the answer can get pretty nebulous really quick, as each site is different, so is DIY skill sets, and a myriad of other factors. The big ones that work generically for me, (please ask more Tim, or give me a call, and I will do my best to hash things out with you.)

1. If you can afford it at all or can save up for it, get a really good PE firm that is conscious of traditional building methods and supportive of your efforts. This is the only way we as individual builders are going to start setting precedent with local and big government. They licensed the PE, and if the PE say's it can be built, the government does not really have a leg to stand on, as they are the one that sanctioned the PE license in the first place. It is not always a 100% fix, but it has served me well 98% of the time and the other 2% was taken care of by the 3 P's - Patience, Persistence, Perseverance.

2. Don't reinvent the wheel with your domestic architecture. If you want to experiment, do that with the goat barn and tool shed. Traditional architecture methods are still superior to all modern ones in the big picture.

3. Learn the system well to fight from within the system. Often, as has been said, if you can make a friend of your code folks, they can become a real asset, and in turn you help them help other folks that want to step outside the "corporate architecture box."

4. Learn what steps you need to take to secure "variances."

5. Build as small as you can to start, with great design implemented for future expansion.

Those are the big ones.

Hope that helps some, or at least gives you more to think about and ask questions.

Regards,

jay
 
Tim Canton
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Thanks Jay,

Can you clarify what you mean by traditional vs modern architecture in this context? There doesn't seem to be anything in IBC addressing things like cob construction etc Correct?

Like I said the only coded strawbale I know of was super intensive and like140k to build 1200 sq ft
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Tim,

Well the IBC can be augmented by local building authorities, (if you have vintage lime renders, cobb and nogging-like in much of Europe-Asia, Bousillage-like in Louisiana) if there is historic precedent and/or local Design-Build companies start demanding that building system. Like I referenced earlier, much of the "new-old" (read traditional) methods that are coming back into fashion, often must be aggressively pursued (remember the 3 p's,) to establish them. They are often misconstrued as esoteric modalities, and must be forced back into the architectural repertoire of normal building practices.

Modern is going to be anything you can buy at your local Big Box DIY store, Traditional is what has been done for millennia, and "new" or "new age," is the creative stuff "natural build DIYers" are trying to pull off, (too often reinventing the wheel in the process.) Take cobb construction, there are some informative sources out there, but I find many of them presenting as if this is a "new" concept, and/or with the mindset that "anything goes," and it does not, or at least not for long. Earth Bag is one of the "new age" methods with lots of promise, but already there is missteps in this process and often a more economical method for a region indigenously could (should?) be pursued. This could be said of SB (straw bale) in some cases as well, as it is not the most applicable if the SB are not easy to procure.

I will also note that $117 per square foot for a 1200 square foot turn key project home is not that unreasonable in the current economy. Smaller architecture is often more expensive that bigger. We would be hard pressed to do a project for less than $175 per square foot. If you are doing the construction yourself, that is a money saver in a way, but it still costs. Your time does have a fiscal attachment. Can you build for next to nothing, YES, in some cases and in some regions, with the correct approach and patience.
 
Tim Canton
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NC follows IBC as far as I know. I know that 117 a sq ft isn't bad (was built like 10 yrs ago) but who has 140k plus money for land? its still the issue that its $$ holding people back. I fully agree that whats "correct" is going to vary from site to site and certainly region to region. Cob seems to be one of the logical ones in the mountains of WNC with lots of clay and sand available.

I guess its not really about whats perfectly appropriate but how?? because any indigenous building practices will be met with confrontation no matter how appropriate they are to meeting human needs in a non destructive way.


What would consider appropriate and doable ??

thanks again
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Now we are getting this boiled down into something.

Do you have land yet Tim?

>>>"Cob seems to be one of the logical ones in the mountains of WNC with lots of clay and sand available. <<<"

I would say Cob (or a version there of) would be a good to excellent choice for WNC.

>>>"I guess its not really about whats perfectly appropriate but how?? because any indigenous building practices will be met with confrontation no matter how appropriate they are to meeting human needs in a non destructive way." <<<

Tim, attitude can really make or break this process. I have found that the "terminology" used to describe a build can really effect how successful you are. I have gone as far as providing samples of the "plaster" (don't call it Cob even if it is) I will be using on a job, and might even have a sample board on hand for "officials" to look at, with perhaps a bag of something like "American Clay," or some other "stock" plastering product from the "natural construction industry" close by. We might not even use that product, just the "method" behind the product. For officials new to all of this, it is your attitude, terminology and presentation of it all that will really get things done. It does not hurt to really know all the possible answers to their questions as well, that is why you have to understand both sides of the system. It is the other reason folks like myself get called in, as we have the answers, (or we know where to get them quick) and we back ourselves up with Architects and PE when we see any resistance.

I understand the frustration of being the kind of person that feels, "but I just want to do it myself." That is a fair emotion to have. I must share that my experience over a 35 plus years is that most folks that, "just want to do it themselves," really are not the same "pioneer" folks they think they are, and really do need a lot of guidance. They spend more energy fighting a system than learning the system, and trying to make things "work," rather that finding what will work best with there current resources, and acquired skill sets.

Take WNC, as an example. Cobb would work there, yes, and might even have some precedent, but a hand hewn log cabin is the most applicable vernacular for the region and is recognizable by many if not most Code officials. Could you augment this traditional architecture with Cobb, absolutely, and much easier than building just an all Cobb structure, (which is probably harder to do both physically and in principle.) So you could build a small 18'x24' traditional log cabin, move in, then expand accordingly, giving the officials time to digest you process and the methods behind them. That is just one applicable example for your region.

>>>"What would consider appropriate and doable ?? "<<<

I'm not sure I know how to answer that. What is appropriate and what is doable all depends on the current natural resource of a build location, and the given skill sets available to work with them. That may not be of much help, but without specifics I can't muster much more than that.

Hope that helps you along a bit further.
 
Serge Leblanc
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Structural engineer I think is key here. If you can have one approve your plans it makes the rest a little easier.

My home is listed as "non-code". Although its geodesic and not cob, probably similar hoops to jump through.
Passive solar and wood heater work Great! (but we do have a furnace tucked away with one duct installed to "code")
Electrical was installed to "code" with the addition of the "off-grid" switch so we can plug in alternative power source
Architect drew up the plans & Structural engineer inspected and stamped them but that is no different than any standard square stick frame home, is it?

It may not be the perfectly "green building" but certainly has some nice "green" features. It's legal, insured and resale is possible if it ever comes to that.

I did find a cob specific article that may help you;

http://www.thiscobhouse.com/cob-building-codes-and-cob-permit-requirements
------------------------------------------
When people first learn about building homes and structures out of cob they get really excited and their imaginations go wild with creative ideas and all the possibilities that the material offers for creating things.

Then at some point in our excitement we get a rude awakening to the thought of how we might actually go about building a cob building in our bureaucratic, twisted society. We tend to worry about how we’ll make it past all the laws, regulations, and building codes required to build according to our own imaginations. Not to mention the expensive inspections!

In the United States, we follow the International Building Code. This is supposed to be here to safeguard us from dangerous and risky construction methods. While it’s not totally useless and offers some true benefits, it is narrow minded in its scope and hinders creative ideas and innovation. David Eisenberg further explains and expands on the narrow minded thought patterns of building officials and how following the IBC can actually backfire on our safety.

The fact is that our current scale system is flawed, behind the microscopic codes money has become the ultimate measure for everything. Innovation is constrained by currencies and not lives.

According to the International Code Council (ICC), the purpose of the International Building Code is to “safeguard public health, safety and general welfare… from hazards attributed to the built environment.”

But take it for what you will. As Cob Builders and Natural Builders we have to take the Orwellian-like system into account at some point. It might seem daunting to face but there is actually hope!
Cob Building Codes and How to Get a Permit to Build

It is not specified in the building code whether or not building with cob is illegal or not. For many people, they have first been required to get a permit to build with cob. They have had to hire an engineer to help develop their building plans. Once cob designs are approved by a “licensed design professional”, the building department will usually give you approval and permit you to build. Just be ready to fork over some mad cash in the process!
What Other Options Do I Have? Easier Ones Please…

I asked Mike McDonough, an experienced Cob Builder who apprenticed with the Cob Cottage Company, what his thoughts were on cob building codes and regulations. Here’s what he said in a nutshell:

There are no codes for cob in the US, there may be in places like England, I’m not sure. There is a code for adobe in New Mexico, and strawbale in California, although these are clearly different systems. Most codes in the US follow the International Building Code (IBC). Each state has their slight variation of it, as do counties and major cities. However, because there is no code for cob doesn’t mean that it can’t be built with legally. It really comes down to the people in the local building department, how they interpret the code, and doing what it takes to satisfy their concerns with an unfamiliar material. This can mean having the building engineered or stamped by an architect, which removes the building department’s liability in case of failure.

Here’s the real kicker!

There are cases in which you don’t need to get a permit for a building at all, and can just build what you want to. This is common in rural counties (except in the northeast, California, probably other places as well), and for buildings under a certain size footprint, usually 12×12 (if it has no utilities).

So in some cases you do not even need a permit and are free to build as you please. I have personally never had any interest in building cob structures in a city or suburban area. I only want to build out in the rural countryside. That’s just my preference, but if you share that feeling then you have much less to worry about.

Otherwise there are permit exemptions if you build: under a certain size, for agriculture or storage use, or build in a rural area that does not require a permit.
Light at the End of the Tunnel

Don’t let the thought of codes and regulations get you down. Keep pushing the boundaries and creating and innovate. Some people might look at us as crazy for what we do, but we’re on the cutting edge here. It’s to be expected.

The future of building belongs to us. We need to keep networking and educating people on the advantages of natural building methods like cob. Sooner or later, more people will wake up to the reasons why we use the methods of building that we do.

As people realize the need, we could get building codes enacted for cob and not have to worry about this issue anymore.

I encourage you to get a copy of my ebook, Cob to Code, to get a much more detailed guide on how to build cob homes according to code specifications.
------------------------------------------
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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this might be helpful just had it this link sent to me today.

http://www.thiscobhouse.com/cob-building-codes/
 
Christian McMahon
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I would suggest perusing a land patent assuming you own the land. There is a lot of information on the internet about titles. I am not sure if the state courts will uphold them. A prudent man would never accept anything less. However be aware if you ever move you will have to knock down the buildings you put up. You might be putting yourself at liability otherwise. Once I get a land patent I doubt I will ever move again.
 
Jonathan Leigh
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Thank you everyone, especially Jay and Brian for your suggestions.

I have one thing to add to the soap box of building codes. I didn't come up with this, I learned this from taking a course on open yale called "Financial Markets". There are billions of dollars spent to repair damage from major disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. In the Financial Markets course it is discussed that the people affected by the earthquake in Hati would have been much better off if they had house insurance. What does house insurance have to do with peoples well being? Because insurance companies FORCE building code to be implemented before they will take the risk of ensuring a home. I truly believe the government (especially the lying politicians up on capital hill) could give a crap less whether you or I are have a safe home. What it comes down to is that they don't want to clean up your mess when a natural disaster hits. They don't want your house washed down and out into the road that they paid to build that now they have to remove your property from because your building wasn't built to flood regulation standards. I think this is part of the big picture that a lot of people (including myself guilty before I saw it) fail to see. Even though your land is "your land" it effects everyone around you. For example, if you put a structure on a piece of property, the water underneath will effect the neighbors. We have had flooding in my parents basement after not having any flooding for several years because housing development projects have built on land near us and made the water table rise (confirmed by a PE). These are some of the political issues that are part of the reason why government doesn't want you building whatever you like on THEIR property. Remember, you pay taxes to the government for your land. YOU don't own anything, they just lease it to you. If you don't pay taxes (aka rent) to the government, watch how quickly they will repo your land.

Do I hate what I just said above? With every fiber of my being I hate it, but this is the way our galactically stupid ancestors have made America to be. The land mass was divided up a long time ago and the men with the biggest guns have taken it over. We just live in the aftermath of what has been millennia of wars.

Okay, now that I'm done with philosophy for the day I'd like to get down to why I searched and came to this thread. I was too wondering how it was possible to build these structures legally. Apparently it is easer than I thought because Jay said all you need to do is hire a professional engineer to approve things. I kind of want to elaborate on that a little bit more though. What do you mean when you refer to PE's? I went to an engineering college and came out a software engineer, but even though my profession is working towards having a PE degree we aren't quite there yet . I don't think that you would want a software engineer with a PE cert building your house anyway, we usually just let the debugger handle everything for us and that doesn't sound good when it comes to building houses . Civil Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Aerospace Engineers, etc. all have to have a PE degree and take their fundamentals exam, but what kind of engineer are you referring to when you talk about having a PE approve housing (I assume it's a civil)? I do appreciate you mentioning engineering firms, but could you please provide an example or a specific type of person or firm you're referring to? I am too looking to build a custom house on a piece of land and the hardest part about communicating with officials is learning their vocabulary!

Another thing I wonder about as well is what if we want to build something like a biogas digester on our land? What if we want to have an outhouse? I remember someone posted something on one of these threads about having to get that approved with the department of health. Who do we go to for approval for that? What if we want to build a micro hydropower dam on our property. There are also people that want to regulate the flow of water too . If I want to have a used car lot with environmentally hazardous materials like motor oil on the property, is there some other department of infinite sadness that needs to approve that? These are lots of questions I have about customizing a piece of property. I am hoping someone may come along and answer them or have an opinion about them. Thank you for listening to my rant.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Jonathan

It is O.K. to rant sometimes, especially if you can do it in a safe place like permies and be willing to take feedback and learn from others about different perspectives and views.

There are all kinds of PE (you already know what it stands for) and some work just on bridges, some on skyscrapers, and a very few on what folks now call "alternative architecture." This "alternative architecture," is what I call traditional, and my PE specialises in it, particularly timber frames. So NO you would not seek out a software engineer to approve engineering for your house, you would want a different kind. When you are reading to design something Jonathan, if you keep it open and public I would be glad to help you out on this forum, but you must be willing to follow directions and take feedback from the group...or...you can contact me privately and I will work for you as you designer. Either way you have access to my resources as long as it is not for profit but just your own home. I make a living as a builder, consultant, and restorationist (among other skill sets.) I augment this by assisting on sites like "Permies" to aid folks that may have will, but NO SKILL, and they also have means of mind and muscle, but NO MONEY. So I will help you with developing your "vocabulary" or you can pay me to speak for you, it's your choice.


Another thing I wonder about as well is what if we want to build something like a biogas digester on our land?
You probably can and you will do it legally or you will experiment and not ask questions of the government that you do not want answers to, if you get my drift. You must be willing to pay the consequences if you screw up and hurt yourself and others. (Why civil societies do have laws for such things.)

What if we want to have an outhouse?
Again, you probably can.

What if we want to build a micro hydropower dam on our property.
As long as it does not hurt the ecosystem and you own the water rights to the watershed you are allowed within reason in most areas.

There are also people that want to regulate the flow of water too .
Only if they own the water shed and surrounding property. It falls under the old adage, "from heaven to hell right of land."

If I want to have a used car lot with environmentally hazardous materials like motor oil on the property, is there some other department of infinite sadness that needs to approve that?
I don't know about a department of "infinite sadness" but sure as hell your neighbors are going to have a say about it, as they should and the DPW of you town, EPA, and a few others. Again, it's that little part about civil society, and others rights you may affect.

Look Jonathan, I hear and understand your frustration, really I do. Nevertheless, You have to stop swimming against the current or you are going to drown yourself. No social, geopolitical or other human system is ever going to be perfect. We just aren't there collectively as a species yet. So whether you are a Socialist like myself (Native culture is a socialistic culture) or a GOP Capitalist, you are going to be part of a system if you live in society (not all societies are civil, trust me I know I saw them when I was an active Marine) and until we evolve to stop being the egocentric, greedy, self serving, disrespectful and wasteful species we are, none of these systems are going to be perfect. Learn to work from within the system, and swim with the current till you get to a better destination.

Oh yeah, before I go, don't ever deluded yourself that even if the system was perfect you would ever own and piece of land. It is not ethically, or spiritually possible for a truly ascension life form to ever believe they could own another living thing. If any thing, as my grandmother would say, the land...it owns you. So even if you have a piece of property, there are other living things around you (including your neighbors) that may have a say on how you conduct yourself, as it could affect their well being.

Regards,

jay
 
Jonathan Leigh
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hi Jonathan
There are all kinds of PE (you already know what it stands for) and some work just on bridges, some on skyscrapers, and a very few on what folks now call "alternative architecture." So NO you would not seek out a software engineer to approve engineering for your house, you would want a different kind.


I'm still confused Jay, what is the formal name for the profession you are referring to as "alternative architecture"? For example, who would you hire to work at your firm out of college? What degree would you be looking for? I gave civil engineer as an example because I took a class that surveyed the different types of engineering disciplines in college and that was the closest one in my memory bank that matched anything having to do with building structures.

Jay C. White Cloud wrote:
When you are reading to design something Jonathan, if you keep it open and public I would be glad to help you out on this forum, but you must be willing to follow directions and take feedback from the group...or...you can contact me privately and I will work for you as you designer. Either way you have access to my resources as long as it is not for profit but just your own home. I make a living as a builder, consultant, and restorationist (among other skill sets.) I augment this by assisting on sites like "Permies" to aid folks that may have will, but NO SKILL, and they also have means of mind and muscle, but NO MONEY. So I will help you with developing your "vocabulary" or you can pay me to speak for you, it's your choice.


Thank you that is very generous of you. I am willing to take feedback/criticism from a group of people. I have about 1000 ideas and 10,000 hours of research that I would like to speak to you about then. I do have many skills as when I was young I was exposed to mixing cement, painting houses, using bandsaws, tablesaws, a lathe, pvc plumbing, copper pipe welding, etc. and as I've gotten older I've taken courses like calculus and physics in college so I have a slight idea how to do force calculations as well and how to calculate areas that are irregular. What I don't have is X number of hours from some stupid institution as an apprentice or a fancy degree from an ABET accredited university of bullshit that says to the government that it's ok for me to draw up and architect my own house. I am a firm believer that with enough practice in any profession one can become proficient at anything they wish to do. I do realize I am missing a bunch of experience into the specifics of your domain, but I believe that I have a great overview of where to start as my parents actually built the house I grew up in with the help of my grandfather and I have done enough research so far to know some of the specifics of the IBC and how to meet with building inspectors that I didn't just google today or yesterday. Also, I have experience in my domain that you do not have. I intend to use sensors and SCADA equipment to make my house and property "smart", which will maximize the efficiency of things and alert me if there are problems. My parents saved tens of thousands of dollars building their own house and we had a great living space growing up so I am under the impression designing a property is not rocket science (as I know because I've done rocket science in college ). No offense to you, but there are a few thousand people that have tried to take me for an ignorant sucker on this earth, so if you are truly genuine about wanting to help me design a self-sustaining piece of property in a non-profit manner then I would be happy to have you as a friend. I've met a lot of nice people in Vermont and if it weren't for VT's damn 1.5% land tax vs Maines %0.5 land tax, I'd probably be looking to live there.

To make a long story short Jay, I have a plan (that I have been working on for a very long time) set for my future that I have carefully decided upon that involves 1) me moving back to the northeast, 2) finding, prospecting, and purchasing the right piece of land (with no nosey neighbors) with enough acreage that is financially viable at the time and that already has a house on it, and then 3) involves me building a house on the opposite side of the property and managing the land into a self-sustaining farm that will allow me to 4) retire at age 45 and live off the food, water, and shelter the property generates while 5) having my investments diversified enough to have money to pay things like medical care etc.

It would be great if we designed the property and shared plans on a site like this on permies.com because I like to share my experiences with people, but I'm not quite there yet. As you see in my 5 step plan, I have not even moved yet. I am looking to start designing the property on a serious level (and not just brainstorming) either during the step 2 phase, or after I have already selected a property I like. It really just depends on the area, the financial availability of the acreage and what zoning regulations I find on the property when I start to look. The way I see it is the property can be corrected with enough money, the people that make local regulations can't.

Thus if you are ready to brainstorm with me now, but are patient enough to wait a year or so then we can start designing more seriously.

In the meantime, do you know any good books on forestry management and other principles like coppicing and such? I see that you are in the Aborist trade so I figured you may have a good resource or two to give some nice in-depth knowledge about tree management. I was currently recommended "Working with Your Woodland". (Sorry, off topic question)

Jay C. White Cloud wrote:
Look Jonathan, I hear and understand your frustration, really I do. Nevertheless, You have to stop swimming against the current or you are going to drown yourself. No social, geopolitical or other human system is ever going to be perfect. We just aren't there collectively as a species yet. So whether you are a Socialist like myself (Native culture is a socialistic culture) or a GOP Capitalist, you are going to be part of a system if you live in society (not all societies are civil, trust me I know I saw them when I was an active Marine) and until we evolve to stop being the egocentric, greedy, self serving, disrespectful and wasteful species we are, none of these systems are going to be perfect. Learn to work from within the system, and swim with the current till you get to a better destination.

Oh yeah, before I go, don't ever deluded yourself that even if the system was perfect you would ever own and piece of land. It is not ethically, or spiritually possible for a truly ascension life form to ever believe they could own another living thing. If any thing, as my grandmother would say, the land...it owns you. So even if you have a piece of property, there are other living things around you (including your neighbors) that may have a say on how you conduct yourself, as it could affect their well being.

Regards,

jay


I appreciate all you have done for the country sincerely as a few of my family members and high school friends have served. I'm not swimming against the current, and I never said I intended to. I believe the term I used in my post was that I "legally" wanted to do this. That doesn't mean I'm not going to hate the powers that be that are holding me down though Jay, even if it is for my own good. As for your spiritual views, I'm not touching that with a 10 foot pole. I'm just going to live and let live on that one. Again, thank you for your response and offer.

Sincerely,
-JL
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hello Jonathan, et al.,


I'm still confused Jay...
They are typically called PE and there background, and certification is in structural engineering. However, if you don't get one with specific experience with a building modality they may come up with "over kills," and/or tell you you can not do something. We use:

http://blog.ftet.biz/2009/01/keyed-and-key-laminated-beams.html


I am glad to read you have tangible skill sets for the task before you. What I will point out is until you have over 1000 hours behind any given tool, you are not even competent. After a thousand hours you are adequate, and after 5000 hours proficient, and not until you have a minimum of 10000 hours plus are you even approaching expert. The same goes for designing and implementation of building methods. I meet many "designers," contractors, and even some architects that think they are good at what they do...they aren't by a long shot. My criteria for a client when they have already engaged an Architect is they must know at minimum what I know and can do, if not they are wasting project money that I would rather share with craftspeople and artisans.


My parents saved tens of thousands of dollars building their own house and we had a great living space growing up so I am under the impression designing a property is not rocket science (as I know because I've done rocket science in college ).
I like folks that are confident, and sometimes it is warranted. I have seen some wonderful homes that are extremely well built by there owners. Few would even come close to even "good practice" in overall architecture. It may not be "rocket science," but there is much more to a good design and construction than meets the eye, if you consider the whole package. I would further point out "rocket scientist" and engineers are usually rotten architectural designers and builders, as they over complicate, and try to reinvent too much, or fix what is not broken.


I have a plan (that I have been working on for a very long time) set for my future that I have carefully decided upon that involves

1) me moving back to the northeast,

2) finding, prospecting, and purchasing the right piece of land (with no noisy neighbors) with enough acreage that is financially viable at the time and that already has a house on it,

3) involves me building a house on the opposite side of the property and managing the land into a self-sustaining farm that will allow me to retire at age 45 and live off the food, water, and shelter the property generates.

4) having my investments diversified enough to have money to pay things like medical care etc.


Sounds viable in most respects and achievable in many.

It would be great if we designed the property and shared plans on a site like this on permies.com because I like to share my experiences with people, but I'm not quite there yet.
Let me know when you are and for sake of expedancy and sharing please download and use "sketchup" if possible or you may draw by hand. I will help the PE if you can use something like "sketchup" as it has universal appeal for both expert and novice alike. We do all our rendering, modeling and blueprinting with it.

As you see in my 5 step plan,
Sorry I kinda saw it as a 4 stepper but that's ok.

Thus if you are ready to brainstorm with me now, but are patient enough to wait a year or so then we can start designing more seriously.
Yep, and you can keep it all on this thread for posterity.

In the meantime, do you know any good books on forestry management and other principles like coppicing and such? I see that you are in the Arborist trade so I figured you may have a good resource or two to give some nice in-depth knowledge about tree management.
I would read through the "growies" section here at permies to start. This is such a broad field, that without knowing the land and your focus for it I feel compelled to say read whatever you can get your hands on that fits your vision.

I was currently recommended "Working with Your Woodland". (Sorry, off topic question)
That is a good start, but more mainstream and not part of the permaculture method of "edible forests."

http://www.amazon.com/Edible-Forest-Gardens-2-set/dp/1890132608

http://www.edibleforestgardens.com/

I appreciate all you have done for the country sincerely as a few of my family members and high school friends have served.
You are most welcome.

Regards,

jay
 
Jonathan Leigh
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hello Jonathan, et al.,


I'm still confused Jay...
They are typically called PE and there background, and certification is in structural engineering. However, if you don't get one with specific experience with a building modality they may come up with "over kills," and/or tell you you can not do something. We use:

http://blog.ftet.biz/2009/01/keyed-and-key-laminated-beams.html


I am glad to read you have tangible skill sets for the task before you. What I will point out is until you have over 1000 hours behind any given tool, you are not even competent. After a thousand hours you are adequate, and after 5000 hours proficient, and not until you have a minimum of 10000 hours plus are you even approaching expert. The same goes for designing and implementation of building methods. I meet many "designers," contractors, and even some architects that think they are good at what they do...they aren't by a long shot. My criteria for a client when they have already engaged an Architect is they must know at minimum what I know and can do, if not they are wasting project money that I would rather share with craftspeople and artisans.


My parents saved tens of thousands of dollars building their own house and we had a great living space growing up so I am under the impression designing a property is not rocket science (as I know because I've done rocket science in college ).
I like folks that are confident, and sometimes it is warranted. I have seen some wonderful homes that are extremely well built by there owners. Few would even come close to even "good practice" in overall architecture. It may not be "rocket science," but there is much more to a good design and construction than meets the eye, if you consider the whole package. I would further point out "rocket scientist" and engineers are usually rotten architectural designers and builders, as they over complicate, and try to reinvent too much, or fix what is not broken.


I have a plan (that I have been working on for a very long time) set for my future that I have carefully decided upon that involves

1) me moving back to the northeast,

2) finding, prospecting, and purchasing the right piece of land (with no noisy neighbors) with enough acreage that is financially viable at the time and that already has a house on it,

3) involves me building a house on the opposite side of the property and managing the land into a self-sustaining farm that will allow me to retire at age 45 and live off the food, water, and shelter the property generates.

4) having my investments diversified enough to have money to pay things like medical care etc.


Sounds viable in most respects and achievable in many.

It would be great if we designed the property and shared plans on a site like this on permies.com because I like to share my experiences with people, but I'm not quite there yet.
Let me know when you are and for sake of expedancy and sharing please download and use "sketchup" if possible or you may draw by hand. I will help the PE if you can use something like "sketchup" as it has universal appeal for both expert and novice alike. We do all our rendering, modeling and blueprinting with it.

As you see in my 5 step plan,
Sorry I kinda saw it as a 4 stepper but that's ok.

Thus if you are ready to brainstorm with me now, but are patient enough to wait a year or so then we can start designing more seriously.
Yep, and you can keep it all on this thread for posterity.

In the meantime, do you know any good books on forestry management and other principles like coppicing and such? I see that you are in the Arborist trade so I figured you may have a good resource or two to give some nice in-depth knowledge about tree management.
I would read through the "growies" section here at permies to start. This is such a broad field, that without knowing the land and your focus for it I feel compelled to say read whatever you can get your hands on that fits your vision.

I was currently recommended "Working with Your Woodland". (Sorry, off topic question)
That is a good start, but more mainstream and not part of the permaculture method of "edible forests."

http://www.amazon.com/Edible-Forest-Gardens-2-set/dp/1890132608

http://www.edibleforestgardens.com/

I appreciate all you have done for the country sincerely as a few of my family members and high school friends have served.
You are most welcome.

Regards,

jay


Thanks again Jay. I guess no matter how much of a lone wolf personality I have you have made me realize that this property is a much larger project than I saw it, and that I need to do some team building in order to make it turn out better than I have planned.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Embrace all that is around you, make it part of you, listen to it while embraced by it, and a good life will lead to a miraculous one...even under duress...

 
Tari Newton
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Jay,
I sent you a private message (I am new to this forum "thing") and I am still learning how to do it. I see that you requested comments to remain in this thread. So I will repost it here:

Hi,
I am wanting to build a Cob construction in Georgia. I find your ideas very interesting. Including building a log cabin and then expanding if that is what is necessary.


1. Do you do consulting? (We fit more in the category of have "time and will" rather than money)......but I also understand that you would probably not want to consult for free. Do you have a standard price that you charge to talk to the zoning people and the engineer?

2. Do you know of a Georgia Certified Engineer who is "friendly" to Cob structures? If not, where is the best place to find an engineer that works with alternative or in your terms (an my preference also) "traditional" materials?

3. I would prefer to build with cob for all of the eco benefits as well as my desire to build as inexpensively as possible as our desire is to also be out of debt. But I am open to other ideas (such as your log cabin idea) if the zoning people are completely closed minded to cob. I am not sure how to determine where they fall on that scale because I have spoken with the county zoning where we would like to build. They said that they have no restrictions as far as the type of home we use as long as it is approved by an Georgia Certified Engineer. (So I guess it sounds like it is up to the engineer to approve of the structure, thus would be the most important person to have full understanding of cob)

I am looking forward to seeing if you have any suggestions!
Thank you so much

 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Tari,

I have responded to your email, and welcome you to this great collection of folks that can be found on Permies!

Regards,

j
 
Tari Newton
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Thank you so much Jay!

I will now try to find your message! I will one day have this forum figured out!

EDIT
YAY! I found your message in my email! Thanks for the quick reply!
 
Joe Ruben
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Code enforcement in our area is mostly passive, but you can't be flagrant.

That said, here you can build most any type of structure that has an engineer's stamp.  Be a proactive shopper when it comes to engineering.  You can ask what the price will be for such and such.  Keep asking.  I've found some very sympathetic engineers with wide ranges of interest in alternative building.  You probably will do better with an individual or very small firm. 

If you will want home insurance ( and if you will have a mortgage, you will have to have insurance ) you had better do some serious investigation of what's what in your area.  There is a rapidly spreading tendency for home insurance companies to require more out of an older home than what rural codes require.  Even if you decide to self insure and don't need a mortgage there is a substantial chance that if you ever decide to sell your property you may take a substantial hit in an eventual sales price because, if no lender will loan because no insurance company will insure, no buyer will be able to get a loan to buy your property.

"Due diligence" is due from you as a buyer.  If you don't like the codes where you are looking you may need to look elsewhere or readjust your expectations to local reality.

I live on the edge of arid prairie where forty acres is what it takes to feed one cow and calf through the summer season.  I met a young couple who had sold all and moved across country to "start a farm" on her uncle's 40 acres.  Be careful and research more than you dream!
 
Mike Turner
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I was thinking that one way you could build a cob house in a jurisdiction not set up for it is to first buy an old, cheap mobile home and get it set up on your property with all of the permits, code, etc. requirements taken care of.  Then build a cob wall flush around the outside of your mobile home with window openings matching the windows on the mobile home and a wide roof over the top. If the code police ask, tell them you are building the wall to provide tornado protection for your mobile home.  Then after the wall is built and the code authorities are satisfied, quietly dismantle the mobile home from the inside and build your interior cob walls.  You should be able to recycle some of the materials from the mobile home (electrical, plumbing) into the new interior.  If they give you grief about load bearing cob walls, first build a pole barn over the mobile home (reason, the old mobile home roof has chronic leaks), then infill between the poles with cob.  If you suspect any trouble down the road, build the interior cob walls using a typical mobile home layout and appearance.  Once done, there is no way anyone can tell there is no longer a mobile home between the exterior cob walls and the interior walls.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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https://permies.com/t/18474/cob/BOOK-Cob-Code-Owner-Builder#492980

bumping this thread and linking to other thread--anyone buy that book? any reviews? anyone have knowledge they could comment?

btw, from what I heard Missouri is one (maybe the one) state that has no building or zoning codes.  St. Louis has, I think, but the rest of the country really legally has none, and so you can do whatever you please, and live with the risks.  That's why Dancing Rabbit chose Missouri to build their ecovillage. 

My engineer housemate told me resource.org has copies of the codes, searchable, and is contesting court rulings on copyrights (the codes cost hundreds of dollars to get copies from the organiztions that write them).  since they are part of the law the copyright should not be valid, and they're going to fight it to the Supreme Court.  Their state-by-state table is a bit confusing, but I think it can tell you whcih states are not International Building Code-regulated, as a starting point.

 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Fully legal tiny house in Massachusetts, the land of regulation!



This is pretty cool.  250 square feet.  Kinda the whitest tiny house you know, but it's great info, great point of reference for what is legal.  You get a sense of some of the building materials.  It's not natural building, but it's tiny and it got passed for code and it's affordable for this guy compared with making a regular-sized house. 

Royaston, MA  .  He said the inspectors there are very reasonable, and he was willing to put his stuff out on the internet for anyone to see, even perhaps a building inspector from somewhere else who might find something to fuss over. 

Had to have a back door of 32", a shower of at least 900 cubic inches, and a room of at least 150 square feet to meet code.
 
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