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Daniel Edwards
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Ok I am a husband and father of 3. I was very dumb up till recently and squandered all my money. However the last 3-4 years have been spent escaping debt. I live in Georgia just south of Atlanta. I am acquiring some land this year. And want to begin build my cob house there. The question I have are ones I have while waiting for a couple books to arrive.

1. Is a building permit required? If that depends on my area, where can I find that info?

2. What would I be expecting realistically to pay per square foot for a 1 story house with 5 bedrooms and 2 baths? (I make minimum wage 7.25/hr at both jobs so money is tight)

3. How much time would it take 2 men to build a house, as my friend is moving with me on the land and we each want to build a house.
 
Patricia Ramirez
Posts: 19
Location: Sioux Lookout, ON
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Hi Daniel-

How exciting to have your own piece of land.

I can only give you my personal experience. My husband & I with our 2yr old little girl spent 4 months building a 8X10 cob cottage with loft. We built it on my sisters farm; which had plenty of clay in a section of her property, in Northern Ontario. We started in July working almost every day....we took a week off to enjoy the Blueberry Festival, and finished with the sheet metal roof in mid-November. (It was very cold with blowing snow).

We started work on the cob after we checked with the building dept....when we called them, no one seemed interested or concerned at that time about a permit.
After about a month had lasped the Building Inspector showed up and took measurements and stated we went over by 1 foot and now they required a drawing with dimensions and a site plan of the location of the cob building. My sisters property already contained a residence and this was going to be considered at a feed storage building for her horses.

Our cob is a little different than the rest, as we live so far north, we had to dig past the permafrost depth of 4 ft and we also had to include a 7 ft drywell for the runoff. We did this work entirely by hand & feet. We hand sawed all our lumber & nailed all the rafters. The only electric tool we used was the drill and that was to place the sheet metal on the roof.

As far as the timeline went. My husband & little girl worked the cob most of the time, but when I got home from work I would fix supper and then get out there to work along side them, we also went as far as pitching a tent beside the site, we just could not bear being very far from it.

The total we spent on building our cob was: $1360.00 .....Plus the permit 50.00
Gravel for foundation - $425
Sand for cob - $120
Metal roof - $555
Lumber - $150
Straw - $60
Roofing paper, 6 mil plastic, french drain, 5 tarps, hardware, tools, miscellaneous - $150

Total including permit- $1,410

We have a website where we documented our adventure, if you want to check it out, our website is: billygoatsgruff dot org

Please keep us posted. I would love to hear how everything turns out for you all. Good luck!
 
Len Ovens
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Daniel Edwards wrote:Ok I am a husband and father of 3. I was very dumb up till recently and squandered all my money. However the last 3-4 years have been spent escaping debt. I live in Georgia just south of Atlanta. I am acquiring some land this year. And want to begin build my cob house there. The question I have are ones I have while waiting for a couple books to arrive.

1. Is a building permit required? If that depends on my area, where can I find that info?

2. What would I be expecting realistically to pay per square foot for a 1 story house with 5 bedrooms and 2 baths? (I make minimum wage 7.25/hr at both jobs so money is tight)

3. How much time would it take 2 men to build a house, as my friend is moving with me on the land and we each want to build a house.


Cob is just the shell, plumbing, wiring... etc. are just as expensive as ever. Most people who build cob houses build them small with few rooms. My family is similar sized to yours, my Yf and I and 2 boys. My cob house is envisioned as starting with one room that can do kitchen/living room/bed room all at once. Maybe a small room for bathing, but a sawdust toilet to begin with. I am starting by camping out, in other words. My first room to add would be a mostly outdoor kitchen. Waist high walls and a roof... windows might replace plastic later on But I intend some sort of outdoor kitchen to be permanent even if I add an indoor one later. I expect no running water or power except enough solar power for lights and maybe a freezer. Heat and cooking would be wood... cooking might start out with propane. This is not just being primitive or something thinking to save money, but a whole off grid way of life. I do not want to be a slave to big business. I expect to be very comfortable in the long run.

I am not sure what room I would add next, or what use the beginning room would serve in the long run. But I would add one room at a time. Check out the cabin this family lives in. Same number of people. You want 5 bedrooms? 2 bathrooms? how do you expect to stay out of debt? Cob will not help you build a mansion for the price of a shack. A mansion will cost what a mansion costs no matter what you build with. The only person you have not mentioned explicitly is your wife... you call yourself a husband, so I assume you have a wife. Is she on board with this? Is she willing to live like camping for an extended time? You can figure a small cabin will be livable by winter if you start in the spring... and work hard... as in not just after a days work somewhere else. After you have a one room cabin, you will be living small for years as you add bits. As you get food growing to help feed yourself. If your wife is not interested in this (as in excited about it) you will have to examine your dreams and hers or you will loose your marriage.

Personally, I would build a 100sqft cabin/shed first and from the sound of it earthbag may be better (faster anyway) for you. I plan to build two or three sheds like that with different building styles to see what will suit us best. We will live in a RV while doing so. My Yf is excited as I am. My boys are trying out hammocks in their room to sleep in. I have been playing with RMH builds. I know I can do very little planning as to layout of a new house as I expect to have it "work" with the site rather than impose on the site.

I have probably given much more answer than you asked If all you want is a home for less have you looked at this site? He does have some cost figures for various options. A cob hut/house "can" be built for no money at all and hard work just the same as a log cabin "can", but very few people do or find that their property has everything they need. Most people want some modern additions like light for example.
 
Len Ovens
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Patricia Ramirez wrote:

We started work on the cob after we checked with the building dept....when we called them, no one seemed interested or concerned at that time about a permit.
After about a month had lasped the Building Inspector showed up and took measurements and stated we went over by 1 foot and now they required a drawing with dimensions and a site plan of the location of the cob building. My sisters property already contained a residence and this was going to be considered at a feed storage building for her horses.


Hmm, when I checked here (BC), it was in square meters and worked out to more than 100sqft (105 or so) I was planning 8 by 12 (ish) for mine. I am guessing they mean outside dimensions though.


We have a website where we documented our adventure, if you want to check it out, our website is: billygoatsgruff dot org


Wow! your website just got added to my watch list. Great example of making do and what camping in a house means. Great example of costing and time use as well.
 
Daniel Edwards
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Thank you everyone for your input. First I will stay out of debt by not paying a mortgage and no utilities. I have means of building solar power and a wind turbine. Also planning to convert a generator over to biodiesel which I work for fast food so have an abundance of greese to use for that. Now as for camping no. She prefers we live somewhere (prolly a trailer) while building it. And a 5bd and 2bth is no mansion. I have seen many examples of even 2 story cobs. So to say you must do it small is not accurate. I simply want to be able to do it ourselves and be self sufficient. As for running electrics very few things will need electricity as we have alternatives for most. Plumbing isn't an issue as wells are easily dug and I have friends who run plumbing for a living. I will document my progress as I have seen many do (above mentioned). But do not make people think they must live in a shack to have a cob...if you want I can provided many sources of vobs that are very elegant and quite large. Although I do get that is the norm. I just like the versatility of cob versus other means of building.
 
Len Ovens
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Daniel Edwards wrote:Thank you everyone for your input. First I will stay out of debt by not paying a mortgage and no utilities. I have means of building solar power and a wind turbine. Also planning to convert a generator over to biodiesel which I work for fast food so have an abundance of greese to use for that. Now as for camping no. She prefers we live somewhere (prolly a trailer) while building it.

Ok, that should work.

And a 5bd and 2bth is no mansion.

For me it is, I feel over the top with three bedrooms and we use only two anyway. Most of the world's population feel I have a big house. Only 4 people in it? Many families of 12 would be happy to have such a large house and some of these are the "rich" people in their town. Different point of view I guess. I will set that one aside.

I have seen many examples of even 2 story cobs. So to say you must do it small is not accurate. I simply want to be able to do it ourselves and be self sufficient. As for running electrics very few things will need electricity as we have alternatives for most. Plumbing isn't an issue as wells are easily dug and I have friends who run plumbing for a living. I will document my progress as I have seen many do (above mentioned). But do not make people think they must live in a shack to have a cob...if you want I can provided many sources of vobs that are very elegant and quite large. Although I do get that is the norm. I just like the versatility of cob versus other means of building.


I have seen pictures of 8 story cob buildings, the size is not limited by the material. I was thinking more of only two people building and the time required in years to complete a 2000sqft house (rough guess). Shack is again a judgment call, your shack may be someones mansion. Anyway, all that aside, a larger building will go faster per area than a small one (I think). So maybe things will be ok. If you are using machines for mixing that will help. Let your kids help too, cob houses should be a family deal. some parts need more skill than others, but not a lot anyway. Kids love stomping in mud, lifting with their hands, placing on the wall of their house. They will remember it forever. Let friends help even if only for a short time.
 
Daniel Edwards
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Sorry if I came off "abbrassive" I had some things going on in my life at the time I read this. And yes I suppose shack and mansion are relative terms. Unfortunately I live in america and we have a govt that is extremely invasive. And due a divorce there are certain space requirements. We could Get by on a three bedroom house. But I like to shoot for the stars, that way if I fall short I still hit the moon. And I imagine I will end up with more like a 1200 sqft but wouldnt 2000 be nice. Anyway again sorry if I was snippy. I do appreciate the advice I have some books ordered as well as going to watch ALOT of videos. Again I am doing it 1 story as I am no carpenter or architect. So I am hoping that will decrease the skill set needed. And yes I plan to involve the kids as this is a way of life very few people here in america understand...let alone follow. It is almost completely commercialized here...and if the celebrities aren't doing it, no one else seems to.
 
Patricia Ramirez
Posts: 19
Location: Sioux Lookout, ON
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Daniel,
To find out if you require a building permit, you need to find out if your area has a Building Department. You can look in a phone book or check online for that. If you do have a Building Department for your area, then you will most likely be required to apply for a building permit. If you haven't had the joy of applying for one before, good luck. On top of that, because of it being cob, you will need to have the house designed by an engineer. I have no idea what the cost for the permit and engineering will be, but a ballpark guesstimate would be $16k for the permit and $5k for the engineering. Also, it seems you are looking to build two houses on the same parcel. Be sure to check with the Zoning Department for that. Generally, you can't have two dwellings on the same property unless it is zoned for it. But again, you may not have a Zoning Department to begin with.

I used to be a Plans Examiner/Building Inspector for a few municipalities in the state of Arizona, so the info I have given you is pretty general. There aren't many places in the lower 48 that are not covered under a Building Department. Which is one of the reasons we moved to Canada.

Good luck!

 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Patricia Ramirez, that is a wonderful little website you have...great job.

Hello Daniel E.,

I am going to hit on some of the same points as Len, but from a professional Traditional-Natural Design-Builder's perspective. If some of my comments seem curt, please forgive me, but they are coming from 35 plus years of building and watching natural building develop (and often fail as well.)


Daniel Edwards wrote:I have means of building solar power and a wind turbine. Also planning to convert a generator over to biodiesel which I work for fast food so have an abundance of greese to use for that.


Wonderful goals to have, can be very expensive initial to set up, and requires a good about of technical expertise to "balance out" the system. If you have those types of skill sets, fantastic, if not start small, and make sure to build the infrastructure to protect it before moving to far ahead with assembling components.

Daniel Edwards wrote:Now as for camping no. She prefers we live somewhere (prolly a trailer) while building it. And a 5bd and 2bth is no mansion.


Actually Daniel, in 90% of the world, that very much is the definition of a "mansion," so I must point out that besides being ambitious, your views of what is large and small is subjective. I would have to say that conservatively 70% to 80% of the "fails" I have witnessed in "owner-builder" projects is when the facilitator(s) do not know there limitations and "bite more off than they can chew." I am not sharing that to desuade or scare you, just sharing some real world facts of reality about being an "owner-builder."

Daniel Edwards wrote:I have seen many examples of even 2 story cobs. So to say you must do it small is not accurate. I simply want to be able to do it ourselves and be self sufficient.


I don't believe Len was saying that earth architecture, be it Clay-Cob-Adobe-Bousillage-bajareque or any of the other vernacular permutations have to be small (many are not) yet what he was trying to get across, is this is your first build (as we have all supposed it is.) Do not build beyond your skill set, it only leads to disappointment and can be extremely dangerous. Again, not to discourage, but the average simple house takes between 5 and 10 "man hours" per square foot of size to complete, and that is a "planning," number it can go up if you have limited skill sets or experience in natural/traditional designing and building.

Daniel Edwards wrote:Plumbing isn't an issue as wells are easily dug and I have friends who run plumbing for a living.


I have dug several hand dug wells, the deepest pushing 30 feet, they are anything but easy, and very dangerous if you do not have "shoring and confined space" construction skills. If you have done one before, and feel it was easy, that is fine, I will except it.

Daniel Edwards wrote:I will document my progress as I have seen many do (above mentioned). But do not make people think they must live in a shack to have a cob...if you want I can provided many sources of vobs that are very elegant and quite large. Although I do get that is the norm. I just like the versatility of cob versus other means of building.


Again, nobody is claiming you have to "live in a shack," but your described plan sound overly ambitious without at least 4 to 8 people working full time to complete it, especially if its a cob, which is one of the most labor intensive modalities of vernacular folk architecture. Small single floor is also much safer if this is not going to have an internal superstructure of framing (like a timber frame.) Yes there are many fine examples on the internet that you can look at, and many that did not make it there. I would also point out that the skill sets of the builders for the larger more detailed ones is pretty advanced.

just food for thought, good luck with whatever you decide.

Regards,

j
 
Patricia Ramirez
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Location: Sioux Lookout, ON
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Len,

The square footage is the same here in Ontario, ... in square meters, and like you said, is just over 100sqft. I made the interior dimensions at 8x10 hoping that the square footage was taken using the 'usable space' (That's how we did it in AZ). I was wrong. The walls were 1' thick, which made the overall dimensions 10x12. Naturally, the cob building caught the attention of the building department. He came out with a tape measure and determined it was big enough to require a permit. So yeah, be safe and go with the outside dimensions if you don't want to apply for a building permit.

Thanks for adding us to your 'watch list'. We have since moved to the city (temporarily), so there won't be a whole lot going on within our website. But we'll keep posting odd homesteading things whenever we do something we think is interesting. We did plaster the cob building with an earthen plaster, and documented it. But we have yet to get it all loaded up on our site. That should be there very soon though.
 
Daniel Edwards
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Thank you for that advice. I know this isnt the smart way, but I think we are far enough away we maybe unnoticed. So if the building inspector finds us out we will deal with permits then. As for digging the well, no I won't hand dig. Sorry I will live green as possible, but I havent dug a well myself, but the plumber above mentioned has done this a few times and claims its easy. So I guess he finds it easy. I will definitely makes sure funding is there before beginning (minus the ridiculous building permit and engineering fees).
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Daniel, if you are a gambler move forward, but know you may, if caught (and there is a good chance of it) that you may have to not only get permits, but pay fines, present technical drawings, and even may have to tear the structure down in whole or in part for inspection of modality. I have seen this more, than I have seen folks get away with "just building what they think is safe of correct for themselves."

If you can do your own "engineering" then go forward by all means, yet I must share that I can and do all my own engineering but still have my PE check and sign off on everything. It is the wiser choice, and safer in the long run for all concerned.

 
Daniel Edwards
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I suppose your right. But if the above mentioned price of 15,000 for a permit is accurate then I cannot proceed. That would be adding a huge percentage to the cost. And for what? I am not receiving anything of value...except permission to build on my land. Which just sounds stupid even as I type it. I will look into the cost of a permit and engineering, but if they are that high....it maybe worth the gamble.
 
Brian Knight
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Aint no way a permit in rural GA is going to cost that much. Building to code can be a pain for the inexperienced and especially the plan review/inspector who has to deem that it meets minimum requirements. Be careful about going into it with an adversarial attitude.

While building codes can be a nuisance they are really just the poorest performing structures allowed by law. Local codes, in my opinion, are terribly lax compared to current international codes. People should be striving to build better than the poorest performance allowed by law. It benefits the environment and is necessary for a society that is constantly moving and exchanging property.

 
Len Ovens
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Brian Knight wrote:
While building codes can be a nuisance they are really just the poorest performing structures allowed by law. Local codes, in my opinion, are terribly lax compared to current international codes. People should be striving to build better than the poorest performance allowed by law. It benefits the environment and is necessary for a society that is constantly moving and exchanging property.


"Poorest performance" I think that is where the code fails (local or international) is in the how "performance" is defined. If a person is building a standard stick house that they intend to sell on completion or sell in a few years so they can move up. Then code (no matter how lax or extreme) is the right way to go, no reservations on my part there. However, I think there are many people, at least that read these forums, who may define performance very differently from those who define performance for the sake of code.

In my opinion, before anybody talks about "performance" they should have a good read of George Buehler's ideas on performance. His design philosophy gives some ideas about it, but for a better understanding read his books (available in any good library) Buehler's Backyard Boatbuilding and The Troller Yacht Book. Both of them talk about performance boats and what they are, both in popular press as well as in practice. In general the word performance is meaningless without first describing the goals of the design.

I would suggest that in many ways, what the Code describes as "performance" does not really meet reality. That is not to say cob is great for any place any time, there are likely to be places and times where cob does not equal good performance (as described by the builder) either. A standard Code house is a grid house that is designed to make a contractor profit on a small property (city lot in Vancouver for example). The same standard of performance will not apply to an off grid home that is miles from the nearest grid and not meant to be sold anyway. In terms of a cob house, remove the roof and the house becomes a lump of dirt very quickly. All of the sudden, resale performance (profit) does not matter, use of the grid kind of performance does not matter either. Now we have removed about half of the code.... possibly all of the electrical and most of the plumbing, the heating needs have changed drastically too. "Performance" as described by the "Code" is largely irrelevant. Some things remain, like the ability of a wall to hold the roof up and resist the weather in the area. But really, what does minimum of 1200 sqft (code in Alberta Canada), have to do with safety? or performance (of any kind besides taxing)? In all I think there are many things one can learn by studying code, so far as safety is concerned, but performance? Not so much.
 
Brian Knight
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I shouldnt have written that second comment. Iam sorry for politicizing an interesting thread. I do think the subject is one of the greatest hurdles to this form of building, in this country, so maybe its ok to bring it out and dissect it. I would hate for this to turn away from the OPs title although I must say the OP's comments are what led my tongue to slip.

Great link Len. I loved the attitude and have an interest in boats so it sat well. With building codes there are going to be many specific details to be loathed which is to be expected for regulating such a complex issue. There is plenty of room in the system for variance and innovation if you know how to go about it. The areas of performance that benefit society as a whole are the ones I approve of the most and think need strengthening. Namely, energy efficiency, ventilation standards, bulk water resistance and structural integrity. Those are the performance issues that need minimum standards in my opinion.
 
Len Ovens
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Brian Knight wrote:
The areas of performance that benefit society as a whole are the ones I approve of the most and think need strengthening. Namely, energy efficiency, ventilation standards, bulk water resistance and structural integrity. Those are the performance issues that need minimum standards in my opinion.

OK, I can agree in principle ... how do you measure "energy efficiency"? There has to be a number or ten to define this. That is a problem. A simple example is a family who enjoys the air temperature at 65F as compared to 72F. Can they therefore get by with less insulation for the same amount of energy input? Or for the same amount of insulation the cooler house would seem more efficient. (by code it is not)

Another example: two houses, one with electrical heat... rated at 100% efficient, the second with a wood heater at 50% efficiency. The first house makes better use of the energy supplied to it, but to get the power there the electric company uses a grid that may only be 10% efficient. So the wood heated house is less energy efficient in and of itself, but uses much less energy than the more efficient house especially if the wood used is clippings from normal pruning. It costs less to heat too, which is what most people would notice. Code would still favour the electric house even though it is clearly less efficient. Is it really more efficient to use less but costly fuel shipped from afar over abundant locally available fuel?

So, I agree energy efficient is a good thing to ask for. I do not agree with any method I have yet seen to measure it. Any method I have seen only works for small property/grid tied houses. This much "r" value, this kind of sealing, etc. I think there are houses with less "r" value and more air leaks than code with higher "performance" than a house with better than code. Comfortable is something that can be achieved in more than one way, some of those ways are made less comfortable by following code or exceeding code.

Anyway, I have said enough. While do not agree this is political so much as mathematical/technical, I do agree politicians are not very good at dealing with numbers (or reality)
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Daniel,

You can take the gamble, yet I would be remiss to give you blessing to do so (friendly and compassionate warning) as I know more that have gotten caught, then didn't.


On the topic of Code...

Code (no matter the sources) is political... not architectural by any stretch of the imagination.

Code is 20% "very basic building practice," 40% "liability litigation concerns for avoidance," and 40% "lobbied modalities of construction to promote profit for contractors and industry." You can argue that this may be subjective, but Len O. has already taken us down the rabbit hole that what I just wrote is true, and why poor Daniel is frustrated (rightfully so) with it. This is why I "ignore" code 90% of the time and build with natural and traditional methods. If "code officials" challenge a section, I get my PE to sign off on the design and that takes care of it most of the time.

So in closing Daniel, you are going to have to learn to play this game, learn more than you probably expected you would have to, and be prepared to loose everything if you "buck the system" in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with the wrong "official" types.

Regards,

j
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Daniel,

You can take the gamble, yet I would be remiss to give you blessing to do so (friendly and compassionate warning) as I know more that have gotten caught, then didn't.


On the topic of Code...

Code (no matter the sources) is political... not architectural by any stretch of the imagination.

Code is 20% "very basic building practice," 40% "liability litigation concerns for avoidance," and 40% "lobbied modalities of construction to promote profit for contractors and industry." You can argue that this may be subjective, but Len O. has already taken us down the rabbit hole that what I just wrote is true, and why poor Daniel is frustrated (rightfully so) with it. This is why I "ignore" code 90% of the time and build with natural and traditional methods. If "code officials" challenge a section, I get my PE to sign off on the design and that takes care of it most of the time.

So in closing Daniel, you are going to have to learn to play this game, learn more than you probably expected you would have to, and be prepared to loose everything if you "buck the system" in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with the wrong "official" types.

Regards,

j
 
Brian Knight
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Energy Efficiency is measured with R value and blower door testing. Len is absolutely correct that a high R home that has lots of air leaks will usually be less efficient than a lower R home with less air leaks. Air leaks must be accounted for in order for insulation to do its job, otherwise its a waste. This exact detail is one of my major problems with local codes not keeping up with International codes.

Daniel is lucky to live in what I think is the only state to require blower door testing. A house in GA must have a blower door test with a minimum pass of 7 ACH@5O. This number represents a pathetically leaky, poorly performing house. However, I can guaranty that GA's housing stock is going to see much more improvement than other states with this energy efficiency minimum requirement. This is going to lower the energy bills and environmental costs of all renters and buyers in the state. I think the pathetically low bar that GA has set is much to weak yet I applaud their efforts because its an enormous first step in the right direction to drastically improved housing. I dont think there is any better way to regulate energy efficiency than mandated blower door testing.

For those interested in this subject and how it relates to NC's new energy code check out my blog entry if the moderators allow. http://www.springtimehomes.com/asheville-builders-blog/?p=347

You ask if a person should be allowed to build with less insulation because they keep the Thermostat lower? No, there is no guaranty they will keep it low and the home is almost guaranteed to be occupied by other families with different comfort requirements. If they want to keep it low, that's great, they are saving money and helping the environment.

The site vs source energy argument is a good one. However, there is no guarantee that future homeowners would want to risk their indoor air quality with an indoor wood combustion appliance and rip it out to put in a furnace or heat pump. Regulating R values and blower door test minimums is fairly simple compared to heating and cooling systems. People are building net zero housing that is cost competitive with conventional housing. Iam of the opinion that government regulation should do more to speed this trend up. Again, there are many specific details that are silly with building codes but for the most part they improve our society, infrastructure and environment.

To bring this back to the subject at hand. A cob house should have no problem meeting blower door test minimums with the right details. The question is will they be able to meet the R value requirements? Table R402.1 in the IECC 2012 says that a house in climate zone 4 must have an R value of 8 for a Mass wall. For COB to meet this requirement it would need to be 16" thick if it has an R value of .5 or 32" thick if it has an Rvalue of .25. This would be the poorest performing wall allowed by International energy codes.

The local code reviewers and inspectors are probably not going to require those levels but do you really want to use a system that requires so much energy to stay comfortable? It would be one thing if the house was 400-600 sqft, but 5 bedrooms or 1500 sqft or larger? Thats a lot of wood splitting and/or AC use. Just because someone is ok with that doesnt mean that their downwind neighbors are.

GA by the way is the largest consumer of mtn top removal mined coal. I cant help but think that GA is partly responsible for the recent, chemical spill in Charleston WV. Its one of many hidden costs associated with burning dirty energy and GA is doing the right thing by making an effort to reduce their dirty energy use through mandatory blower door testing.

http://appvoices.org/2014/01/10/wv-chemical-spill-has-deeper-implications-for-safety-of-drinking-water/



 
Will Scoggins
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Location: Northeast Arkansas
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Where I live, rural Arkansas, the building permits are considerably cheaper than the figure listed above. In most municipalities around the area that require a permit, the permit usually costs somewhere between .5% and 1.5% of estimated construction costs. Some do it based on square footage. Some give you the option.

For example we (contracting company) recently had to permit a 90,000 bushel grain bin, but were able to get it permitted on square footage. Since the bin is 100' tall but only has 1 - "floor" we got the permit very economically. In another town, the permit is based off of estimated cost of construction. We estimated a renovation to cost $93,000, and the building permit was only $123 (Plus a state surcharge of $46.50).

Engineering costs could very well run into the thousands of dollars though, depending on the engineer.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Brian Knight wrote:Again, there are many specific details that are silly with building codes but for the most part they improve our society, infrastructure and environment.



While I keep reading this, I realize I need to write a post on the generalities of cob concepts, history, etc. In that address code and ways around it (good ways...not avoidance.)

As for code being "good" (or "improve our society") I don't think I can agree with that in but the smallest of ways, (apologizes Brian.) Brian, I hope you consider what I am about to write and do share your view here publicly, as I think Daniel will benefit from the discourse between us (and other members.) I must challenge you on many of these lines of thought as they are clearly coming from a view of a "first world" society member, as are many of code requirements and concepts. "First world" society members that are in the 1% would benefit from "code," as do the many companies, corporations, and industries that lobby for many of its components as they profit from those modalities which support there methods of building, materials to go into the buildings, and the general "consumerism" that is code practice.

A well balanced society (with global perspective) I submit, would be much better served in vision, creativity, general health and outlook, if its members where allowed to construct any fashion of home they choose (for themselves only.) Government (code) has become to controlled by bureaucratic systems that has had a "cozy" relationship with "big business" since the industrial age, which again is good for a small percentage of society, but not the larger population. If you want to "design build" for others, then simply require that all work be approved by a licensed engineer. It really is that simple:

If its for you and your consumption build what you would like, if it is for resale, it must be engineered for safety. So Daniel should be able to (in a perfect world) dream up and build whatever he likes, and if he ever wants to sell it, then it must pass inspection, or be abandoned. This entire concept of architecture and code does not need or require being more complicated than that, and the only reason I have suggested to Daniel that he follow code, (or work around it with the help of a PE) is to avoid problems, not because code has any real value.

Regards,

j
 
Brian Knight
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Iam not familiar with "first world" society members. I wonder if they include the 300,000 people in Charleston WV, who at this very moment, cant drink or shower in their own water? Maybe they include my girlfriend (who rents) and owes a 300$ monthly energy bill keeping her children warm or perhaps my elderly neighbor who recently passed away in a home that was not affordable to heat and cool.
 
Len Ovens
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:
On the topic of Code...

Code (no matter the sources) is political... not architectural by any stretch of the imagination.


Sorry for the misunderstanding, code is indeed political. I think I was trying to say that building efficiency is a matter of math, but has been turned political. further that the measure of such a thing will change depending on how and why a building is built.

Brian Knight wrote:Energy Efficiency is measured with R value and blower door testing. Len is absolutely correct that a high R home that has lots of air leaks will usually be less efficient than a lower R home with less air leaks. Air leaks must be accounted for in order for insulation to do its job, otherwise its a waste. This exact detail is one of my major problems with local codes not keeping up with International codes.


This is only correct in a low mass, high insulated home (typical of contractor built high density on grid houses). It is not true in a high mass home. Air infiltration has much less effect on a home that is designed to be mass heated.

You ask if a person should be allowed to build with less insulation because they keep the Thermostat lower? No, there is no guaranty they will keep it low and the home is almost guaranteed to be occupied by other families with different comfort requirements. If they want to keep it low, that's great, they are saving money and helping the environment.


Yes code seems to be more for whoever comes along and buys the property later rather than benefit the original owner... I guess I have a bit of Viking in me... When I die put me in my home and burn it around me.... I guess the roof might burn but not the walls, besides it is probably illegal to burn a house down anymore anyway.

Regulating R values and blower door test minimums is fairly simple


I don't really care if something is easy to regulate, that does not make it good. What is good for one kind of house is not good for another. What has been tested and works well with the standard insulated boxen does not translate directly over to a home that uses mass as its main heat source/leveler. In fact a mass heated home is specifically designed to get around some of these less than desirable characteristics of the standard stick house. Trying to regulate it the same as a stick house ruins what is trying to be achieved. A mass heated home needs a whole new set values and tests. One of the good things about a Mass heated home is that it can have much more fresh air without loosing all it's heat the way an air heated house does. I need to find a good engineer it seems, but first I want to build a few small (<100sqft) trials in various ways to try out.

Anyway, time to realize that people do not always agree on everything. My opinion is that code gives crappy houses easier than good ones. The builder has to work much harder at building a good house within code than outside of code. I have said enough, I think.
 
Brian Knight
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Len, fair enough but before you go can you educate me on "mass heated"? It takes a lot of energy to heat mass. With no insulation to keep the heat in, it seems like you have to keep heating it. What am I missing?
 
Len Ovens
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Brian Knight wrote:Len, fair enough but before you go can you educate me on "mass heated"? It takes a lot of energy to heat mass. With no insulation to keep the heat in, it seems like you have to keep heating it. What am I missing?


I don't think I said no insulation. Insulation is needed if the outside temperature averages less than the desired inside temperature. The Wofati, PAHS and even some cob houses use insulation on the outside. It is more the air tight part I don't agree with. It does take time to heat the mass, in some cases a few years for colder climates and larger masses. To be honest, I don't think the high mass house has been fully explored yet. It is a set of systems and people fail with them because they are not willing to take the time to make sure it is done right. I think a high mass house without proper venting/air flow will have moisture or mold problems for example. Not enough mass is another problem. A simple example is in the "underground house" that the wofati is based on. Aside from very good drainage there is a wall directly across from most of the windows. I am sure this wall has more than one function. The obvious one is that of retaining wall, but I think by design or not, this wall also acts as a reflector of radiated heat. That may have more effect on heat retention on that wall of the house than what the R rating of the windows is.

It seems to me there are a lot of cases where everything just works, while others are failures and abandoned. I think this is because there are some factors we don't fully understand. Things that are done not thinking about the effect they will have on heat may enhance or destroy the houses heating. Maybe there are some people who don't work with a high mass house too. The high mass house is meant to vary somewhat in temperature over the year, some people are not willing to have that and will want summer warmth all year. I live in a stick house, insulated as per it's age. In one day the temperature swings vary with the out side temp from about 13C to 19C as we have put timer thermostats in each room. We do not live in a cold climate, the outside temperature at the coldest might go to -4C but the inside rarely hits the 12C the thermostats are set to when "off". We do not put on a jacket or sweater when going into an unheated room though. So really I have yet to build and try a good high mass and try these ideas out. So I have read things from people who have used them for years and been happy and others are very quiet about the project they don't use. I have tried to see what the differences are but really I will need to do some hands on experimentation. I wish to try a small house (that can be unpermitted) but from the discussion about straw box cookers, results may not scale. Time will tell.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Brian Knight wrote:I am not familiar with "first world" society members. I wonder if they include the 300,000 people in Charleston WV, who at this very moment, cant drink or shower in their own water? Maybe they include my girlfriend (who rents) and owes a 300$ monthly energy bill keeping her children warm or perhaps my elderly neighbor who recently passed away in a home that was not affordable to heat and cool.


Brian,

I am going to take this as a little "snarky," so be it, but I think you know full well what "first world" means, as it is a common expression today. I will also take from your tone that you do not think that we in this country (even many of the poor...not all) live at a standard that is not even comparable to a 2nd or 3rd world country. Even being homeless (have you ever lived that way for any time...I have) is different in America and Canada, than you would find in parts of India or Africa. So without belaboring the point I was trying to make...I will state again, many of your perspectives of "code" are first world oriented and culturalized, even in light of the tragedies you referenced that yes happen everywhere, but not like they do daily in other countries.

Code is a political system not a solution per se for good practices in architecture.
 
Patricia Ramirez
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Location: Sioux Lookout, ON
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As stated by Jay C.:

So in closing Daniel, you are going to have to learn to play this game, learn more than you probably expected you would have to, and be prepared to loose everything if you "buck the system" in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with the wrong "official" types.


I couldn't have said it any better. And like Jay C. says, get yourself an engineer. He/She will make the process so much easier.

I'd also like to note, Brian, that the $16k figure, while it being about right for that area, is quite high in comparison to other places. Your building department should be able to give you a quick estimate of the fees over the phone.
 
Len Ovens
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:
Even being homeless (have you ever lived that way for any time...I have) is different in America and Canada, that it is in parts of India or Africa.


I have lived in a truck camper (for a year, Part of which was as a single parent), a larger rv(for another year as a single parent) and the back of a van(for a few months on my own). I did not consider myself homeless for any of that time (even though I could not afford better), just that my home was different. There were people who felt I was homeless though and felt sorry for me. There are homeless here who lay in doorways with a cardboard mattress, but most are there by choice in North America... At least in the places I have seen them. I wonder if they feel homeless or just have a different version of what home is. I think there are also people who are homeless while living in a large house or apartment just because it is not home, they are poor in heart or because they see themselves as having no choice. Everyone has a choice to make their life better, it may mean moving somewhere else, away from friends and family.... but as soon as a person realizes they have that choice and that they are where they are by choice, they can choose to be happy with where they are or move on.

Cut------------------8<-----------------------------------

My last message left some things out regarding high mass buildings and why loosing some warm air is not as big of a problem as with an air heated house. Heat is stored in mass. In an air heated house that mass is the air, one full air exchange means all the heat is gone and the air must be reheated. In a high mass house, the air is still a part of the mass that stores heat, but it is such a small part of the mass that an air exchange (even with no heat exchanger) may be a loss of only .001% (hopefully less) of the total heat stored. Now obviously that very small percentage loss still took the same energy to heat in the first place and will take the same amount of energy input to replace. However, a high mass house is generally designed to do most of its heating from an abundantly large source of heat that is free, the Sun. Any high mass house that expects to get most of it's heat from burning something is miss designed and will have very poor heating performance probably in any sense of the word. However, having said that, it is pretty hard to build any building on earths surface that does not get a large amount of it's heat from the Sun. The larger the mass, the smaller any heat loss will affect the temperature of the mass. There are some things that many people do of habit that help improve solar gathering (in any house) such as opening window coverings through the day and closing them at night. High mass close to windows allows the summer sun to be gathered with uncovered windows without overheating the interior to a larger extent too.

Cob and high mass: I do not know if cob is the best high mass building material. To be honest, the projects I know to be successful are not cob (I certainly don't know them all) but are concrete with plastic insulation on the outside, some in very cold areas. I do not know if cob will work well for a high mass building where exterior insulation is needed. I am not sure adding straw bale to the outside is the best way to go as straw bales are pretty high mass themselves. The cob wall is already quite thick and adding a huge amount of packed straw does not make sense to me. On the other hand any high tech insulation will be a sealer, something that cob does not seem to get along with. Anything I have read about cob says it needs to breath or it will get wet and fail. I don't know if breathing only from one side would be enough. (opinions welcome) So the challenge with using cob for high mass is finding a compatible insulator. And, at least for my use, something not too thick (Len is still looking to build under 103 sqft outside dimensions ). If I am going to the trouble of using cob, I also want an insulator that comes from the land, if I am using man made materials, I may as well use concrete as mass too... easy to get a permit, known to work, etc. There are some people who are experimenting making stick walls with mostly loose straw and clay slip for it's insulating properties. If this can be much thinner than straw bale, that may be an option for an outer layer on cob. Another thing I would like to try and experiment with are radiation reflectors. Both on surfaces in the house and outside of the windows as well as making them a part of the walls. Ceilings would be very much worth while adding radiation reflectors to.

Another thought I have had with high mass houses is that some thin insulation on the inside may be of use. For any use of a house as a home I can think of, there will be one room where people will hang out. To me this would be a living/family/dining room combo. (the idea of separate rooms for these functions is just too decadent for me ) Having this room slightly insulated from the rest of the home would make a local heater not have to work too hard to raise the temperature in the room for a little more comfort... requires experimentation. Another use for insulation inside would be parts of the floor. Normally, heat collection happens on one side of the building. This heat then travels through earth at about 9in. per month. A portion of floor between the heat collection end of the building and the far end could keep warmer than normal mass temperatures from being released too soon by forcing the heat to travel farther before coming in contact with the living space some months later. That would be hard to test in a 100 sqft building I do have some ideas though.

In all, there are some people who think they have the design rules for a high mass house and are willing to do consulting/design work for you. I personally think the technology, while old in some ways, has a long way to go. It is good to learn from those who have done it, but it is also good to look for further improvement. Mass and insulation are not exclusive from each other, they can be used together. Knowing where, when and why is the hard part.
 
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