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I want to be a natural builder...but how???  RSS feed

 
Brian Mejia
Posts: 9
Location: Forest Grove, Oregon
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Hi all!
I'm a student of sustainable design (Bachelors) finishing up my last year of school. I'm going through a bit of a dilemma right now. Though I feel it will be beneficial to obtain a degree, I feel at this point it is simply for credibility. What I want to do is retrofit existing home properties to become as self sustaining as possible (adding better insulation-straw for example, adding on to houses to increase thermal mass etc., also implementing gardens), and eventually build homes from the ground up. Currently I feel schooling is not an adequate means to meet those ends, sure it's somewhat helpful but it's not necessary. But I feel at this point it would be unwise to leave school, since I'm so close to finishing, I feel that I need to get something out of this investment. But that's not why I'm posting here.
I've looked into what I need to do to become an independent natural builder, with the ability to build/retrofit houses legally. I've looked at getting a license as a professional building designer. I would need a degree of some sort for that, and that would allow me to build homes (only free standing single family homes, limited to two stories) and agricultural buildings. But as I thought on it more, sure I would love to do that, but is that morally justifiable from a eco-conscious perspective? We have so many homes built already, more that there are people to fill them in some places. Wouldn't it be better to fix what is already existing? Retrofit homes to be natural homes (strip out drywall, fiberglass insulation, carpets, shingles etc. and install natural materials). Why build another foundation and home frame, when the one that is already there perfectly fine and permitted and all? So my questions at this point are, one: does anyone know what is legal as far as retrofitting existing homes to be a strawbale or cob home? and two: what kind of licenses (if any) would be required to do something like that?

Thanks!
 
Jay C. White Cloud
Posts: 2413
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We have so many homes built already, more that there are people to fill them in some places.


This is a very true statement...statistically...yet that does not mean those buildings are all worth saving or fixing...


Wouldn't it be better to fix what is already existing?


In some limited cases...yes. However, in most it would not...

Retrofit homes to be natural homes (strip out drywall, fiberglass insulation, carpets, shingles etc. and install natural materials). Why build another foundation and home frame, when the one that is already there perfectly fine and permitted and all?


That is just it...most even after having certain elements of modernity removed (and or encapsulated in some fashion) are not "perfectly fine." The efforts, both aesthetically and structurally to alter them in the fashion suggested will often be greater than if they are just razed and we start from scratch with an actual..."all natural-traditional design."

So my questions at this point are, one: does anyone know what is legal as far as retrofitting existing homes to be a strawbale or cob home?


Depends on the area of the country, the design/builders actual skill sets, and whether the structure actually warrants such treatment.

and two: what kind of licenses (if any) would be required to do something like that?


Almost the same answer as above...

As I have followed your queries and concepts, I am excited for your future...at the same time you do need to get that degree (the other way of getting that education is very long and hard.) After that degree is secured...I must ask a few questions...

Have you built from scratch...on your own...more than 10 structures?

Can you design and facilitate a natural and/or traditional building from raw material on your own without assistance from others?

My next statement is not that of a "braggart" but to illustrate some realities of just how much further you may need to travel before achieving your aspirations...

By my 19th year of age...I could split stone, fell trees, form cobb and understood foundational natural/traditional architecture. I could (and did) walk into a forest with traditional hand tools and build a stone, earth and timber frame structure from scratch that I (and later my mother in her retirement) live in.

That was over 40 years ago...and those are the skill sets and experiences you need to compete well in this current market to sincerely and honestly give your potential clients the service they need (deserve) within this venue. Even to this day, I do not facilitate much without a team of Artisan working "with me" (not for me) on projects. Even with the skills I had at 19, I recognized I needed much more to learn. I would suggest that you try to join a firm...over time several firms perhaps...then maybe you will be ready to try your had at your own business.

Could you start a business now?...I would say at a minimum you would have to do what I did at 19 at least ten times first...and...like I learned to...each in different styles and/or modalities...

That is not meant to discourage...but to excite you, and also to give you a sense of the realistic realities you are thinking about...
 
Bill Bradbury
pollinator
Posts: 684
Location: Richmond, Utah
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Hi Brian, I own a company that restores old homes in a permaculture style. We remove all the toxic stuff, modernize the utilities, rebuild the single pane windows, air seal everything, insulate where applicable and reinvigorate the land with Holzer style naturescaping. I've been meaning to post our current restoration on here, but have been too busy.
Restoring homes is an extremely rewarding, disgustingly dirty job that takes every bit of the knowledge I have acquired over a lifetime. I, like Jay, started building with my dad and grandpa very young, graduated high school at 16 and by 19 I was running a roofing crew in So. Cal. This is the long hard road, not recommended.
I would finish school if I were you.
If you would like to test the waters, you are welcome to visit me here in No. Utah. My 2 apprentices and I are 10 months into a full restoration of a classic craftsman trophy home.

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Looks like fun?
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Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Bill,

Thanks so much for posting that and making such a kind offer. You illustrated my point about success in this type of work wonderfully and I feel that Brian has a strong future in the field once he graduates. He seems to me as someone that would make a wonderful asset to any project facilitation team while he learns the many details one must know to do such work.

Another way you can look at it Brian (and it use to be this way with many Guilds...Like Stone, Timber Framing, Textiles, etc) is you are securing your undergraduate degree, which is very important. Now you are about to embark on your "graduate program" in sustainable natural and traditional building systems. Except in this school, you can actually start to make a little money as you gain skills.

Regards,

j
 
Brian Knight
Posts: 554
Location: Asheville NC
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I echo almost everything Bill and Jay have said. It sounds like your particular academic path may not be satisfactory but it should go a long way whether you see the value at this point or not. I personally feel that its tough to get enough academic educations but the quality of specific programs can vary greatly.

If I were to pick the perfect career path for your goals I would probably have you first get better educated on building science fundamentals. Academics can be great for this but so can working for a company that specializes in it like home performance contractors. 2 years with a home performance contractor, 2 years with a renovation contractor, 2 years with a production, green or natural builder and you would probably be much better prepared to go it on your own.

As for Renovate VS tear down and/or start anew, that is a case by case basis. Homes with historical significance or value, like the one Bill so graciously pictured, are well worth saving but I may argue many are not. I think that a city in-fill new home could easily have less overall impact than restoring a farm house in the country far from goods, services and infrastructure.

I also feel natural materials are not nearly important as the monthly, dirty energy costs of a structure. Its the ongoing energy impact of our existing housing stock that offers sooo much room for improvement. If its a "natural" material that helps this cause that's great but all to often people striving for natural, miss the bigger picture. Sometimes the overriding desire to use "natural" materials can increase dirty energy use which has a much bigger environmental impact overall.
 
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