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Why is WOFATI type building illegal?

 
pollinator
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It makes you think that perhaps people should reconsider living in places where there are earthquakes, or by the ocean, or on flood plains, for that matter. Come to think of it, if people left wide-open spaces for ranging mobs of cattle and bison, the only thing that tornadoes and large storms would mean is the possibility of flying beef. Park your WOFATI as suggested, halfway up a wooded hillside, and see how big a problem storms of any sort are.

I wonder if anyone considered that if they hadn't built a nuclear complex on two seismic faults, and a subduction zone, I think, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami of last year (I think?) would have been a problem only for those with houses in the way of the waves, and otherwise it would have been an epic surf day.

I think that your observations about infrastructure failing are slightly off the mark. I don't see it as evidence that seismic activity is on the rise because infrastructure already a century old has begun a process of steady degradation. Download a free online monitor like EarthAlerts. It provides weather and seismic alerts for the whole world. You will quickly see that while there are peaks and valleys in seismic activity, the world is constantly active.

I would be more concerned about your municipal, county, and state governments shorting you on infrastructure upkeep, and perhaps with hydrofracking operations cracking the bedrock.

-CK
 
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Thanks Chris for trying to make me look like a fool. Noted.

We live on a dynamic planet. It is getting even more so. I am not off mark and stand my ground. Of course lot of it is aged. A lot is not. The sinkholes are not from failed water mains. It would take a lot of water to drop a house 50 ft down a hole. Where no water is detected. Lol. Sure,.........whatever.

Sorry, nice try to minimise and make me look like a fool. Oh Chris, so baby boomer of you.

Now fracking? You may slightly redeem yourself on that one. Fukushima, shows you watch the news. Good boy. There is hope yet!
 
Chris Kott
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Its not about you, Daniel. Last I checked, you're not the one responsible for centuries of building where people shouldn't build to be closer to food or the view. I would also have to care more than I do to offer any proper insult. Are we all to be so sensitive?

We do live on a dynamic planet, but your citing recent examples of anomalies and grouping them all in haphazardly does nothing to forward the cause of reason.

My parents were born in 1959, and so are the last of the boomer generation. I am not yet 30. Thinking happens across all ages and demographies.

Without claiming to support or oppose any social movements based in science or scientistic rationalism, I propose that while trends can be observed in larger dynamic systems, so can cycles. I further propose that isolated incidents can occur without necessarily being directly linked to those trends or cycles.

Lastly, I am a firm believer in the depth and breadth of that which we do not know. It is one reason why I avoid GMOs, insecticides, and try to choose my chemical alternatives from nature, and why managing systems in as near a whole manner as possible is so appealing to me.

-CK

 
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I think the key to longevity of the WOFATI design is proper selection of materials as well as design.
There is wood that rots and wood that lasts.
I remember alot of log cabins in Alaska they were made of spruce and sat on the gravel.
The joints roted and the bottom logs rotted.
I have seen the same with some old building in the midwest.
But I have also seen black locust, osage orange, cedars, etc. used and they are still standing.

If you have moisture and wood you generally have conditions for fungus to grow in the wood.

You can treat the wood, lower the moisture, and use resistant wood species.



 
Chris Kott
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I was also wondering, more specific to the thread heading, if there was a reason we don't discuss WOFATI in terms of conventional log cabins, post-and-beam construction, and extensively overbuilt greenroofs? Would any tack on this course make things easier?

-CK
 
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Guess what we have built is kind of a fancy version of this..
For what it is worth we have a concrete slab floor with built in radiant heat that can be heated with the wood boiler or soon to be vaporizing used oil boiler. Windows on east wall only, North and west are in the hills side with french drains installed ,East walls and in house are composed mainly of stone which works as a heat sink,ICF walls with epdm liner to ensure no leaks or the hillside coming through the back wall,,Roof structure very large beams rough cut lumber and beams from a local small saw mill kiln dried to limit twisting which will still occur,,,, insulated with a foam package with 6% slope instead of the carboard newspaper etc,, Covered with epdm as well, Followed up with blue board and a planted roof to protect against accidental damage by people and animals on the roof,, Gophers love roofs with soil on top and will go through the epdm liners.Note animals can be a problem when one is built into a hill side with a green roof...That Thump thump thump is not santa and his reindeer.....
.Our home is built way above code.It is was not designed by an engineer nor architect .We did all the design ourselves.It is also considered high end some also due to location...The county considers it basically a daylight basement or a berm home they tax us less then a conventional home.The insurance is a bit more challenging to get on a home like this especially one worth what ours has been appraised at..
Our place was built with very limited funds but by very creative people.James had previously built and owned solar passive homes in the past. We do use 2 fans to move the air, no air conditioning needed house holds temp at about 65 to 70,Heating in cold winter in Montana, set the thermostat at 54 and the inside of the house will stay a steady 72-74 degrees,,
We are in a way considered more of a Usonian home built into a hillside..


 
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Laws, regulations, codes, etc are written to protect people from their own failures to think things through. If you're wiring or plumbing a house, you can save a lot of money by doing it yourself and you can save a lot more money by doing it in ways that are unsafe or will yield lousy function. If you take time to plan out what you are doing, account for the various pitfalls you could encounter, and apply appropriate controls in your design and execution, then you have effectively complied with the code for the reason it was written. That does not mean The Department Of Making You Sad will agree, but your construction will be safe.
 
pollinator
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A WOFATI is legal if you're not living in it, right? if it's just used as a "temporary shelter"? I'm a little confused whether this thread is talking about building a wofati for cattle and stuff with plumbing and electricity being discussed.

This is in Upstate NY, in a situation where members of the public will be invited in to the wofati for a few hours. The previous inspector was pretty reasonable to work with, and the current one I don't know. Big Al? Thanks!
 
pollinator
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Joshua M. : I sent you a P.M., are we talking about a real A-building WOFATI ? Where and when ! I sent you a P.M.

For the Good of The Craft ! BIG AL
 
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My opinion on codes is that they are necessitated by the fact that we build such insanely large and expensive homes that they inevitably come with things like insurance and mortgages. With so much capital invested, there needs to be standards and assurances that everything is built to last the duration of the financial obligation. The simple answer to this is to build it yourself and as cheaply as possible. Your bootleg 10k Wofati rotted out in 10 years? Rebuild it! No big deal.
 
gardener
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The big deal comes when the roof gives way during a major rainstorm (when the load increases suddenly and dramatically) while you and your family are inside. If you can see the deterioration progressing and demolish and rebuild while it is still safe, fine, but many will not do that, or will not be able to see the rot until too late.
 
pollinator
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Glenn Herbert wrote:The big deal comes when the roof gives way during a major rainstorm (when the load increases suddenly and dramatically) while you and your family are inside. If you can see the deterioration progressing and demolish and rebuild while it is still safe, fine, but many will not do that, or will not be able to see the rot until too late.



I disagree because this is no different than a standard built house.

In fact it absolutely astounds me that some buildings are still standing after years of neglect. Back when I was a kid, and before welfare got to be big, we had a ton of Hermits living in the woods. They are dead, but their shacks miraculously still stand despite snow sometimes 3 feet deep sitting on top of the roofs. That is not saying anything about the numerous outbuildings on farms that were built to very questionable standards and even they remain upright over many years. On my own farm I have an old sawmill that is precariously leaning, and has for years and it is built out of 2 x 6's, 8 feet (yes 8 feet) on center!! According to engineers I am sure, it should never have withstood the first winter, but its held off for 30 years with no maintenance just fine. Even now I could rebuild it if I was so inclined.

The point is, it takes an awful lot to collapse a house. A Wofati is no different. Yes it seems like all that weight just wants to come crashing down into the house below, but that is not the case at all. Anyone that has ever dug into a gravel bank with a loader knows just how deep a pocket you can excavate before the compacted soil above comes crashing down. It is a lot. Shore it up with a Wofati structure and it is doubtful it will collapse in 50 years. Rot does not occur in wood past 12 inches...there is not enough oxygen to promote it. If the soil above the Wofati structure stays dry due to the umbrella then rot won't occur either. There is no such thing as "dry-rot". Dry rot is wood that gets wet, then dries. If wood is always dry, it doesn't rot. So it stands to reason that a Wofati would last just as long as stick built home, and probably longer if a stick built home has not maintenance done.

Now convincing a code enforcement officer of all this in a town that has strict building codes, that is another story. People question when things are built outside the conventional building methods.

 
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Some (many?  most?) building code jurisdictions like/want/require graded lumber with an official stamp.

Wofatis, pretty much by definition, won't have that.

When you think about what graded lumber gets you, it's pretty sketchy actually.  Dimensional lumber has gotten skinnier and skinnier, including plywood and 2 x 4's.  They are now just a touch smaller than 3 1/2" thick now, and 1/2" plywood was converted to metric a while back.  The manufacturing process allows for a +/- tolerance, so the 1/2" plywood isn't even 1/2" any more.

And the super fast trees they use to grow renewable forests for 2x4's are lower density and weaker than ever.   Thank goodness the standards are keeping me safe.

But your inspector still wants to see a grade stamp on commerccially manufactured lumber for your house.
 
Travis Johnson
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Troy, this is my biggest issue against the National Building Code my town wants to adopt. This is Maine, the most forested state in the nation and where portable and stationary sawmills abound; heck I have 4 sawmills myself of varying designs. IF they adopt the national building code, I won't be able to use my sawmill to produce lumber which is the reason I live in a 100% debt free home...I used my own wood to build it.

Like you point out so expertly, it is sketchy at best. They don't even build with 2 x 4's any more, its 2 x 3's for the construction of trusses. My sawmill derived lumber is deemed "unfit" because it lacks a stamp, but it is a FULL 2" wide, and a full 6" deep making it 25% stronger in reality...and that is framed lumber.

The only thing I can add to your excellent post is that in the event of a fire, not only would logs take much longer to burn before failure, their round edges make it harder for the fire to even start. With a stick built house with conventional 2 x 3 trusses, a half hour of fire and the roof is collapsing.
 
Glenn Herbert
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Before you get to the roof collapsing in a modern house on fire, I understand that it used to be said that when the fire alarm goes off, you might have 10-15 minutes to get out before the structure is unsafe to be inside. Now, you have three to five minutes because the whole interior is filled with synthetics that burn fast and emit toxic fumes that will overcome you in a hurry.

As for the issue of wood rotting, I suppose it depends on the soil characteristics of your climate and site. Where there is no groundwater and porous soil, you may be able to keep the soil beneath your wofati dry; where I live, water moves through the soil most of the year and there is no such thing as sheltered dry soil unless it is separated from the ground below and on all sides; it would likely need some possibility of drying to an exposed surface too. Keeping embedded wood perpetually dry is a risky proposition in these conditions.
 
Travis Johnson
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Very good point on the fire, I was not so much thinking in terms of occupant safety just in failure of the building components, but you mare indeed right, synthetics would make a home deadly in a matter of minutes.

I think you may be missing some key design elements of the Wofati however. Like you, my soil is like New York's in that is consists of mica-schist for the most part, something we can thank the glaciers for up here. You are right that water moves through the soil pretty good. But with a Wofati, the builder does not merely excavate and spread the material over the structure, it is compacted in layers. There are multiple ways to do this, but a bulldozer is the quickest and best due to the grouses locking in the rocks like a jigsaw puzzle. There are other ways that are almost as good, but that would impede water infiltration, but even that is a moot point.

A key element of a Wofati is in keeping the soil above the structure dry, that is because dry soil has a much better R-Factor. With wet soil the thermal inertia will be less efficient. That is why there is an umbrella layer that sheds the water off the roof, and why drainage and being situated uphill is also key; water sheds and is not standing behind the structure. It is absolutely key to have a first water protecting membrane, then a second layer as double protection. A Wofati builder whose name I cannot remember was asked the question about water infiltration in a video I watched, and he was pretty comical about it, first mentioning there was a roof, then said that compacted earth sheds water anyway. Considering the thousands of miles of gravel roads that shed water every rain storm, it is easy to see the concept.

As for the moisture in the house that arises from cooking, washing, bathing, etc...I am not sure. I would assume its not enough moisture to penetrate the dry earth a whole lot beyond the walls and ceiling, and the wood would inevitable absorb a lot of it, but I doubt it is enough to promote rot.

It is a very interesting concept, at first glance thinking that it is a recipe for housing disaster, and then after careful analysis; realizing it is actually ingenious.

 
Glenn Herbert
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The key in dry feet would be micro site selection. There are areas on my land that have porous soil, even on uplands, and there are areas that are solid glacial till that take a full-size backhoe to dig into - my current tractor-mounted backhoe can only scratch the surface when the hardpan has not been exposed to weather for a while. Solid clay and rock conduct water slowly upwards from the groundwater layer. Here, bedrock is shale, though the glaciers gave us a wide variety of components to the till above it.

Keeping the soil above a wofati dry is great, but if you can't stop groundwater from coming up, you're sunk. It all depends on the details of the site.
 
Travis Johnson
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Ahhh, now I understand what you are saying and the reason for my confusion. I live on a huge hill where every drop of water runs off. The water table is down pretty deep so I have never had an issue with water coming up through a building project. I would think drainage tile would easily take care of that issue though.

If I build one, the struggle will be situating it on account of bedrock. I don't have a lot of soil to bedrock where I am thinking of putting it; maybe a foot or two. That leaves me with the issue of water running across the surface of the bedrock, but most of the time I can put enough of a ditch in to divert the water. Most of the time. I won't be able to sink the poles in the ground either, but I can affix them to bedrock easily enough.

On a few Wofati Designs I notice crushing inward of the soil occurred, and was curious as to why tie-backs were not part of the design? You know, like retaining walls where the earth helps hold the wall vertical. It would be very easy to do in a Wofati. I was also thinking I would build with beams instead of round wood. It would make construction a lot easier as there is flat surfaces to work with, and if the wood has to be peeled of bark anyway, it would take just as much time to debark the log as hew a beam out. Naturally making a 4 sided beam on a sawmill is even faster and load calculations easier to make. Of course an alternative to even that would be to build a homemade debarker; Youtube is replete with various tries at that.

I have not come up with an overall design yet, much of that has to do with my wife as this would be our retirement place; small and easy to clean, but we plan to rent it out until then. Slowly the ideas are coming, and I think it would make for a very cozy, cheap, efficient home.
 
Glenn Herbert
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You have the ideal situation with relation to groundwater, at least for a moist climate. Even drainage tiles are insufficient when the water table is 20-30 feet down (as it is under my house - nice spring aquifer) and the soil conducts moisture up.
 
pollinator
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Travis Johnson wrote:Rot does not occur in wood past 12 inches...there is not enough oxygen to promote it.



Travis, do you have some data to support that?  Wood rot is usually caused by fungi, and fungi extend their mycelia throughout the wood carrying oxygen deep into the wood.  12 inch logs can be innoculated with shiitake spore to grow mushrooms.
 
Travis Johnson
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Graham Chiu wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:Rot does not occur in wood past 12 inches...there is not enough oxygen to promote it.



Travis, do you have some data to support that?  Wood rot is usually caused by fungi, and fungi extend their mycelia throughout the wood carrying oxygen deep into the wood.  12 inch logs can be innoculated with shiitake spore to grow mushrooms.



Yes, come check out some of the stumps that have been buried decades ago, or the cordwood roads used to support traffic over wetlands.
 
pollinator
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Graham, I also see this when I pull up old fenceposts. The ends deepest in the ground are nearly intact while the zone closer to the surface are rotted away. Ground contact plus cycles of wet and dry is the most reliable way to destroy timber. When I have hardwood lengths that I want to keep in a "green" state before making them into rake heads, I put them into a stock trough where they sink to the bottom and are protected by the (mostly) anaerobic muck layer.
 
Graham Chiu
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Phil, we know that wood doesn't rot in swamps - eg. swamp kauri, but I have rounds of pinus radiata that are over 3 foot in diameter that I had cut a few years ago, and over a foot thick that have rotted away.  They were lying on the ground.  In the presence of moisture rot starts on the surface and works its way inwards pretty much not stopping until all the wood is gone.  Your point about fence posts rotting at the surface also makes me think it may be a mistake burying the posts.  As I've pointed out recently the eastern tradition is just to sit the posts on top of stones and let friction hold them in place.

Here's an example from Arizona, a Mexican drug smuggling ring has dug this tunnel from Mexico across the border using PSP technique



Looks like they've poured something on the ground!

 
Phil Stevens
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It's definitely also a function of the type of wood. Pinus radiata rots if you look at it crosseyed. I've got some old totara posts around the place that could easily be 100 years old and are still sound (they're not in the ground anymore, as they've been salvaged for yard art and furniture). But if you had buried those pine rounds deep enough that they were in saturated soil, the fungi would not have been an issue.

I do like the idea of keeping posts out of the ground and will be trying out some methods I've seen here.
 
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How might a wofati fare if built with a 4' thick foundation of earthbag walls, 3' thick on the foundation, narrowing to 2' thick aboutt the shoulder and upward, with supportive stone arches at the tallest height?

Of a circle, square, or hexagon, which shape would seem most ideal?

What if the only wood in the wofati were inside beams?

What if the wofati had 2'x2' dormer windows inset about 1' for a bit of light and egress?

What if the wofati used strawbale inside with rocket mass heater or hugel mass heaters around the wofati?

What if basalt mesh or fabric were diagonally placed around the the wofati from the bottom to the top to hold soil in place?

What if ground diggers like gophers were dealt with by planting lavander and similar plants they don't like?

What are more what ifs that would make a wofati easier for engineers to approve?
 
Travis Johnson
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It is not that an engineer cannot calculate the loads, it is that to build it to where they feel comfortable putting their name on the build, would be cost prohibitive. I have run into this in farming. The USDA requires a farm building they fund to be fully engineered. Suddenly the cost of the barn triples, and the low interest loan I was going to get, is no longer a bargain because the overall cost is 3 times higher. The other issue is, when you ask for an engineered building, they want cash up front because the cost just for the barn design is so high.

In my town, someone proposed adopting the National Building Code which was quickly shot down. The National Building Code requires a building to be built using lumber that has been stamped by a facility that does testing. Well this is Maine, everyone has a sawmill, so literally overnight most of the buildings here would not go up because the rules do not allow for rough cut lumber. It is silly because I will put my oversized rough cut lumber against the crap that is stamped from the building suppliers any day.

If someone lives in an area with building codes, anything that is done outside the normal method of doing it, is going to face a real uphill battle. I am not saying it cannot be done, but towns are political by nature, and the building inspector a person might start the build with, might not be the one they have at the end of it. That would really suck, complete a WOFATI and then the building inspector will not allow for an occupancy permit, and so the home just sits there...vacant.
 
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