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Finding an Engineer/Architect  RSS feed

 
Grant Doner
Posts: 9
Location: Denver, CO
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I've been surfing around this site for a while now and wanted to be sure my first post said "Thank You" above all else. A wonderful community you have built here!

Now then, on to my (most likely) very newbish question: How does one go about finding an Engineer/Architect to sign-off on a cob home plan? Part of the issue is, we do not currently live in the state where we think we will be building. Makes the collection of local knowledge difficult, at best. I've had a couple of local (Colorado) "cob experts" review my basic plans, but that isn't exactly helpful in the sign-off fight.

We are looking at property in South Dakota (never would have thought) and I've already looked into the building codes for the counties under consideration. Looks like Meade County will probably win out, but I digress.

We will be building a cob/tire bale home, not a cottage. Square footage is coming in between 1,200 and 900 sqft, depending on the final outcome of negotiations with my wife. No chance of sneaking in under any radars, so legit it must be. I know my life will be 20x easier if I show up with signed plans, but I don't know how to get those plans signed. I could really use a little guidance on how to find cob-friendly, or at least cob-knowledgeable, professionals that can put their autograph on my paper.

Any help to be found?

Thank you in advance.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hello, and welcome!

How does one go about finding an Engineer/Architect to sign-off on a cob home plan?


By doing what you just did...

Next is actually having a plan and location...at that point I (et al) can be much more helpful.

We will be building a cob/tire bale home, not a cottage. Square footage is coming in between 1,200 and 900 sqft, depending on the final outcome of negotiations with my wife. No chance of sneaking in under any radars, so legit it must be. I know my life will be 20x easier if I show up with signed plans, but I don't know how to get those plans signed. I could really use a little guidance on how to find cob-friendly, or at least cob-knowledgeable, professionals that can put their autograph on my paper.


If you did the design yourself it is much harder than having an established natural builder, and/or architect getting them approved...as you probably have figured out. I recommend Firetower PE, but I am not subjective as I know the owner and have worked with them for over 30 years. I also do not recommend "structural cobb" for most projects, except historical. I must also share that a company and their team like FT will treat a "new client" much differently than an old one, as they have a better understanding (trust) of how the building will be constructed.

Good Luck and questions always welcome...
 
Grant Doner
Posts: 9
Location: Denver, CO
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Thanks Jay! At the very least, I have a starting point. I feel better already!

As to the source of the design; yeah, I know. It doesn't exactly sit well with me that my basic design ideas are regarded as ignorant, but that is certainly more truth than fiction. I realized that pretty early on in the planning. I attended a handful of cob workshops here in Colorado, including one that was being built with the Engineer onsite. I have leaned heavily on several of the 'experts' with my design. As a result, much of my ignorance was addressed; not necessarily resolved, mind you. Interestingly enough, by incorporating exactly what you are talking about with a timber frame to hold the roof. Since the wife and I are fans of exposed timber anyway, it was a really easy sell. So, I feel that I am at least traveling the right path currently.

Sorry if I'm as thick as a cob wall, but are you suggesting having one of the established natural builders submit my plans on my behalf? I'm certainly not hard-headed enough to believe I know much of anything about the structural side of building. I know what I want in form and function, but readily admit my lack of engineering knowledge. I just don't want to give up aesthetic control of the building. My consultants have been great about saying things like, "We can make it 'look' this way, but function structurally 'this way". It has actually been immensely helpful in getting it to work the way I want it to work. SketchUp has been a Godsend for the design work; love that software!!! Course, this is all on paper and computer screens. I know the hard part will always be in getting the permission.

We are a year and change away from the target date of moving, so I've got time. Plan is to throw up a small straw bale cottage to live in until the permanent home is up and functioning. I will be living and working the property full-time and hope to have the home completed by the second full summer onsite; timber frame during the first winter, then cob like hell during the warm months. Course, the first shot has yet to be fired.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Grant,

You aren't ignorant...just new. There is so much to learn, understand and know...plus being able to "access" the given knowledge quickly and cross correlate to other challenges only comes with time...

SketchUp has been a Godsend for the design work; love that software!!!


YES!!...and as a teacher, it is a wonderful tool and mechanism for creativity. I think it is one of my top "modern things" that I actually value equal to old ways. I still like to draw by hand, but this CAD program speeds up many processes. I do have to share, that it has also made too many contractors, DIYers, and related folks think that just because they have learned to use the program, this makes them qualified to design a building...or worse...the silly notion that, "if I can draw it, it will work and I can build it." This is not the case in most cases.

I know the hard part will always be in getting the permission.


Not as hard as many think and actually getting easier in many areas for a number of natural/traditional building methods. It also...again...has to do with experience. I don't bring up "cobb." I am take on a client and I help them facilitate a timber frame of there 'flavor.' It is a timber frame and if we chose to use "thermal mass" and/or "masonry related items" (a.k.a. cobb) in the process...it does not have to be the focal point to draw attention to.

It strikes me that you are on a good path, know what you want (and don't want.) This, and your planning is priceless. Take your time, ask lots of questions, compare notes, and proceed as you can...

Regards,

j
 
Bill Bradbury
pollinator
Posts: 684
Location: Richmond, Utah
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I keep seeing this guys work and working with his friends and colleagues, but I still haven't met him. His work is impressive as are the people he has worked with. Wayne Bingham
He specializes in straw bale, but with a frame cob is very similar.
 
Terry Ruth
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Thanks for that PE link Jay, just what I was looking for.

Grant, an Architect is not required for residential in most states, only commercial. If there is not "COB" code path the jurisdiction you are in will allow or has adopted by code, then and only then do you need a PE(Structures Engineer) with a stamped drawing that gets inspected usually by the contractor building it, or in some cases if the PE is out of state you ma have to hire a third party inspector. That is a cost that needs to be looked at. Timber framing there is no "prescriptive " or code path to satisfy a building permit you need to obtain a PE. A general contractor familiar with COB, timbers if you can find one can be a great asset. They can pull a permit and all the mechanical and electrical can pull under it. You should be allowed to pull your own permits, but some GC's know how to manage and get discounts on labor and materials. NM, AZ, CA, all have earth code if you decide to use it as structure you may be able to get your jurisdiction to allow to eliminate the cost of a PE. 2015 IRC has strawbale code.

The other part of the red tape are energy codes, r-values, vapor barriers, some that ruin natural building's but are enforced by the jurisdiction and state law.

https://law.resource.org/pub/us/code/safety.html
https://energycode.pnl.gov/EnergyCodeReqs/?state=South%20Dakota

Looks like Siuox is enforcing 2012 IRC, Mead county IECC : https://energycode.pnl.gov/EnergyCodeReqs/?state=South%20Dakota

You can also check with you states Board of Technical Professionals for PEs, like mine: https://energycode.pnl.gov/EnergyCodeReqs/?state=South%20Dakota

NFBA also has "Find a Designer" left tab: http://www.nfba.org/Membership/content/benefits.html

Good luck! Cob and Timber does sound nice.
 
Grant Doner
Posts: 9
Location: Denver, CO
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:It strikes me that you are on a good path, know what you want (and don't want.) This, and your planning is priceless. Take your time, ask lots of questions, compare notes, and proceed as you can...

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Terry Ruth wrote:Grant, an Architect is not required for residential in most states, only commercial. If there is not "COB" code path the jurisdiction you are in will allow or has adopted by code, then and only then do you need a PE(Structures Engineer) with a stamped drawing...

The codes in that county seem pretty standardized, but I certainly see nothing relating to any kind of natural building. They have adopted the 2006 IBC and seem to just follow that. Very few variances and exceptions, it seems.

Terry Ruth wrote:A general contractor familiar with COB, timbers if you can find one can be a great asset. They can pull a permit and all the mechanical and electrical can pull under it.

No argument here. However, there seem to be two issues at work. First, if I were a GC, there is no way in hell I'd take on this project. I've no desire to build fast; probably 2 years minimum to get the home itself built. Second, and this is nothing but hubris, I want the pride of doing the work all to myself. Well, there will obviously be friends and family involved, but you get what I'm saying. Having said that, my best friend of childhood years grew-up to be a GC down in Texas. He has done some natural building stuff, but is still a self-admitted novice to it. He wants to help with the build, and will be visiting the property somewhat regularly to give pontifications. Plus, I'm a Kansas boy too (I don't like admitting that). I've still got family in Wichita (Go Blue Aces!) and Salina; the Salina side owns a large construction and heavy equipment business. That crazy uncle will most certainly come visit the build. If for no other reason, than to give me hell.

So I think I've got the professional oversight taken care of, for the most part. Like many, we are trying to get this done on a minimalist budget. While I would have no problems at all living a primitive life, my wife takes GREAT exception to it. For this reason, the bulk of our capital is going to go to things like a septic system, solar and wind power, wiring, etc. I'm going for a convenient primitive kind of thing. If I can be the GC of my own project, then I can spend that money making the wife happy. Soooooooo worth it!

Even with all these excuses, your points remain valid. I will give it a little more deliberate thought.

Love the links Terry. Thanks! I needed something to do this morning instead of working. Rainy day here in Denver; very unmotivated.
 
Grant Doner
Posts: 9
Location: Denver, CO
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Bill Bradbury wrote:I keep seeing this guys work and working with his friends and colleagues, but I still haven't met him. His work is impressive as are the people he has worked with. Wayne Bingham
He specializes in straw bale, but with a frame cob is very similar.

I had not stumbled upon that site yet, thanks!
I really like seeing other peoples designs and stealing borrowing from them. And, I like straw bale homes. They were the first of the natural building techniques that caught my eye. That stupid dang hobbit house in Wales put me over the edge about 5 years ago. But the straw bales will always get my credit for setting the hook.

Hard to believe that I'm down to the last year of my five year plan. Had not really thought about it until rereading this post. I gotta get going!
 
Grant Doner
Posts: 9
Location: Denver, CO
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Take your time, ask lots of questions, compare notes, and proceed as you can...

For sure!
But I'm staying out of the RMH discussions. Who'd of thunk those things can get so heated?...get it, heated?

Sorry, I need more coffee.
 
Terry Ruth
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Grant, if you are building a home you are building to IRC (International Residential Code) not IBC which is commercial. Not that it makes alot of difference for earth construction, there is little in both. We are moving out of 2006 to 2012. If you really get into it and study it you can find a path using some of the concrete tables found in walls, foundation, chapters, only the aggregate will be clay which is actually found in some concrete mixes. If the AHJ challanges it you could take a test sample to a lab and get some compression or other properties to satisfy code. It may worth a try, no cost PE now. Them and an Architect can get quite costly.

Here is NM code on rammed earth it may work or call them they may have COB: http://164.64.110.239/nmregister/xii21/14.11.11NMAC.htm take it to your AHJ inspection office or PE might help.

SB: http://www.ecobuildnetwork.org/images/PDFfiles/AppendixS_SBConstruction_2015IRC.pdf

Always glad to help a Permie get past permits, it is ashamed there is not more for natural building's.
 
Grant Doner
Posts: 9
Location: Denver, CO
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Thanks for the additional links Terry!
I've got good reading for most of the morning now. Keep em coming folks!
 
We noticed he had no friends. So we gave him this tiny ad:
Video of all the permaculture design course and appropriate technology course (about 177 hours)
https://permies.com/wiki/65386/paul-wheaton/digital-market/Video-PDC-ATC-hours-HD
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