I'm already in Maine doing generally the same sort of thing (or, well, gearing up slowly to do it...going to be a while yet). I'm sitting on roughly 14 acres in the southern part of the central highlands / penobscot valley area on a beautifully damaged piece of stump-land with gentle south-facing slope and copious amounts of clay (cost was ~$17k w/owner financing).
First, a bit about what we're planning for our passive/RMH heated home:
We're looking to use cob
since the clay is already here in large enough quantities - have been in the experimental phase, working with the cob to do cordwood/cobwood and RMHs. We brought in a 26ft 5th wheel camper trailer to start with while we learn the properties flows and get things set up. The "cabin" comes later as we get the materials ready and have enough knowledge/experience to finally start building, not to mention get the site ready which is going to be quite a job
in and of itself. Already, we've gone through several iterations of design and the latest and greatest design is a very "holistically designed" passive solar home. See the on-paper sketches here: https://permies.com/forums/posts/list/40/32322#387386
Funny thing is with each iteration of design, it became more and more "organic" in feel, eventually resembling one of nature's marvels - the bat.
So far, we're looking at simple roundwood timber framing using primarily hemlock from the property, plus some of the fir and pine, maybe some sugar maple here and there. We thought about using strawbale for some of the walls but it's just too darn expensive up here ($6/bale or more) and quite difficult to work with compared, so we're sticking to cordwood infill. Our experiments with cordwood walls, using cob mortar, have gone fairly well, though the old "good hat and good boots" thing is even more important in such a wet climate. We'll be shooting for 24" thick double (M-I-M) walls for those exposed to the outdoors.
The structure is meant to be built modular as well, which is a very good idea from a sanity point of view. Likewise, your raised kitchen idea is something we settled on as well - a large bump of thermal mass that's charged over the summer with greenhouse
air then further "recharged" as necessary with RMH exhaust seems like a great idea. We're also looking to incorporate "RMH beds" and baths sunken into RMH mass. In essence, the entire place is a series of mass benches inside an insulated envelope.
In trying to maximize the solar heat gain, the "batwing" shaped structure acts as a sort of sun-scoop to aid in the passive heating feature of the structure while also allowing for 2 separate living quaters (bedroom and bathroom) with shared "community" kitchen and lounging area. Front and center is an attached greenhouse/sunroom/solarium (with not one but two RMH exhaust ducts running through the growing bed! Take that winter
). The exterior northern side(s) are then wrapped by a shed structure with the south-west and south-east exposures wrapped with porches which can be converted to additional "sunrooms" with plastic wrap for the frozen months. These exterior structures add a sort of envelope structure around the entire unit that will help buffer the -20*F temps we generally see in Jan/Feb in these parts. The entire structure is earthen floor and timber framing posts are simply charred/treated and sunk into the ground to avoid any needs for what could qualify as "permanent foundations" (see below).
Another huge factor to consider with a more passively designed home in Maine is how to successfully and safely hold on to and utilize the massive snow pack we often get. From late January to middle March, the snowpack is generally between 2 and 5 feet - that's a lot of good, free
insulation for your roof if it's designed to 1) handle and hold on to the load and 2) not turn it into a sheet of non-insulating ice through heat loss from the interior. In the RV, we find an enormous difference in indoor comfort levels with just 6" of fluffy snowpack on the roof. For this, we're going with a sod green roof 12-18" thick with 6-12" of loose hay
insulation underlayment (between waterproof membranes) - the idea is to have tall grasses and the like up top to hold the snow pack in place during the harsh winds we do get. In addition, the structure will be backed up against a wooded area that will help buffer the stronger north and northwest winds.
Now, I have some notes I want to pass along regarding doing stuff like this in Maine for cheap and without running into headaches with the depts of making you sad. Number 1 is to really go over the laws and rules before even buying land
. Start at the state level and hope that you can end it there. Much of the best part of this state is unincorporated with the rest being nearly so. That means the state laws and rules regarding building and code are what will inevitably apply. It also means resources being stretched much thinner to come out sticking noses into what you're doing. If you buy land in one of the "richer" communities along the coast, or where there's a lake with postage stamp lots along its shore...or, god forbid, you go looking for something down near portland/augusta...you're going to be facing all sorts of headaches regarding building codes and nosey local code enforcement officers. In essence, once you've invited them out (or they've invited themselves out), they're going to be in your life forever. They'll know you, know what your land looks like and know what you've done since their last visit. If they never have reason to come out for a looksie, quite often you don't even exist on their radar.
You can get beautiful, fertile land along state maintained, paved roads, with DSL/cable/power available and friendly but stick-to-themselves neighbors, for literally "dirt cheap" in areas with little to no local government - that can save you A LOT of hassle when looking to do things that code enforcement wont understand (RMH, passive solar, etc). More land than you need is better on every level, too - don't limit yourself to "1 or 2 acres". Get 10 or 25, or 50 - it wont cost you much more out here but will give you a heck of a lot more flexibility and freedom
The keyword up here is "stump-land", which is code for land that's been logged with less than ideal practices and is now going dirt cheap because they've mucked it up so badly and don't expect to get another harvest for 40 years or more. These usually come with decent enough dirt roads/driveways for access, slash piles ready for huglekulture, a whole assortment of native
berries growing on the land and years worth of RMH fuel in the form of birch, sugar maple, beech etc coppice. You'll find the land rutted up and muddy, and stripped of any valuable timber, but with clearly marked boundaries and (rough) access roads running throughout.
Now, the state law reads something like "hand carried water" requires no septic but with a cistern (over X gallons...can't remember the exact figure, but it's way low), a well or any other "automatic" water delivery system (pump
from lake/river, etc) you will need at least a gray water system. Rainwater catchment or wells
with hand powered pumps do not require this as long as there's a "hand carry" aspect to it
Last I checked, composting toilets are simply illegal in the state except for one very specifically detailed design of composting toilet, which must be manufactured by a company with approval by some body or another, and that toilet does not actually exist. It's stupid, but true - I think it's something like a specific placement of a supplementary compost material feed to the system which must exist, but no commercial model has one. The state is ok with simple pit outhouses (which must be permitted and inspected) or collection tanks (such as come with an RV) that you service or have serviced (there's a free dump station in Bangor, btw), but otherwise you're required to have a septic tank and leach field. As a side note here, one piece of land I looked at in a "richer" town demanded I provide receipts for RV tank service on a quarterly basis in order to not have approved septic tank / leach field installed.
Regarding the need for building permits and the like, structures that require one are very loosely defined in the state law. The most important rule for qualifying a permanent and taxable structure (which then must also have a septic system, building permits, code inspections, etc) is that it have a "permanent foundation". Sono-tubes and cement piers are exempted from this in the state law, as are simple stone corner pads used in log cabins. Mudsills, gravel/rubble trenches and skids don't qualify, of course, though a frost-wall will qualify and a full basement or even concrete slab qualify. There's a gray area with dry-stack stone foundations and pads used for timber frame posts - seems they do usually qualify those as "permanent foundations".
If the structure has wheels, it must be registered for the road or it will be taxable and require all the craziness and code enforcement, too. I've heard about one couple who built their home on pontoons, in a dry field, to skirt the rules since it's technically a house boat with no "permanent foundation". There's also a guy who winches his home, on skids, down onto the ice for the winter, then back up to the shore for summer, to ensure he never has to deal with the code enforcement craziness
Knowing the laws and rules, and finding a place where they're minimal (unincorporated or nearly so) can make natural and alternative building here in Maine very easy, but if you're not careful, you're stuck with basically the requirements you'd be looking at in NYC. The greenies did a number on this state's laws which is only now starting to be fixed - they may have meant well (I personally agree with a lot of their message) but they had a terrible way of putting that stuff on the books
. Definitely do the research before you buy anything so you know what you're getting into. Anonymous, generalized calls to the town hall when one does exist can help in huge ways with making decisions.
Oh, and consider the tree-growth, open space and farm land tax programs - they're on the books for a reason and might be the only thing the greenies did right
Maine grows trees and forests well, and that's one of the biggest financial benefits this state has. If those trees are high value timber, or those forests produce food, fiber and fuel, they still qualify and meet the demand we have for commercially viable forested lands and should be on the books as such, helping prove to the world that such types of programs are beneficial. Basically, rather than "paying" farmers to grow corn and soy, here we can "pay" farmers to grow acres of black locust
, nut pines, grapes and black cherry