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Looking for a place to move in MT or WA to open permaculture homestead  RSS feed

 
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Hi all, first time poster here, (but big fan of the Permies podcast, I figured this might be fruitful to post here). My girlfriend and I are looking for a place to move to open a permaculture homestead. We've run around in circles on this question for so long I think it might be helpful to just put it out there and see if someone has some guidance.

We've driven through Montana a couple times, and have generally liked it (Although cracking a radiator in our converted shuttle bus outside of Buffalo Jump in 105' degree heat and then having to basically live in the Belgrade Flying J parking lot for a week while we made arrangements to repair it, surrounded by a horde of methed out truckers was not an experience I'd suggest to anyone). Missoula and Bozeman seem nice as hubs for the inevitable trips to civilization. We love WA, but haven't yet found a place that meets our criteria. Olympia, WA is a favorite, but the zoning laws around there seem to make things more difficult. But we're trying to narrow down our options by county, it's a big question and sort of racks the brain the try and nail down a single place out of the infinite number of options. If anyone can speak up and say "Yeah that sounds like x, or you definitely won't find that in y county" please say so. We're trying to keep our options open while simultaneously narrowing things down.

-A place within 30-45 minutes of a hospital, mid-size town with good organic grocery stores.
-Somewhere where we can build an underground house, rocket mass heater, greenhouse, yurt, or a log cabin without government scrutiny or building permits. No zoning laws, I guess?
-Somewhere green (at least green-ish) and without any notable pollution hotspots nearby. I have respiratory issues / MCS and air pollution makes me feel like death.
-Preferably with trees that we can selectively cut down for building materials.
-Good, deep soil
-Not liable to flood.
-Near running water (if possible, I realize this is a big request), or at least gets enough rain to harvest.
-A 3 to 10 acre lot, where 40-50k is either enough, or would at least provide a decent down payment.

Paul Wheaton's enthusiasm for Missoula is a bit contagious, I think he said that Northern Missoula is more lax with the rocket stove issues? What about Bozeman, does anyone live nearby and find it conducive to permaculture? Is all of WA so prohibitive with building codes/ rainwater harvesting laws and the like? I would greatly appreciate any suggestions!



 
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Location: Colville, WA Zone 5b
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Hi Max!

I can tell you NO, not all of WA is so prohibitive. Here in Stevens County (we're the northeastern most county) you can have one unpermitted and uninspected dwelling per parcel. Which means you can build whatever the hell you want

Northeastern WA is really great. It's kind of a hidden gem of WA. We are a true four seasons climate, and we stay mostly green year round. We get enough snow for it to be fun and enough hot weather to grow some good stuff. Growing wise we're zone 5b. Lots of green trees - mostly pine and fir, some cedar in the higher elevations. Not much for hardwoods. Summer time it does dry out a bit (generally we have about 2-3 weeks of super hot like 90-100 weather) but it's nothing like the desert of Eastern Wa.

I would recommend checking out Kettle Falls, Colville, and Chewelah. I live between Colville and Chewelah and they both have hospitals. The hospitals are "rural" hospitals but you can be in Spokane with several major hospitals within an hour.

Real estate prices I believe would be within your reach as well. Mine was 20 acres for $60k and it had a well on it and I've seen similar acreages for about $40k. (http://www.windermerecolville.com/undeveloped-land-for-sale-by-price/under-50k.html#top)

We're very "mountainy" and if you don't get lowland/valley land, you won't have to worry about floods.

 
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It's kind of a hidden gem of WA.



Not anymore.

NE WA does seem pretty nice, minus mosquitos.

@bethany,

So in theory, one could have a skoolie (tiny home) and a TT, and still build a yurt, spaceship, or tree house, yes?
Can put the mother in law in a hut far far away...
 
Maxwell Myers
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Bethany Dutch wrote:Hi Max!

I can tell you NO, not all of WA is so prohibitive. Here in Stevens County (we're the northeastern most county) you can have one unpermitted and uninspected dwelling per parcel. Which means you can build whatever the hell you want

I would recommend checking out Kettle Falls, Colville, and Chewelah. I live between Colville and Chewelah and they both have hospitals. The hospitals are "rural" hospitals but you can be in Spokane with several major hospitals within an hour.



Thanks, that's all very helpful and intriguing! We'll certainly look into it. How are the parcels divided? Is land usually divided into a certain number of defined parcels when you buy it, or is that somewhat at the discretion of the landowner?

Are mosquitos a problem in your area? Olympia/Seattle has pretty much zero, it's strange. Coming from the Midwest, it was a real pleasant surprise.

 
Bethany Dutch
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jim dee wrote:

It's kind of a hidden gem of WA.



Not anymore.

NE WA does seem pretty nice, minus mosquitos.

@bethany,

So in theory, one could have a skoolie (tiny home) and a TT, and still build a yurt, spaceship, or tree house, yes?
Can put the mother in law in a hut far far away...



What's a TT?

I'm not entirely sure if a skoolie or tiny home would "count" towards the limit. I myself have a home that's mostly regular stickbuilt but I have no septic (compost bucket toilet) and no electricity and I've never had an inspector or needed a permit. Since there was no permitting necessary I would assume so but obviously you'd need to check.

And yes - we ARE a hidden gem but I trust the Permies with this kind of secret knowledge
 
Bethany Dutch
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Maxwell Myers wrote:
Thanks, that's all very helpful and intriguing! We'll certainly look into it. How are the parcels divided? Is land usually divided into a certain number of defined parcels when you buy it, or is that somewhat at the discretion of the landowner?

Are mosquitos a problem in your area? Olympia/Seattle has pretty much zero, it's strange. Coming from the Midwest, it was a real pleasant surprise.



To be honest I'm not entirely sure how it's divided in a legal sense. I know when we (my extended family) bought our land it was a bunch of 20 acre parcels together and they were all registered with the county as 20 acre parcels, and each had pre-set boundary lines that we were able to see on a map when we bought it. I didn't deal with that part though, my dad and brother dealt with that. Generally though the land further out is in minimum 20 acre parcels but you can buy multiples together, so 40, 60, etc. And closer in to town you can also get 10 and 5 acre parcels but they are somehow split up or divided on record. I suspect it's just a paperwork thing and some kind of fee you have to pay but I can't say that for sure.

As far as mosquitoes, we do have them but they are not huge and MOST years they aren't that bad at all. This year we had a very wet and late spring and they were awful the first part of the summer but mostly gone now. The bug that's the most annoying here are stinkbugs - they don't do anything except fly around and be annoying but there are so many of them during their "season" it's annoying to deal with them. We don't have big bugs though like you see down south, at least not bigger than June bugs.

As far as other wildlife, we have a lot of whitetail deer and wild turkeys. We also have black bears and the occasional cougar, but they are not so common at least where I'm at.
 
jim dee
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@bethany,

TT=travel trailer.

I mentioned mosquitoes because my buddy was up at Kettle Falls camping and he said the they chased him out, ha.
That would be nice if one could live or build without needing prior approval of septic and potable water.
I've searched so many real estate offerings in that general area that my mind is mush right now and can't recall exactly, but I don't think i've seen too many areas requiring anything like that, unless perhaps it was in town or near the golf course or what have ya.

Any thoughts on a bit south of you, Loon Lake area or Chewelah?


@max,

Based off of what your looking for, perhaps an area like tum tum and ford and the surrounding area would be suitable. Also the areas I just asked Bethany about above.
Within an hour of Spokane to satisfy your wants.
And seems to be an assortment of land and even with a few houses (dry, or with a creek) on it.
Either way, good luck on your endeavor.
 
pollinator
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Hearing about the first building in Stevens county being permit-free is AWESOME! I often look at property for sale and was bouncing between "north of Spokane" and "northeast of Vancouver/Portland" area like Cougar, looking for something large enough to plant trees all around and still have a couple acres for ponds/foods, like 10-20 acres. Some areas are a LOT more per acre than others!

But considering some of the prices I see up there, it's possible to get more than 20 acres for privacy and room for trees! My only concern would be knowing if a given property would support a well, a reliable water source is the biggie. Otherwise I'd be tempted to buy something now, years before I retire, so I can plant trees in advance and give them time to mature before I permanently move and need them for building/food/fuel.
 
Mark Tudor
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So I've been looking more into the details on the Stevens county site, and found the following document: http://www.co.stevens.wa.us/landservices/documents/BuildingOrdinance.pdf

Relating to exemptions for required permits, Section 1.4.2(b) part 3:
"Residence ­ Group R, Division 3, as defined by 1982 edition of the U.B.C. relating only to detached single family dwellings, occupied  by an owner-­builder, and shall specifically not include structures which are used  for providing  services and  goods for sale to members of the public, lodging  to persons, for compensation, or structures which are used in the manufacture of goods intended for sale to the public. A building permit, inspection fee, and inspections shall not be required for an owner/builder residence."

So as long as you don't use it for business purposes or housing others for rental income, no permits/fees/inspections are required for an owner-built residence! It must be at least 100 feet away from the property line or other occupancy-rated structures. You must file a notice that is added to the permanent deed, and you can do this once per 5 year period. You have to follow the codes for road approach and sewage disposal, plus other (less relevant items, in my opinion), and that could be checked for compliance. This applies to the unincorporated areas of the county, so beware of locations just outside incorporated areas, as it could be absorbed later on and then the question is whether you get grandfathered in or if your structure has to be retrofitted.
 
Bethany Dutch
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jim dee wrote:@bethany,

TT=travel trailer.

I mentioned mosquitoes because my buddy was up at Kettle Falls camping and he said the they chased him out, ha.
That would be nice if one could live or build without needing prior approval of septic and potable water.
I've searched so many real estate offerings in that general area that my mind is mush right now and can't recall exactly, but I don't think i've seen too many areas requiring anything like that, unless perhaps it was in town or near the golf course or what have ya.

Any thoughts on a bit south of you, Loon Lake area or Chewelah?



Yeah they were BAD this year. I don't think I've seen them this bad ever. But it was such a long late spring with so much rain and we had a lot of flooding so lots of standing water. For the first half of my summer I couldn't even go to my garden or other parts of the property during the morning or evening hours, I'd get eaten alive. But now they are gone. And they aren't that bad usually

And regarding a travel trailer (not sure why I didn't figure that out on my own, LOL!) I think that's fine too, we lived in one for a while when we were building but I don't see how that would be any different.

I think if you get land that's far out enough, you can do whatever you want. Loon Lake and Chewelah are both gorgeous. Chewelah is a beautiful little town. I don't think I'd want to live in Loon Lake - it's beautiful but very summer touristy, tiny houses jammed together on the lake side and they don't have much for amenities. If you want lake, check into Deer lake or Waitts Lake (which is a very small, sleepy kind of area). If you don't mind being a bit further out, you may also check out Gifford and Rice. Some of those parcels are just breathtakingly beautiful and so cheap, but it's an hour or so to Chewelah or Colville. I live about 25 minutes from either and that works for me.
 
Bethany Dutch
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Mark Tudor wrote:So I've been looking more into the details on the Stevens county site, and found the following document: http://www.co.stevens.wa.us/landservices/documents/BuildingOrdinance.pdf

Relating to exemptions for required permits, Section 1.4.2(b) part 3:
"Residence ­ Group R, Division 3, as defined by 1982 edition of the U.B.C. relating only to detached single family dwellings, occupied  by an owner-­builder, and shall specifically not include structures which are used  for providing  services and  goods for sale to members of the public, lodging  to persons, for compensation, or structures which are used in the manufacture of goods intended for sale to the public. A building permit, inspection fee, and inspections shall not be required for an owner/builder residence."

So as long as you don't use it for business purposes or housing others for rental income, no permits/fees/inspections are required for an owner-built residence! It must be at least 100 feet away from the property line or other occupancy-rated structures. You must file a notice that is added to the permanent deed, and you can do this once per 5 year period. You have to follow the codes for road approach and sewage disposal, plus other (less relevant items, in my opinion), and that could be checked for compliance. This applies to the unincorporated areas of the county, so beware of locations just outside incorporated areas, as it could be absorbed later on and then the question is whether you get grandfathered in or if your structure has to be retrofitted.



Yep, that's the one! Actually I'm not even sure about the sewage disposal, because I've been using a bucket toilet for 4 years now but maybe I'm getting away with it because no one knows about it THe only government person that has ever been out here is the person who estimates the value of the house for tax purposes (of course).

Now - one thing to consider about this particular area vs. the west side of the state is that we are much less "liberal" out here so you're generally going to have less restrictive laws and whatnot out here. We're still pretty much governed by what the main population in the Seattle area forces us to do state-wise, but this county is very relaxed which is nice.

Regarding the acreage - yes that's the thing I can tell you is there are lots of large parcels with a mix of trees, pasture, and water. We have a one acre pond on our property (it belongs to my brother, but it's "ours" if that makes sense). They did a dug well there that has enough water to support two households and two gardens. We see a lot of sub-irrigation around here - it's definitely not a dry climate, but it's not wet and rainy all the time like the west side, either.
 
Bethany Dutch
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Oh and Max - I just remembered you were asking about building materials. We mostly have softwoods here but in the higher elevations (like in Gifford, Rice, etc) you do see some nice big cedars. I don't have any on my property at 3500 feet but if you go up just a tiny bit you see the cedars.
 
pollinator
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I am in Okanogan Co WA. While they do have building codes and permits in Okanogan they aren't heavily enforced. In fact a lot of the folks up here don't bother with them. The county pretty much turns a blind eye and just records any buildings once the tax assessor comes along and hikes your taxes up for the improvements you have done.

Also here tiny homes, travel trailers, yurts, or anything that can be moved, don't count. They are temporary. You also don't need permits for an agriculture building. Barn, chicken coop, etc...

Oh and you might want to check out this reality website http://www.desertlakerealty.com/ that focuses on Eastern WA properties. I found my 40 acres using it. You can get a good sense of what is available in the different counties of WA. Each county sort of has it's pluses and minuses. For example Ferry county you can go through PUD to get an off grid power system, on a rent to own set up. They come set it up and install it for you and you pay them a monthly fee until you pay it off, then it is yours. But Ferry county also has higher property taxes.
 
jim dee
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@devin,

That is great for "movable" homes, similar to Stevens Co, owner/builder exempt for main living quarters.
Are you familiar with Ferry Co. and their building exemptions?

From what I've read, but both counties on either side of Stevens seem to have restrictions for building, but interested if you have heard anything about that?
 
Devin Lavign
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jim dee wrote:@devin,

That is great for "movable" homes, similar to Stevens Co, owner/builder exempt for main living quarters.
Are you familiar with Ferry Co. and their building exemptions?

From what I've read, but both counties on either side of Stevens seem to have restrictions for building, but interested if you have heard anything about that?



Sorry I am not familiar with Ferry Co building restrictions. I have been focused on Okanogan since that is where I ended up buying land. I learned about the off grid power op[tion in Ferry Co after buying in Okanogan Co.
 
pollinator
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in northern california we have the Class K permit - alternative owner builder permit.

it basically reads like the one above from stevens county- you cant rent it out or use it for commercial purposes, as long as you live in it you can build it how you want. and they try to be friendly and permissive about alternative construction/alt energy/non compliant toilet, etc...they might tell you to change a few things but they give advice and allow anything that seems sensible and well built.
 
jim dee
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Really?  I would not expect that in Cali. I will check this out.
 
leila hamaya
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yes , class K permits have been around for a long time in cali. in the most rural, extremely remote parts, it probably doesnt matter as much and people just do whatever without even getting the class k, building non compliant structures. but they attempt to make the class k as easy as possible, and to be permissive of people's ideas, as long as they seem to be well executed.

the thing is that california has a complaint based system. they dont go out looking for non permitted stuff, so if no one complains then theres no report.
actually most all of the times i have heard where people has problems it was more because of other things, they were not well liked by other people...the code issues that may have been brought up werent really the problem.
you may not exactly want to count on that though, but there are many places where its so remote and so underpopulated that stuff like the building codes just dont matter.

class K comes up more for when...someone purchases a place with an old shack or owner built house, and the new owners want it to be permitted. but some people go through these hoops to get their alternative structure permitted with class k.
 
leila hamaya
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anyway more on topic, my favorite place in washington is the olympia pennisula, the western side of the puget sound. less people, small towns, less expensive land than the more populated areas..i met a lot of nice folks out there and stayed there for periods of time here and there...
the beautiful olympic park forests, and even get on a quick ferry to be dropped in the middle of seattle for some city adventures.

....say from shelton up to port angeles to neah bay. neah bay is a pretty amazing place, definitely worth a visit.

the land around those areas is very reasonable, but some of the spots are even rainier than elsewhere in washington. some are in the *rain shadow* and get less rain.

i wouldnt say its extremely cheap though but maybe you can find a special deal. it's just so much cheaper than most everywhere else around those parts, which is interesting because i think its one of the prettiest and nicest places in western washington. theres more small modest houses, for lower prices than elsewhere in western washington.

though i don't always like the constant grey, and drizzle, i do love growing things, lush forests, and to be in a moist place. i have been to some neat places in the eastern parts of washington, but i dont like the desert like ness of it. something about the desert puts me in a weird head space, i dont think i could ever live in a desert.

there's some areas that are pretty nice and much cheaper areas either far east of seattle once it starts getting into small towns again, or far north on the way up to canada too....before you go too far east in washington- theres some nice places there, before it gets too dry...
 
Mark Tudor
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Here's a rough map for annual rainfall in Washington: http://content.lib.washington.edu/cmpweb/resources/map-rainfall.html

As you see the middle is definitely arid, fortunately there is a bit more rain again as you reach the NE corner and the mountains. As I've been thinking mostly about an Oehler/Wofati structure, I'd be a bit concerned about living on the west coast between building regulations and nosy neighbors, and the endless rain in most of the area. Funny that the Seattle area and the bay just NW of it is the driest part of western Washington due to the rain shadow on Mt. Olympus.

Been reading up a bit on water rights for Stevens county, and it looks like you'd better buy land that already has a well, or has a year-round spring. Not sure you could get a permitted well dug, and it'll cost thousands I would think, drilling by the foot. Of course most of what I've looked at is zoned for timber production-seeing 40 acres with a $500/year property tax bill sure is tempting!

Colville has a few lots for sale at good prices, but one was literally next door to a shooting range, so not sure how peaceful that would be. but there's a balance between "peace and quiet"/privacy, and access to services and face to face community. I'm planning to come out to wheaton labs in January, maybe I can spend an extra couple days to drive around NE Washington too to get a feel for the area above and beyond what Google Earth provides.
 
Bethany Dutch
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Mark Tudor wrote:Here's a rough map for annual rainfall in Washington: http://content.lib.washington.edu/cmpweb/resources/map-rainfall.html

As you see the middle is definitely arid, fortunately there is a bit more rain again as you reach the NE corner and the mountains. As I've been thinking mostly about an Oehler/Wofati structure, I'd be a bit concerned about living on the west coast between building regulations and nosy neighbors, and the endless rain in most of the area. Funny that the Seattle area and the bay just NW of it is the driest part of western Washington due to the rain shadow on Mt. Olympus.

Been reading up a bit on water rights for Stevens county, and it looks like you'd better buy land that already has a well, or has a year-round spring. Not sure you could get a permitted well dug, and it'll cost thousands I would think, drilling by the foot. Of course most of what I've looked at is zoned for timber production-seeing 40 acres with a $500/year property tax bill sure is tempting!

Colville has a few lots for sale at good prices, but one was literally next door to a shooting range, so not sure how peaceful that would be. but there's a balance between "peace and quiet"/privacy, and access to services and face to face community. I'm planning to come out to Wheaton Labs in January, maybe I can spend an extra couple days to drive around NE Washington too to get a feel for the area above and beyond what Google Earth provides.



I'll have to check into the water rights - my dad and brother share a well they literally dug with a backhoe right next to our pond. I don't think they got any permits but I can ask, if you'd like. My well was a drilled well, and I know the water was quite hard to find (but I'm also the highest elevation here on my parcel). In fact I think they had to hydrofrack the bedrock in order to get the water that I have. I have no idea how much it cost - our plans for the land was initially that we would all form a cooperative commune type thing (myself and extended family) but then a few years after some of us started actually making strides to live there, we all decided it was best for each of us to just purchase our own parcels from the LLC that we formed to buy it.

Having said that, I know LOTS of people who have springs on their land. I'll get back to you on the dug well thing.

It's funny you mention the Oehler/Wofati thing. My ex husband and I talked extensively about doing something similar although what we ended up doing was a stickbuilt home on a concrete slab but with a deeply excavated site. My home faces south, and most of the windows are south (and the passive solar effects are AWESOME) but behind me there's a pretty big berm. I'm hoping to eventually enclose it into a greenhouse and when I build onto the east side of the house (this was just the "starter" home but I do eventually need to make it bigger) I'll be building it right up into the berm. So I guess what I have is something similar, although ideally what I'd like to do is something that includes half timbering because I love it so much.

Anyway - I think it would be pretty well adapted to this area as long as you make sure to face it properly south. It does get cold in the winter, but I think with an uphill greenhouse and south facing windows that will REALLY help. I just have the south windows and it makes a big difference. My house is 720 sq feet and I use 2-3 cords of wood in a winter.
 
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Thank you for this thread as it brought me to this site and it seems very informitave already. I got my 20 about a year and a half ago and from my understanding, in Stevens County, you need a permit for septic or electrical. I like to believe that the electrical would only be if you are tying into the grid. I hope you guys found what you were looking for.
 
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