Sarah Yao

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since Jan 16, 2012
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Recent posts by Sarah Yao

Terry Ruth wrote:Don't know of any good books since I'm not interested in EB since I build mainly in code areas. Natural Building Companion I read for strawbales, excellent! Breathable Walls in the book section, excellent too.

Here is a map if you have to comply to energy code, it is code minimum and you can lower r-value for mass like earth IF you can get the AHJ to agree, mass is highly misunderstood and under defined too: Just pick on the map your state and county.

Good luck to you. We are doing a metal roof now I recommend you get some help there

Thanks very much! I'll check out the map. Still haven't heard back from the building official so I think I'll call again later today.

Yeah, the roofing would be by contractor. I had a metal roof put on my double-wide and I think I'd use the same contractor to do the new roof. Incidentally, he had told me he was thinking about doing in-ground shipping containers as bunker-type shelters. I think he'd definitely be open to out-of-the-box and he's licensed as a general contractor.
6 years ago
Thanks, that does clear it up. If I get nowhere fast with my current local jurisdiction then I'll contact the potential jurisdiction.

As an aside, what books/websites/DVDs would you recommend to learn more about building bermed houses? I'm also trying to save money so I can do some hands-on earthbag training in the eastern US. Any good training places in the eastern US you're aware of?
6 years ago

Terry Ruth wrote:

Looks like VA/WV are in 2009 IRC which they could be adopting new codes this time of year, like we are 2012 starting June. VA is also enforcing an energy code IECC 2009 making it more difficult, WV is not. You are not going to find earth construction codes in 2009 IRC or what is called a "prescriptive path" that leaves you having to satisfy the permit by hiring a Professional Structures Engineer (analytical path) that will give your local inspectors drawings to inspect to, not code. You also want to make sure your land is zoned for single or muti-family use, not agricultural or commercial or something else with your zoning department, set backs, easements, roads, etc.

Earth berm takes alot of knowledge to design right and is not the only "energy efficient, high wind resistant, etc, " designing....strawbales only weigh around 35 lbs, along with plaster that is easy.....they are in 2015 IRC appendix R if you can get your building and safety dept to let you use it, or back to the PE. New Mexico has alot of earth construction codes they use that are independent of IRC you might be able to talk them into as a prescriptive path. I know Rammed Earth, CEB, and adobe are in it, not sure about berms.

A PE plus permits can get expensive, so perhaps a method that is less costly and more recognized may be better for you. That way if you do need help you can easily find the trades that understand the laws of the land.

Or get to an area that requires no permits and build what you want, but you may want to still check zoning. FEMA has flood plane maps you may want to check out. I was just helping a guy with earth berms who walls wont stop sweating because he put to many vapor barriers in. All builds have pros and cons you just have to know what they are.

NM code:

I have left a message for our county Building Official to call me back so that I can find out from him what kind of alternative building materials would be acceptable.

I went to the link you provided, but can't tell from looking at the IRC2009 if it applies in rural areas ("rural" returns no results). I guess I have to call the county that I'm considering to find out if they enforce it or the local permitting laws?

That said, does it sound like it would work to build with lighter material, like rice hulls, for the main house and then build the west & north walls with earthbags so that I can berm up to them and use metal roofing over the house and the space between the house and the retaining wall? I have some other books on order with amazon so I will hopefully know more about the process soon.

I appreciate the opinions given here since I don't have the experience yet.
6 years ago
Yeah, I could totally see a couple of my bucks climbing that split rail in a heart beat.
6 years ago
Am I understanding you correctly in that straw bales are already approved per current code, if VA will use that code? If so, I had an idea!

I would like to do the house (rectangle) and then build an attached chicken coop and barn in an L shape around the west and north sides so that I don't really have to go outside to tend to the chickens and goats. Maybe I could straw bale or rice hull the house and then only use earth bags (or concrete blocks?) around that L. Berm the west and north sides along the earth bag or concrete block L, and use metal roofing over the entirety to catch rainwater.

I don't know if it would matter, but we are zoned agricultural. Most of my county is.

As an aside, could you use hay instead of straw? The only person I know who raises straw is the guy I get my hay from. He and his brother really only grow enough straw for their personal horses and any extra they had this year (he said maybe 6-8 bales) were at $5/bale. Hay is more plentiful and a little cheaper here--maybe $4-$4.50/bale.
6 years ago

Jack Edmondson wrote:If you are below grade or have berm-ed earth against the bags, it would not be safe. There is not enough mass to counter the weight of berm-ed earth. Hulls work well in above grade applications where there is need for insulation. But they are low mass so do not stand well against lateral loads.

Rice Hulls in woven poly bags can be built (above grade) from ground level up to any height earthbags would be done. They are not mixed with anything. Just packed tight and tamped/squared. There are rice dryers in states east of the Mississippi. The material is inexpensive. You will likely pay more to truck it than to purchase the material. Search for rice dryers/processors close to your area. Cargill has operations in Memphis. There are several in western AR.

Hulls do not need to be amended with anything. They can be embedded in clay to make adobe blocks. However, bag fill is the most practical application.

Thanks for that info! I had not thought about rice hulls. I wonder how strong/stable they would be in strong winds?
6 years ago
That's either Virginia, where I currently own property, or West Virginia. The entire state of Virginia requires permits for anything over 200 sq ft. From what I read, the rural areas of West Virginia do not require permits (though I would still want to build up to code). My concerns with using my current property in VA are both that it might get prohibitively expensive to get permits and that my land is almost all flat. The only hill is a steep up-slope at the southern edge of the property. I am limited as to where I can put a house by power lines (not the big steel dudes) and a pond. I'm also worried about not having anything to live in if I have to get rid of my current double-wide in order to build where the double-wide sits.

I want to do bermed, not only for the energy savings, but also for protection against disasters--tornados, straight-line winds, zombies. p-)' You know, the usual.
6 years ago

Jack Edmondson wrote:edit: Since this ended up in the earthship section the below is not really applicable. Rice Hulls would not be suitable for a bermed structure, I believe.


Have you explored the idea of rice hulls as a fill material for your bags rather than soil/gravel? A full bag of hulls will be a small fraction of the weight of anything else. Once you get to the upper courses, whether you fill and lift or fill in place, you will appreciate the difference, especially working primarily by one's self.

If you don't go with a lighter fill, please spend the money to invest in some sturdy scaffolding (<$1000) to give yourself a solid safe work platform to work on the upper courses. One does not want to be buried alive or have one's child have to be a first responder to a broken back or neck. Falling off a wall can be bad juju. The money is worth it.

Would I be able to berm the rice hulls? I can't imagine that they'd be able to support much earth on them. Would they have to be reinforced somehow?

At what height would you start rice hulls? Just rice hulls or mixed with something? Where would you get rice hulls?
6 years ago
Where should I put this then? I put it originally in natural building, but then thought I might get better feedback in either the earthships or earth bag forums due to people having experience, people who might not go to the natural building forum. I don't want to spam, I just didn't know where would be my best chances!
6 years ago
I cross-posted this to get different opinions.

I plan on building a bermed house, mostly by myself (female) with some help from my young child. I'd like opinions as to what would be easiest to handle by myself. I can handle 50 lb bags of feed, but would currently be hard-pressed to go much beyond that or to handle that much for very long. I'm working on fixing that.

I own a pretty flat property in rural VA. I am open to looking at areas nearby, such as eastern WV. I read that rural WV does not have code requirements. Obviously I want to build safely (who wants to get buried alive?), but I'd like to keep permitting expenses down.

All suggestions appreciated!
6 years ago