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Why is WOFATI type building illegal?

Joe Murphy


Joined: Mar 08, 2012
Posts: 1
My first post! How exciting. Now on to the topic.

I am a 3rd year Civil Engineering student, fascinated by permaculture and alternative building, and in particular WOFATI/PSP style eco-homes. I've read through the forums, read the $50 and Up Underground House Book, listened to the podcasts, and I've certainly learned a lot, but there's something i still want to know.

I understand that this style of building is illegal in most of the country (except where there isn't a building code of course), but I am struggling to find out why exactly that is. Is it the lack of a concrete foundation? "Inadequate ventilation"? Inconsistency in the strength of the materials used? What? Can anyone help me understanding this?
Ellis Ryan


Joined: Aug 30, 2011
Posts: 16
I'm not 100% sure but I think it's that there's untreated wood in contact with the ground.
David Goodman
volunteer

Joined: Dec 14, 2011
Posts: 328
Location: Zone 9a/8b
    
  13
Broadly speaking, it's because the powers-that-be believe they own your land, house, etc. - not you.

It's for your own good!


Permaculture, bio-accumulators, rare plants, tool reviews and lots and lots of gardening inspiration - a new post every day: http://www.floridasurvivalgardening.com
Daniel Morse


Joined: Feb 13, 2012
Posts: 215
Location: SW Michigan
    
    3
Dude, wood rots and people are stupid. Not safe to live in full time and can be a trap. But! if you use it as a storage place your golden. I think the wood issue is the problem. Locally here back in the day, late 70's to the mid 80's they were building houses with wood foundations. Well,.......

A poured slab on the bottom or worse, gravel. Wood foundation walls the house sat on. They all fell apart in less than 10 years. One third of the expected lifetime. People could not get loans because the gov and banks would not loan money on them. So, not far from me are houses on metal stilts and they are digging out to pour or block up a proper foundation. Even in the desert water will destroy wood quick.

I have my chicken coop on pilings too. Not on the ground. The Brits have a saying. A home needs good boots and a hat.

I think its the issue of rotting wood, collapse, insects, mold, unhealthy air, and possible lack of egress. But in an emergency, or for other reasons I think they are great structures to know how to build.


I have never met a stranger, I have met some strange ones.
Ellis Ryan


Joined: Aug 30, 2011
Posts: 16
The way a wofati is designed it doesn't have those problems, take a look at Paul's article it will explain all of that. http://www.richsoil.com/wofati.jsp Also Mike Oehler's earth integrated (underground) house is over 30 years old and has no problems with mold or rot.
                            


Joined: May 29, 2010
Posts: 126
Location: Ava, Mo, USA, Earth
The way building codes work is everything is illegal unless it meets one of two criteria: All of the building is built according to standard designs (i.e. 2x4's at 16" centers, the right sheeting, floors and rafters all according to preaproved designs etc) or and engineer or architect signs that the design is at least as strong/safe as a standard building. If you could get a architect to sign the papers, you could build one almost anywhere. In other words, it's not that they don't meet code, it's that the code does not apply and nobody who is building this type of house will want to pay to have an engineer sign off on it.

Zoning laws are a different thing and might still be a problem is underground houses are banned or minimum size requirements need to be met.


homesteadpaul
aman inavan


Joined: Nov 20, 2011
Posts: 81
Location: Cornwall UK
I think that if you are the sort of person who is going to build a Mike Oehler house or a WOFATI or any other low impact dwelling then you are not the sort of person who is going to be too bothered whether the structure is legal or not.

Build it in a remote location, disguise it, live in it and keep your mouth shut about it.

My views on the longevity of one of these structures is this. If you design it and build it, you can maintain it and keep it alive as long as you are alive. There is no need for it to last any longer than that. You are never going to be able to sell it and for all intents and purposes it is worthless to everyone but you.

If you want to live in a concrete house with everything that goes with it go ahead but if you want to live in a living breathing structure that you yourself are part of then do that instead.

You have to live with your choices

I know which one I would rather live in

aman


Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT
I don't care about spots on my apples,
Leave me the birds and the bees - please
Rusty Bowman


Joined: May 30, 2009
Posts: 124
Location: Idaho
    
    1
Joe Murphy wrote:My first post! How exciting. Now on to the topic.

I am a 3rd year Civil Engineering student, fascinated by permaculture and alternative building, and in particular WOFATI/PSP style eco-homes. I've read through the forums, read the $50 and Up Underground House Book, listened to the podcasts, and I've certainly learned a lot, but there's something i still want to know.

I understand that this style of building is illegal in most of the country (except where there isn't a building code of course), but I am struggling to find out why exactly that is. Is it the lack of a concrete foundation? "Inadequate ventilation"? Inconsistency in the strength of the materials used? What? Can anyone help me understanding this?


Short answer: Because it doesn't meet the Uniform Building Code (UBC).

In some areas, a few codes have changed to reflect changing times and attitudes (some greywater acceptance in AZ & CA for example). By far and large though, the overwhelming bulk of codes still revolve around a lifestyle and system that puts little value in conservation and future generations. On a positive note, even though it's barely at a snails pace, there is some positive changes being made around the country, a wider acceptance of straw bale construction for instance.

I have made several posts about the issue of codes in the following thread: http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/40/1611

A superb documentary on the subject of building codes and alternative building is Garbage Warrior. It is well worth the 1 hr 27 mins. Check it out! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrMJwIedrWU



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Andrew Parker


Joined: Feb 13, 2012
Posts: 345
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
    
    4
I second Paul Homestead's post. If you can get an engineer or architect to sign off on it, you are good to go in most jurisdictions. I am guessing that you will have to use at least some pier footings for the vertical posts, depending on the seismic requirements. It could be treated as a variety of pole house, examples of which can be found just about everywhere.

I think the key to longevity of the WOFATI design is proper drainage. There will be many sites where it will be inappropriate. Find a design that fits the property or find property that fits the design, otherwise you will be adding three or four zeros to the $50.

It is very difficult these days to find any county that does not vigorously apply building codes to all property, rural or otherwise, within its jurisdiction. County governments have come to see it as a form of economic development (for themselves, family and friends) to force property owners to jump through as many hoops as possible, for the benefit of local contractors and suppliers.

I am not against codes, per se, but I get perturbed when codes are adopted without clear reason to do so locally, and I get downright upset when adoption and enforcement is clearly being used as leverage to enrich specific individuals.

Study hard and get your engineer's stamp, so you can build anything you want.
Rufus Laggren


Joined: Feb 23, 2012
Posts: 337
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
    
    4
Paul H. hit it square. Prescription or engineered. Springs directly from liability and our common propensity to do what we want for fast fun, skimping on the costly troublesome stuff. Personally, I think the codes are pretty good and useful considering their genesis and environment. Not perfect, of course. <g> And looking at local codes can give good indications of what a builder needs to take into account to meet regional needs.

Rufus
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6498
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
Building codes are there to protect insurance companies, and future buyers. With certain minimum standards, a new house is not likely to burn down due to faulty wiring, nor will it collapse in the middle of the night because a shoddy contractor was looking to save a few bucks.

Because so many are willing to take shortcuts, the rest of us need to put up standardized practices/designs as a safe guard.
Rusty Bowman


Joined: May 30, 2009
Posts: 124
Location: Idaho
    
    1
John Polk wrote:Building codes are there to protect insurance companies, and future buyers. With certain minimum standards, a new house is not likely to burn down due to faulty wiring, nor will it collapse in the middle of the night because a shoddy contractor was looking to save a few bucks.

Because so many are willing to take shortcuts, the rest of us need to put up standardized practices/designs as a safe guard.


Yes, to what John says here. Building codes, and the inspectors who are supposed to enforce them, are aimed to protect people. In the sense of "convention", they work reasonably well. Unfortunately, codes have not been written to protect natural resources, long term human health, biodiversity and the environment in general. That said, as I mentioned above, we are seeing more acceptance to alternative building...albeit slow...and typically in progressive parts of the country. I have however, worked with or talked to building inspectors in less progressive areas that were at least somewhat open to alternative methods. The most resistant officials I have worked with are those in the health dept...issuing permits for sewer/septic. Regardless, the more informed one is on the style of construction they wish to use, and the more organized their supporting literature is, the greater the chance the builder has in doing what he/she wants.
Rufus Laggren


Joined: Feb 23, 2012
Posts: 337
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
    
    4
> building codes are there to...

There are quite a few things that come along with building codes. One of the most important from the point of view of the service/repair/remodel industry (and I definitely include small time craftsman) is that if we know and practice the codes, then we automatically have a way better take on how a building built to code is put together. Where we find the pieces, what supports what, what's connected to what, what materials are in there, etc, etc. This aids hugely in making effective and efficient repairs, estimating work required, etc, compared to structures which are not built to code. And I don't particularly mean "new" or "alternative" building. The standard stick frame which was not built to code invariably has dozens of creative solutions which you only discover after starting work and which double the cost of working on that building - no matter whether it's rock solid or a house of cards.

Uniform practices greatly reduce costs, every kind of cost, throughout the life of the building. There are usually ways to make it better that don't require nulling out the standard codes. Most inspectors (well, at least half <g> are very knowledgeable people. When you have a good case, they know it. The ones with experience probably know a whole lot more about building than most of us ever will and, even better, they KNOW HOW TO MAKE YOUR PLAN WORK to everybody's satisfaction. A good inspector can be a fantastic resource. At the very least they're your connection to the "real" world where hundreds of years of trial and error has gone into the building tradition. Makes way more sense to try to tie into that wealth than to spurn it.


Rufus
(ps. I work as a plumber in San Francisco; since 1985. I have had "discussions" with many inspectors, mostly with happy endings. Keep it respectful and know your stuff.)
Paul Bonneau


Joined: Mar 19, 2012
Posts: 2
First post here, hi folks.

I was reading through here about alternative building practices and I just couldn't let this one pass without commenting, so I registered (also because I've been interested in permaculture and done some things with it). This notion that building codes are to protect people is... hard to believe. What is really meant is that we are to be protected from ourselves. Some protection. I'd rather not be "protected" that way...

Sure, protection, the "public good", etc are the advertised reasons. The real reason is money, and jobs for bureaucrats and their cronies, just like the real reason for every other government function. The building trades would rather have us dependent on them, than building our own houses. Let's not be naive about it. In a free society people would be able to build anything they wanted, and home construction knowledge would be much more innovative and broadly spread through society. There almost certainly would still be building inspectors, but they would work for you and you could tell them to take a hike if you didn't agree with them.

If the codes are giving you heartburn and you really want to build your own, I think people ought to think about moving to a state without codes. Vote with your feet! My next construction will be in Wyoming, and I won't be asking permission from any government employee.
Mary Whipple


Joined: Mar 24, 2012
Posts: 1
Here's a link all might enjoy..!! http://home.earthlink.net/~dectiri/OuterSpace/CulvrtHs.htm also,,, I'm comparing a Q type steel bldg and putting it underground partially or whole,, or a container home (underground) built with 2 or 3 and a porch added to it, or just burying my RV and adding on an underground addtion.. I don't need much space but i want it tornado resistant here in Tennessee!!!
Andrew Parker


Joined: Feb 13, 2012
Posts: 345
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
    
    4
If you are going to build underground using steel, use something designed for it, like steel culvert. Anything less and the dirt can collapse your structure, hopefully not with you or your loved ones inside. Even steel culvert is not without complications. There were three steel culvert homes built here in the Salt Lake City area, back in the late '70's. One of them collapsed during backfilling. The builder was impatient and didn't follow directions. For that one, they ended up putting a conventional roof on the foundation. The other two were backfilled without incident and are still standing. Well, I know one of them is still standing because I drove past it last month. The other one is about 40 miles away and I haven't been by there in over ten years.

There has been some discussion about containers buried underground. Apparently, it has been done successfully. I would be a bit more cautious. Perhaps you could put some 8' diameter bottomless arch culvert on top to move the load to the sidewalls?
Yone' Ward


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 135
Location: Springdale, WA USA - Cold Mediterranean Climate
Building codes are justified as being there to save you and your neighbors from bad buildings and sometimes that actually happens. The problem arises when building material manufacturers are the ones writing the codes. Add to this inspectors that only know manufactured building materials and you get a system that would fail building techniques that have built buildings that have lasted hundreds of years.


Just call me Uncle Rice.
17 years in a straw bale house.
Jonathan Fuller


Joined: Feb 17, 2012
Posts: 29
One interesting side effect of getting the architect stamp on a non-standard building project is that, ever after there is a precedent in the codes for that kind of building and it becomes easier for the next person that wants to build a WOFATI, or strawbale, earth bag, recycled soda bottle, cord wood... home in that country/jurisdiction. Sure, it's more expensive but if you can find a likeminded engineer it might be very affordable.

Lloyd George


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 159
the engineering statements above are spot on...have it engineered, get the permits. this is a common animal with me...I own a personal sawmill, spend alot of time cutting lumber which I cannot use legally, as it doesn not have that industry stamp on it..laws written based, not on sound principle, but on putting dollars in industry pockets and sopping to the bookies..err...insurance industry.
Jack Shawburn


Joined: Jan 18, 2011
Posts: 230
I can just see the Sherriff on his horse coming to tell these folk their house is illegal..
http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/ngp:@FILREQ(@field(SUBJ+@BAND(sod+buildings))+@FIELD(COLLID+ndfa))

Check out "Soddies"
http://www.irwinator.com/126/wdoc99.htm
See the cow on the roof?
Peter DeJay


Joined: Aug 10, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Southern Oregon
I agree here with Rusty, Rufus and Yone. Building codes are, for the most part, for the good of everyone involved. They are partly for the current builder/owner, but mostly for the person who buys the home next, or the serviceman (or woman) who needs to work on something, so that they know if this electrical circuit is shut off over here, it really is dead, or so that if I need to modify this structural member, this part of the roof won't collapse. Most codes do include a safety margin that is several times what the object or scenario probably could handle, but it is mostly due to having a certain standard. Being a contractor in one of the more strict areas in the country as far as code compliance, I generally use the code as a minimal guideline, and build my houses stronger, tighter, and more insulative then bare code compliance. There is only one code I've come up against that sticks in my mind as being complete horsepucky and actually worse, all written by a company that makes a product that you are forced to use.


To address the topic on hand though, WOFATI and other "alternative"(reinvented) styles of building aren't illegal per se, just have not been incorporated into the codes mainly because no one has done it. Building styles have to be introduced, which means the first person or people who are either inventing a particular style, or bringing back/updating an older style, have to do the work. They have to be willing to draw it out, be very clear about what it is and what it's expected to do, how it is structurally sound, how you will handle water issues, water supply, waste and drains, etc. You most likely will have to include an engineer; being the pioneer involves extra work/expense. I think some people who are excited about a particular new building style, after that initial "new relationship energy" wears off and they see the amount of work involved in designing/building/implementing a style, use the whole "gubmint bureaucracy red tape holding me back" as a convenient excuse for not doing it, placing the responsibility elsewhere. I think if someone REALLY wanted to build a certain way, had their priorities in line as to why choose that particular building style, they would find the time/finances. I think people sometimes have this innate distrust of anything bureaucratic, when in reality that's the only thing limiting themselves.
Rebecca Brown


Joined: Nov 25, 2011
Posts: 21
Peter, with all due respect, I have to completely disagree. Building codes are meant to protect the builders, not to keep the public safe. Nor do codes necessarily produce good buildings. A friend of mine lives in a 150 year old house that was built by cotton farmers who couldn't read using janky nails and no level. It's the best house in her area. We currently live in a 7-year old house that was built to code and is falling apart. Quite literally. So are all the houses around it. Most of the houses being built today -again, to code -won't last long enough for the residents to pay off their mortgages. You're a good contractor. I would never suggest otherwise. But they're are a lot of people who aren't, and they use the code to put up cheap building and sell them at high profit margins and leave the buyers twisting in the wind.

Most building codes are a way to force everyone into one method of construction and make people hire professionals to do work for them. I do agree with some codes (electric and a lot of plumbing) but not most. There's no reason why I should have to be a certain size window in a loft in a tiny cabin before anyone can sleep up there, or why I should have to have a permit, inspections, and a contractor to replace two sheets of drywall in my bathroom. If I want to buy a building that was built by an amateur and not to code, that's also my decision. If someone wants to build a structure that's unsafe and it collapses and kills them, that's sad but it was their decision. I'm of the school that says people shouldn't be protected from their own mistakes. From each other's mistakes, yes, (hence the reason I support most of the plumbing code), but not from their own.
Rusty Bowman


Joined: May 30, 2009
Posts: 124
Location: Idaho
    
    1
Rebecca Brown wrote:Peter, with all due respect, I have to completely disagree. Building codes are meant to protect the builders, not to keep the public safe. Nor do codes necessarily produce good buildings. A friend of mine lives in a 150 year old house that was built by cotton farmers who couldn't read using janky nails and no level. It's the best house in her area. We currently live in a 7-year old house that was built to code and is falling apart. Quite literally. So are all the houses around it. Most of the houses being built today -again, to code -won't last long enough for the residents to pay off their mortgages. You're a good contractor. I would never suggest otherwise. But they're are a lot of people who aren't, and they use the code to put up cheap building and sell them at high profit margins and leave the buyers twisting in the wind.

Most building codes are a way to force everyone into one method of construction and make people hire professionals to do work for them. I do agree with some codes (electric and a lot of plumbing) but not most. There's no reason why I should have to be a certain size window in a loft in a tiny cabin before anyone can sleep up there, or why I should have to have a permit, inspections, and a contractor to replace two sheets of drywall in my bathroom. If I want to buy a building that was built by an amateur and not to code, that's also my decision. If someone wants to build a structure that's unsafe and it collapses and kills them, that's sad but it was their decision. I'm of the school that says people shouldn't be protected from their own mistakes. From each other's mistakes, yes, (hence the reason I support most of the plumbing code), but not from their own.


Actually, Rebecca, I believe Peter said it very well. The original idea behind codes was to protect people. They give recourse to the builder also, if something goes awry. Same can be said for the designer/architect/engineer. Codes also protect the public from unscrupulous builders/developers or from the well meaning builder who is too proud to say "I don't know how to do this" then proceeds to guess. The ramifications of having no codes in today's world are too numerous for a post here. Having had to work with and around codes for two decades though, I have seen a variety; a family condemned from their home due to mold to downright structural fail under snow load and just about everything in between. Speaking of builders unable to read, I have seen that too. A construction worker was seriously injured when the head guy couldn't read "existing beam to remain" on the remodel plans we provided. This illiteracy fact surfaced after the architectural firm I was working for was threatened with a lawsuit. Nice, respected builder. Shocked a lot of people. But I digress.....

At any rate, does this mean "building to code" insures a problem free structure? No, not always as you have pointed out. It's not that the contractor is "using the code to put up cheap building and sell them at high profit margins" as you said. Not that codes are always great (they're constantly being rewritten as more is learned) but they are only as good as the enforcement. Plan reviewers and building inspectors can and do miss things. This can be due to simple human error or from lack of code understanding, lack of thoroughness or pure laziness. I have seen a great deal of the latter three in smaller rural areas. There can be a certain amount of good ol' boy favoritism too. Again though, as you also pointed out, plenty of incredibly well done buildings have been built without the use of codes. A lot of those were done in an era that held master craftsman though, not so much in today's world where any Joe Blow can paint "House Builder" on the doors of their shiny jacked up F350 truck.

All that said, I'll be the first to admit that codes, as they are currently written, can be a serious nuisance if not downright stifling for us who are attempting to design a home that conserves resources rather than wastes them. But, these codes are just another part of the system that more and more people are recognizing as flawed. They are what they are for now and we work around them as best as we can.

As to the reason we are supposed to have a certain sized window in a designated sleeping area: it is for egress in case of a fire. Having an adequately sized window to crawl out of in an emergency is really not too bad of an idea.
Peter DeJay


Joined: Aug 10, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Southern Oregon
I understand what you are saying Rebecca, and I wholly agree with your sentence that " people shouldn't be protected from their own mistakes", and I think if it was that cut and dry it we wouldn't have codes and insurance companies. The problem arises partly when your decisions on your piece of land are not wholly contained on that piece of land, therefore affecting others, as well as when people who claim to want to assume full responsibility (especialyl when it comes to income and not paying taxes), yet cry foul when they mess up or when they want government to fix/repair/modify something. Another thing is that building a home from scratch for a new homeowner, even a conventionally framed "normal" house is a huge undertaking, with all the various site specific modifications or tie-ins, water management, etc, etc. It makes sense to have a common starting point that is fairly easy, economical and modular, with commonly available building supplies and standard skills. Its not to say that there isn't room for improvement or modification, but there are basics that every living structure must have, such as water drainage, solid foundation, structurally supported roof system, etc. New Mexico is a good example of somewhere that has adopted into their codes alternative strategies for construction, including strawbale, adobe, and greywater recycling.

Another large factor in homebuilding (as well as other aspects of life) is intention. The reason why the 150 year old cotton farmers house, while built before codes and levels, was actually built with tremendous pride of ownership. They built it to live in it for generations, with all thought being towards use of materials at hand and efficiency of space, and none towards profit or a quick turn around. I have seen literally whole neighborhoods in northern New Mexico where you can get land for dirt cheap, no building codes, and people are doing just that; living and taking responsibility for themselves. In wild structures, some rather ramshackle, but living how they see fit. If you want to live in a particular structure, or a particular way of life, there is a place and a way to do it. But one has to do it. People are much more willing to accept a viewpoint if its supported by action. Build it!
Suki Leith


Joined: Jul 27, 2012
Posts: 99
Location: Oakland, CA
    
    6
Interesting discussion...

To me it seems like this is more a debate about principles than actual construction. The principles argument seems too purist to me because even Oehler used a non-natural material to make his concept a reality. After having gone through the permitting process many times, while it IS a pain and it DOES add expense, permits just err on the side of caution. The regulations came about primarily because there was a historic failure resulting in loss of property or life. The mean part of me, for example, had to laugh when 4 million dollar homes slid off into Puget sound and I thought it served those wealthy overlords right, building on slopes with a view that were probably unstable. You can bet engineering & architectural details got much more restrictive after that for all steep slopes. But working on one of those view homes afterward, the clients understood that the 14' deep pilings were necessary...

The problem with these WOFATI structures seems more that others haven't evolved the construction methods much since Oehler's first designs. Those are like a concept sketch, a first draft. Newspaper and polyethylene newspaper is not overkill enough to insure the barrier does not get compromised. Details need to be presented for welding of joints, what happens at the edges, what happens where materials meet, etc. Some of the construction practices appear to be for best case scenarios - it doesn't account for the type of soil, the amount of hydrostatic pressure in that soil, how deep footings should be embedded. And whereas the drainage ditch is genius, the runoff and roof runoff needs to be calculated by a civil engineer to make sure it is adequately sized and the water diverted and slowed to a sustainable rate. Because if it's undersized you could undermine your house you worked so hard to build. Basically, you're both documenting that it's safe and showing others how, specifically, to build it the best way possible.

The other problem is maybe the way it is presented. I mean, if Rem Koolhaas can build green roofed buildings than so can we. If people can build half basements then so can we. You say this is a post & beam structure with a sod roof, then that is how it should be presented! If it's essentially a shed roof with a gable on it, then permit it as a half basement with a shed roof with a gable on it.

Coat the walls with a thin layer of ferro cement. Berm up against the building later, after you've got your permit. But every place bio material touches moist earth, it's not unreasonable to be asked, how can you prove that's not going to rot? And every place a slope is cut, it's not unreasonable to ask for a footing design. And sometimes, if the site dictates it, sometimes compromises have to be made. So maybe you end up having a stemwall at chair rail height. So what? You've still going to be surrounded with logs and sunlight and be warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

I think WOFATI are brilliant. I want one! But I think it only hurts us if we get stubborn about permits. And doing what they ask can only add longevity to our investment...
Frolf Lundgren


Joined: Feb 20, 2012
Posts: 39
Location: Finland, MN
The answer is money. I'm sure the timber industry would not like people cutting their own wood and building their own home for pennies on the dollar. Plus the tax man loves to fine people. The govt is a bloated, self-serving entity; it cares not for your well being.


My uncle always said, "Raising beds is better than wetting them".
Suki Leith


Joined: Jul 27, 2012
Posts: 99
Location: Oakland, CA
    
    6
Timber industry doesn't have to worry about sales, only stockpiling and forest management. Our timber goes for top dollar in Asia, especially Japan. Wood is SOOO expensive here! omg, you wouldn't believe it.

I totally get the desire to make something rough and ready and burrow without all the hassle, but as part of the building trades I just wouldn't feel confident that logs wrapped in plastic was enough, so it has nothing to do with cowtowing to the man and has more to do with my own concerns about not risking the longevity of the logs,because I wouldn't want the wofati to become a really huge hugelkulture, which it could if you weren't skilled with the plastic...Ultimately it's up to the individual what rules to follow or break. And maybe it's a non-issue depending on how off the map you live. The fine is your risk/choice to take/make.

What I was suggesting is that a permit for a wofati is possible, with the right presentation and some site-specific compromise documented. And there's nothing wrong with evolving the concept further and continuing to come up with creative solutions which can maintain using materials from the site. For instance, a thin shell of ferro cement might actually be a really good idea no matter how you feel about government officials. It could be to the benefit of all if we figured it out.

Wolfe Freedom


Joined: Jun 14, 2012
Posts: 1
Joe Murphy wrote:My first post! How exciting. Now on to the topic.

I am a 3rd year Civil Engineering student, fascinated by permaculture and alternative building, and in particular WOFATI/PSP style eco-homes. I've read through the forums, read the $50 and Up Underground House Book, listened to the podcasts, and I've certainly learned a lot, but there's something i still want to know.

I understand that this style of building is illegal in most of the country (except where there isn't a building code of course), but I am struggling to find out why exactly that is. Is it the lack of a concrete foundation? "Inadequate ventilation"? Inconsistency in the strength of the materials used? What? Can anyone help me understanding this?[/quot


wofti hybrid using hemp for the outler layers extremely breathable. Their are some vids on youtube which i haven't heard Paul speak about just yet.
Troy Rhodes


Joined: Feb 17, 2011
Posts: 202
    
    2
I would like to point out that, regardless of the wonderful amazing numerous conceptual merits of the wofati building method, it is still mostly theoretical. How many of these have actually been built? Is it more or less than 10?

How many different climate/geography/soil/weather conditions are there? Right...jillions.

So, until we get a bigger database, wofati building methods are experimental and should be approached as such.

Post pics when you build one, and keep us informed. We are getting through the awkward chicken/egg dilemma. Until we have a big database under lots of differing conditions, it will be hard to get any sort of code approval. Until we get code approval, it will be hard to grow the installed database.


Finest regards,

troy
John Wheeler


Joined: Nov 06, 2011
Posts: 40
Location: Slippery Rock, PA
David Goodman wrote:Broadly speaking, it's because the powers-that-be believe they own your land, house, etc. - not you


... and if you don't pay your property taxes and they take it, they won't be able to sell it to anyone. THAT is the real reason people in government oppose unusual homes. The rest are excuses.


jdwheeler42
http://goingupslope.blogspot.com/
tom grimley


Joined: Feb 01, 2013
Posts: 4
Location: Deer Lodge Park, California
imho, if it has no mechanical heating, cooling, plumbing, electrical circuitry and is not a primary residence...it is sculpture and performane art and you can live in it.
Joy Winning


Joined: Apr 18, 2013
Posts: 2
Actually they are not illegal, they simply need to have a structural engineer sign off on them. Anything non-conventional needs to have an engineer sign off, that way the town, city, or whomever is the permitting body, is not held liable for the alternative housing. At least this is what I was told when I called the building inspectors office in Whitman County, Washington.
Chris Kott


Joined: Jan 25, 2012
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
    
    9
From what I've read of building codes (I'm only intimately familiar with Canadian ones) they seem woefully inadequate. If the amount of floor deflection allowed for in the design results in the floor finish deteriorating prematurely (cracks in tiles or creaks and soft spots in wood flooring) that means it's inadequate. Current housing is designed, as every other consumer good in this world, with planned obsolescence in mind. Why don't we all build out of rammed earth/compressed earth block, otherwise? Or masonry of any traditional sort, or of modern masonry units built to withstand the same rigorous testing processes? Why would we bother with things that rot, burn, and otherwise deteriorate, and that are so badly designed that we require supplemental heating and cooling and air circulation to be at all liveable?

My pessimistic answer to this is similar to many that precede me: money. If the materials come from on site, you're not shelling out to anyone for it. If you're building on a weekend with two dozen of your friends, who you will help on their weekend, in turn, you've just taken 24 building contracts off the table in your area.

That's why I want a large acreage. I will build a hugelbeet wall around the perimeter, and plant black locust and hawthorn in a food forest barrier on top, probably with lots of berries.

My WOFATI, however it tweaks the original concept, will certainly remain completely hidden by the landscape, so to inspect it, they will first have to know to look for it, then will have to find it.

Lets see them drive onto my land across a natural barrier of 3" long tire-popping thorns.

-CK

allen lumley
pollinator

Joined: Mar 16, 2012
Posts: 2400
Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
    
  40
I remember the old days before the State of New York forced the local municipalities to 'accept' a 'Universal Building Code'! In some areas people were being told
that to meet the 'local' building code they needed 4'' copper pipe for their Drain, Waste, and Vent pipe (DWV).

Right next door, (different municipality!) people were being told all DWV plumbing must be Cast Iron, with all the separate joints joined with Oakum and poured lead
for seals, very labor intensive old technology (The word for plumber comes from the word for lead, the first plumbers were roofers on Chapels ) and dangerous !

Along with the Universal Building Codes, came unfunded mandates specifying training for building/code inspectors. Over the years,various loopholes in Training /
Job requirements have fouled the waters! The biggest one deals with temporary appointments, and sharing an inspector from a nearby town (they MUST have look-
ed into the guys credentials,- RIGHT ? ) These minor cons that the municipalities have committed in the name of the public budget, have dumbed down the average
inspectors functioning to checking to see that 'the codes have been followed!', or that the job has an Architects stamped seal of approval !

--And thats the way it is, - May 13th, 2013 !

For the good of the Craft! Be safe, keep warm! PYRO - Logical Big AL - All comments solicited / welcome !


Success has a Thousand Fathers , Failure is an Orphan

LOOK AT THE " SIMILAR THREADS " BELOW !
Andrew Parker


Joined: Feb 13, 2012
Posts: 345
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
    
    4
Chris,

Local governments are turning more and more to aerial surveillance, even GoogleEarth, to see past walls, hedges and berms.

I remember when I was studying house design in high school (35 years ago), my teacher told me that homes were engineered to last 15 years. He built homes in California during the summer and said that they were told to only use one nail when assembling walls. He could literally spin the vertical stud. The fiberboard external sheathing and wallboard was supposed to hold everything together.

It was very sad to visit starter home neighborhoods after 20 years and listen to homeowners, many of them second owners with 20 to 25 years left on their mortgages, facing major renovations to keep their homes livable. Many mobile homes were built better.

Developers and contractors are looking to squeeze every penny of profit they can, so they will usually only build to minimum specifications (or less, if they can get a way with it). A shoddy contractor is capable of doing shoddy work regardless of the material. We periodically get hurricane force winds near the mountains. One year, after a rush of homebuilding the previous five years, a windstorm hit that caused widespread roof damage. The damage was confined to only the new homes. Insurance adjusters investigating the sites discovered that most of the roofing shingles they were finding on the ground had no perforations in them. Apparently, the roofing subcontractor for the developer had instructed his roofers to only nail down every third or fourth shingle (not the tabs, the full 3-tab shingle).

There are many earthquake-prone areas where solid masonry construction is a bad idea, without including a lot of steel reinforcement. You can build a very solid stick-built home (but still flexible enough to survive a moderate earthquake unscathed, and a severe earthquake without collapsing), but you need to spend a little more money (very little, compared to the total cost of a home) to do it. If properly weatherproofed, and protected from carpenter ants and termites, a well built wood home can last for centuries.
Jamie Heaney


Joined: Feb 23, 2012
Posts: 14
Location: Southern Maine
I thought I'd add, after all this building code debate, that even if you do get through the codes, or as we do, just own a grandfathered geodesic, good luck trying to get insurance. It took us forever to find someone and really just got lucky. Insurance companies want to see like-structured buildings in the area to assess value. And, this often can be impossible when building outside the norm.
Rick LaJambe


Joined: Dec 30, 2012
Posts: 45
Location: Surrey, British Columbia
    
    2
Forgive my ignorance on the subject, but if one of the benefits of building wofati or Earth Integrated structures is a negligible price tag, would you not end up paying more for house insurance over time than the house costs to rebuild?
Andrew Parker


Joined: Feb 13, 2012
Posts: 345
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
    
    4
Rick,

If one were to build a wofati structure, or any of the various designs discussed here on Permies, without having to meet local building codes, one could conceivably have a home whose cost was negligible, depending on how one finished it out.

This thread addresses the reality that most of us must deal with. Government oversight and market demands, for good or for ill, are not easy to avoid these days, especially if one needs to live close to a job.

Homeowner's Insurance is more than simply the replacement cost of the structure. Assuming no building or occupation permit is needed, an insurance company would be justified in being skeptical about insuring the structure, possessions, and occupants of an owner built earth sheltered home. A bank would be justified in being highly skeptical about granting a mortgage to someone looking to purchase an uninsurable owner built earth sheltered home. These factors do not mean that one could not build and live in such a home, without incident, and even resell it, but they will need to be considered.

It is ironic that a conventional home built in a conventional tract by conventional builders can receive a conventional 30-year mortgage and still be designed to fall apart, inside and out, within 15 years.
Daniel Morse


Joined: Feb 13, 2012
Posts: 215
Location: SW Michigan
    
    3
HA! It is spreading. One of the more interesting guys at our friends meeting is building an earth bermed home right in the city of Kalamazoo. I am very proud of him. The city was good with it as long as he got an engineer to check the plans. He is golden and will do the work himself. He is very interested in the wofati too. We talked a long time about it. He is using some of the ideas of the wofati. I called it a Hobbit House. He did not disagree.

I wanted to bring this up about the wofati idea for a home. I will go out on a limb.

For the last age the world has been fairly stable. In my lifetime it has been. This is no longer true. The size and frequency of earthquakes and tremors is increasing at an alarming rate. My farmer parents think we will have a series of weather issues this summer. Just a hunch. I feel the same. Worldwide we are seeing soils become unstable for no apparent reason at all. We have noticed land shifts over time as of recently here in my area. Most noticeably utility poles leaning all at the same angle in a row. Bends in former flat pavement and breaks in cement. I have noticed and kept my mouth shut. Land sinking or sinkholes. Well, I am not the only person seeing this. It is true water tables go up and down. The earth is alive and she moves. This is true. Locally we are seeing major pipelines bust. I can see one bust once in awhile. It does happen. But the amount of breakage is record breaking. Infrastructure is aging, yes. It breaks in time. There are movements.

However. It is increasing. The earth is flexing and movements are happening. There is simply more earth movements. There is simply worse and extreme weather. The wofati is great. But you must combine some modern thinking or basic good engineering. I agree this is the time we all should have some shelter under the earth. If the roof falls in it is a death sentence. This is where code steps in and the idea of safe housing. Combined with good building skills. I live in a 150 old farm house. Our Michigan barn and old house withstood a tornado and in line winds that took out roofs, homes and the woods around us. When we did some checking of the structures. We found that someone had gone the extra mile and extra studded and secured the roofs on above the norm of the day. She is solid. But she did twist and flex. I know. I was in the steep stairwell trying to grab my brother. The whole house twisted. The extra may have saved my life. That is good building skills. That was high tech for the day. See my point. Simple studding, extra square nails and skill saved this old place. Maybe my life.

The wofati is great. Unless one builds incredibly well one would not stand a quake. We all should be prepared for the next one. Also as the wood ages it weakens as do the joints then. The moisture issue and rot. Just a late night thought kids. Think of the palace in Haiti when they had the 8 earthquake.

 
 
subject: Why is WOFATI type building illegal?
 
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