My wife and I are looking into buying undeveloped property so that I may pursue my dream of a Permaculture food forest homestead with solar/wind/hydro power completely off the grid.
The main problem I am finding is that there are mandatory codes/permits that will be necessary for any type of project I plan on doing.
My question is. Does anyone know of any counties that would be well suited for this type of pursuit? A county or state that has no "mandatory" permits/codes, I would like to purchase land and do with it as I wish. Any help would be greatly appreciated. For some reason I thought we lived in the Land of the free..but as someone more famous than myself said, "Everything I want to do is illegal"
Another option is to find a poor rural county that has codes but lacks the resources to drive around seeing if anyone is building anything. Then you just have to stay on good terms with your neighbors.
Before you rule out anywhere that has building codes, not all codes and building departments are hard to deal with. As more and more alternative building methods are being used counties are getting used to them. I know that here in Colorado that most county building departments have seen things like earthships, underground and earthbermed, straw bale construction, I do not know about cob, but there is still adobe and paper crete being built here. My experience with permits is that the individual counties are happy as long as you or a civil engineer have proof of structural integrity. An example when I built our home I had the option of having the county inspect the work or having either an architect or engineer inspect the work. This leaves the county either taking the liability by doing inspections themselves or the third parties take the liability by signing off on the work. In my opinion the permit function is a: one, a steam of revenue to support the county, two a passing of liability to please the insurance industry, (by the way they wrote most of the codes), and the true justification for zoning and codes it is to keep you safe and protect the people around you. Personally, if you have any moral or ethical fiber in you, you will build something that is safe for you and others and safe for the environment. To me what is better a alternatively built home that is safe and efficient or hauling in an old single wide and having the property covered in trash? Ok, the single wide is what most counties are used to. You may have to take the time to have a plan and do your research in how you want to build and educate and share information with your building department. What ever you do you need to approach the county as a partner rather than an adversary. Also you need to be in an area that you mesh with. Where we live it is rural and the attitude is live and let live, but it I would have done some of the things we have done in the suburbs we would have never succeeded. In the purist sense the codes are not that hard to follow, but they are written for the typical methods of construction. There is sound logic between separating your water source from you waste disposal. If you are off grid you want use the propper gauge wire and good grounding so that you either don't burn down you structures or kill someone. The issue is; does your local building inspector know or inspect off grid systems? You may need to do some education and hand holding; and this is easier if your relationship with them is friendly rather than adversarial. kent
Joined: Sep 08, 2010
Thanks for your reply Kent. I think you are missing the big point/fact of the matter. I do not want "Big brother" in any form whether it be local/state/federal intruding on my choice of building material. If I want to live in a cave on property I own, why should someone have the right to deny me the ability? For my safety?
I did not ask for the things that the county/state/federal offers. They are provided, and then I am expected to pay for them via taxation..Doesn't make sense in my book. For those who enjoy such things as paved roads and government interference, that is their choice and they should be the ones paying for them. I would be more than willing to drive on dirt roads if necessary. Or home school my child if and when we decide to have one.
Joined: Dec 20, 2009
Most rural counties here (TN) have some building codes but they don't apply to agricultural buildings. I would check to make certain in the co where you will live what applies to residential, what to agri. Good luck.
Joined: Jun 01, 2010
Location: Spokane and near Diamond Lake, WA
Tactically, it seems like a better choice to first try being invisible, and if that doesn't work, then spend hundreds of hours and/or thousands of dollars working inside the system.
I'm building with cob in a rural county with only one building inspector. My first line of defense is not being noticed, because I'm remote and off-grid. My second line of defense is that non-residential structures under 200 square feet are exempt. This kind of exemption is common. So if I keep everything under 200 square feet, I could haul a trailer up there and plausibly declare that the residential structure.
OK in some fantasy, perfect world not having anyone restrict what you want to do is a great dream. However, it you really hope to have a glimmer of seeing this I hope you are politically active in your local libertarian party. In my opinion, and it is just my opinion, if you want a snow ball's chance of changing this culture you have to work with what is here now. We who care and want change have to get active and educate those who don't know or care that there is a better way. you, no we are the minority, shrinking back may buy you some freedom, but do you want to be always waiting to be found out. Why not help make a change for everyone. We each have to start where we are to have our dream, we have to start with what we have and build on a plan and look ahead to a goal. my wife and I have had a dream for years, we work hard towards it and we taken hope in seeing every accomplished item on our to do list. Ya we have lists, we make plans and have time lines, we see the dream happen step by step. Thirty years ago I had next to nothing, then I got divorces and had nothing plus a huge twenty year debt. I am now married to an amazing woman who shares this dream, we have most of our dream and we look to the future with excitement. I'm a tool junky, I love to build things and to sculpt. I have twice started from scratch and scrounged and worked two jobs at times, they weren't the dream jobs but I worked with what I had and I got past it. You want something then do what it takes. Sorry to get off on a rant, but if you want it, do what it takes. kent
Joined: Sep 08, 2010
I have no political affiliation. Lets just say, I'm not too keen on a system where I cannot see the tally of votes. Or a system that excludes people based on certain criteria.
The system is beyond repair at this point. The majority of people are classified as either "Right wing nut jobs" or "Left wing liberal tree hugging hippies" When both are fighting for control of the minority.
Politics aside...Maybe a owner financed property is the way to go. Something that is already built up to get our feet wet. We are both young (Both 25) Ideally if we could find an older couple that has half the property established, but unable to do the work but were still able to teach us the fine details things would be perfect.
In this day and age, it is hard to trust someone though. Understandably the passing on of knowledge requires one to join some sort of politically oriented "radical militia group", or "spiritually awakened commune" which is really sad.
Joined: Aug 29, 2009
Location: PNW Oregon
There are ways around the 'codes' in some cases....
While I agree with the ideal of 'leave me the hell alone' I don't know where in the world your going to find a government to do that. You really need a time-travel machine - go so far back in time the powers in charge don't have the resources to mess with you. Sigh, but that time has passed I think.
That not being an option let's look at some others.
If your grey water doesn't leave the confines of your building, say in the case of a built in/on green house cleaning and recycling the grey water, then you do not need a grey water permit in most states - Yipppeee!
You'll most like still have to pay for a alternative-septic permit, but after they see the expensive composting toilet in the box and sign off, send it back (30 day return for items ordered via the mail, on-line or by phone!
Many states still have outhouse permits, which they will except as your only facility, while you create the bathroom you really want in your house. Just don't invite them in (you don't have to legally you know).
Don't want to mess with no code for cob, build a pole building to support the roof load, and what you fill the walls in with can be negotiated in many states.
Many states have green roof provisions, so there you go.
Many have permits for cabins - no plumbing nor electricity, and no year round occupancy. However many will not check occupancy if they are off the beaten path (they can't imagine people living like that). Later on you can change the permit status should you feel big brother is closing in.
In my opinion the best thing you can do is find the land and make friends with one of the engineers in the building department. Then find ways to work around the codes.
I totally get that this goes against your principles, for that I'm sorry, but sometimes you just have to beat big-brother at his own game and let that be your satisfaction, if you know what I mean.
Joined: Sep 08, 2010
Thank you for some great suggestions! I don't mind "sticking it to the man" every now and again. I will definitely keep an open mind about these kinds of strategies.
Joined: May 17, 2007
Location: woodland, washington
Forlane wrote: The main problem I am finding is that there are mandatory codes/permits that will be necessary for any type of project I plan on doing.
what sort of projects are you thinking of?
Joined: Sep 08, 2010
Well for example I was looking at marginal land property here in California, I was reading in that county they required a permit for pond digging over X amount of yards. Since I do not own heavy equipment the idea was to do it the old fashioned way. Since this land is semi-desert I would assume building swales would be similar as the pond situation in regards to a permit.
Also anytime I decided to get a wild hair up my....I would rather not have to wait weeks or months for approval.
Joined: Jun 27, 2010
Location: NW Ontario
I was reading in that county they required a permit for pond digging over X amount of yards. Since I do not own heavy equipment the idea was to do it the old fashioned way. Since this land is semi-desert I would assume building swales would be similar as the pond situation in regards to a permit.
Sometimes it's easier to just feign ignorance and beg forgiveness than do your homework and ask permission.
Joined: Aug 29, 2009
Location: PNW Oregon
On my mom's property they had to change locations after digging a to bury water storage for a spring. The original spot was several feet deep and wide. The inspector came out and knowing they didn't dig that 8' pond on purpose told her " this dig spot isn't any deeper than 4' is it *wink*". She said no it isn't *grin*
So along with feign ignorance I would offer different goals should you be asked - like say your creating the best planting beds around, say that they save blah blah water each year - explain you have to bury woody material on the ridge where you want your wind break (or orchard, or whatever). Say the ditches will be your walkway and the source for your soil to mound for your plant beds - swales? What swales?
Remember along with noisy neighbors you have to consider how things look from the air. When you make that pond do it under the cover of trees.
Also research your rights! Many people have kept inspectors off their property legally - it will require a learning curve, but it just might be worth it Put the work, and money off on them for a change.
I have a good deal of experience dealing with "the man" when it comes to building permits, health dept, dept of ecology, planning dept, surface water management, the assessor.... as it is part of job. My advice is to make personal contact and find the folks that reasonable and most experienced. Even when dealing with City officials (almost always a nightmare) I've managed to find ways to do things my clients wanted even after being told it was not possible by another dept or bureaucrat.
My advice - DON'T be confrontational. Explain you goals in broad terms and ask how you would go about accomplishing them. You will typically be required to work with multiple depts so if you find an impass with one, go to the another before abandoning the dream.
Keep in mind you are dealing with imperfect beings with varying degrees of competence and people skills. The bureaucracy is nebulous which can sometimes work to your advantage.
Also, government is ALWAYS looking for new sources of revenue. I've found some of my best allies were in the assessors office when it came to getting non-typical building permits through.
In most cases rural counties are FAR easier to work with. Conversely the bigger the city the more layers of guberment you'll have to deal with and the more likely you'll have to deal with folks that wouldn't have a job if it weren't for their union.
I would try to work with the system. Not doing so is not a sound long term strategy. Abandon the idea that you can really OWN the land. You merely rent it (in the form of taxes) from the government until they decide they have another use for it.
Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Location: North Central Michigan
I live in Missaukee county in the Northern part of the southern penninsula of Michigan and building codes are very few and far in between here, and land use codes are non existant basically..
The only problems might be if you were to try to develop wetlands into some sort of housing project..but otherwise they don't bother you here.
I have put food forests all over our property as well as digging our own pond..no permits needed for other than building your house and septic field...you'll find those everywhere though..very non restrictive here.
they actually encourage you to develop your property into food forests..
Bloom where you are planted.
Joined: Aug 29, 2009
Location: PNW Oregon
Yonderosa - well said and so true. Seeing the agency as just people we have to develop a rapport with is very important to our success and achieving our dreams in the end.
Joined: Nov 15, 2010
I agree with Forlane 100%. Too bad he’s already married
As far as building permits go, the only people they benefit are big developers and the politicians whose campaigns they fund. Here in the Northeast it is the worst. Everyone used to have a pond and ponds were actually encouraged as a good environmental thing. Today, you want a (real, not a Koi pond) pond? Forget about it – you’ll destroy some wetland that is 300 miles from here (no joke). You want to live off-grid in a cob house? Jump through hoops. But, you want to tear down 500 acres of pristine forest, build shoddy “luxury” condos and put in a bunch of chlorinated swimming pools? No problem!
Your best bet is to get a large piece of land WAY off the beaten path, get a permit for a cabin or small timberframe, build it near the road and call it your “house.” Then after the inspector leaves, build your McMansion Earthship deep in the woods and they’ll never know. The point about the view from the air is a serious problem though – that was not the case 20 years ago. Google Earth is your worst enemy today.
Now, I cannot believe that you actually need a permit for a greywater system! That’s insane! But then again, there was a little town in Upstate, NY that was forced to spend millions converting from septic to a sewer system just because NYC controls the whole state now. It was so stupid, it was a town of less than 100 houses, in a rural area, and the state prevented the homeowners from replacing old septic systems, so they began contaminating the river and the state forced them to increase taxes to pay for a high-tech up-hill sewage system. The homeowners (mostly retired people) had no choice because they were banned from selling their properties to new owners without “new” septic systems. So, after this new sewer system was installed, guess where all the “treated” sludge gets dumped? Into that very same river! No joke!
My aunt lives in Maine, and she is uber-liberal; she actually thinks taxes are too low! But a few years ago she got so pissed off because a guy from Boston showed up on her property and started measuring her house for a tax survey. She was furious because he was a Bostonian, not a Mainer, but the point is that even in rural Maine (well, it is actually very built up now, but her road still has no cable access) they will trespass on your property just so they can tax you more. He did ask what was inside, but she refused to answer – NEVER let any government person into your house – it is actually illegal for them to even ask. While your house is under construction though, the inspector can come whenever he/she wants.
My biggest problem with what happened to my aunt was that when a house is measured from the outside they tax you on that square footage – assuming it is regular 2x4 / 2x6 construction. The big problem with this is if you have 24” thick walls your actual living space (what taxes are supposed to be based on) is a lot smaller. This is one reason I am a fan of bermed / underground houses.
In Vermont permits are not too bad, YET. You used to be able to build whatever you wanted, no questions asked. My brother used to live in a cabin on a steep road and in that area permits were not required, but just 30 minutes away, on / near Killington, forget about it. Even in Burlington organic farmers are now being prevented from composting if the piles get too large (it must be processed by a waste management company). The Vermont Right to Farm law is very good, but even now yuppies from NYC / Boston are taking over and successfully challenging farming activities. So, make sure your land is surrounded by locals who respect farming / (sustainable) logging / hunting. City Slickers are offended by everything and will sue in no time flat.
Joined: Nov 20, 2010
Personally, I'd just go with the path of least resistance. Find an area where code enforcement is basic and permitting non-existant.
For example, in rural, northwestern KS you need to have your septic system inspected and that's it. Your house can fall down around your ears and no one will say anything, but don't you dare poison the ground water. In southwestern NE, directly north of us, you can't build within x feet of the river, and your electrical has be inspected.
The Dakotas are similarly "strict," at least in the western counties.
Old thread, but it's a question that never goes away.
I'm also looking for a spot in the country where building permits are either non-existent or affordable. I think there are two groups of people who seek the same: one simply doesn't want any government interference in the way they choose to live and the other simply cannot afford the extortionate fees that many counties charge. Here in Southern California, you cannot stick a spade in the ground unless you have greased palms to the tune of about $40,000 for a typical single family home. I am not exaggerating. Some places are worse than others, but it truly is extortion and I refuse to play that game. If a county in rural Texas only wants $25 for a septic Permit, I am happy to pay that. But not $5,000.
I have no intention of building something that is an eyesore or unsafe, but I truly believe that building some kind of affordable shelter on your own land ought to be a basic human right that trumps your neighbor's desire for conformity or their perceived property values. When did Americans become these voluntary conformists anyway??
I think it would be beneficial to have a separate topic on the forum where people could list places that are more amenable to the low budget self-builder. It has been one of the hardest subjects to research on the internet I have come across. Many counties don't publish fee schedules or their websites are badly designed and don't answer any questions and calling up each and every potential county is a mammoth task. I think sharing personal experiences of people who have dealt with this, in whatever location they might have picked, could be invaluable to the rest of us.
So please keep this thread alive by posting all your nuggets of information; where are these counties? How easy were they to deal with? Which have permits, but affordable ones? How much did it cost?