Archive for the ‘codes’ Category

This could be the end for owner builders in NZ.

“How these changes affect you. New legislation came into effect 1 March 2012 which introduced the concept of restricted building work.

If residential building work is structural and/or affects the weathertightness of the building, then it may be restricted building work. This means you must employ a Licenced Building Practitioner (LBP) to design and undertake that work. An LBP must either do the work themselves or be supervised by somebody who is a registered LBP.

LBP’s include:
– Designers
– Carpenters
– Roofers
– External Plasterers
– Brick and Blocklayers
– Foundation specialists

Professional Engineers, Architects, Plumbers and Gasfitters are treated as Licensed Building Practitioners and can carry out some restricted building work.

These changes apply from now.”

Anonymous: “I refer to this as profit by legislation. The big building and building supply companies can’t let you build your own as they don’t make money. They have the money and influence. They don’t want to stop you just get their cut.

There are many reasons for it. Part of it was seeds planted by the previous labor government to protect union workers. Another is NZ had a major building disaster where homes that were built that leaked water years later. This was due a lot to get rich quick builders during a building boom. Owner/builders built to last and didn’t make the same mistakes but are paying for the cheap practices of profiteers.”

Owen: That’s terrible news. I’ve always believed people have the right to build their own home without excessive government interference. It’s a basic human right. These new rules (only in New Zealand at this time as far as we know) remind me of my blog post the other day about Building Codes are a Slippery Slope. Codes do have certain advantages, especially in highly populated areas and for commercial structures such as schools. But when society starts adopting codes for all buildings, it’s an open invitation for runaway government regulation, control and corruption. For instance, your project might get turned down while someone else who pays a bribe gets their project accepted. Every tradesman will be put through the wringer with endless training and certification programs – all at worker’s expensive of course. And obviously this will drive up the cost of construction considerably. In the end, few will gain at the expense of many.

This system will pretty much kill affordable housing. The only way to build affordable housing to code using professionals is building tiny crackerbox apartments on a large scale such as ‘Projects’ (ghetto housing). We’ve already seen how these types of housing units fail and contribute to social breakdown. That’s why the US government has been tearing them down for the last 10-20 years in inner cities.

And this system will eventually kill natural building, as well as stifle creativity and experimentation. Gone will be the innovative homebuilder who builds his own zero energy earth sheltered home out of local materials. And it will cause untold cultural problems for those who have been living in earthen houses and bamboo houses for countless years. Maybe that’s part of the nefarious plan – drive poor people off their land in villages to work in sweatshops in urban areas where it’s easier to control them and tax them to death.

I haven’t heard of this new restrictive building code spreading elsewhere. It would be a very sad day if it does. New Zealanders: vote all the bums out of office before it’s too late.

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Homes built with natural materials are beautiful, safe and typically cost far less than conventional homes and trailer houses.

Homes built with natural materials are beautiful, safe and typically cost far less than conventional homes and trailer houses.

Sara: John, you know I’ve been reading about earthbag building and natural building lately. Well, I’d like to build our new home this way.
John: [long pause while thinking] Are you sure? I really like those trailer houses we’ve looked at.
Sara: Come on John, trailer houses are shoddily built and you know it. And they smell really bad. They have a lot of formaldehyde and plastics.
John: Oh, they’re not that bad. The smell will go away in a few years. You’ll get used to it.
Sara: It’s not just a bad smell. The fumes are toxic. Look what happened to Mary Hampton and her girls. They all got respiratory problems from their trailer house and have been sickly ever since.
John: [pause] Maybe you’re right about that part. I remember seeing the formaldehyde government warning signs in each trailer house… But it’s so convenient and easy to buy factory made, you know?
Sara: Yeah, it will take more time and effort to build our home, but it will be just what we want… our dream home. Everything will be natural and safe.
John: I know what you’re saying, but what about building codes? Trailer houses are approved by the government.
Sara: You’re kidding, right? Since when did you start believing the government?
John: [loud laughter] Okay, you got me there. I’m sure they must buy off the government somehow. How could those tin boxes possibly meet code?
Sara: Remember all the disaster photos of hurricane and tornado damage? Trailer houses are often wiped out while better houses in the neighborhood are still standing.
John: That’s right. It’s crazy. Geez, everyone knows sleazebag politicians would sell their grandmother for a buck.
Sara: Good… now you’re coming around, darling. And just think about how much money we’ll save. We can save tens of thousands of dollars if we do it ourselves and build with natural and recycled materials.
John: Tens of thousands of dollars! Let’s do it!

Image source: Spy Home Design.com

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I would argue that current building codes make it nearly impossible to build affordable housing. All the restrictions on room sizes, allowable materials, and cost of permits and inspections put housing out of reach for a large segment of society. It’s a complex and touchy subject that can quickly lead to heated debates. Our intent is not to create a big stink, but rather point out flaws in the system and identify some realistic alternatives such as moving to rural areas with few or no building codes. This topic has been discussed at length in our blog post Counties with Few or No Building Codes. I’ve also covered the subject in Trailer Houses versus Earthbag Building and American Housing Ripoff and other articles.

The purpose of this blog post is a little different. My intent here is to show how going along with the building code system leads to even greater problems. Supporting and participating in the building code process increases the flow of money to a bureaucracy that will want to hang onto power at minimum and, if at all possible, grow in size and perceived importance. This is not a personal attack against building officials who in my experience are most always friendly and professional. I’m talking about the tendency of bureaucracies to grow, overreach, become oppressive, intrusive and burdensome. While some good may come from all this – a certain amount of improved public safety, for instance – all the negatives outweigh the good, and eventually we need to stop feeding the beast so alternatives can take root. That’s where we’re at now. It’s time to get informed and throw our support behind better alternatives (Vote with your Wallet) and stop funding the beast. Think I’m exaggerating? Read on to see what the powers that be are planning. Building codes are a slippery slope that consolidates more power at the top, while increasing taxes and control of the masses against their will.

Summarized from the 10th Amendment Foundation:
“If they know and understand the mandate of the 10th Amendment, how can any member of Congress or the Senate possibly even consider the passage of any Federal law that would impose a national building code on every local city, county and town and require them to tax their people (with property taxes of fees) to employ not one but three separate building inspectors who would have to approve, under Federal guidelines every house that was going to be put up for sale before it was put on the market? How could any member of Congress possibly consider that they (or the Federal Government) has the right or power to say what kind of windows, or insulation, or hot water heaters your house would have to have before you could offer your house for sale–or what they would have to have before you could buy a house, even if you wanted different windows, or insulation, or hot water heaters?

I bet you thought that if you bought a house, you actually own it and can, with reasonable exceptions, do with it what you want… Let me introduce you to a little section of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill called the “Building Energy Performance Labeling Program”. It’s section 304 of the bill and it says, basically, that your house belongs to the state. See, the Federal Government really wants a country full of energy-efficient homes, so much so that the bill mandates that new homes be 30 percent more energy efficient than the current building code on the very day the law is signed. That efficiency goes up to 50 percent by 2014 and only goes higher from there, all the way to 2030. That, by the way, is not merely a target but a requirement of the law. New homes must reach those efficiency targets no matter what.

…I confess I’m finding it harder and harder to see why you fellows bothered holding a revolution. Under this bill, it will be illegal for me to sell my property to a willing buyer without first bringing it into line with some twerp bureaucrat’s arbitrary and ever shifting “environmental” regulations originally designed for California, and which have helped turn the Golden State into the foldin’ state, but which are nevertheless now to be applied from Maine to Alaska. And no matter what you spend a couple of years down the road the standards will be “revised” and you’ll be out of compliance all over again.”

[Note: I’m all for energy efficient housing. I’ve spent a large part of my life designing, building and promoting energy efficiency. But I’m not in favor of another big government program that will cause more harm than good.]

From the 10th Amendment Center:
“Virginia House Delegates Robert G. Marshall and Anne B. Crockett-Stark recently introduced HB 27. The Residential energy efficiency standards exempts certain homes from federal cap & trade legislation, and would limit the power of the EPA to set the standards for home construction in Virginia, as stated in the bill’s brief description.” [So states are starting to fight back.]

From the Examiner:
“Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA) issued a warning saying, “we’re setting up a global warming Gestapo.” The comment was made in reference to Section 201 of the [Waxman-Markey act] would have the power to assess civil penalties for buildings that do not meet the new code… The federal government can come in and inspect your house and send you the bill. And if they find that you’re out of compliance with this new federal code, ‘The Secretary shall assess a civil penalty for violations of this section… Scalise called into question the very constitutionality of the measure. He reminded his fellow congressmen that the 10th Amendment to the Constitution says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to states respectively or to the people.”

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From time to time we answer reader’s questions. Building codes, and where to live where there are Few or No Building Codes so as to reduce construction costs, is our #1 most popular topic.

Q: I’m thinking about building a 120 sq. ft. structure as a home to get around the building codes. In my area, sheds of this size don’t need building permits. What are your thoughts?

A: I am not at my desk at the moment so not able to view the code, but I’ll take a stab. To get it permitted as a residence under the IBC or IRC you need to have basic services such as water, power, waste disposal, etc. Without these things there is no building dept that will issue a permit for this as a residence. This specific provision is to allow non-occupied structures to be built that are very small. Obviously the intent of the provision is to make it easy for folks to build a shed or unoccupied structure. You guys are not the first to have this discussion. Also, it would make little sense to hook up to utilities or put in a septic for something so small. The minimum costs of those services would lead you to a different conclusion.

Once you add services, it will require a permit. That is my opinion, not what I am reading in the code. Again, there is no building dept that will let you slide without a permit if services are intended to be hooked up.

It is easy to do it under the radar and covert it once anyone who cares is looking the other way. Some places require you to file for a permit for something like this, they just won’t do any inspections. Boulder would strike me as one such place, or most places in the Bay Area, etc. It would fall under planning ordinances even though a building permit would not be required. Does that make sense? They would still want to know about it even though they would not inspect it.

As far as the word “accessory” goes, it applies to any zoned property that allows such, no matter if another primary structure is in existence or not. The word “accessory” is not exclusive of any use, such as living or non-living uses. It is simply an accessory use to what is intended to be the primary use. For example, if a property is zoned residential, sure you can build a shed as an accessory structure without a house there first. However, many zoning/planning dept will not let you build a granny unit as the only structure, acting like it is the primary structure and use. They would require a development plan showing your total build-out ideas. The question here is about uses, not about whether you can put up ten 120 sf sheds and call them all residential. If you are working in a place where there is a weak planning dept you will have an easier time getting away with stuff folks in cities are unable to do. You can’t offer anything like this as a solution that would work anywhere due to a supposed hole in the code. It is not a building code issue as much as it is a zoning and planning ordinance issue. Not everyone can do this, and to lead them to believe otherwise would not be honest.

BTW, check out my blog at http://afghan.jeffruppert.net. It is self-explanatory. Things have changed in my world.
Jeff Ruppert PE
(Jeff is one of the most influential people in the strawbale building movement. He moved to Afghanistan about two years ago to help rebuild the country, and his blog is really interesting.)

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One of our readers sent this.

“That’s the beauty of my future home site, it’s in county jurisdiction and well away from any towns in that county. I will not be getting the home inspected or buying any permits, the main reason for getting it inspected is to have it approved for insurance purposes, I have no need to have insurance on it, its not like a earthen house can burn down to the ground, and the house will be built cheap enough if there is ever any reason to repair a section, it won’t cost very much at all. Building cheap and living cheap is the name of the game here. These houses can be a great alternative if you plan to never leave it, no worries about market prices, interest rates, mortgage, and if you are more self sufficient on power and water then you have virtually no bills pertaining to typical housing. With the predicted upcoming economic fall and “second great depression” this is a alternative that is one of the best choices you could make.”

Related: Counties with Few or No Building Codes

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Kelly Hart’s Carriage House combines insulated earthbags of scoria with a manufactured steel Quonset hut.

Kelly Hart’s Carriage House combines insulated earthbags of scoria with a manufactured steel Quonset hut.

Nick, one of our readers left the following comments. “I think the sheer lunacy of the housing situation, what you pay versus what you get, will insure that alternative means of construction will prevail in the end. Even if you don’t have the patience to build yourself, you can buy a steel warehouse building, say 30X40, and play with it to your heart’s content–stone facing on the outside, rice hull insulation indoors, clay walls to cover the rice hulls and steel, earth floor, half height earthbag fencing around the house for utility and beauty–and you’ll still only spend $20,000 versus half a million or more with a 50 year mortgage.

I’m in my mid 40′s and it boggled my mind that I’d have been a slave for my entire life, +5 years just to own a plywood & plasterboard shack that requires constant maintenance to not disintegrate, especially in the humid South. The bankers really do want you to become an adult, and then work for them for your entire life until you die, paying them rent, the pharma groups not far behind, with their belief that everyone of us needs to be on lifelong medications just to line their pockets. Ridiculous.

Another reason for pushing these 50 year mortgages, by the way, is that the robo-signing scandal and real estate fraud that took place during the bubble puts them in serious jeopardy of losing during the foreclosure process, in court, if those people have a good lawyer. By getting fresh signatures on new, proper, documents and invalidating the old fraudulent documents, they gain a much stronger position in any future foreclosure process, and as a final bonus, they also turn some non-recourse mortgages into full recourse mortgages, if state law allows this. ”

Owen: How true. People are waking up to the new reality big time. Take away people’s homes, and make other housing alternatives unaffordable (high rent, excessive building fees), and people are bound to start looking for low cost options. Geez, people can’t even afford a garage now, let alone a decent house. So they start surfing the Internet and see all the cool earthbag and strawbale houses, and other natural building methods using pallets, adobe, earth floors and plaster, ferrocement, pole building, and so on. I look forward to the day when the masses snap out of it and make more sensible choices. The times they are a changin’.

Kelly Hart’s Carriage House plan
This method of adding insulated bags over a manufactured steel vault is a great way to build – very fast and efficient, just bolt together, stack lightweight scoria bags, then plaster. And, it’s easy to get code approval. If you like vaults, this is probably the best way to go.

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Trailer houses like this meet building codes even though they are unsafe and very poorly built.

Trailer houses like this meet building codes even though they are unsafe and very poorly built.

Trailer houses typically suffer massive damages after hurricanes and tornadoes like this trailer park that got hit by Hurricane Andrew.

Trailer houses typically suffer massive damages after hurricanes and tornadoes like this trailer park that got hit by Hurricane Andrew.

I’ve been writing about the problems with building codes for a while now. Just for the record, I’m not 100% against codes. Limited codes can be beneficial, but the current situation is way over the top. This fact is well illustrated by comparing trailer houses (also called mobile homes) to buildings made of earthbags. A trailer house like the one in the photo above is — how can I put it politely — a piece of junk. They are not built to any reasonable level of strength or durability. For instance, it would be easy to kick your foot through the flimsy 2×2 stick frame walls. Just look what happens to trailer houses in tornadoes and hurricanes. Most of us have watched scenes of trailer parks on TV that have been completely wiped out (flattened) after natural disasters. The same scenes are repeated over and over, year after year, because building officials say trailer houses meet current building standards.

I remember one of my friends who got married and bought a trailer house right out of high school. It was just a matter of months before problems started. In less than a year the particle board cabinets started to fall off the wall and the front door broke. Unlike most houses than typically gain value over time (except in a deflationary housing market), trailer houses rapidly depreciate in value. They make no sense financially.

One time I toured some model trailer homes for sale even though I knew they were a piece of junk. My real intent was to secretly study why trailer houses are popular and how they utilized small spaces. The biggest thing I remember from the visit is the awful smell of formaldehyde in the trailer houses. There was even a warning sign with the required government disclosure about the high levels of formaldehyde inside! (Think about it. They come right out and warn you of the toxicity and yet people still buy this crap.)

The FEMA trailers purchased for hurricane Katrina victims is a perfect example of the hazards of formaldehyde. You can google the articles about this scandal/tragedy by searching for phrases like “banned trailers”, “tainted trailers”, “toxic tin cans” and “FEMA trailers formaldehyde”. Here’s a quote from ToxicTrailers.com http://www.toxictrailers.com/ who’s working to spread the warning about these trailers: “ToxicTrailers.com is dedicated to providing information about formaldehyde poisoning, and advocating effective government regulations. The government spent more than $2 billion on FEMA trailers with hazardous levels of formaldehyde, and now has dumped more than 103,000 former FEMA trailers on the market despite proven problems with formaldehyde, mold and even gas leaks. The FEMA trailer tragedy exposed what is a widespread problem in RVs, mobile homes, modular buildings and even conventional homes and offices. If you are having symptoms such as burning eyes, congestion, sore throat, coughing, breathing difficulties, frequent sinus infections or rashes, and difficulties concentrating, you may have a formaldehyde problem. For questions or to share your story, write 4becky@cox.net.” (Sounds like a big ‘ol class action lawsuit is heating up.)

Not only do trailer houses rapidly deteriorate and offgas poisonous fumes, they’re also poorly insulated. They get unbearably hot in the summer and freezing cold in winter. Trailer houses are also widely known for electrical fires. So keep all this in mind as you ponder why trailer houses are readily accepted by building officials. It’s easy to get a building permit for a trailer house. Now approach these same building officials with plans for an earthbag house that’s practically as strong as an army bunker and see what happens. Yes, you can get a building permit if you jump through enough hoops and spend thousands of extra dollars. But why do they make it so difficult? That’s why we routinely advise people to move to rural areas with few or no building codes if possible.

Image source: Reddit

American Housing Ripoff
How to Build a House That Will Self Destruct and Burn Like Crazy

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Moldy, rotted wood-framed house

Moldy, rotted wood-framed house

Wall damage in wood-framed house

Wall damage in wood-framed house

From Haim, a reader in Hungary:
“What gets me about the [building] permits in America is they are basically useless.
– Hurricanes in Florida
– Fires in California
– Cold as Siberia upper peninsula Michigan
The above 2x4s and drywall just don’t hold up well. People slave their whole life just to not be able to pass something on to their kids. Their kids too must slave, etc. and are not allowed to freely create and innovate.

Take the way walls are built in the country I live. Many of the houses, not all, are built with bricks from this Austrian company. [The first pic of the four is typical for wall structures here. – I’m in Hungary by the way.] Not suggesting this over earthbag, but what I am suggesting is that Americans have been and are continuing to be ripped off in quality and in price.”

My comments:
I agree 100%. Thanks for contributing. Your comment reminded me of my previous blog post How to Build Houses That Will Self Destruct and Burn Like Crazy.

Our blog focuses on how to build with earthbags, but sometimes it’s informative to stop and think of the larger picture. In most cases it’s much easier to get a building permit for a trailer house (which is obviously a piece of junk and a major safety risk) than it is to get a permit for an earthbag house that’s 10-20 times stronger, safer, more fire resistant, etc.

Your comment also suggested that I focus on positive solutions we all can do. But that’s what this whole blog is about. So instead of copying or rewording and trying to summarize a bunch of previous topics, I suggest spending some time browsing through the blog.

Image source: 3rHomeworks
Mold and Litigation article (billions of dollars awarded annually in mold lawsuits)

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Cabin plan from “Twelve by Twelve” by author Bill Powers

Cabin plan from “Twelve by Twelve” by author Bill Powers

DAVID: Your adventure in “Twelve by Twelve” is part of a long tradition of restless Americans. In early America, Francis Asbury never even owned a home and traveled throughout his adult life, staying in other people’s homes. John Steinbeck traveled in a pickup truck equipped with a little camper. Thoreau famously lived in a tiny house, too, although his Walden home was 10 by 15. So, tell us about your own American adventure living in this 12 by 12 house.
BILL: I was actually living in it for 40 days, then I spent two to three years going back and forth, visiting with the doctor who owns the home and her neighbors. I’ve been back there several times.

DAVID: When did you actually spend your 40 days there?
BILL: I was there in 2007 right at the end of winter as it was coming into spring so I was living there as spring was blossoming. There were things you could eat right away like the Shitake mushrooms and lettuces and arugula that came up. Some of the herbs were already growing. Some of the berries were growing, too, and then there was honey production down there, as well. Neighbors would share or sell or trade things. The neighbors had chickens, for example, and we could trade back and forth.

DAVID: There is a practical reason for choosing 12 by 12, right? Thoreau’s 10 by 15 wouldn’t meet the same legal restrictions anymore.
BILL: That’s right. There is a pragmatic reason because if the structure is 12 by 12 or smaller, it’s not considered to be a house in a legal sense in that region, so you’re not required to put in plumbing or electricity and also you don’t have to pay property taxes, because it’s invisible to the state. If it’s 12 by 13 then all these other requirements start. [Ed. Codes vary from region to region and many times you can’t live in 12’x12’ structures. See this blog post about Counties with Few or No Building Codes.]

For the full interview, including Part 1, go to Read the Spirit.com

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This week is the 4th anniversary of Earthbag Building Blog. The growth in readership and content has been amazing. Web traffic on our blog has tripled in the last year! There are now 882 blog posts and over 4,300 comments. Thanks for your support. We’ve clearly hit a tipping point. There’s enough variety of content that all sorts of people are finding our earthbag websites through links on other sites and from search engines. For instance, a new reader may not be looking for earthbag houses, but they might find our sites by searching for information on pallet furniture, pit greenhouses, rootcellars or other related topics. Sites like Facebook, Stumble Upon, Reddit and a number of forums help drive traffic. Our previous growth prior to December 2010 resembled the flight path of an airplane taking off. But something happened in January, because that’s when the airplane would have ‘hit the side of the mountain’ so to speak (on the chart). That’s when traffic suddenly doubled, and it’s continued to increase since then.

Also, I’d like to remind readers to keep those project submissions rolling in. We love hearing about your earthbag projects and hope you will continue sharing information with others. Be sure to document your project with lots of high resolution photos. Take notes so you’ll have a record of expenses, how long it took, how many worker hours, new techniques, things you would do different next time, etc.

So… here are the most popular blog posts from the last year:
Bullet Resistance of Compressed Earth
Counties with Few or No Building Codes
Earthbag Survival Shelter
What’s the Easiest Shape to Build?
$300 Earthbag House
Preferred Building Materials for the Rich?
Earthbag Rootcellar
Reinforced Earthbag Specifications
All-in-One Outdoor Oven, Stove, Grill & Smoker
$2,000 Earthbag House
Low-cost Multipurpose Minibuilding Made with Earthbags
Half Moon Earthbag Earthship

Here are the most popular posts from our 3rd Anniversary.

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