Author Topic: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?  (Read 3515 times)

DSmizzle87

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Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« on: November 01, 2016, 06:24:39 AM »
Good Morning,

i've been intrigued after watching a video by a guy named John Jandai from a Ted Talk who is building "natural homes" with natural building materials in Thailand. After a bit of research, I see there a lot of people doing this around the world. I'm 29 and have yet to get a mortgage and have been following the mustache for about 3 months. I feel a calling toward natural building instead of just buying and getting a 100k+ mortgage.

Has anyone done natural home building or do you know of any resources that I could investigate? My big concern is permitting and getting building inspectors to sign off on something. Unless, that is, you find a county where the codes let you do whatever you want on your land. Me being from Michigan does not seem to offer that relaxed luxury.

Thanks~!

Fishindude

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2016, 07:12:02 AM »
Some places have zero codes, zero inspection requirements, and zero permitting.  You can pretty much build whatever you want.
Not the case in most places; you will need plans, drawings, approvals, permits, etc.

You could still build a home of natural materials such as logs, stone or even hand made adobe bricks legally.  For roofing, you could make homemade split wood shingles.
Could make your own doors, trims, cabinets, etc. out of wood you mill yourself.  Areas where you will have to spend some real money and buy things include; windows, septic, well, electrical system, plumbing materials & fixtures, insulation, cement, mortar & concrete, etc.

FrugalShrew

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2016, 08:05:29 AM »
A couple of folks have gone forward with straw bale structures in Michigan: 

http://naturalhomes.org/timeline/strawbalestudio.htm
http://www.mlive.com/living/jackson/index.ssf/2011/01/post_5.html

You might try reaching out to them.

Dusty Dog Ranch

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2016, 09:06:52 PM »
Straw bale is well recognized in Washington State. It is even one of the check boxes on the building permit forms in our rural and not particularly progressive county. Same with rastra and faswall blocks, and I know quite a few who have done earthbags. It will depend on the specific jurisdiction, but yeah, natural home building is generally an option. It's not necessarily cheaper though, just so you know. We spent a week building a straw bale house but decided on standard stick built when it came time to build our own.

Fishindude

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2016, 09:21:39 AM »
Something about a straw bale home just gives me the creeps.
I envision mice or rodents getting through the stucco and into the straw, then creating a network of rodent tunnels, straw bales collapsing, etc.  I think there are a whole lot of better choices for building material.

Sibley

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2016, 01:45:49 PM »
Something about a straw bale home just gives me the creeps.
I envision mice or rodents getting through the stucco and into the straw, then creating a network of rodent tunnels, straw bales collapsing, etc.  I think there are a whole lot of better choices for building material.

If you've got a cat who's a good mouser, you'll be fine. No rodent wants to live anywhere near my cat.

DSmizzle87

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2016, 03:37:19 PM »
Thanks everyone for your helpful advise. I'm new here and don't see how to reply to your comments so just doing a mass thank you here

Spork

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2016, 03:44:48 PM »
If you are overly worried about building codes, you might look into rural property.

We built a (traditional stick built) house in 2011-12.  The only permit required was for the septic tank.  We did have an independent inspector to inspect it as conforming to building codes... but that was for our peace of mind, not for a permit.  I suspect it was also CYA for the general contractor.  Having zero oversight seems like it might be a liability issue for him.

DSmizzle87

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2016, 03:58:25 PM »
If you are overly worried about building codes, you might look into rural property.

We built a (traditional stick built) house in 2011-12.  The only permit required was for the septic tank.  We did have an independent inspector to inspect it as conforming to building codes... but that was for our peace of mind, not for a permit.  I suspect it was also CYA for the general contractor.  Having zero oversight seems like it might be a liability issue for him.

Spork, did you find this to be a significant cost savings? My main reason for doing this would be cost savings. However, the more I research it seems like it's a lot more hassle for not much money saved.

Spork

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2016, 04:05:02 PM »
If you are overly worried about building codes, you might look into rural property.

We built a (traditional stick built) house in 2011-12.  The only permit required was for the septic tank.  We did have an independent inspector to inspect it as conforming to building codes... but that was for our peace of mind, not for a permit.  I suspect it was also CYA for the general contractor.  Having zero oversight seems like it might be a liability issue for him.

Spork, did you find this to be a significant cost savings? My main reason for doing this would be cost savings. However, the more I research it seems like it's a lot more hassle for not much money saved.

I can't say I have the numbers to know.  I've never been through the permitting process for building a house.  And any existing house I've had in a municipality... things <ahem> mysteriously got fixed without a permit.

Rubyvroom

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2016, 04:38:53 PM »
There are a number of natural building methods that are both allowed or completely frowned upon, completely dependent upon your location. The more remote of a location you are in, the easier the permitting will be. You will have to do some research to find out what is allowed. Codes are definitely not uniform across states, counties, cities or townships, and some places will have building codes on the books but won't enforce them, while others are extremely strict on enforcing codes.

If you'd like to learn more, there is a huge community of people down in Taos, New Mexico that are dedicated builders of Eartships, but many of them dabble in other building methods like earthbags or strawbale homes. While they build the expensive versions of Earthships as a day job, they build on their own out on the Taos mesa for much cheaper. They have the skills to do so, and have found an area that doesn't enforce codes (Taos enforces codes, but certain areas deep in the mesa are left alone), so they have a lot more flexibility. That life isn't for everyone though.

Taos is a great spot to vacation if you ever want to find people to discuss these things with that have experience with it. They run an Academy that cycles 30-50 students through per month from April - June and September - October. People come from all over the world to learn to build Earthships, so it is really a cool place to be, just for the networking aspect alone.

As others have mentioned, this won't necessarily save you any money. It really depends on how much of your own skilled labor you can put in versus hiring it out, and what kinds of limitations you might face with building codes, permits and fees. It is very location dependent.

Metric Mouse

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #11 on: November 07, 2016, 01:30:02 AM »
If you are overly worried about building codes, you might look into rural property.

We built a (traditional stick built) house in 2011-12.  The only permit required was for the septic tank.  We did have an independent inspector to inspect it as conforming to building codes... but that was for our peace of mind, not for a permit.  I suspect it was also CYA for the general contractor.  Having zero oversight seems like it might be a liability issue for him.

Spork, did you find this to be a significant cost savings? My main reason for doing this would be cost savings. However, the more I research it seems like it's a lot more hassle for not much money saved.

I can't imagine a stick built house built to code without permits is much cheaper than one built to code with permits. Land may be cheaper though, in a 'no permit' (rural) area.

Spork

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #12 on: November 07, 2016, 04:38:16 PM »
If you are overly worried about building codes, you might look into rural property.

We built a (traditional stick built) house in 2011-12.  The only permit required was for the septic tank.  We did have an independent inspector to inspect it as conforming to building codes... but that was for our peace of mind, not for a permit.  I suspect it was also CYA for the general contractor.  Having zero oversight seems like it might be a liability issue for him.

Spork, did you find this to be a significant cost savings? My main reason for doing this would be cost savings. However, the more I research it seems like it's a lot more hassle for not much money saved.

I can't imagine a stick built house built to code without permits is much cheaper than one built to code with permits. Land may be cheaper though, in a 'no permit' (rural) area.

Yeah... not sure what permits cost, but I presume they are tiny in comparison to "house."

We didn't build here to avoid permits... It was just a nice, surprising side effect. 

I will mention: another side effect of no permits is that the county has not noticed we built a house.  So, I guess you could say that there is a monetary benefit.  So far we've been through 5 years of billing cycles post build and have only been taxed on an outbuilding.  (We used to live in the outbuilding.)

hoping2retire35

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #13 on: November 07, 2016, 08:37:59 PM »
I think op misinterpreted stick built to mean natural or bamboo or something.

Op, stick built means typical building construction using wooden frame. Could be on a crawl space, basement or slab.

Permitting will cost ~1-2% of construction costs.

Metric Mouse

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Re: Is natural home building allowed in the USA?
« Reply #14 on: November 10, 2016, 01:06:28 AM »
I will mention: another side effect of no permits is that the county has not noticed we built a house.  So, I guess you could say that there is a monetary benefit.  So far we've been through 5 years of billing cycles post build and have only been taxed on an outbuilding.  (We used to live in the outbuilding.)

Nice. Beats the city employee coming over unannounced to see if I'd finished the rennovations I'd pulled a permit for, purely to see if they could bill me for the current year or if they'd have to wait.