Building codes, zoning laws, and B.S. bureaucracy

by ziggy on September 25, 2009 -- 5 comments -- Follow

Living in rural northeast Missouri, one thing I have (very thankfully) not had to deal with is building codes. At times, I have totally taken it for granted that I could just wake up one morning, and decide to build a house without telling anyone. There is nothing preventing me from building a home (or any type of structure, really) here. That’s why I can build a house out of cob, without electricity, with a living roof, with all of these crazy things that would NEVER fly in many other places.

Many natural builders have to contend with local zoning laws and building codes. In other parts of the country, many structures need to be “approved” before they are built. Building codes favor industry, are very strict, and limit a builder’s freedom and creativity. Apparently, bureaucracy thinks it knows what is good for us, for our health and safety. More often, bureaucracy is disempowering us, the individual, and forcing us to support the industrialized home machine.

I am very spoiled living where I do. I have great pity for natural builders that need to weave their way through red tape. I am a proponent of building “under the radar” if that is what it takes. I am a firm believer that we individuals should have the power and the choice and the freedom to build without limits, without the inspection or oversight of the state or local government.

Building and making homes is a long human tradition, and it should not be stifled by the industry-favoring bureaucracy.

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  • Joe Cook

    I guess these laws intent is to protect homeowners from unscrupulous builders, hazards (electircal, plumbing etc.) but like you say they often limit alternative bldg choices and alternative energy projects- for instance even if you live on a large lot you cannot put up a small wind turbine or use certain bldg styles- for instance I would like to build a concrete monolithic dome http://www.monolithic.com/ but mu community does not allow that- and all the steps to do anything are expensive, time consuming and confusing it forces you to hire a professional to do anything almost,

    THat is why – I am close to retirement- I am looking to buy land in an area that allows, home style I want, alternative energy (wind solar etc), without too many obstacles.

  • Patrick Vanderwyden

    Thank you for your concern about those of us that live in the land of building and zoning laws. I am licky that my neighbors are friendly and green concious. I have been able to go ” under the radar ” to install solar hot water and solar photovoltaic. I could not have done this if I had to hire a contractor, and get permits.
    When I am able to retire, I too will be looking for that special place which has liberal building policies, and earth-friendly policies. Until then, I will make the best of my Orlando home, and keep flying low!

  • Jen

    Here in BC Canada, structures under 100 sq feet don’t need a building permit. I went on an ecohome tour during August, where one farm was building their cob ‘house’ as separate structures, each room being less than 100 sq feet and clustered together. It looked wonderful, every room was cozy and unique.

  • Wil

    I have been watching you project since early Summer and found that I love it. I wish I had the ability (location and freedom) to build one. Currently I am in the Navy living in San Diego, Ca, so I have limits. But I do have one question concerning you home. What do you do for water? I know that you do not have plumbing and that your roof choice would not lend itself to rain catchment for water use purposes. So how do you get your water? Is it via the ponds, or one of your neighbors? Thanks for your time and viewing your website is a treat.

    Wil

  • Tom Meyers

    In an effort to gain some more insight from your experiences to convey to my “Alternate Methods and Materials” class, I stumbled upon this. I have pretty intimate knowledge on the Residential Building Code used in the US and find your statement interesting.
    You are correct that the code is inhibits “nonconventional” forms of construction by exclusion. The code is created by submitted “code changes” that typically come from from industries that are part of the home construction industry. However, YOU and others that are interested in green and sustainable methods can modify the code to include things like strawbale, cob, adobe, earthbag, cordwood, container, and the litany of other means out there. Anyone can submit a code change. I have attended every hearing on the IRC since day one and have NEVER seen a single natural building method submittal yet.

    That said, I agree with your assessment that things have gone too far in regulating single family homes. The building code was originally intended to protect a community from catastrophic fires that would start in one house and then spread to the entire village. This is what we call a public duty doctrine. Today, a lot of folks think that it is intended to provide individual protection. Lawyers and lawsuits have helped spread that misconception.
    There are a lot of people that rely on government to take care of their needs, including assurance of “safe” housing through codes and inspection. You have a more libertarian mindset. Unfortunately, not all places in the US share your belief in individual liberties that extend into the shelter you hand create into your own home. You are held accountable to the same oversight that is afforded a builder selling a product to an uneducated consumer.

    So…you go and search out a community that has the same objectives as you do. I also own land in a non-building code county in Colorado. I intend to build what suits me and the needs of my family. That suits my libertarian agenda. However, it is not suitable for the majority of folks in the US that have no idea whatsoever as to what goes into home construction, its impact on the environment, and its impact on the people that dwell within it. Therefore, those folks need a building code and zoning regs to keep their own harmony in place.

    Thanks for the documentation of your trials and successes. More power to you in your quest for alternative and sustainable construction!

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