When people first learn about building homes and structures out of cob they get really excited and their imaginations go wild with creative ideas and all the possibilities that the material offers for creating things.
Then at some point in our excitement we get a rude awakening to the thought of how we might actually go about building a cob building in our bureaucratic, twisted society. We tend to worry about how we’ll make it past all the laws, regulations, and building codes required to build according to our own imaginations. Not to mention the expensive inspections!
In the United States, we follow the International Building Code. This is supposed to be here to safeguard us from dangerous and risky construction methods. While it’s not totally useless and offers some true benefits, it is narrow minded in its scope and hinders creative ideas and innovation. David Eisenberg further explains and expands on the narrow minded thought patterns of building officials and how following the IBC can actually backfire on our safety.
The fact is that our current scale system is flawed, behind the microscopic codes money has become the ultimate measure for everything. Innovation is constrained by currencies and not lives.
According to the International Code Council (ICC), the purpose of the International Building Code is to “safeguard public health, safety and general welfare… from hazards attributed to the built environment.”
But take it for what you will. As Cob Builders and Natural Builders we have to take the Orwellian-like system into account at some point. It might seem daunting to face but there is actually hope!
Cob Building Codes and How to Get a Permit to Build
It is not specified in the building code whether or not building with cob is illegal or not. For many people, they have first been required to get a permit to build with cob. They have had to hire an engineer to help develop their building plans. Once cob designs are approved by a “licensed design professional”, the building department will usually give you approval and permit you to build. Just be ready to fork over some mad cash in the process!
What Other Options Do I Have? Easier Ones Please…
I asked Mike McDonough, an experienced Cob Builder who apprenticed with the Cob Cottage Company, what his thoughts were on cob building codes and regulations. Here’s what he said in a nutshell:
There are no codes for cob in the US, there may be in places like England, I’m not sure. There is a code for adobe in New Mexico, and strawbale in California, although these are clearly different systems. Most codes in the US follow the International Building Code (IBC). Each state has their slight variation of it, as do counties and major cities. However, because there is no code for cob doesn’t mean that it can’t be built with legally. It really comes down to the people in the local building department, how they interpret the code, and doing what it takes to satisfy their concerns with an unfamiliar material. This can mean having the building engineered or stamped by an architect, which removes the building department’s liability in case of failure.
Here’s the real kicker!
There are cases in which you don’t need to get a permit for a building at all, and can just build what you want to. This is common in rural counties (except in the northeast, California, probably other places as well), and for buildings under a certain size footprint, usually 12×12 (if it has no utilities).
So in some cases you do not even need a permit and are free to build as you please. I have personally never had any interest in building cob structures in a city or suburban area. I only want to build out in the rural countryside. That’s just my preference, but if you share that feeling then you have much less to worry about.
Otherwise there are permit exemptions if you build: under a certain size, for agriculture or storage use, or build in a rural area that does not require a permit.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Don’t let the thought of codes and regulations get you down. Keep pushing the boundaries and creating and innovate. Some people might look at us as crazy for what we do, but we’re on the cutting edge here. It’s to be expected.
The future of building belongs to us. We need to keep networking and educating people on the advantages of natural building methods like cob. Sooner or later, more people will wake up to the reasons why we use the methods of building that we do.
As people realize the need, we could get building codes enacted for cob and not have to worry about this issue anymore.
I encourage you to get a copy of my ebook, Cob to Code, to get a much more detailed guide on how to build cob homes according to code specifications.