Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Meeting With Building Authority

Its been about three weeks since we submitted the plans and Sandra phoned mid-week to get an update of where we are at in the approval process. When we submitted the plans we were told that it was taking about three weeks to get a set of plans approved ...

Sandra talked over the phone with the building inspector assigned to review our file. What came out of this discussion is that construction techniques used in an earthship fall outside of the prescribed methods outlined in Part nine of the 2006 British Columbia Building Code (BCBC), and as such the alternative solution that we are proposing has to be shown to functionally meet the minimum prescriptive requirements outlined in Part 9. Section 2.3 of the Code provides a guideline of the requirements for documenting an acceptable alternative solution. Don't worry if your head is spinning ... it took me a while to wade through all of this.

Our business has been building log houses for over thirty years (first with Sandra's dad designing the buildings and most recently me). Log structures also fall outside of Part 9 of the Building Code. Basically an engineer is required to stamp (certify structural compliance) the design as the Building Code does not cover log construction, and the Building Authority does not have the expertise to evaluate it.

In discussions we have had with other people building earthships in various jurisdictions their permitting experience generally involved getting an engineer to stamp the plans as I have just described for log buildings. So when we submitted our plans to the Building Authority I stamped the plans as was our practice for log structures.

After Sandra's telephone conversation with the building inspector we took a look at the Code sections that the Building Authority was referring to. In 2006 a new iteration of the Building Code was released. A significant change in this release of the Code was the introduction of objectives and functional statements in lieu of the prescriptive practices outlined in Part 9 of the Building Code. The intention of this change is to allow for alternative building solutions that are not addressed by Part 9 of the Building Code. However, any proposed alternative building system has to be shown to meet the minimum prescriptive requirements outlined in the Code.

Feeling that we now understood what was being asked we requested a meeting with the inspector to go over what was required. We are able to set up a meeting quite quickly and on Friday morning we sat down with the inspector and the building department head.

The meeting went quite well. They confirmed that due to the unique nature of the building project we would need to submit a technical brief on the alternative building method being used as required in the new Building Code. We gave a brief overview of the earthship design principles and went over some of the material we were using to design our house (Earthship Volumes I-III and the Engineer's Report from New Mexico). These materials (particularly the Engineer's Report) went a long way towards addressing their concerns about the building system. What they requested at the end of the meeting was an overview and synopsis of earthship design principles that differ from Part 9 of the Building Code. They seemed quite satisfied that 'earthship' construction techniques were valid, well documented and backed up by actual completed buildings.

We hope to have the requested document in the Building Authority's possession by the end of this week so that we can proceed with our building project.

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