Permits and cob houses

topic posted Wed, April 19, 2006 - 6:01 AM by  Reinhardt
My wife and I are sincerely interested in building a cob home in California. Unfortunately, I have found little information on the permit process, if one exists at all. I called the permit office in Livermore, California and the gentleman I spoke with there said that I would have to hire an architect and/or an engineer to get the permits, but admitted that he didn't know what cob was (although he was familiar with strawbale housing).

Is it necessary to get permits? What is the risk of building without permits? I'm not at all concerned about resalability, so this is not an issue.

Any information would be greatly appreciated.

posted by:
SF Bay Area
  • Unsu...

    Re: Permits and cob houses

    Sat, April 29, 2006 - 5:45 PM
    I have seen a couple who built their cob house go through the permit thing...they got it all cleared and blazed the way..wish I could find the article..its out their somewhere.
  • Re: Permits and cob houses

    Sat, April 29, 2006 - 8:40 PM
    Which part of California are you looking at? There's a few counties that have "Owner-Builder" sections in their building codes that allow buildings to be built without permits as long as the builder assumes all responsibilities and an inspector can verify that nothing is horribly wrong with the building. I think it might only apply to rural zones.
  • Re: Permits and cob houses

    Mon, June 19, 2006 - 5:04 PM
    Most counties in California will require building permits. As a nationwide builder of energy efficient homes we would be very interested in looking into the opportunity to help you build your cob home. I have attached a little information for you relating to cob homes. I hope this help you and your wife, we can design and build any style home that you desire. Scott: 816-215-5652

    A cob house is made of clay, sand and straw. The mixture is "kneaded" like dough before it is put into place by stomping on it with your feet or using a cement mixer for larger scale operations. The clay acts as the glue, while the sand gives strength to the mixture and the straw gives the walls tensile strength once hardened into place. Because cob is very flexible to work with, the builder is free to create just about any shape, so you won't find too many cob homes that look similar to each other.

    Cob is a very old building method that is now enjoying a renaissance. There are homes still standing today in Wales that are at least 500 years old. Chances are these homes were built out of earth out of necessity rather than choice. They were probably built by rural families that were extremely poor at the time.

    What are the advantages of building with cob?


    Energy Efficiency - A cob house provides a large amount of thermal mass. This helps keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I'm not certain if anyone has tried to build a double-wall cob house, but for cold climates, some sort of cob-insulation-cob wall might be more appropriate.

    Inexpensive - The walls of the home are made entirely of natural resources that are available under your feet. This brings up a good point about natural building in general; use the natural materials that are prevalent in your area. Clay is abundant in most areas of the world. Why not build with what you've got?

    "Buildability" - Cob homes are owner built. There is obviously, quite a bit of labor involved but if time is not a factor, a house of this type could be built with just a couple of workers. Basic carpentry, plumbing and electric skills are required.

    Fun - If you like playing in the mud, this is the house for you. Seriously, this is an excellent style of house to build for those with imagination. You can be very creative with the walls of your house.

    What are the disadvantages of building a cob house?


    Resellability - With any other alternative house building types, you might have a problem reselling a house that is "different" from the norm. In most cases, the occupants who build alternative homes are usually building them for a lifetime, but if plans change and you need to sell, it may take longer to find a buyer.

    Building Permits - As with all alternative building methods, you might run into some problems with local building codes. The walls are the biggest hurdle. The rest of the house is built using conventional building methods, but getting approval for the mud walls might be a problem.

    Financing - Cob homes are quite unique to say the least. Uniqueness is not a word that lending institutions like to hear. But why would you want to finance a cob house in the first place? It's probably the least costly house you could build and the cash outlay is minimal.
    Durability (It depends) - Cob does need to be protected from the elements. A large roof overhang will protect the walls from all but driving rains, but weather will take a toll on the walls. Reviewing the houses that were built in Britain over 500 years ago, I noticed that these homes were finished with a stucco type material. Depending upon your climate, you may need to consider some type of finish to protect the cob.
    • Re: Permits and cob houses

      Fri, August 4, 2006 - 5:49 PM
      Scott, ALLl, not most, counties in California require building permits; this because they're regulated by the California Unified Building Code.
  • Re: Permits and cob houses

    Thu, June 29, 2006 - 9:14 AM
    There is a cob architect named John Fordice that lives in California.

    If this is to be your home...
    you don't want to pour your lifes energy into something
    someone else can tear-down because of the 'Law'.
    You wouldn't want to live in fear of the day the 'building inspector' drops by. I know I wouldn't.

    Post and beam with Cob infill seems like reasonable plan.

    • Re: Permits and cob houses

      Thu, June 29, 2006 - 9:50 AM
      Do what it takes to get it "legal".
      Get the Architects or Engineers stamp so that you do not have to worry.
      I remember 12 years ago I had to spend a lot of time educating out local inspectors and ended up getting a "stamp" for a post and beam strawbale. They were interested and helpful but their agencies attorney's were not willing to let them take the responsibility.
      I know in Oregon for a non dwelling that you can build up to "x" size with no permits too, like 100 square feet and only 10 feet tall, good for experiments.
      Good luck.
  • Re: Permits and cob houses

    Mon, February 12, 2007 - 5:58 PM
    If you have your engineer use the term "monolithic aggregate" instead of cob, it will probably fly through. I've met a number of folks who have built without a permit. Their homes cost about three to four thousand dollars to build and are fairly remote and private. I recommend reading Ianto Evan's book The Handscupted House for more insight into the issue:
    You might also check out Emerald Earth up in Mendocino County for a natural building workshop with Michael Smith. Or if you can make it to Oregon, check out Cob Together up in the Williams Valley, west of Ashland.
    • Re: Permits and cob houses

      Mon, February 12, 2007 - 6:31 PM
      get ahold of NBN and the roushlagers in sanoma county cali there house is permitted. and sanoma has code for cob.
      house alive, cob cottage company, emerald earth, etc. this link has them all
      • Re: Permits and cob houses

        Wed, February 14, 2007 - 5:47 PM
        from (w/ photos)

        Fully permitted 3000 SF owner-built home, Nevada County, CA 2006

        Rob Pollacek wrote a great article in the Winter 2006 Issue #22 of The CobWeb. He shared his experiences building a completely code compliant cob house in California. The permit of his house was possible through Nevada County’s “Title 25″ owner-builder process.

        This is a great example of large scale cob construction ( 3000 sq feet of floor area ). The house has 215 linear feet of cob-wall. The foundation started out 22-26″ thick and taper to 19″ at the top of the wall. Rob used a tractor to mix the cob and trailers for distribution around the building site. Rob was kind enough to send a few photos of his project for the gallery. Thanks Rob!

        View Photos »

        You can see more of his projects at

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