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Permiting - King County

Hi All,

I went to the Department of Permitting and Environmental Review (DPER) this past Friday and asked a few questions about what it would take to get permitting to build an Earthship. I chose King County mostly because I needed to go there anyway, but it does represent a county which is known as a leader in permitting regulations within Washington. It is also somewhat notorious for having the strictest rules around permitting. What I found out applies to unincorporated King County only. This does not directly apply to Seattle or other incorporated municipalities, but many of the rules are the same. The DPER office is responsible for the overall structure and does not deal directly with permitting issues around water or septic. These issues are covered by the Public Heath department. I did a little research on this too (included below) but I did not actually go and talk to anyone at those agencies.

For the Earthship outer structure or shell, this is using previously unfamiliar building techniques so the critical thing is that these techniques match the standards in the International Performance Code. This code has been adopted at the Washington state level and gives detailed measures of the performance characteristics which must be met by any building system. The code is focused on the performance measurements and ability to quality control any generic building technique so it can be applied to new / novel construction methods. DPER has already approved hay bail construction so I asked about this as a potentially analogous project. Hay bail construction was previously approved in eastern Washington, but needed further testing in King Co. due to different conditions on the west side of the mountains (e.g. moisture). To get approval, advocates in King Co. followed these steps:

1. Got a professional licensed in the state of Washington and familiar with the building techniques to work on the project.

2. Worked with the University of Washington (sponsored by DPER) to gather needed information and fill in the gaps with regard to the Performance Code.

3. Built a King Co. approved a project on Vashon Island and then let KC monitor the structure for any issues over time.

My understanding is that once the county is familiar with the performance characteristics of the building method, and has in place reasonable and repeatable standards for ensuring quality control through standard inspections, things get a lot easier.

I also asked about experimentation with new building techniques to see if there is a way the group could build structures without all of the building code requirements. This is possible, and there has been some approval for Washington University for example. For individuals there are a couple of options:

Build structures inside another structure (e.g. warehouse) for testing and demo purposes only.
Build structures under 200 sq ft on any property that already has a house on it, and call it a "play house" or "storage shed" or equivalent. This might allow us to construct a 1 U structure on some ones existing property, but again, there must be a house already on the property. There would be a grading permit associated with this option for moving the earth around.
See what kinds of arrangements we can work out with Washington University and DPER (for sponsorship). I am guessing these would need to be focused on engineering measurements around the performance code. This should wait until we have a licensed engineer committed to the project.

I think the next steps for starting the process with Earthships are:

Get a professional engineer, licensed in the state of Washington, to work with on the project. Many states have reciprocal agreements when it comes to licensing of engineers, so if there is someone who is already familiar in New Mexico, Montana, or Texas, there is a possibility that their license would be accepted in Washington state. Maybe we can check with Michael or the folks at Earthship Biotecture to see if anyone is available. It would have to be someone who could be on-site to inspect and validate projects.
If anyone lives in unincorporated King Co., has room, and wants an inexpensive green house or playhouse, we could look at starting some under 200 sq ft projects. This would give the group some local experience and maybe some construction models to use as tools for teaching and awareness.
For water, septic, and electricity, I would be happy to contact the appropriate folks to continue the investigation if it would be helpful. In doing a little preliminary research, the two I was most worried about (septic and water) seem very possible. There are a bunch of initiatives in King County to make use of gray water in irrigation, and there seems to be a recently passed ruling allowing you to use rain catchment as your primary water source for drinking and permitting (see http://contractormag.....

For black water things are less clear, but is seems like the Earthship approach could arguably be considered a new form of septic system design, and might fall within this for regulation. If not, it is possible to use composting or incinerating toilets, and remove black water from the equation until the rules can be modified. Composting and incineration toilets are both allowable in King County.



Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
Earthship Seattle Video - Eastside Meetup August 27, 2013 6:22 PM Rob M.
WOM - Parts List August 27, 2013 5:07 PM Rob M.
Drink your rainwater in Seattle’s King County August 13, 2013 10:42 PM Rob M.
Permiting - King County July 8, 2013 9:55 PM Rob M.
City of Seattle – Meeting (code questions) January 7, 2013 6:29 PM Rob M.
Argument FOR Simple Survival Earthship November 2, 2012 12:35 PM Rob M.
About Earthship Seattle November 2, 2012 12:36 PM Rob M.

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