One thing people always fret about, regarding both going off-grid and building mud homes, is the legal side of things: You know, permits, and red tape, and rules.
I’ve written an article about building mud homes legally in the UK, but here’s the thing you’ve got to understand if you are looking to break out of the system somehow, and build a lovely free life for yourself: That system itself is not going to pat you on the back and give you a medal for it.
The whole thing about leaving the safe and cosy urban life is that you are stepping outside standards and norms. Many times there aren’t actually any laws regarding what you’re doing, because the grand majority doesn’t do it, so the government hasn’t bothered to legislate for it. If you’re trying to get permission every time you move a rock, or stick a solar panel up, you’re going to be tying yourself in knots to no avail and getting yourself in all kinds of trouble. Most successful off-gridders and mud homers find nice fat grey areas in the rules, and set up camp within them. Even mainstream builders in the system do this to be honest, because codes, as we all know, were created for the most part by suits in offices with apparently little idea about the practical realities of building, nor the myriad exceptions that arise in the real world.
To illustrate the point, here’s a story about someone I know in the UK (who shall remain anonymous). We’ll call him Mr. Builder for the purposes of this article. He’s constructed at least three large brick-and-mortar houses to code in the UK.
One day Mr. Builder decided make a road to one of his houses, and for the purposes of this article let's say he named it Insight Road. Then he stuck a nice metal road sign up at the entrance so that people could find his house. Of course before long, as they do, one of these self-appointed unofficial law upholders we all love to hate, walked by and happened to notice the new road sign. The man pulled Mr. Builder up straight away.
“I don’t think you’re allowed to just invent a name for a road, and put a sign up like that. You have to get permission,” he said.
“Which law is it breaking then?” Asked Mr. Builder.
“Ah well, it’s a bit of a grey area...”
“Okay, when it becomes black or white, you come back to me and we’ll sort it out,” said Mr. Builder.
Naturally that was the last he heard of it.
This is the mindset you have to adopt if you’re going to go off-grid, build homes, or move out of the chicken run and become a free range human. Rules are there to be questioned, not blindly obeyed. A large wedge of bureaucracy is a kind of lysergic Sudoku puzzle anyway, and even with the best intentions it’s hard to make out what to do. Planning laws were all created by fallible humans, not God Almighty, and being a rule-abider does not make you a good person – many building codes are ecologically destructive, and simply pander to big business (the requirement for concrete foundations for example, when in many cases a rubble trench foundation is more suitable).
But here’s the clincher: Being a rule-abider doesn’t even safe-guard you from hassle! In fact, half the time you get into more bother by trying to follow the rules than you do by squeezing between them, because as soon as you start applying for things, you’re on an official’s books and they actually have to check on you. Hmm am I ranting? :)
Sorry but the system is moronic. It deserves to collapse.
Risk-averse versus reckless
Here’s how it is: If you are highly risk-averse and want every loose end tidied neatly away, all the boxes ticked, and the government to approve your every step, unless you are pretty well-heeled going off-grid is probably not for you.
This doesn’t mean I think it’s a great idea to be reckless, though. If you ignore the law completely, move onto a plot of land and start building willy-nilly (because hey it’s a human right!), don’t be surprised to find someone complaining about you, and fines or demolition orders galloping towards you like a herd of angry jurisdictional bison. You’re not an off-grid matador. You’re more of a mud lynx.
You have to be smart. This means you have to know the rules well, and work out how you can work them (hire a lawyer if you have to, it might save you a fortune). You have to get on with your neighbours, and not annoy people (by making a lot of noise, or by building some big ugly mess). It also helps if what you build is small, cute, and muddy, and doesn’t look too flashy (people are very jealous in this world, but not usually of mud huts).
People are more likely to moan to the authorities about you if:
People are less likely to complain about you if:
So the upshot is this: Learn the rules well (they vary from state to state and province to province, so don’t ask me to write an article on them – it would take ten years, by which time they’d have all changed). Learn where the grey areas are and wriggle into them. Find like-minded people. Be subtle. Build beautifully, naturally, and humbly. Don’t be a jerk and bug people. And finally, accept that nothing is certain in this life, and there are no guarantees, but that you’ll probably be okay:)
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