The Near-Impossibility of Building Your Own Home Near Great American Cities These Days

A lot of young people who visit our half-acre compound are inspired by what we’ve got going here: handmade home, garden, chickens, workshop, office/work studio. How can they get something like this going, they want to know.

Well, it was sure easier 40 years ago. Our land was $6,500, building permit $200; I drew up my own plans, was my own architect and engineer; building and health department officials were reasonable; there was no Coastal Commission…

Since then, the bureaucrats have weighted things heavily in their own favor (bureaucrats beget ever more bureaucracy) and building permits in Marin County (Calif.) are something like $50,000 (more than my entire house cost). Building and health departments do not get their funding from the county, but from fees paid by homeowners (or builders), so guess what? Fees are ever higher, now to the point of absurdity. Regulations also have grown to have their absurdities (having to install sprinklers in single-family homes is one such absurd requirement). And to the point of it being just about impossible for an owner-builder without a trust fund to build around here now.

So I tell young people, if they’re looking for land to build upon, they have to get a couple of hours away from any of our great cities.

I’ll post a few ideas of what I might do now were I starting nowadays. It’s a challenge!

10 Responses to The Near-Impossibility of Building Your Own Home Near Great American Cities These Days

  1. Holy cats, Lloyd, that’s amazing! I hope it isn’t that crazy in other parts of the country.

  2. Anon says:

    Lloyd, I think the first thing anyone should do is research (city hall?) the local building ordinances/bylaws concerning towns and areas in towns one is considering. In talking to folks, there seems to be quite a bit of variability in was is allowed.
    -many areas/neighbourhoods/towns now have minimum size requirements re building
    -many have minimum size requirements re improving/changing (even modestly)
    -one way I once read to get around minimum stuff, was get a permit for a garage, and fix garage up to live in while building house, then forget to (or don’t have the money) to build the house

  3. Anon says:

    hi guys, I got to this link through an update email, all good, but if go to home page, or go to this site off of Lloyd’s blog, this page does not show up, just to let you know.

  4. Good opening Lloyd. This goes straight to the heart of the challenge of becoming self-sufficient and sustainable in the USA today, and I’m looking forward to what you write about it next. I’m a DIY ger maker in Alaska, and even way up here we face the same obstacles people face down there because of the restrictions we all submit to under international building codes. The parameters for land use under our comprehensive land management plans all follow the same guidelines adopted in 1992. These plans for a sustainable future may say it’s all about improving quality of life and to promote sustainability, but in practice community developers restrict the things that are genuinely sustainable (cheap) and charge exorbitant fees for anything grassroots or truly renewable.

    The new American system is called Communitarianism. This is a modern theory of fanatical religious justice favoring a small group of untouchable elite members who control/disrupt the community. One way of describing this foreign communitarian plague upon our formerly “free” homeland might be, Rule By Permit Only.

  5. Josef Taylor says:

    You can always replace “a couple of hours away from any of our great cities” with “a couple of tons of carbon away from any of our great cities.” No matter how off the grid your house is, if you have to drive two hours to get to work or buy groceries, you’re not doing anybody any good. These permitting rules and fees prevent good use of urban lands by small builders (both owner-builders and small contractors), and encourage sprawl.

  6. Grant says:

    Hello everyone

    Here in my city of Springfield Mo we have building codes but still fairly easy an open there is no limit on how small of a house you can build building permits are under 200.00 you cant exceed 60% of lot coverage with buildings and your out building cant exceed 40% or main house structure You have to hire a master for electrical plumbing an heating an air that adds a lot of cost to things you can use reclaimed recycled materials and do all the rest of the work yourself and from my own personal experience there open to alternative construction methods

    I have built in many different locations across our country an laws can be different not only from city to city but state to state or county to county but also you need to make sure there are no neighborhood covenants that limit what you can or can not build

    If your only other option is to live far from your job look into buying small homes an rebuilding refitting them to your needs close to your job or other options are house shares to stay close to work or house share an week end tiny home far away with plans to relocate out of a large city always think outside the box especially the box others want you to be in

    Peace

  7. josh stone says:

    Sad about Marin. So beautiful there. I guess Permaculture and any sort of water catchment is out of the question there. Something about affecting the views.

  8. Anon says:

    Josef Taylor …I understand and agree with your thoughts on driving cutting back on any advantage.

    I have always wondered, even in any given city, about the number of folks that live at one end of the city, and drive right through to the other end.. (sometimes hour or more drive each way). I always figured, live as close as possible to where you work, or work as close as possible to where you live. Besides all the above mentioned advantages, seems to me would save a whole lot of aggravation, especially in rush hour, etc.

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