Code Evasion

For those who do not have the time, energy or finances to move, fight for an amendment or comply with the code there is only one alternative left: evasion. The rule of thumb here is go ahead and build first and worry about the legal ramifications later. Except in a few mad instances, the authorities do not raze homes once they have been built.

It is important at the onset to realize that the public utilities usually work with the building department the way the post office works with the FBI to illegally open and read people's mail, the way the telephone company works with the FBI to illegally tap people's phones, the way International Telephone and Telegraph works to illegally overthrow foreign governments (Chile) by cooperating with, and privately financing, the CIA. Corporate America and bureaucratic America have teamed up.

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In many cases utility companies will not hook up a house unless they see a portfolio of permits and certificates. They don't stop at just demanding a certificate of wiring inspection by a qualified electrician, but in many cases will demand that the foundation be approved, the plumbing ... So you are evading the utility companies also.

For middle class families moving to the country to escape the cities, code evasion may seem distasteful. The very idea may be shocking. For long-haired back-to-the-landers it is a means of circumventing yet another set of laws, many of which were specifically written to harass those not in the mainstream of American life.

Evasive tactics fall into two broad categories: partial compliance, and total evasion.

Partial compliance is resorted to when the home is to be built in an area which is visible from roads or to neighbors, and when that home is to be serviced by the public utilities. Such homes as these tend to come to the attention of building inspectors.

One common tactic to get around the inspectors and the utilities by partial compliance is to build a central, or core, unit first which meets the minimum requirements of the code. In the case of the Uniform Building Code (one of the four national codes and the one most commonly adopted by the western states) this means constructing a house which has at least 150 square feet of free floor space in one room. When this central unit has passed the various inspections and has been serviced by the utilities, the owner constructs "farm buildings"—which are in some places code exempt—and which are nearby or adjoining the original unit. The "farm buildings" are quietly wired with a line from the central unit and are covertly modified for human use. In the case of underground housing it may mean building the central unit of concrete and the "underground farm buildings" by the PSP system. Be sure to build enough doorways in the concrete to facilitate the joining of the units later on.

A variation is to build a barn, tool shed, :hicken coop or similar structure, get it looked up legally and then extend the line to in outlaw building. These structures can also provide a "front," a reason for the sound of lammers and saws which may deceive possi bly hostile neighbors while you work on your illegal building.

One lady in Northern Idaho, upon being denied a hook-up, gently told a power company executive, "All right, I guess I'll have to set up a wind generator." Two days later a crew was out to hook up her house without comment—and without asking to see any certificates of inspection.

In one of his books, Ken Kern offers a tactic to deal with inspectors and building departments. Since these bureaucrats are sometimes officious, and occasionally seem bent upon harassing owner-builders by "throwing the book at them," Kern suggests that you throw the book right back. You can do this by continually demanding inspections of the smallest details. When they begin to balk at coming out twice a day, harass them with seemingly sincere phone calls every hour to ask such things as what nail size you should use for the framing 2x4's, how many glazier's points must go around each window, what are the specifications of glazier's putty, how thick must it be, and so on. A couple from Michigan recently reported that several weeks of this finally drove the local building inspector to yell, "Stop it! Stop it! Just go ahead and build your house!" He hasn't been seen or heard from since.

Total evasion of the codes may be achieved by hiding your house altogether. Though areas so remote as to make this ploy practical are becoming hard to find, it is still possible and frequently done.

Houses are sometimes hidden deep in the woods, over high ridges or across deep ravines. Though it is tough to get the materials in, it's also tough for the building inspector to get in. In time your woods will become as familiar and friendly to you as a thicket is to a rabbit. To a building inspector, however, the woods will seem hostile and unfriendly. He's out of his element once he has to get off the pavement and out of his car, or away from that desk full of papers and citations he so lovingly shuffles about for hours on end. He'll be totally lost if he can't find a trail. Trails can be disguised by a number of methods.

Helicopter surveillance is becoming so common the 'copters outnumber the hummingbirds these days. Though it is most com-

monly the sheriff up looking for those "outlaw gardens" sometimes these departments swap information. (Many young mid western farmers were busted when the Department of Agriculture aerial photo planes, up taking pictures to see that the farmers were not exceeding crop acreage allotments, spotted a patch of "different vegetation" where the farmer thought it was safely hidden in the middle of hundreds of acres of corn. The USDA routinely turns such photos over to the Department of Justice.)

Underground housing is a means of defeating even the aerial snoops. If you are willing to dig your house deep in the woods thereby foregoing the considerable benefits of an attached sunken greenhouse you may build a house which is virtually undetectable from the air. They might spot bright lights at night through the trees so watch that angle. (Game wardens are the "bears in the air" at night, up looking for poachers "spotlighting" deer.) The only other way they could spot your house is by the wood smoke. Burning dry wood with the stove vents opened properly should eliminate most of the hazard there. So will a good wind. In an emergency the stove pipe may be lifted off and the stove capped with a pie tin so the home doesn't become smoked up. The Viet Cong hid whole armies in the woods underground, defeating the best efforts of hundreds of thousands of men armed with the most sophisticated detection devices, equipment that the local authorities will have neither time nor budget to employ.

About your greenhouse: In this case build it out in the open, sunken into a southern slope. This will distract and mislead the airborne snoops. It could also provide you hours of merriment when, thinking that they've finally located your home, the authorities discover that they are busting a greenhouse full of tomatoes.

Remember that renovations and additions are supposed to fall under the code. Any sudden building spree at a site which is visible may incur the wrath of the authorities. You have an advantage here in building underground since it is hard to see just what you are doing. A tall fence built around your project will make it virtually undetectable

In the study, the author composes an abusive letter to his senator.

¿Ol tjOUl cAiitdbi&fii from ground level. In the case of possible spotter aircraft a few beams thrown across the excavation and some black polyethylene drug across that should give you hasty camouflage, yet another advantage unique to underground housing. Imagine trying to camouflage even a one story above-ground house. Keep the polyethylene over the project when no work is being done.

The authorities cannot issue citations if they do not know what is going on. Since they cannot afford the time to go around checking every home they sometimes use other people. Some utility companies have turned their meter readers into informers looking for unauthorized renovations and additions. They don't seem to be using children yet, that ploy having gotten a dirty name when used by other countries, but at least one community has reportedly made informers out of the garbage men.

Sad to say, the greatest amount of informing is done by unfriendly neighbors. When moving to a new rural area you may be received with hostility, though this may not be apparent at the time. You may notice a certain coolness, a tight-lipped reserve. There are many reasons for this reaction ranging from fear that you may influence their children in a negative way (dope, sex), to the fear that you will make a lot of noise or build something gross or litter your land with junk. People live in the country because they like it, and your presence there makes it that much less country. They may have used your property for years in the friendly way country people have of sharing land. They may have traditionally hunted on it, or picked berries there, or picnicked. It might have been owned by their family at one time. Your presence there may deny them these uses of the land, deny them their heritage. They dread and resent beyond words the "No Trespassing" signs so many new people put up. Country people are conservative, slow to change. They resent any abrupt change in their neighborhood whether it be physical or social. Newcomers represent these changes and thus sometimes seem a threat. If they have come from a city their lifestyles are almost certain to be different. There is an unwritten country more which says that you may do pretty near anything you wish as long as you don't show it. Unfortunately newcomers—especially young ones—often consider this hypocrisy and seem to go out of their way to flaunt the differences.

Strange to say, you too may resent it in a few years when some clown comes crowding in on the land next to yours.

So it's to your advantage as well as for their peace of mind to keep a low profile when moving into the country. Don't make waves, at least until they get to know and accept you. Not only might this courtesy keep them from calling the building inspector and other authorities down on you but it has its positive side. It can open doors and turn you on to sources of information. Country people, especially the older ones (the most conservative), are walking encyclopedias of how-to-do-it information. They love to talk. They will be reticent at first about offering information or criticism since they don't wish to interfere in your life, but once they see that you are eager for knowledge they will begin an endless stream of anecdotes and tips. Slowly too you will come to the realization that they are just as big outlaws as you are. Many of them poach and some of them have been making whiskey for a half century. They can no more go into town to get a permit to rebuild their chicken coop than can you. Country life would cease if that were the case. They can be mighty good friends if you give them half a chance.

Our initial consideration when setting up these tables was the thickness of the boards or planks which went on the roof and the distance they could span. It was decided that 2' was about as long as you should go between beams with the 3/4" boards, and that IV2" boards could reasonably span 3'6". There will be a two foot spacing then from center to center of the beams for the first two tables (which deal with 3/4" material) and a three and one half foot spacing between the beams for Tables 3 and 4.

Our next consideration was the distance between the posts. We tackled this by setting up each table according to how far the posts are spaced which support each individual girder. On Table 1 the posts berfeath each girder are 6' apart. On Table 2 they are 8' apart. On Table 3 they are 7' and for Table 4 they are 10'6" apart.

There is a second spacing of posts, however, determined by how far apart the girders are placed. This is indicated on each chart by the letter "L" (for length of span of the beams between girders). Each table gives you a choice of span in this direction of from 4' to 8'.

An example: Let's say we are about to build the Shed Roof Flat Land Design which has all posts equally 6' apart. We would go to Table 1 (6' spacing of posts under the girders) and consult line (c) which has an "L" (distance between girders) of 6'.

Reading across the line then, we see that with 3/4" roof planking and 6' x 6' spacing of posts we need beams with a minimum diameter of 7", girders which have a diameter of 9" and posts which are at least 6" in diameter.

Here's another example: Let's say we are building a 14' x 16' room (or house) and want as few posts in the center as possible. There are two ways of approaching this depending upon which way we run our girders.

If the girders are to span the 14' width we would need three of them—two along the walls and one up through the center of the room. We would space our posts 7 feet apart under the girders which would send us to Table 3. Since our girders themselves would be 8' apart we would consult under line (e) to find that our beams would have to be Wz", our girders HVi" in diameter and our posts 8". The planking would, of course, be IV2".

If the girders are to run the 16' length we would support them with posts 8' apart sending us to Table 2. The girders in this case would be 7' apart so we would consult line (d) where we find we need beams 7", girders 12" and posts 8" in diameter. The planking in this case would be 3/4".


The tables are computed for ponderosa pine planking, fir or larch girders and beams and for lodgepole pine or cedar posts. A certain amount of substitution of material may be made. Almost any pine may be substituted for ponderosa, for example.

Here are comparisons of bending strengths of a few species of lumber:

If Ponderosa pine has a strength of ... .1.00

Douglas fir has 1-1/

Cedar 83


Lodgepole pine 92

A final word here: we recommend using posts which are a good deal thicker than the minimum listed in the tables. This is for several reasons. The first is a psychological or aesthetic reason; at a glance the posts will seem too thin. If you are making the largest span listed in the tables, the 8' x 10'6" listed under e of Table 4, you will see that 9" posts are expected to support 9'h" beams and 14" girders. While you and I and the engineers realize that a 9" post will do this since the post is primarily employed for compressive strength rather than for shear strength, it may well seem alarming to visitors or even to yr. mate. A good thick post will seem more reassuring.

A second reason for using thick posts is that they will rot through much more slowly where buried.

New Approved Design Methods

Study this page carefully. It contains six new Approved Methods of Design which will give you views and light while draining the water off the structure downhill onto solid earth. (A seventh is an extended Hollywood wing, not pictured.) These new methods are explained fully in The Low-Cost Underground House Workshop video set. See last page.

The preceding letter to the President of the United States was written by Chief Seathl of the Duwamish tribe, State of Washington, in 1855, regarding the proposed purchase of the tribe's land.

About Mole Publishing & Contributors

This is the first book ever produced by Mole Publishing Company. Mole is an acronym for Mike Oehler's Literary Enterprises (cute, eh?). Oehler, the alert reader will recall, is the author. This is a self-published book.

Why publish your own? Well, why build your own house, or grow your own vegetables or raise your own meat? Why make love when you can watch a porno film? Can you imagine what the New York Literary Establishment would have done to this book? They would have sterilized it, deodorized it, pasteurized it, homogenized it, added herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, preservatives and emulsifiers, artificial color and flavoring. They would have put a naked lady on the cover and changed the title to Cave House of Passion. No thanks.

About the Engineer

The man who devised the engineering tables was Antonio Tiverios, a registered structural engineer who built most of his own home, and who has had many years of professional underground construction experience. He is currently engineering an expansion to the Chicago subway system.

Many people contributed to the making of this book. Among them are Jo Dee Simard, typing; Ellen Frank, Sarah Royer and Beatrice McGuire, proofreading; Lynn Moore, photograph page 16; Edgar Stephenson, photographs on pages 17, 20, 21, 22; John Clark, lettering and art work; Lester Dore, pasteup and calligraphy of Chief Seathl's letter; Dave Scott, layout suggestions; Gary Kokes, cover help.

The type was set by The Typesetters, Camilla, Glenn and Kurt, Kenilworth, 111. The color page was printed by Triangle Printers, Skokie, 111. The bulk of the book was printed in Chelsea, Michigan by Book-Crafters, Inc.

About the Illustrator

The illustrator was Christopher Royer, who has studied at Earlham College, Boston Architectural Center, and is finishing up his degree in Architecture and Planning at the University of Massachusetts. He has worked as a staff member at the NACUL Environmental Design Center, Amherst, and has been involved in a variety of construction jobs on both conventional and experimental structures. He and his wife, Sarah, live in Northampton, Mass.


We write this update for the sixth printing nineteen years after publishing the first edition. How — the reader will want to know — have the designs and theories withstood the test of time? Have we made any new discoveries or changes?

The designs and theories have stood up well — beautifully, in fact. Someone wrote recently from Washington state to say he had heard a rumor that we had renounced the PSP system and the Five Methods of design. He didn't believe the rumor but wanted to check it out before beginning to build from the book. We told him to build with confidence. Rumors of that sort are started by failed architects — concrete terrorists to a man — doddering, red-eyed, Skid Row inhabitants who clutch pints of Mad Dog between trembling hands. Give them a quarter if they approach, but pay them no mind.

As to whether we have made any new discoveries or changes, the answer is yes and yes. We now have seven more approved methods of design, five of which will help you get those coveted downhill views. On page 111 of this sixth edition we have included drawings of six of the new methods (the seventh is an extended Hollywood wing.) Study that page carefully before designing if you do not have The Low Cost Underground House Workshop Video Set (see last page). Note that in all cases the drainage has been taken care of—water on the roof runs off onto solid earth on the downhill side. Not so easily detected is that the lateral window well extends windows from the gable to the Hollywood wing in an unbroken line allowing someone standing inside an oblique view downhill.

The reader/viewer/designers who do best are those who study the material again and again and who follow the design methods to .the letter. Those who do worst think they are being creative by coming up with a "new" design because they think it is different from anything in this book. Ah, the poor, dumb people. With one solitary exception the "new" designs these misguided souls have told me abut have been some variation of the

First Thought house, and frequently these designs have led to disaster. Just off the top of my head I can name you three houses which are in trouble or worse, because they were not built according to the approved methods. On one house the roof earth kept washing off and splattering those downhill windows with mud. The owner's palliative to this dilemma was to shore up the downhill section of the roof and install drain tile to try to run the water off to the side. In the end what this did was to back the water up behind the overhang and over the top of the gently sloping roof where it searched out flaws in the polyethylene and leaked.

The second First Thought disaster caused the owner/builder so much drainage trouble that he is pulling the roof off and re-designing it altogether. And the third? That unfortunate guy approached me at a barter fair and shook my hand and said, "If we had had your book before we built we could have saved ourselves years of work. We built a First Thought house and it has given us so much drainage trouble that we are abandoning it altogether. We're building from your book this time."

Sad stories, but true.

Is the First Thought house always a disaster? No, but you are running a heavy chance of severe trouble in the years ahead. You must design so that it is easier for water to run off away from the house than to back up against a wall — whether it is concrete or PSP. If it backs up you make gravity your implacable enemy for the life of that house. Solve your drainage problems first. Run that water off down the hill. Then work hard for those downhill views with the approved methods of design.

We throw out a rule-of-thumb here: make sure that at least one half of the downhill side of the house is solid earth. "But," you may wail, "I want that sweeping view. I want to catch as much sunlight as possible for passive solar energy. I want a greenhouse on that south side."

Okay, assuming that you are able to site that First Thought house on a south slope, look at what happens: You build a place with all of your windows facing south giving you a sweeping view down your valley or ravine. But now you decide you want a greenhouse. You believe that the most energy-efficient way of attaching the greenhouse is to those south windows, so you do that. Presto, you have a greenhouse. But now you have also lost a good deal of the direct solar gain in the interior of your house which you had through those south windows; the plants and new wall intercept much of the sunlight. They also block much of your sweeping view.

Remember that by putting in the Uphill Patio you get that greenhouse and free those downhill windows for view and direct solar gain. The windows on the uphill side become an indirect source of solar gain since the temperature in the greenhouse on most sunny days will be higher than that of the house. Then, too, you may bounce some sunlight down into the house with mirrors. (On a north slope the Uphill Patio windows admit direct sunlight most of the day.) Or you may blow that heat into the house with a small fan. And you get that cross ventilation, balance of light, escape route, drainage benefit, etc., etc.

Perhaps some readers believe that by building from the basic design and following the design methods religiously their creativity may be compromised. Owner/builders are notoriously protective of their design freedom. They often resent even professional help, and I know of at least one alternative architect who gave up his practice because "owner/builders never listen to you."

Using the Basic Design and the approved design methods does not hinder creativity, but enhances it. What we are giving you are the tools to design with. If you wished to paint, would your creativity be compromised if we gave you a set of oil paints or watercol-ors? And so it is with the design methods. The creativity comes in what you do with them, for the design possibilities are almost infinite.

As for changes, the single really major one that we have made in the past several years is that WE NO LONGER RECOMMEND THE USE OF PENTA FOR POST TREATMENT. Penta (pentachlorophenol) does not entirely stay fixed in the treated wood. Much of it leaches out to move around in the environment. In 1976 researchers from the chemistry department tested students at Florida State University, Tallahassee, and discovered that, while 36 percent of the dormitory students had measurable levels of 2,3,5-T and Silvex

(herbicides) in their urine, virtually every student tested showed traces of penta.

Pentachlorophenol contains HxCDD, OCDD and hepta-CDD, three dioxins which the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, among others, considers to be of great concern from the standpoint of public health. Penta has reportedly been placed under restriction by the Canadian government. I believe it is off the retail market in the U.S. now also, and may be applied only by licensed professionals. It is definitely recommended that penta not be used within a home, if anywhere.

A rumor has it that in the old days farmers treated their fence posts with creosote from their stovepipes, that they went to the store-bought preservatives only because their farms and fences got too large for the amount of creosote produced at home, and presumably, because many abandoned the wood stove. I suspect they mixed the creosote with diesel fuel or kerosene. Folks at the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin tell me that stove pipe creosote and commercial creosote made from coal tar are chemically the same. I have considerable reservations about the commercial product since the EPA tends to wring its hands about its toxicity. On the other hand mankind has been in contact with natural creosote presumably since the discovery of fire. Natural creosote is the result of incomplete combustion of wood. Presumably all the steaks that have fallen in campfires through the ages and brushed off and eaten, and all whisky that has been aged in charred oak barrels has picked up natural creosote. I confess I am confused.

So I have developed another system. I now char my posts where they are to go into the ground. It hardens the wood, forms its own creosote and makes a charcoal layer around the wood that most critters do not care to eat. This old farmer's trick gives a post probably at least a 50 percent greater life span when in contact with the earth.

But I do more. Where the post is to be used indoors I wrap the charred end in five polyethylene garbage bags (non-biogradable) and tape them down. Sometimes I cover the bags with a section of newspaper to protect them from rocks in the soil. Then I set the posts making sure that the garbage bags come a couple of inches above floor level. I call this the "barrier method."

There is one other method which is acceptable. It involves using our old friendly enemy, concrete.

You may pour "piers" in holes you have dug on the site with post hole digger, holes you have reinforced with chicken wire and half-inch rebar. Or you may pre-fab the piers by pouring in greased six or eight inch stove pipe, loosely held closed with plumber's tape. Post and pier are joined by a rebar set in the concrete which fits into a hole in the bottom of the post. Caution: This system may "hinge" — may push in due to the lateral thrust.

Or you may pour footings. These have the advantages of great strength. The posts should neither sink nor "hinge." But footings are labor intensive and expensive, emit radon gas, and could possibly be unstable during an earthquake.

Of all the systems, my favorite is just charring the posts and wrapping them in garbage bags. At least for interior use it is.

Reader Doug Brecht in upstate N.Y wants to know "what exactly is it that causes your PSP method to fall short of the building codes? The fact that all your wood is not treated...?" Right. We contacted a member of the International Conference of Building Officials — the people who write the Uniform Building Code — for an interpretation. U houses must meet the requirements for all-weather wood basement construction, which means pressure treated wood. (The official was also upset that "these underground houses don't usually have windows in the bedrooms" and other design violations such as entrances only on one side of the house — all of which can be overcome by following closely the design ideas advanced in this book.) The official, incidentally, was astonished to learn that they have no objection to the earth/carpet floor. The only thing in the code about flooring is that the bathroom and garage both must have hard impermeable surfaces. I hope they are not going to rush out and write something into the code now. ("George! George! People in Idaho are putting carpets down on earth, calling that a floor and we have nothing in the code to stop them!")

The codes are not insurmountable. William Howat, Sunnyside, Washington, got a variance for the PSP method in Yakima County, Washington. He got written testimonials from prior PSP builders as to the durability of buried polyethylene, and the variance board passed it. A precedent has been set.

Special note by the author. The diagram on page 44 has led many people to think that the roof over the clerestories drains down over the windows. Nothing of the sort. We never place our clerestories so that they interrupt the drainage flow. They do not go across the roof, but up and down it, or at an oblique angle. Please note the illustrations on page 45. If the man on page 44 is sitting in the house on page 45 the roof drains off to his right.

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