Building a Cob House in Ohio

by Paula Apynys for About Ohio, Green Living

A site visitor sent me an email asking if I knew whether there were any restrictions or legal issues affecting the building of a Cob house in Ohio. She had been trying to find an answer to that question and was having trouble figuring out who to contact.

For those not familiar with Cob Construction, here’s Wikipedia on the subject, starting with:

Cob, cobb or clom (in Wales) is a natural building material made from sand, clay, water, some kind of fibrous or organic material (straw) and earth. Cob is fireproof, resistant to seismic activity, and inexpensive. It can be used to create artistic, sculptural forms and has been revived in recent years by the natural building and sustainability movements.

After a bit of digging I was directed to:

Robert Johnson
Assistant Architect Administrator
Ohio Board of Building Standards

Who sent the following:

First, the 2013 Residential Code of Ohio (RCO) is the only construction standard that an owner is required to comply with in Ohio. It is a statutory requirement of the Ohio Revised Code for an owner to be in compliance with the state building code, which are administrative rules to regulate construction.

Second, these standards are enforced by certified building departments and officials where a county, township or municipality has become certified to do so by the Board of Building Standards (BBS). There are locations in the state where there is no authority having jurisdiction, meaning the political subdivision has chosen not to become certified. Where this condition exists (for residential only), the only requirement of the owner is to design and build the structure in accordance with the RCO. Because there is no certified department, there is no one permitted to enforce the RCO, meaning no building approvals (permits) are issued, and no inspections are made for compliance. It is an honor system by the owner to comply with the RCO. There may be local requirements and permits for other things such as zoning, FEMA, etc. that the local authority enforces, but not RCO enforcement.

Third, since cob construction is not considered a traditional construction method in our contemporary times; the residential code does not specifically address this construction type. The only approach an owner can use to secure a certificate of plan approval (or permit) is to have a design professional (architect and or engineer) design the structure to comply with the residential building code as an alternative design method as indicated in RCO section 114.2. The link to the RCO for your use can be found on the BBS website here.

By taking this path for compliance, the design professional shall submit construction documents to the certified building department for plan review where they will determine if the documents comply with the code. Any evaluation and research reports etc. may be necessary by the design professional to prove compliance is achieved for the use of these alternative materials, products, assemblies, and methods of construction.

I asked where you should start to find out whether you are or aren’t required to submit formal (architect/engineer approved) plans, depending on where you live in Ohio and he replied that you should start with the municipality level (the city, township or town) you live in.

Ask if they have a certified department to enforce the building codes.

The same rules/restrictions or lack thereof would apply to building with Straw Bale as well.

Good to know!

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