Dealing with our utilities company


Updates for the Holidays

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that good stuff. The Holidays are over, time to get back to work. I’ve been clearing brush, cutting more trees, and getting everything in order so I can start stacking logs ASAP. Still want to get the roof on before summer (April – June).

I have started cutting the concrete forms out, but my saw died. I found another one on Craigslist, and the guy also had a builder’s level- for $50. Wow! Those things are usually a couple hundred bucks.

I finally sat down with the city and talked specifics on a building permit. The process is pretty straightforward:

  1. Apply for an address
  2. Apply for Utilities through Huntsville City (Yes, my city buys their utilities from Huntsville)
    1. Must get a preliminary energy compliance certificate ICC-09 or something
  3. Pay for utilities to be installed (I pay my city, then they schedule Huntsville to do the work)
  4. Wait for installation (3-5 days)
  5. Submit plans to my city, pay for permit
  6. Start diggin’.
  7. Pass 3 inspections: concrete, rough-in, final.

Most of the process isn’t interesting, but the sticker is this energy code compliance stuff.

Energy Code Efficiency

Huntsville is progressive, like most other cities. Here’s how it works. Even though I own the land, and will be paying the bills, the government still gets to tell me how much energy I get to use. Remember, I’m paying the bill, but they get to tell me how much I can use. They get to tell me how many windows I can have, how thick they have to be, what kind of materials I can use, etc., and I’m assuming they will get more restrictive in the future. It’s not freedom. But, I can’t get power and water- in fact, I can’t get a building permit without their permission, so what do you do…..

2017-01-07-09-24-04_scrotOne of the insane laws I have to comply with is a blower door test in which a plastic frame is fitted over your front door with a fan and some gauges. The fan sucks air out of your house, and the gauges measure how much air gets sucked in through the cracks. The total volume of air in your house is calculated, and to pass the test, your house must not exceed 5 volumes of air changes per hour. Not too bad- I mean, you want your house tight, right? Here’s where the insanity comes in: there’s another law- this one says that if your house is built too tight- like it doesn’t allow air to exchange at more than 5 volumes of air per hour, you have to supply “mechanical ventilation”. Huh? So you have to make it tight to pass, but then you have to supply “mechanical ventilation” (a fan) to bring in outside air-so it’s not too tight. Why don’t they just forget measuring it at all- oh, because then the HVAC people (not the guy who comes out- the business owners who are in bed with the government) who invented this nonsense wouldn’t make any money. So, everyone plays the game, even though we all know it’s just a big kick-back program.

Another law says my walls have to be insulated to R-13 or better. Does that law take into account the 30 studies going back to the 1980’s that show that R-values are not a reliable indicator for how well your walls will actually insulate?  Or that log walls, even at half the R-value of standard walls, perform 45% better at energy efficiency (as recognized by the National Homebuilders Association and the Log Homes Council)? No. And No.

A 7″ thick log wall has a R-value of about R-9, yet performs 45% better at heat loss/gain than a standard framed wall (R-value of about R-15).  It’s called Thermal Mass, and R-values don’t account for it. Luckily for me, I’m not using 7″ logs. Mine are averaging about 17″, so I’m hoping to beat the stupid R-value requirement with huge logs.

It should be obvious that these “energy efficiency” laws are really about corporations and businesses using the clout of government to take your money. Same is true for the “climate change” nonsense.  If they were really all about “green building” and “saving energy”, wouldn’t they be all over themselves and support a guy cutting trees off his own property, with minimal processing/transportation/carbon emissions/at least 45% more energy efficient than traditional building/proven to lower your energy costs by 2/3’s/etc/etc? Yeah. They would.

Drawing the plans


So, I’ll play the game. I modified the plans I bought. I used a Linux computer running CrunchBang (isn’t that the coolest name for an operating system?) and LibreCAD, a free opensource software to arrange the floorplan to our liking.

It was a very detailed process. After converting the AutoCad files to a DXF format and then importing them into LiberCad, I had to first delete the interior floor plans, modify the outside access a little. Then I had to re-draw the interior plans. Have to know things like:

  • a standard wall is about 6″ thick
  • how wide bathroom doors are vs. bedroom doors vs. exterior doors,
  • window sizes
  • hallway sizes, bedroom sizes, closet sizes
  • stair width and length
  • plumbing configurations

It took a lot of work.

Submitting plans

As much as I dislike the government in my business, the utilities people I’ve been working with have been very professional and super nice. The guy I talked to gave me a lot of insight on the process and even gave me a heads up that the codes are about to change- maybe in March. He said if I get my building permit before the code changes, then I’m locked in under the current code- don’t have to meet any new requirements. So I took the week off working on the property, and devoted all my time to finishing the plans.

I just emailed the guy this morning:


Next steps

He’ll plug in all the numbers- log size, square footage, window area, number of bedrooms, building layout (which direction it faces), and give me a preliminary rating. A standard frame built home from 2006 is used as a reference- they give it 100 points. Then they look at my plans and say, “ok, your home has to beat the 2006 standard home by 30 points.” So I have to have 70 or less to pass.

Wish me luck.

3 thoughts on “Dealing with our utilities company

    1. Yeah, so, I’m kinda leary of putting them out there for the public, but if you’re a member of LHBA, message me there.

      Thanks for the comment!


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