On May the Fourth I drove down to Las Cruces to submit our plans to the State of New Mexico Construction Industries Division (CID) for an owner-builder construction permit. This was a long-awaited occasion that I thought would have happened in April, but as I’m learning early on in this project, it often takes longer for things to happen than initially planned. I was nervous and excited. This felt like a big step forward.
The drive to Las Cruces from Silver City takes around 2 hours. First you drive south to Deming on Highway 180, which is mostly flat and incredibly straight. Then you drive east from Deming on Highway 10 to Las Cruces, which is also flat and incredibly straight. You can take your pick of distant mountains to look at, as the flat drive is surrounded by mountains rising up from the desert in every direction. By the time I hit the road at 8:30 AM, the sun was making it’s way into the heights of the clear New Mexico sky.
I started the trip off with one of my favorite albums, Boredoms’ Super AE. Blown out ’97 Corolla speakers are the way to listen to this album! Not really, but the music got me fired up as I let cruise control do its thing.
When I arrived in Las Cruces I went straight to Insta-Copy to print the plans I had with me on a USB drive. I needed big 30″ x 42″ copies for the drawings to be to scale. For $2.40 per page, the nice folks at Insta-Copy printed two sets of the 7-page plans.
After that I went to the post office across the street. CID requires that you supply them with a self-addressed, pre-paid envelope for them to send one set of plans back to you. I had bought a poster-mailer-type thing at Insta-Copy for this purpose. I had the postal worker weigh the mailer with plans inside and I paid for the stamps that would be needed.
The CID office closes from 12-1 for lunch. I decided that showing up at 11:30 was not in my best interest, so I opted to go to the library and look over the plans for a little bit. I asked one of the librarians if I could borrow a ruler and was given a ruler with 44 presidents listed chronologically on the backside. I took it with me to a table in the reference section and unrolled the plans. The plans looked great and they were huge. I verified that various details were shown to scale, and once sufficiently satisfied, returned the ruler and headed to High Desert Brewing for mid-day sustenance.
I sat outside in the shaded non-smoking section of High Desert Brewing. I got a fairly sour seasonal Scottish Ale to go with my veggie burger and read the latest edition of WaxPoetics, which had arrived the previous week. When I had finished eating and had paid for my meal it was time to submit the plans.
The CID office is in an interesting strip-mall type of place with some other county and state offices. CID wasn’t listed on the outside of the building anywhere, so it was somewhat hard to find. I went into one of the shared entrances and found the CID office listed on the tenant list just inside the door. I gathered my plans and other documents from the car and went in.
I entered somewhat awkwardly and nervous at first. Sara, the woman at the front desk whom Megan and I had spoken with on the phone, was somewhat uninviting, but gradually became nice and helpful by the end of our encounter. I explained why I was there and laid my plans and documents out. Sara flipped through the plans checking to see that the required drawings had been included. She commented that the plan reviewer would like how large the drawings were.
When she got to the Residential Energy Plan Review Checklist she noticed that I had left the heating system size blank. I had been a little worried about this. She said that you weren’t allowed to have a wood-fired stove as the sole heat source. My heart sank, as I feared that I’d have to re-design and re-submit the plans. I tried explaining that the house was an earthen mass house designed to maximize passive solar heat gain throughout the year. She said she’d get Fred, the plan review guy, to come out and explain it to me. I had wanted to meet with him anyways, but had been told over the phone that I wouldn’t be able to. I was glad I’d be able to have a face-to-face with him, although I was worried about how we’d resolve this issue.
Fred came out, shook my hand, and invited me back to his office. He was a nice, soft-spoken, easy-going guy. He was happy to hear that I was building using a material other than the conventional post-frame method. I commented that it was great that New Mexico has an Earthen Building Code, but that it was still hard to satisfy the energy trade-off requirements. He agreed, saying that you usually have to insulate the walls with foam board. I explained that we would be using a light straw-clay insulation strategy on the north wall to solve this problem. He was unfamiliar with this technique, but I told him it was included in Appendix R of the International Residential Code (IRC).
Fred got out the hefty new 2015 version of the IRC and flipped through it until he landed on Appendix R. I showed him where it specified the r value for light straw-clay. He seemed interested. We didn’t talk much more about it, but he found the section that specifies that a house must have a heat source capable of maintaining the home at a 60F temperature. I asked what I should do about it and he said that ultimately it would be up to the inspector. The issue didn’t have to be resolved now and he could still approve the plans with a note that the heat source still needed to be determined. I suggested that we had thought about having small wall-mounted propane heaters for some of the rooms, particularly those with pipes in them. He thought that this would satisfy the requirement, as the IRC does not specify what one must do to achieve compliance with this brief section.
Fred and I shook hands and I went back out to finish up with Sara feeling better about my prospects getting the plans approved. According to Fred, he usually approves plans in 4-5 days, which was much quicker than I had expected. Sara was nicer with me now and we went over the other documents I had brought in. I showed her that I had completed the energy trade-off work sheet, and she notarized my signing of the permit application. Sara calculated what I owed CID for them to process and review our project, and I wrote the check. We said our goodbyes and I left, feeling pretty darn good.
Afterwards, I went to Coas, which is my favorite bookstore in New Mexico. I browsed around for a little while and bought The Hair of Harold Roux by Thomas Williams and My Uncle Dudley by Wright Morris. I stopped in at Sutherlands (Kansas-based building store) to inquire about whether or not they deliver orders to Silver City. They ship to Silver City for $195 whether you order a pencil or a truckload of lumber. On my way out of town I stopped at a pawn shop and almost bought a trumpet.
I drove back to Silver City only stopping once to get gas. The Border Control check station was closed, so I didn’t have to stop there (yes folks, our country has border control check stations even when you’re not crossing the border). When I got back to Silver City Megan and I went up to the university and laid in the grass for awhile.
Now we just wait to hear back from CID and hope we won’t have to make any plan corrections for them to be approved.