Inexpensive Home Building

Cut through the jargon and nonsense of home building and house construction by starting from zero dollars and trying to figure best-value bang-for-your-buck when choosing construction methods or construction materials. My research might answer some of your questions and at other times perhaps you have the knowledge or experience to post the answers to my questions and thereby help others too. The goal is an affordable and sustainable home for all.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

84 Square Foot (84sqft) Home on Wheels

The adult on the porch shows the scale better than the foreground children do.

This site (IHB) often has mentioned simple homes, tiny houses, micro houses, or little houses. A recent story of a woman, 44-year-old hazardous-waste inspector Dee Williams, who scrap-built an 84 square-foot (84sqft) cabin on a trailer frame, made it onto the home page. Her viral story seems to capture people's imaginations, so see my previous articles on the subject:

Personal Independence Day Built Affordable Home


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Beware Salespeople's Estimates Sizing HVAC and other Housing Features

This homeowner's furnace trouble reminds us of 2 important principles.

Sasknelli at LittleHouses wrote about her furnance-buying experience:
These guys were very condescending. I was shocked to discover that some of these salesmen didn't even know the difference between 2speed and 2 stage and yet they talk down to you as if you know nothing. I did finally find a knowledgeable salesperson who was willing to listen. I got close to what I wanted and the price was around 40% less than what the other contractors were pushing. Anyway,when it was finally installed and the gas inspector came, he told me he was very impressed with the furnace I had chosen. He said that in his 22 years of inspections in the Province of Saskatchewan, mine was only the 2nd house that had the correct size furnace in it. That's pretty awful to contemplate.

  • Design Smartly: Build in ways so you need as little ongoing energy input as possible. Passive designs (as mentioned here on this site) keep your wallet full. With well-designed initial infrastructure or a super-insulated building envelope, at least you only pay once at the start, you do not pay continuously for the extra fuel and electricity to overpower a bad home design.
  • Know Your Design (Know Your Needs): There is some wisdom in buying some extra capacity as insurance but beware the saleperson's old tactic of trying to get you to "upsize"--it happens with homes and furnaces and solar-power systems just as surely as it happens with the McDonald's request to supersize your French fries. Many salepeople try to maneuver buyers into the highest profit margin (for the seller, or the sales commission) rather than into the best product for the buyer's circumstance. If malice is not the problem, ignorance might be: Many salespeople get trained in a myopic cookie-cutter way and would not know how to size your system accurately even if they wanted to do so (particulary when integrating a furnace choice into all the other variables including thermostat, insulation, landscaping effects, etc.).
Another lesson on mistakes to avoid: Live Better by Spending Less: Avoid this Unlivable Luxury Home

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Personal Independence Day Built Affordable Home

The Solution to the Housing Bubble: Modest Houses and Simple Living

The Simple Life: Thoreau's Cabin at Walden Pond

Henry David Thoreau reportedly marched into the woods on the 4th of July, Independence Day, in 1845 to begin his experiment in simple living at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau's action was his personal Declaration of Independence.

Throreau's do-it-yourself (DIY) 10x15-foot cabin provided 150 square feet or primary living space--and that even included a home office. Some people at first find a small house to be strange but only because they forget all the more socially-acceptable ways of people living with less personal space (in-law apartment, room rental in 2-bedroom apartment). The idea is not so unusual if you think of a studio "efficiency" apartment to free your life of clutter. The average US household today shelters fewer than 3 people each so a family-sized Walden might provide 450 square feet.

Simple Living: The Interior of Thoreau's Walden Pond Cabin (replica)

Thoreau finagled some sweetheart deals to keep costs down. Even so, you can price the cost of building a Walden-Pond-type home today and find that many "unaffordable housing" complaints are actually about discretionary consumption of extra rooms and amenities, not necessities.

Cheap too: Thoreau’s cabin’s material building costs totaled $28 and change.

  • Board's: $8.03 1/2, mostly shanty boards
  • Refuse shingles for roof and sides: $4.00
  • Laths: $1.25
  • Two second-hand windows with glass: $2.43
  • One thousand old brick: $4.00
  • Two casts of lime: $2.40. That was high.
  • Hair: $0.31. More than I needed
  • Mantle-tree iron: $0.15
  • Nails: $3.90
  • Hinges and screws: $0.14
  • Latch: $0.10
  • Chalk: $0.01
  • Transportation: $1.40. I carried a good part on my back.
In all: $28.12 1/2

“These are all the material excepting the timber, stones and sand, which I claimed by squatter's right.” (Walden)

Building a house is so cheap that it can be a class project: Students built this replica of Thoreau's Walden Pond cabin. Could you?

Thoreau's idea lives today in the "tiny houses" movement (small, modular, and kit homes)--just beware of overpriced kitsch that defies the purpose and soul.

Photo credits: 1 2 3 4