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Dreams VS. Reality  RSS feed

 
Posts: 158
Location: Some where in the universe in space and time.
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Housing is a reality that is very complex.
We dream of a simple life in a simple way. Yet reality keeps back hand slapping us.
So can we make our dreams a reality?
The dreams of the ideal house are far from the reality.
I have been fortunate to discuss many of these ideas with a variety of people.
the conclusions seem to come down to cost. you can have whatever you can afford. Period. End of sentance.
So what can you afford.
Post your dreams here
post your realities here.
Let the whole community serve you. Thier knowledge can help you get where you wish to be. Take action! Let nothing stop you.

 
Posts: 230
Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
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Good food for thought Seth. Building a house can be, and in my impression, usually is a long and stressful process especially when other people are involved. More than one person has told me that trying to build a house yourself can be very hazardous to a marriage. I think that the key is to be as realistic as possible about your expectations before beginning and then being prepared for compromises, delays, and all sorts of other bumps in the road. I'll share a bit about my experience thus far.
Before I say too much I should add some context. People's goals vary greatly depending on family situations, budget, or countless other factors as well as bumping up against building codes and such. Myself, being in a family situation and having a wife who isn't quite as crazy about permaculture as I am (or just not quite as crazy in general ), I wanted to do something at least sort of "normal". Another big reason for this is that we live in a pretty conservative cultured sort of area and if I have any hope of spreading permaculture sort of thinking around here I can't scare everyone off and be "that wacko living in a hut made of sheep dung and tree bark!" although personally I'd have a great respect for anyone who could pull that off! A tiny-tiny house was out for the same reasons and because of the desire for extra room for home-based businesses, maybe taking care of a parent or inlaw some day, and just keeping my wife happy (Never underestimate that one! please review the first paragraph too!) And I think the architect tried to steer us away from going too small because a get the impression that he was once a single "man of the woods" type and now in a family situation too and grappling with the idea of building something a little bit bigger too.
More context stuff; I'm not off the grid but maybe someday will be. What I like a whole lot better is the idea of the house and farm being able to function without electricity but I acknowledge that this will probably only happen if we're in an emergency situation. Did I mention that I want the house to look really, really, nice? This is not only to make my wife happy but also to make a huge positive impression on others who see it in order to promote passive solar, whole tree construction, etc. To make the house a good example controlling cost was really important to me too but it is costing more than I thought it would and this is probably one of those important points worth sharing because I have a feeling I'm not alone here. Luckily we've been able to pay as we go and my conventional farming job so far has been paying really well since I started it about six years ago. When just about everything takes 3 times longer than anticipated that helps spread the cost out too.
Back to what I meant to write about:
I started doing site preparation nearly four years ago with the idea of building a highly energy efficient, low maintenance, passive solar home using naturalish materials as much as possible. Working with an architect helped greatly to develop a vague notion into something I could actually get started on. At the time it was difficult to spend several thousands of dollars for only a few sheets of paper along with some hands-on training and observation of round timber framing techniques. The architect was kind enough to allow me to tag along with a construction crew for a few days and I did a day long paid workshop too. Looking back the expense was well worth it. It probably would have added an extra year or more to the project to bring together so many details with minimal screw-ups not to mention coming up with a wonderful floor plan that should streamline many common homestead tasks while saving energy, my own energy as well as new or ancient solar energy. I'm even thinking now that it may have been worth it to pay twice as much and get full detailed construction documents vs. more basic plans with only key details drawn out. You can spend a lot of time puzzling over what can seem to be a pretty minor construction detail though I can be a real perfectionist especially when I think water damage/ mold risks are involved.
The design process itself was a challenge itself since it was mostly done through phone conferences and involved reconciling the thoughts and ideas of up to four people; myself, my wife, the architect, and sometimes an assistant. Throughout this stage we needed to determine the size of the structure, materials, and techniques used to bring it all together. Trying to use local and salvaged materials can sometimes complicate this planning phase. In my case I had already purchased and moved 2400 salvaged 12 and 14 inch concrete blocks. The "moved" part was the key word in the last sentence. Naturally I wanted to make use of these blocks and their mass does fit in well with passive solar design, but this created one of the compromises that I believe is a theme of this thread. The best way we could come up with to insulate a structure built of such block was with extruded polystyrene, not the "greenest" material I'll admit. So, we put in on the outside to mitigate any off-gassing and to make better use of the mass of the blocks. It will be encased in concrete stucco to protect it from sun and rodents (along with a metal rodent barrier on the bottom). Again concrete is not the greenest material but once you start down the path it can be hard to get off it. Because of the way moisture moves or doesn't move through materials like concrete or styrafoam I think if you use one of them it's best to stick with these materials within a wall profile because a layer of cob or fibers could hold trapped moisture and cause problems. When the house is finally done in hopefully a couple more years I'm really hoping that I don't need to re-do anything soon due to construction blunders and my own lack of experience.
Continuing on... A foundation was poured, again concrete blocks led us to believe we needed more concrete... Walls were built. Help was hired here, another note on being realistic, I'm not a block layer and although I could have probably done it all mostly myself it easily saved me months or more of time. Timber frame bents were assembled and logs were added to serve as floor joists for the upstairs and roof rafters.
I'm rambling on enough about the process now so I'll cut it short and just say that now the roof is nearly complete (it's waterproof just need a bit of facia trim over the front) windows are in, and the insulation is pretty much done too. But I do want to write a little more about the "dreams vs. reality" theme.
In my case time is the biggest constraint. My wife and I are very anxious to get out of the drafty, no south window having, rodent infested house we're in. It's already been almost 4 years! The new house is between 1500 and 2000 sq. ft. and for me that's a lot! I suppose a smaller home would go somewhat quicker so if you can make it work that's awesome and you'll probably have more time to make use of salvaged stuff and to do cool hand-made details. I've already had to make some compromises like going with new windows rather that refurbished and replacing what could have been another set of timber framed bents with a stick framed wall.
I've learned through this process also that if you live in an area with others who are into building the sort of structure you're dreaming of that could be a huge asset! Here, no one has done anything like what I'm doing within probably a hundred miles or more and that makes finding simple advice or contractor who is willing to help out (or that you would want to help out) a big challenge.
Although I could go on more and maybe I will later I'll just say this; Pay very close attention to what you have available close to home and without a lot of hassle before you begin a project. By "what you have available" I mean everything from raw or manufactured materials (clay, wood, straw bales, stone, plaster, regular lumber yard stuff,.... ) and also the less tangible stuff like time, locally available traditional knowledge, money, the patience of a loved one, extra labor, and the list goes on. Probably at some point in the process you'll find you have less of something available than you anticipated or that something is a lot harder or more expensive to get.
Happy building everyone, I hope I'm not being negative or scary. Don't just not do something just because you discover it won't be quite as glorious and wonderful as you had hoped. With some good planning and permaculture thinking even compromises can add to the "true wealth" in our homes and communities; clean water, abundant healthy food, safe shelter, and meaningful life activities.
 
Seth Wetmore
Posts: 158
Location: Some where in the universe in space and time.
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S Haze your story is well placed and has great merit toward the discussion.
I especialy like your last point. Not to stop. The videos on construction, and the videos that are on permaculture in general are very short and seem to come up with great sollutions. Yet they do not show the long aspect. The large costs. And the stress they place on families in transition.
I also do not wish to stop. Even with the limited resources I have I can make a large difference.
Have a great day.
 
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Americans are very angry because what we thought possible in the past is not reality for most of us. I dont want to be angry, depressed, and tired. I have been very fortunate to have found many of the principals of permaculture  to embrace life with a new set of eyes.
Before the ugly bank collapse I thought my life was tough in my OLD manufactured home on some land. My GOD was I fortunate! People were losing their homes and many were never able to replace them. Comparing my life to others and having a wanting attitude changed when that happened.
It can be hard to look at all the awesome things around us and get creative enough to find a situation that might make us happy. As for me I stay pretty humble and love to watch my trees grow and slowly build my humble piece of permaculture. Today I know I am blessed.
Permaculture principal -START SMALL! and good luck.
 
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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My wife and I had planned to build our own home on our land but this year we ended up buying a Manufactured home, it was move in ready in three days where as it would have taken me a year of weekends and evenings to get a house ready for moving into while I did the finish work.
It will be paid for in 10 to 15 years, If we had gone with the original plan it would have needed to be paid for as it was built, this would have meant covering to protect from rain for quite a while so I could have gotten it to "in the dry" stage.
Our decision got us an instant house far better than the 18 ft. travel trailer we have lived in for three years.

At 65, it would be a daunting task for most people to do that sort of construction, especially alone. I was a carpenter for many years, building many, many homes and office buildings.

Our choice has freed up my time for other needed infrastructure construction projects that would have had to wait their turn otherwise.

I think it is more about just how practical do you need or want to be when it comes to building your own home, yourself.
If you have some years you can use up doing the project, then go for it. If you need that time for other things, then it is time for a different solution to the need.

Redhawk
 
gardener
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Better to start with something small, and get it done. Many people start on a large project that they can neither afford time or money to complete.

I built a small home for a guy, back in 2011. This simple structure cost $11,000 Canadian, including labor and all materials. It's small and it completely suits his needs.

I built a completely livable, although not fancy, 600 square foot cabin, for myself, that took about 2 weeks worth of work, to make livable. Not done, but livable. Given another month, it could be quite finished. Total cost, about $2,000.

We tend to build houses to accommodate furniture and excess belongings. I've seen some very small houses on wheels, that only have built-in furniture. These people are generally not hoarders.

On a larger property, It generally doesn't make economic sense to build a really small house. It does make sense for a normal sized house, to have a little guest cabin or studio. Build that first, if there's any chance that you will run out of time or money, before completing the larger structure.

I knew an old guy named Malcolm. His wife died when he was 75, and he spent a month watching TV. Then he set about building a houseboat large enough to live on. He had built a few smaller things in his early life, but had never been a builder of any sort. This amazing boat, that looks like a Spanish galleon is the most involved thing that he built in his whole life. 75. Malcolm is probably the coolest really old guy that I've known. He was about 94 the last time I saw him, a decade ago, so I suspect that he is no longer with us. He was rowing his home built beach landing craft, out to the big one.
 
Posts: 85
Location: Limestone, TN
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We had two house choices.  Both on acre.  One was far superior construction, much larger, creek, artesian well, organic soil.  A dream.  Yet, half was on a steep slope.  Stuff happened and we ended up with an inferior house, wiring problems, heating and air issues and conventional soil.  And the first year, I was just angry about the circumstances.  Yet, I detoxed the soil, fed all the ailing things, learned about all the ornamental and wild plants present.  Yet, my heart was not there.  This year I realized that I need to get over it.  At some point the house can be revamped.  And I began to truly see the land and began to acknowledge how fine this acre is.  And what would have done with all that slope?   All this land is useable and is doable at my level of knowledge.  Great post.  Enjoying the comments.
 
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Dale, that was a truly great post. Inspirational to say the least....Larry
 
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Hello all.. just wanting to say hello, great posts and inspiration. I'm simply dreaming of finding a piece of land off grid and building as I go. Originally was wanting to build an earthbermed home but have decided to keep my options open until I actually have the land under my feet.. my dreams will be my reality one day.
 
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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Great topic for consideration!

The other factor is, the lowest-carbon-cost house to build in the immediate is the one that's already built.  Buying a house, in other words; or staying in the one you're already in.  Retrofitting, maybe.  Not as romantic, but for the short-term that's usually the best solution ecologically.  AND, having a comfortable roof over your head while you do other things.  Transitional is the operative word here. 

What you can do to make a carbon-guzzler house more ecofriendly--put more people in it, which means more heat in the winter as well as fewer other houses needing to be built somewhere.

Then, when houses are needing to be phased out, you can build with all the nifty new permie ways that you've known about and dreamed about.  There will come a time for all of that,

Aesthetics and dreaming are also a real factor here, but realizing those dreams doesn't have to be a precondition to realizing other dreams (soil, land, water.)

I want unleaded soil, that's the biggest reason for me considering moving.  And people--finding it hard to connect to neighborhood here, in spite of great deliberate efforts.  We'll see.  What is the balance point? what is the most permaculturally aligned solution given all the factors?
 
gardener
Posts: 1947
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Joshua.  Thanks for your post.  I understand where your thinking is going with this idea : 

the lowest-carbon-cost house to build in the immediate is the one that's already built. 

  But this might not necessarily be true if the cost in carbon to heat it is through the roof (quite literally), and probably out the windows and the walls as well.  Even the floor can be a source of heat loss.  Most houses are not built in a way that makes heating them, or cooling them easy or affordable.  Most heating systems are heavy on carbon use, as are air cooling systems.  Most existing houses have massive carbon footprints that are ongoing.  Ask any contractor:  Retrofitting and renovating is often quite expensive and difficult.   It's not that it can't be done.  It's not that it shouldn't be done.  It's that it's not anywhere near a magic bullet to solving any of our carbon issues.  While it might solve the immediate needs of housing, and you make a lot of good points, I feel the need to put some ideas out there to insure that others understand the carbon footprint involved.

If I went on my land, and harvested a bunch of pine that was killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle, and I made a round wood log cabin with that wood, it would keep that carbon from going atmospheric, by keeping it from rotting.  If I left that same wood in the forest to fall down and rot, then the carbon becomes CO2.  By building with these trees I am actually doing carbon negative building; the same can not be said for the vast majority of the houses already built, largely from trees killed for the purpose of creating lumber (and resulting in them no longer sequestering carbon).  If I built a RMH in this cabin, then my heating needs are drastically reduced, as is the need for air cooling if I build a good overhang on my roof and the ceiling is insulated.  I can get sheeps wool for almost no cost for insulating the ceiling and chinking my logs.  The largest carbon need is in the roofing, if I choose to go steel instead of wood shingles.  The entire cabin could be on wooden blocks up on small concrete pads (another small carbon investment) and skirted by stone and clay.  While this is not immediate, it is simple and effective towards low carbon living.       
 
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My father remodeled my childhood home, added a second story, with passive solar design, as well as solar panels. If I were planning to stay in the area, I would do the same. The biggest single advantage to the design was no attic and clear story windows. The front roof was at a 45 degree angle and the back roof was the typical angle, I don't know what that is, and between the two roof lines there were windows that he opened in the summer and closed in the winter. More than anything else that made a vast difference. A lot of the housing in the Bay Area was built in the 1950's, small 1000sf post war housing. Remodels are being done and if passive solar design is implemented heating and cooling costs can be reduced to next to nothing. Our weather is very mild.

My daughter and I are planning to sell the house and move out of the area in less than two years at this point. The plan is the buy property with an existing typical house for her and for me to build, with help, a small 600 sf house, hopefully straw bale cob. Our hope is the add more tiny and/or small houses to accommodate guests as we have a tendency to pick up strays - people who need some help for a little while.

I think it's always good to have an open mind, do the best you can at any given point in time.
 
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Location: Denmark 57N
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I have a pair of friends who live very close to me here (5 miles) and they want to build a brand new house, all passive solar as close to 0 emissions as possible etc etc. To build a house the same size as my house and on the same size piece of land will cost them 27 times as much as my house cost to buy. TWENTY SEVEN times! Now my house was pretty much a ruin and the land had been neglected and drainage had also been neglected. But I am also looking at moving and I am looking at houses the same size with a little more land and to buy will still cost me less than 1/3 of the cost to build their ideas new, that cost will never (in our lifetimes) be recouped in efficiency savings. They will also have a large mortgage, and I will buy cash. (they could buy cash if they scaled down their ambitions)

Now I bought a tumbledown 150 year old badly built, badly maintained, poorly insulated, damp farm house with two barns one of which needs to come down and 1 hectare of poorly drained old lake bed land, half in an overgrown field half an old garden reverting to scrub. Right so what I got was no mortgage, really rich organic soil, huge amounts of wildlife (I'm looking at you slugs) Lots of water, (too much in fact, but that's easier to deal with than too little) Privacy, space, lots of established plants (rhubarbs, apples, pears, plums, redcurrants (15m!) blackcurrants, gooseberries (once they were rescued from the weeds most are doing well and a chance to see if this is what I really want to do before jumping in with more money.

So my dream would be a nice 150m house with a huge kitchen, ground source heat, a small wind turbine, solar hot water and secondary wood heating. But in reality I'll get whatever is in the price range and is in the position I need i.e with access to a road with enough passing traffic. (which directly conflicts with my desire to be away from roads, compromises urgh) and 1-5 hectares land.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:Joshua.  Thanks for your post.  I understand where your thinking is going with this idea : 

the lowest-carbon-cost house to build in the immediate is the one that's already built. 

  But this might not necessarily be true if the cost in carbon to heat it is through the roof (quite literally), and probably out the windows and the walls as well.  Even the floor can be a source of heat loss.  Most houses are not built in a way that makes heating them, or cooling them easy or affordable.  Most heating systems are heavy on carbon use, as are air cooling systems.  Most existing houses have massive carbon footprints that are ongoing.  Ask any contractor:  Retrofitting and renovating is often quite expensive and difficult.   It's not that it can't be done.  It's not that it shouldn't be done.  It's that it's not anywhere near a magic bullet to solving any of our carbon issues.  While it might solve the immediate needs of housing, and you make a lot of good points, I feel the need to put some ideas out there to insure that others understand the carbon footprint involved.

If I went on my land, and harvested a bunch of pine that was killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle, and I made a round wood log cabin with that wood, it would keep that carbon from going atmospheric, by keeping it from rotting.  If I left that same wood in the forest to fall down and rot, then the carbon becomes CO2.  By building with these trees I am actually doing carbon negative building; the same can not be said for the vast majority of the houses already built, largely from trees killed for the purpose of creating lumber (and resulting in them no longer sequestering carbon).  If I built a RMH in this cabin, then my heating needs are drastically reduced, as is the need for air cooling if I build a good overhang on my roof and the ceiling is insulated.  I can get sheeps wool for almost no cost for insulating the ceiling and chinking my logs.  The largest carbon need is in the roofing, if I choose to go steel instead of wood shingles.  The entire cabin could be on wooden blocks up on small concrete pads (another small carbon investment) and skirted by stone and clay.  While this is not immediate, it is simple and effective towards low carbon living.       



Sounds wonderful!  I'd like to build something like that and live in it. 
Another factor--is this including tearing down the house that's currently on a lot? felling trees to make a clearing? these are the factors that aren't usually clear in the "dream."  I like the idea of using trees that are already fallen, and sequestered carbon in that way is great. 
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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Wow! your land comes with plums and currants?? were you Ghandi in your past life??  that sounds like a wise purchase.

Is the 27 times cost because of regulations primarily? what mateirals are they using? 

I also wonder, back on Robert's point, if there are more aggressive retrofit possiblities that might not be up to code.  Like filling your entire attic with something and cutting a big old window on the south.  At what point do you really need to tear down a structure and build from scratch?  if the wood in a non ecologically sound house stays in that house, it's not rotting (hopefully) and not going back into the atmosphere.  So "let sleeping dogs lie." 

Skandi Rogers wrote:I have a pair of friends who live very close to me here (5 miles) and they want to build a brand new house, all passive solar as close to 0 emissions as possible etc etc. To build a house the same size as my house and on the same size piece of land will cost them 27 times as much as my house cost to buy. TWENTY SEVEN times! Now my house was pretty much a ruin and the land had been neglected and drainage had also been neglected. But I am also looking at moving and I am looking at houses the same size with a little more land and to buy will still cost me less than 1/3 of the cost to build their ideas new, that cost will never (in our lifetimes) be recouped in efficiency savings. They will also have a large mortgage, and I will buy cash. (they could buy cash if they scaled down their ambitions)

Now I bought a tumbledown 150 year old badly built, badly maintained, poorly insulated, damp farm house with two barns one of which needs to come down and 1 hectare of poorly drained old lake bed land, half in an overgrown field half an old garden reverting to scrub. Right so what I got was no mortgage, really rich organic soil, huge amounts of wildlife (I'm looking at you slugs) Lots of water, (too much in fact, but that's easier to deal with than too little) Privacy, space, lots of established plants (rhubarbs, apples, pears, plums, redcurrants (15m!) blackcurrants, gooseberries (once they were rescued from the weeds most are doing well and a chance to see if this is what I really want to do before jumping in with more money.

So my dream would be a nice 150m house with a huge kitchen, ground source heat, a small wind turbine, solar hot water and secondary wood heating. But in reality I'll get whatever is in the price range and is in the position I need i.e with access to a road with enough passing traffic. (which directly conflicts with my desire to be away from roads, compromises urgh) and 1-5 hectares land.

 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
Posts: 848
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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kids trees urban
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PS the other factor is "low carbon in construction" vs. "low carbon in insulation".  if you're building now, the concrete house that can be built now may insulate well over time, but the spike in carbon today is coming at a really bad time, when we really want to spread out carbon emissions time-wise.  The benefits, if they take 30 years--well, it may be too late to stop a turbulent atmospheric shift.  So even a leakier house wiht lower up-front carbon cost may be better...
 
Roberto pokachinni
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At what point do you really need to tear down a structure and build from scratch? 

  There are good building methods and not so good ones.  Some houses, made of stones and logs have lasted for centuries; others built of sticks... not too many decades.  The problem is not with big bad wolves blowing it down but in the methods used.  Some stone houses were built poorly and some stick houses were built extremely well; the differences are massive.  A seriously sagging main roof beam or a poorly done foundation, or improper framing techniques which do not properly span gaps with large enough timbers or laminates... there are many points at which a poorly built structure might be at risk of being dangerous as it ages.  In my province, if you are going to do renovations over a certain dollar value, then you have to get a building permit.  When the building inspector shows up and sees the house, he may legally have to tell you to fix this, or fix that, and it can snowball into a pretty major and costly project if the house was poorly built, or even poorly maintained.  If for instance, a house has not had a minor leak in a roof fixed, then over time the main support beam or the base of one of it's main posts might be severely compromised by rot.  It can be a huge project to replace such an important member of the house... and all this just because someone was either ignorant of the issue, or too cheap or lazy to fix the minor leak.

It is true that there is often much that a person can do to make a place livable, and affordable.  Sometimes though, the careful disassembly and then reuse of the materials to build a better house (both in functional design and in construction is actually a better long term use of ones time.  

What you can do to make a carbon-guzzler house more ecofriendly--put more people in it, which means more heat in the winter as well as fewer other houses needing to be built somewhere. 

  Shared misery is always best.

A great thing to do would be to transition those people who would like to live in this house, by giving them some quality instructors to give both a timber framing work shop, and a straw bale workshop and then getting them in the process to build their own place as a group.  The next group of people transitions into the crappy house for a winter of suffering and then the instructors come to teach them in the spring. 
 
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Dale Hodgins wrote:

On a larger property, It generally doesn't make economic sense to build a really small house. It does make sense for a normal sized house, to have a little guest cabin or studio. Build that first, if there's any chance that you will run out of time or money, before completing the larger structure.



I agree.  Small 600 ft "guest house" with kitchenette, full bath, and bedroom was built first to live in while building the big house.

GuestHouseAfter.jpg
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Guest house
House2.jpg
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Main house with guest behind old yota.
house.jpg
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Both fronts in view
 
A wop bop a lu bop a womp bam boom! Tiny ad:
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