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Lisa Gergets
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Location: Grand Marais, MN
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Hi - I'm Lisa, and I'm new to the forum. I'm hoping you can give me a solid dose of reality.

I'm 45, and my husband is 58. We are in relatively good health. The rental we are currently living in in Grand Marais, MN, is being put on the market on June 1st, so we have to be out by that date. Trying to find another rental in this little weird real estate bubble we live in is impossible. So we decided it's now or never...and we're going to camp in a 13x20 canvas tent while we build a house.

We're currently thinking small - 700 to 800 square feet, with an eventual loft.

We basically have June, July, August, and possibly September, depending on how quickly it gets cold. We'll be fully outfitted for cold in our tent, but the aim is to have a weatherproof shell to live in that is heated with running water before the snow flies.

We'll be doing this all by hand, and mostly on our own. We'll contract the foundation, radiant in-floor heat, electric, and plumbing.

We want to build using cordwood masonry on a post and beam frame.

Are we insane to think we can do this in three to four months? (By the way, we work for ourselves, and make our own hours, so the plan is to wake early, get our business work done by around 9, and then work a full day on the house.)
 
James Freyr
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Hi Lisa!

Yeah a little crazy, but who wants to be "normal", whatever that is    I totally think it's doable. Hopefully you have more good weather days than stormy days where nothing exterior will get done. I used to do home remodeling, like kitchens, baths, additions, build decks and the sorts. I can say more time is lost and wasted making trips to the hardware store for crap you forgot about or didn't buy enough of the first time. The other thing I can recommend is having two of all your tools. Lets say you and your husband work 7 hours each day, that's 14 man hours of labor per day. If one is waiting to use *the* ladder or *the* drill, those hours of labor diminish faster than you think. I've been on jobs where that's happened, and it sucks. What a complete loss of productivity. Have 2 step ladders, 2 circular saws, 2 drills, 2 hammers, 2 levels, 2 everything. Go to the pawn shop and get some useful duplicates, the money spent will be worth the time. Time is money. And when the job is complete, keep the best one of each tool and sell the rest back to the pawn shop. Good luck, I know you guys can do it! 
 
Brett Hammond
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Hi Lisa,

It is possible for 2 very experienced people to build a finished 800 sqft house in 3 months, but is tough. You will be able to get it under roof, but it takes longer to finish interiors than to build the shell. It may take you all winter to do the interior.

The biggest problem people in these forums have is with getting natural building plans approved by the county so you can get a building permit, and ultimately an occupancy permit to live in it. First step is to have a nice long chat with the folks in the permit office about what you have in mind before you start.

Don't forget the septic system.

Try to build close to the road to minimize electric line costs, unless you are going to live off grid. Driveway costs too.

Best of luck!
 
chip sanft
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If you have the basic skills, that's definitely doable. My dad put up the outside of his shack out five miles from nowhere, half an hour east of Sandstone MN, in a season mainly working by himself on weekends and vacations. Jackie Clay and her husband do a lot of building, too: <http://www.backwoodshome.com/blogs/JackieClay/>. They're more up by you. Good planning is key, though, because you'll have to know what the rules are for electricity and black water disposal.
 
Lisa Gergets
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Location: Grand Marais, MN
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Hey, thanks everybody!

We're not planning on homesteading. We'll have electric, running water, septic and well, etc. We're in a weird little bubble up here, and contractors are both booked, and unreliable, so we're trying to minimize our reliance on others by doing everything we possibly can ourselves. We live two hours from the nearest Lowe's or Home Depot, so everything we buy needs to be bought online.

We are having a heck of a time finding the actual wood we'll be using. Any tips on that? Apparently hardwoods aren't good for this purpose, but no one burns softwoods, so of course, they aren't offering seasoned pine.   And because of our time constraints, we just don't have two years to cut and age our own. It's a serious problem that could end up being a dealbreaker for sure...

Today, we're spending half a day just getting local ballpark estimates for driveway, well & septic, foundation, etc. My husband is working on figuring out our post and beam needs so that we can see if it's worthwhile ordering a pre-cut and pre-drilled P&B kit.

Me? I'm completely overwhelmed, but it's because I have no control. So, best way to overcome that is to take control!
 
Mike Jay
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I'd say it's doable but subject to building style.  I built a nice cabin in a summer but it was stick built on piers.  We had the piers in from the previous fall and got it closed in by winter but were severely limited by only having three day weekends to work on it.

Finding dry cedar or other softwood will be the biggest timing challenge I see for you.  Call around to sawmills and loggers to see if anyone has cut cedar that's dry.  They do log cedar and since it doesn't rot, I've seen old piles sitting around that could be your ticket. 

Maybe if you timber frame the building and get the roof on but have trouble with the cordwood infill, you could put up temporary walls to get you through the winter while the wood you did find is drying out.

Most of the "seasoned" firewood people do sell isn't really dry anyway.  Moisture meters are pretty cheap and could be good insurance if you do find some "seasoned" cedar.  If you get one, be sure to take a piece of wood and split it and then measure moisture content on the freshly split surface.
 
Lisa Gergets
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Location: Grand Marais, MN
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We will be doing a post and beam frame for the building, and the roof is going up first so that we have a place out of the weather to work. I've left a bajillion messages with firewood suppliers to try to access what we need, but I'll start calling logger friends, too. Thanks for that suggestion!
 
Maureen Atsali
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We put up a shell of a house in about 3 months, last year. Totally different building style, so not really applicable to your situation.  We have been slowly pecking away at interior stuff for almost a year, as we can afford it.  Its kind of crazy, but nothing is more satisfying than living in your own house.
 
Lisa Gergets
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Our goal is a solid four walls and a roof, heated with running water and electricity by the time the snow flies. I know we can do it...if we can find a supplier for the wood, which is becoming increasingly problematic. Who thought you'd have a problem finding wood in northern Minnesota? LOL
 
Mike Jay
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Wood in northern MN?  No problem.

Softwood in northern MN?  No problem.

DRY softwood, preferably cedar?  Challenge/problem.  Good luck!
 
Lisa Gergets
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Location: Grand Marais, MN
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Mike Jay wrote:Wood in northern MN?  No problem.

Softwood in northern MN?  No problem.

DRY softwood, preferably cedar?  Challenge/problem.  Good luck!


TRUTH! I'm surrounded by wood...unfortunately, the trees containing the wood have not been cut, debarked, split, and dried. LOL
 
Mike Cantrell
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Here's a list of sawmills from the Minnesota DNR.

It gives two right in Grand Marais- Hedstrom and Mielke's.
Filename: sawmills.pdf
File size: 76 Kbytes
 
Lisa Gergets
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Location: Grand Marais, MN
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Mike Cantrell wrote:Here's a list of sawmills from the Minnesota DNR.

It gives two right in Grand Marais- Hedstrom and Mielke's.


Yup, I have calls in to see if we can pay to utilize their kilns.
 
Dana Jones
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What about sheathing the outside with plywood while you dry your cord wood (if you can't find any dry wood)? I don't know about your area, but here in east Texas, in September-October, the sap is flowing and if you cut a pine tree, the sap crystalizes, preserving the wood. We call it rich pine and fenceposts that are rich pine last for years.
 
Todd Parr
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My father built a large garage from cordwood more than 30 years ago and it still looks fantastic.  He used metal roofing, and it has held up perfectly.  I guess no one told him about the softwood requirement because he used oak.  It has some cracks and splits, but they are pretty easy to repair.  Depending on how you are going to do the interior, you may not have to do anything with them at all.  He built the entire thing himself while working full time.  I can't remember how long it took him, but I would think your time frame would work to get the walls and roof done.  Once you have a warm dry place to live, who cares how long the interior takes?
 
Lisa Gergets
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We're going in the direction that many before us have gone - build a Tiny Home and live in that while building our Big Home. Tiny Home and Big Home, that's what we call them.

The problem, where we live, is that contractors are super unreliable, so you may have set up a time frame for, say, a driveway, and they simply don't show up. Crazy, but true, because they have so damn much work in the on-season. So we're doing everything humanly possible ourselves rather than rely on others. It'll be slower-going, but so long as we're set up with four walls, a ceiling, heat, a toilet, and a way to cook, we'll be okay.
 
Matthew Lewis
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It seems reasonable. In my experience getting the shell of a house up is the quick part. If your subbing out some of the other work like foundation and electrical you should be fine.

You may want to work off of a plan if possible as having to stop and figure things out as you go can take longer then the actual work.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I think it's totally doable, if you have the wood (more on that at the bottom), the tools, the time, and the determination.  You have to be committed to it, and it seems you are.  Cordwood is fun and easy to build, but you can only go up so fast in one day as your concrete needs time to dry.  ...so you have to temper your passion with patience. 

Determining factors on whether you can do it are based on your skills and the complexity of your design.  Are you building a rectangle? An Octagon? Something that looks like Amoeba warfare or a molecular diagram?   I'm thinking that you are thinking quadrilateral.  Which, if it is the case is good, because that makes things a lot simpler to design roofing and do the post and beam construction and thus requires a lot less time and skills. 

Do you have a chosen length for your cordwood pieces?  The length will determine your wall thickness, and thus your insulating potential.

Do you have a line on insulating material for going inside your walls?  I've used chipped wood mixed with lime.  I've seen various types of insulation being used on line, but have no experience with them.

One important factor to consider is outward sloping drainage from your foundation pad, drainage pipe around it to get water away from it, and to possibly build a small concrete or stone masonry pad wall upward from your floor to get your cordwood up a bit off of ground level.  You want to keep your wood dry.

Another important factor in this regard that many do not include on a cordwood structure,  (or strawbale, or cob, or any other structure that you'd best not have water hit your walls), is overbuilding your roof overhang.  Give you structure a good wide brimmed hat which will go a long way to keeping your lower walls dry and thus a lot of headaches preemptively dealt with.   

Now, I used Western Red Cedar, but... in my research in the past I can't recall ANY reason why you could not use seasoned hardwood for the same purpose, just as Todd's father had.  The softwoods might be a tad more insulating, but it would be negligible with a thick cordwood wall. 

Many try to renovate or finish a house while living in it and find the process somewhat frustrating.  It's not that it can't be done, but living in a construction zone can be more than a bit messy, noisy, and also extremely cluttered and difficult to maneuver in.  Just a heads up that moving back into the tent for a while next year might make it a lot easier to do the best finishing job with the least amount of frustration.    
 
Lisa Gergets
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Location: Grand Marais, MN
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We've got wood! We've got wood!

Found a supplier for pine, who will kiln dry as much as we need, and deliver it to the site (which we have yet to purchase as there's still snow on the ground).

We're going rectangular for both the Tiny House and the Big House; Tiny will be approx. 30x16.

Sixteen inch walls, and we have access to as much sawdust as we need for free, so lime/sawdust for the insulation.

We're definitely planning on an extended overhang, as well as building up about 10 inches before beginning the cordwood masonry. It's not super wet here, but there is usually a ton of snow.
 
Mike Jay
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I'm assuming you've read a few cordwood books as well?  I was at a class once and I think they suggested keeping the cordwood 18" off the ground to avoid spashback from rain and drifted snow.  For what it's worth...
 
Todd Parr
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My father used a double row of 16"x16" chimney blocks on a concrete footer for his building.  I don't know exactly how thick the concrete is, maybe 8"?, but it's not anywhere near being beneath the frost line and it has held up beautifully.  I'll take some pictures if anyone is interested in seeing it.

Edited to add:  By double row, I mean one on top of the other, not side by side.
 
Mike Jay
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I'd love to see some pictures.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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We've got wood! We've got wood! 


yahoo!!!

we have access to as much sawdust as we need for free, so lime/sawdust for the insulation.
  Be sure the sawdust is super dry.  Wet or even slightly damp sawdust is not your friend. 

 
Lisa Gergets
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Todd Parr wrote:My father used a double row of 16"x16" chimney blocks on a concrete footer for his building.  I don't know exactly how thick the concrete is, maybe 8"?, but it's not anywhere near being beneath the frost line and it has held up beautifully.  I'll take some pictures if anyone is interested in seeing it.

Edited to add:  By double row, I mean one on top of the other, not side by side.


I'd love to see it too!
 
Todd Parr
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Three pics of the cordwood garage
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Todd Parr
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Corner and chimney block details.  My father made the corners with railroad ties.  In the other picture you can see the top row of 16"x16"x8" chimney blocks.
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Corner - railroad ties
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Top row of chimney blocks
 
Mike Jay
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Very cool, thanks for the pics!
 
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