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Most Cost Effective House Type?

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Hi all,

For a long time now I've been interested in housing alternatives to the standard societal trap of renting and giving somebody else your hard-earned cash, or getting an expensive mortgage you'd be enslaved to, for a stereotypical western home which could require a lot of maintenance, i.e. that it could be a money pit. My former landlord advised me to stay renting as long as possible due to the maintenance they had to do on their large house, and I intend to not get caught in that trap.

In the past few days I've discovered that yurts are a fairly inexpensive option, which can be durable enough for most environments. However, since they're fabric, they're not up to code. If I lived somewhere like Hawaii's big island, I might consider a fabric yurt. But I'm currently in the Pacific Northwest and due to building codes etc., I feel that if I were to go this route I'd opt for a wooden yurt which would meet the code, even though they're more expensive. I also like the idea of solid walls for sound attenuation for more privacy.

I remembered though that there are a lot of lesser known building options out there like superadobe etc., and earthbags filled with scoria for this rainy climate, provided scoria could be sourced here cost effectively.

Anyway, long story short, I'm trying to figure out what the most cost effective way to have my own quality-built house in the PNW would be. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking that if I could keep the cost to around $75,000 when it's all said and done for a 500 square foot space (not including the cost of land), then that might be good.

I've thought about tiny homes (generally too expensive for the kind of space you'd get), sheds used as small homes (not sure how feasible this is. Would I have to fight with the powers that be, and worry about meeting code? Or spend a lot of money on insulation, etc?), durable aluminum RVs used as a cheaper "tiny home" option (maybe this for the kitchen and bath along with a yurt for the living space would be feasible, but the cost for both together would add up. And how would I go about dealing with blackwater on a regular basis, since the RV would be in use full-time, etc.?).  

I was looking at a portable wooden yurt from Freedom Yurt Cabins. It has a 25 foot diameter, so would be 490 square feet for $25,900 not including extras or shipping. The platform is included and the entire thing can be dismantled and moved, so those are some selling points. However, I was communicating with somebody online, and based on what he was saying it may be better to just build a studio cabin. But he's a carpenter. I'd need help with this since I have a spinal cord injury and am currently disabled, although I would rather do things on my own.

Also, I'd have to find land. I was thinking maybe I could rent land and utilities from somebody until I find my own land. But if I were to do this it would require a special building, like this portable wooden yurt cabin. Or I could just try to find land quickly, and setup some housing on it, and rent it out, or sell it if I wanted to move in the future.

I guess the last thing I'll mention is that there are new technologies on the way to make housing cheaper like prefabbed and modular homes from companies like Factory OS, and 3D printed houses by companies like Apis Cor ($10,000 for a 400 square foot space built in 24 hours!). So I also need to figure out if I should wait on this new stuff and do something else for the time being, or go for something currently available like a wooden yurt, or whatever else would be best.

It seems like there's a ton to figuring all this out, and it can certainly be overwhelming with the research needed to determine the ideal balance of the right building method, for the best price, for your particular climate, etc.

Let me know what you think based on what I've typed, and if you have any ideas or additional info for me, thanks.
Posts: 1398
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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Yes, there's a ton of figuring out if you insist on having the best option on your first try. If this is the case then you'll most likely be figuring things out for years while doing nothing. Or you could opt to give it your best guess and consider your first try just the first rung on the ladder, with many more little homes or home modifications to be in the future.

While my hubby and I were somewhat cautious when we started our endeavor, we did indeed forge ahead, just choosing a good option at the time. This resulted in our buying a nice price of land that ultimately didn't work out for what we wanted. So we sold it when we found something better. We've since built our house (it's almost completed), going with our best ideas at the time. Over the years we changed some of our views and would have built things differently, but ya know, the house is ok as it is. Could it be better? Yup. But it's also a fine enough house as it's built. If we just focused on the most perfect best option, then we'd be driving ourselves crazy and be unhappy. Sorry, but I won't do that to ourselves and thus be unhappy with a never build home.

You mentioned yurts.....by adding a back door, yurts got accepted as legal here on Big Island, Hawaii. Fabric wasn't the issue, but egress was.

One thing you need to decide is your ultimate goal for building your house, is it just for your own pleasure and to heck with everyone else? Or on the other hand, do you plan to invite the public, such as in hosting a retreat or running a B&B? Is your aim to eventually be able to sell it for a decent price? And in addition, will you need to kowtow to neighbors, home associations, or building officials? Or will you be remotely located and will be discretely staying beneath the radar? Here in my area, about half the people build a house with resale in mind, the other half either don't care about that or figure they'll be giving/selling the house to a relative or friend eventually.
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Location: Southern Oregon
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As far as the blackwater issue, I would say your best bet is to reduce it as much as possible. People disagree as to what constitutes blackwater, as opposed to grey or dark grey water. But most of it can be eliminated by using a composting toilet, humanure system or a dry toilet, and there is some good info on this site about these things. So, as far as an RV, I wouldn't use the included toilet. The other main source of blackwater or dark greywater, depending on who you talk to, is the kitchen sink. I would think that being careful would eliminate most of the issues from this water.

Posts: 292
Location: Stevensville, Montana; Zone 5b
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Yurts are really beautiful structures, and as long as it doesn't get too cold you will be fine. I will say that $25,900 for 490sq feet sounds like an awful lot to me. If you go without the yurt, were you thinking you would be building your own home? or having someone build it. It is going to be a much higher cost when built by someone else, but if you are putting in the labor yourself, you are not looking at such a high price.

The square footage you are thinking about building is completely possible for a homebuilder. My wife and I built our first cob house for under $4,000 at 350sq feet and our new strawbale/cob/earthbag house is closer to 800sq feet and will cost around $15,000. Check out the following websites to see some of the awesome options you have.




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Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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Akhenaten Kheires wrote: My former landlord advised me to stay renting as long as possible due to the maintenance they had to do on their large house, and I intend to not get caught in that trap.

A landlord advising a tenant to keep renting could be considered an ulterior motive  Unless the point was to avoid a big old house and I do agree with that part.

I've owned three decent houses (not big old houses or beat up rentals) and the maintenance costs have been very minimal.  I'm handy so that probably keeps some problems from developing.

In my mind, the "Most cost effective house type" depends significantly on your ability to do the construction yourself, your climate, the square footage and amenities you need and if it's in the country or in town.

I guess from what little I know of you and your region, I'd look for a nice small 1950's house on the land you want since those houses are usually modest and well built.  If you can avoid building a house and getting utilities, well and septic installed, it will give you more years of your life to work on zones 1-5.
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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The most cost effective/easiest thing for us to do five years ago was to buy land that had a manufactured home on it. For $200,000, we got 5 acres, a driveway, a septic system, a well, electricity, a phone line, a run down barn, another structure that we turned into a duck house, and 1000 sqft to live in and a 500 sqft garage (the market is CRAZY in our area right now, and so it costs more like $300,000-350,000 for the same type of house). We have had to put in a lot of work, as the previous owner wired things like he wanted the house to catch on fire and did horrible "fixes" to the septic system (who needs a pipe to run sewage up a hill? Let's just remove a section of it, put some gravel where the pipe was; surely that will work just as well!). Land that wasn't all wetlands cost around $100,000 at the time (now it's around 200,000+ for the same tpe of land in our area). Wells and septic and electricity and phone lines cost 1,000s of dollars each to attain. If in WA or OR, you'll also have to have the land evaluated for wetlands, and that costs money...and you might just end up finding out you can't build there, or you have to fork out $15,000 to a "Wetland Bank" to get a reasonable use permit to just build a house.

You avoid a LOT of that mess if you buy a manufactured home or, like Mike Jay suggested, a 1950s home. You can always make the structure more green or use it's materials to build another structure, but at least you'll have water and power while you do it. Also, currently in Washington, there's a ruling that no new wells can be dug in the state. They're trying to change that ruling right now, but it's still the legal precedent and is REALLY messing with people trying to buy and sell land.

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Location: FEMA District III
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My views.

The best house is one already standing. It requires less of everything. In my parts there are old homes hidden throughout the mountains some even dated back to 1700s. ( I'm in Appalachia.) I also just looked at a home for $549,000 which was 28,000 sq/ft built in 1919 on 24 acres. If you want to do the math that is $16 a sq/ft and the house needed little work. ( I just don't have $500,000 right now. Man was it an amazing house)  I currently live in a 1897 house. While it has it's issue, the fact that it's 120 years old, means it's past carbon neutral. As long as you understand the era design and use it correctly it's great. I rarely need to use AC, and the heating is manageable once I learned a few tricks.

All of that being said, I've also built (I built one, and was involved in the building of another) 2 building on my property. One is a 700 sq/ft pallet barn built for less then $900, and the other is a pole barn that is a 2,000 sq/ft built for $18,000. (Those are just building costs)

I traded for a Travel Traitor that is roughly 200 sq/ft. It would be a little tight for my life style. ( I love tiny houses, but I would honestly need 2 or 3)

I've also been researching building a small sustainable home. Something like a log cabin, cordwood home, or straw bale. All of those materials I could get rather locally and I like the idea of using locally source material.

But, there is a passion to history always trying to shine through which makes me want to just save all the old homes. I have my eye on this 1750 built but remodeled in the 1880 home, but it's just not in a local that fix the need of me yet. ( Not a good enough place for a Education Center, maybe a Farm Lab)

My main piece of advice is, unless you really want to stay in the area you live, come checkout Appalachia, property is cheap, lots of old fixer uppers, and people have been living off the land here for over 300+ years. Some of these old coal fields could use some more permaculture designers.

Akhenaten Kheires
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Thanks for your replies. I have a lot to think about, and I'm going to do more research.
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