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novices building their own house?  RSS feed

 
                              
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My partner and I are working on picking out our land, and we'll be ready to buy in another month or so.  We've found a few places with small cabins, but it seems like building our own house might be a better option.  But can we actually do it?  We have little support, just a lot of time, enough money to get by, and a whole lot of determination.  I've never built anything bigger than a birdhouse.  He's much handier and can build or fix just about anything, and seems to already have a good idea of how to construct a house.  We're looking to do it in about six months, and are currently eyeing up underground house plans.

Are we crazy to take on a project like this?  Is it really doable?  And how much do we need to worry about things like building codes and inspections and such?  We're on a tight budget (probably no more than $10K to play with up front, a few hundred a month after that)  We want to be as off-grid as possible, with a well and a composting toilet and no electric but what we can produce outselves.  I really have no idea where to begin planning this.
 
                              
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I guess the echoing silence in this thread gives me my answer, as does my research.  There doesn't seem to be a way for us to afford land and afford a house to put on it, unless we're willing to live in a broken down singlewide.  Our first idea was to look into urban homesteading, and though it's not what we want to do, it seems like that's what we're back to.
 
Joe Woodall
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Hello  W.I.R.

You Said: "I really have no idea where to begin planning this. "

Perhaps you  should start with the location your going to be building in, as this will regulate what you can actually build. As I always tell my clients: " First Choose a location Without Government Regulations " ( As Much As Possible That Is ) . If they ( The Govt.) can tell you what to build and so on, your gonna find it hard to build anything conventional - let alone Alternative in its style or materials.

Read my Brochure Section at georgiaadobe.com to get a better "Idea" of what you should generally do or look for and also how we do it , then you 2 decide, just what you want . From there a plan can be simple and the cost very depending upon all the conditions .

I hope some of that helps you.
Best Regards,

Joe Woodall, Rogue Eco-Architect
Georgia Adobe Rammed Earth & Renewable Energy
Commerce GA 30530
706-363-6453
 
Sam White
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Location: Caerphilly, Wales, UK
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Rose,

Whether it's possible or not will depend on a number of factors. If the land you buy has natural resources upon it (wood/timber, clay, earth, etc) you effectively have access to free building materials. What your house is built from will obviously depend on what is available to you and how much money you have to purchase externally sourced materials if you need them.

There are a number of things you can consider in order to reduce any costs. Examples include:

  • [li]Advertise your building project as an opportunity for volunteers to get involved - think HelpX.net and similar sites. You basically get the additional labour for the cost of providing meals. You might also consider volunteering on some projects yourself in order to gain experience and see how other people are building their own homes.[/li]
    [li]Use recycled materials. Go skip diving, talk to the local council/government/whatever you Americans have about sourcing tires (controlled waste iirc, should be fairly easy as it saves money for the government) for an earthship, talk to local builders about taking their waste bricks and timber... Possibilities are endless.[/li]
    [li]Properties with an existing structure may be the way to go if you'd rather renovate/improve an existing structure rather than starting from scratch... It depends how much you and your partner want to take on and feel comfortable doing. It may also prove to be a quicker way to create suitable living space for your kid.[/li]
    [li]Keep your eye on websites like Permies.com and green/alternative building forums; there's a wealth of information to be had and asking questions is the easiest/quickest way to find information, or sources of information, rather than trawling the net yourself. The more you read about different building techniques the more you'll be able to visualise what you want from your future home.[/li]


  • There's a few blogs out and about as well and they're worth keeping an eye out for. A couple relating to what you're asking about are Cobbed in the Mountains and The Scrap House.

    I've not had first hand experience building my own home, alternative or otherwise, but I hope I've helped somewhat; I think things will become easier once you have found your land and taken stock of the natural resources available to you. As for what to do before you get your land, continuing your research into the different building methods (cob, earthship/rammed earth/earthbag, log cabin, straw bale, etc etc) is a wise course of action so that you can bear the possibilities in mind when looking at different properties.

    You may know and/or do some/most/all of what I'm saying... If so, I apologise
     
                        
    Posts: 16
    Location: Maryland
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    Good advice offered in the two previous posts. This may help as well - http://www.undergroundhousing.com/

    In addition, there is a long but very informative thread here already on underground housing that gets into many details that could be of interest - http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/959_0/green-building/underground-housing

    Good luck!
     
                                  
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    Our biggest problem at the moment is that we honestly don't know where we're going to be building.  It'll almost certainly be somewhere in NY state, but we don't know where.  It'll probably be next summer, but we're not sure exactly when.  At the moment we've started thinking of buying cheaper (more raw) land so that we have the extra cash on hand for a big yurt.  Time to start researching yurts. 
     
    Joe Woodall
    Posts: 43
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    Yes, you need to start with the right location, that's all important !

    And, When I hear the word Yurt, I often think of the tales my grandfather once told me, of our Ancestors often Freezing To Death, during the long Winters. This was before they discovered they could build Earth Sheltered Homes. The Cherokee , and as I have learned, most Native People,  built homes for themselves, different homes - to be used through out the year & at many locations, depending upon they needed. The Winter Lodge, was often a Very Earth Sheltered home and I would think it might save you 2, from a cold Winters death, in a tent - be called a yurt or something else.

    Were I to advise you I might say: You might start today, if you have the funds, with a portable home , one you might could buy ( RV ) or you could build one on a trailer frame &  then you could tow it, to the building site, when your ready. It should have all the things you might need for a basic living and allow you a comfortable place, to take shelter in , while you construct whatever you guys decide is right for you.

    Best Regards
    Joe

     
                            
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    If you aren't thinking of doing this this year and have time to research stuff here is a site with a million links and they are probably all worthy of regard, unlike much of what is found on the internet these days.

    http://www.grisb.org/directory/index.htm

    Maybe look over the different types of buildings and see what speaks to you. The guy that started the site seems to feel that earthbags are the cheapest way to go..mostly dirt, after all, and possibly less concern with drainage than an "underground' building? I know nothing about them but I do know that drainage is important no matter what..I just repotted a bunch of young trees that had an inch of water sitting on the surface for two days from a monster storm that came through and the soil was already beginning to smell sour.

    One style he doesn't address is building with pallets..a few people have done this or are experimenting with it.. Form experience I can tell you that using all the same size  pallets and planning is hugely important. I tried to build a greenhouse as I went along and..it was not a success. pallets which LOOK the same size are not always what they appear and it quickly becomes a major  problem  I think the idea has merit but that particular incarnation doesn't

    A site  which has some interesting links  http://www.frameconnector.com/   

    I am presently trying to work out trusses built from pallets as shown being done in Mexico by Builders without Borders..the roof is the major headache for me. Walls and the floor are the easy bit.

    And..yes you can do this. Two healthy adults ..esp if you can get help!  However, if you move into a very conservative area with no sign of other free spirits around, you might want to keep a low profile just so as not to alarm the neighbors unnecessarilly.  One neighbor who thinks everyone should live by the same book can make life very difficult for people doing everything according to accepted standards; it's difficult to imagine the hell they could cause for someone doing something a bit out of the ordinary. All they have to do is scream "property values..darn hippies moving in!" and you might have lots of unnecessary hassles.

    My brother who lives on a farm and has a grinding/compost making system back in the bush... there is no smell or mess and isn't visible from anybody else's property...has had LOTS of problems with some woman who moved out from the city and has screamed to authorities every time he did ANYTHING including driving down the road with the tractor to get to the road into it..they duly came out and inspected at least a dozen times and never found anything wrong but it's an uncomfortable and highly annoying situation.

    You might also want to put into your calculations how long you have to get something up to live in..some forms of do-it-yourself building are pretty quick, others take MUCH longer.

    Good luck!
     
    Valerie Dawnstar
    Posts: 296
    Location: North Central New York
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    Rose,
    I am also a newb in New York.  I have my land and really need to get a house built.  My issue is I can't decide what technique/s to use.  Do you know anything about building codes?  Are they the same all over the state?  I don't have an abundance of trees on my land so was thinking more toward using earth.  Folks had been suggesting yurts to me, too, but, I'm with Joe.  It gets really cold up here!  Anyone know any natural builders in Upstate New York?
     
    Len Ovens
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    Yes. We built one last summer, we only used it for a week or so then took it down. Most people called it a tent, but it was all the shelter and home we needed. Last winter we built a small home on the beach from driftwood. It sheltered us from the wind (50 - 60 K/h) and rain very comfortably even though it was full of holes. We learned that we can comfortable with a lot less than we are used to. By the next week it was gone... tide does that we learned about picking a site from that. Could we build a permanent home? Yes, would it meet code... depends. The one thing I have learned is that code makes more money get spent for no improvement.... and maybe something that does not work as well. The best thing I can say, is do lots of research. In Canada, the building code is available in the library. It allows many things a building inspector might nix just because it hasn't been done here before. Being able to point out where the building code says what you are doing can be done is always good. When making plans for permit, add the words "as per building code" as many times as you can with the reference to where it is.

    Build a shed, build a boat, an RV.... AKA house on wheels.... by the time you start the "big" one (which might be a tiny house) you will no longer be a newb. Having someone build a house for us.... is a relatively new idea in human history.
     
    Dale Hodgins
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    Valerie  Dawnstar wrote:
    Rose,
    I am also a newb in New York.  I have my land and really need to get a house built.  My issue is I can't decide what technique/s to use.  Do you know anything about building codes?  Are they the same all over the state?  I don't have an abundance of trees on my land so was thinking more toward using earth.  Folks had been suggesting yurts to me, too, but, I'm with Joe.  It gets really cold up here!  Anyone know any natural builders in Upstate New York?
     
    Dale Hodgins
    gardener
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      Check out what rob roy has done with cordwood houses in New York state. Straw Bale is also a very good option for your area. The best book for cold climates in straw Bale construction is called straw bale building.
     
    C.J. Murray
    Posts: 92
    Location: 5,500 ft. desert. 13" annual precip.
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    Here are some links to the $300 House Challenge. It may give you some ideas.

    http://www.jovoto.com/contests/300house/ideas/12500?n=0

    http://www.jovoto.com/contests/300house/ideas
     
    Warren David
    Posts: 187
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    If you are planning on having some sort of shed on the property, building the shed first might be a good idea. It gives you somewhere dry to store certain materials and may double as a temporary home while you are still building the real living quarters.
     
    Greg Hickey
    Posts: 21
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    Rose,

    I am late to the party and have not waded through all the responses, so my apologizes if some of this is duplicate. However, your second post irked me and I felt the need to respond. It irked me because I know so many people who feel as you do; and it is a travesty. YES, you can build your own house. It really is not that hard. A little education and the ability to read plans is all it takes. Your partner sounds like a handy person. You will be able to figure it out. I would suggest if it is your first time, to buy plans and not wing it, unless you are doing a small simple frame (which I recommend.)

    Start small. You would be surprised how little space you actually need to be comfortable (two adults.) Build something that is expandable and build as you save, rather than finance anything. Stay away from the underground shelters. They get expensive fast when you start making them waterproof. If that is your goal, set a some milestones and save. Meanwhile live in a small space you build and own free and clear. Some web resources for you I will post for your research. I don't have any affiliation or disclaimers to make.

    Andy Sheldon is an architect in New Jersey that specializes in small spaces. His catalog of plans is available free if you send him an email. http://www.sheldondesigns.com/ I like his Monitor style pole barn for it size, easy construction and living space in the loft. I don't know about New York State's building codes, but living in one's barn is an end around for permits and lower taxes in a lot of places. I am sure that is a hot topic for debate; but will suggest it anyway. Andy's plans can be modified after or during the construction to convert the loft area into a nice living space.

    Google "Tiny House" for ideas of small living spaces that can be built cheaply. I don't like to endorse the folks, because I don't like that they over charge (my opinion) the public and perpetuate the myth that housing can not be affordable. I have looked at the price of their plans. $1,000+ dollars just for schematics are way too much for what is being sold. I don't begrudge anyone making a living off their idea; but can't endorse over charging for one's product. Their finished units are also very expensive compared to what one can do themselves. The upside is with a cabin on wheels, one does not have to worry about permits. It is technically an RV and not a permanent structure. I do like their Bodega Plans, especially if built with Structural Insulated Panels. (do a search for SIPs) It makes a very well insulated quick house on pier and beam.

    I don't know if you have considered Cob as an option, but would encourage you to look into it. Very inexpensive if done yourselves. Highly efficient and insulated. It will take you a good bit of time, unless you enlist volunteers and friends, so you may need temporary housing until completion. New York building seasons are rather short, so plan in advance.

    Because of the climate in the area, I would imagine you will deal with codes. That will require plans to submit and have approved. This limits one's options and increases cost; but also gives one good directions and support for a first time builder. I wish you and your partner success! If you are still doing research, I would welcome a discussion on the topic.

     
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