But it's pretty hypocritical to present it as cheap and frugal.
The cost of a house is land + labor + material. Land costs depend on where you want to live, but can be the biggest factor. He mentions 1500 hours of labor, which, if you were paying somebody to do it, would be somewhere around 100000 USD (full cost of a skilled craftsman is around $60/hour). And even the 5000 dollars for materials is a fool's calculation, since he mentions using scrap materials, i.e. stuff that somebody else had to pay to produce.
If you want something truly sustainable, i.e. not something pseudo-green and feelgood-ecologigal, but something that anybody can afford, you'd unfortunately would have to go with a mass-produced high-rise block of flats.
Not a fan of the do-gooder hypocrisy here, but as an example of an architectural style that blends into nature it's adorable and looks fantastic.
Initially we had no capital and we had decided resolutely to be full time parents whilst our children were young. As you’ll appreciate to be a full time mum and part time dad our income is low, about £5,000 p.a, so a mortgage was not an option and the prospects for renting seemed grim. Providence came our way and a landowner offered us the chance to move to his woodland in west Wales to build an eco-house. There would be no formal security or long term ownership, but £2000 was available for materials, so we jumped at the idea without a backward glance.
Sounds like just the sort of risk-taking, scrappy bootstrapping story that'd do well on HN, but everyone seems to be bagging it.
ps. Scrap = things that other people are chucking away, or will have to pay to take away. Making use of it is a good thing.
The Soft Courtyard House
This design draws heavily on bamboo, which is readily available in China...
The Recycled Materials House
As the name implies, this two-story structure uses locally- and regionally-available recycled materials, both to reduce costs and to promote sustainable housing practices. For example, fly ash residue from local coal-burning factories supplements the concrete medium and replaces the more expensive cement component.
The composition of these L-shaped corner walls would be rammed earth and bamboo. In an innovative twist, the formwork that produces the rammed earth walls can be disassembled and then reassembled to create the roof.
Not saying that these aren't all excellent ideas, but if the original article is 'misleading', then yours is too.
This statement could be used against almost anything falling under DIY, hacking, hobby work, etc. I mean, sure, you are technically correct, but who counts that, if you are having fun doing something for yourself.
What bothers me is the bait and switch. It's bad journalism, but I would bet that the people who find this economically or ecologically "good" would be disinclined to change the headline because something to the effect of "dude has fun hobby" doesn't have the same "social good" connotations as the current headline.
There's a lot of creative ways to turn these into a home.
As to calling the result
None of them are as sensible as traditional modular housing:
There are things I'd do with shipping containers to turn them into livable housing, but they go beyond a basic conversion -- it's cutting them apart and basically using them as a source of sheet steel and study frames. Normal steel structures or tilt-ups accomplish basically all of this already.
Prefab modules for things like kitchens/bathrooms, combined with inexpensive ways of enclosing space, is the way to go.
Like anything else, to do it well takes a good amount of effort.
Shipping containers are uninsulated and have stressed skin construction - they require a lot of work to be used as a thermal envelop, or when incorporating fenestration (not to mention blowing out a whole side.
With the economic downturn, the glut of shipping containers is long gone and prices for used containers have risen significantly over the past several years.
A lot of those buildings which are featured in glossy architectural rags are actually built with custom modules, not actual containers because the dimensions of a standard shipping container are suitable for...well, shipping, not human habitation - 7'-10" inside height before interior ceiling and wall finishes are added (and that's if your insulation is exterior).
Pretty cool guy, I hear.
The OP is nothing more than a copy-paste job, though given how old it is, there might be some interesting discussion in the comments.
I believe from what I've read in the past that this was more of an exhibition piece than a long term place to live.
Also, your idea of a decent house is (obviously) not necessarily his idea of a decent house (eg. he has a composting toilet), but it looks pretty warm and dry and vermin free to me.
The only thing I see being an issue with the house from the article is the composting toilet. However, running a sewer to this style of house is no different than running a sewer to a traditional house.
How much do you think we save in heating and cooling given that only 2 out of 4 walls are exposed (and in some apartments, it might be 1/4)?
If I wasn't tired, I'd look it up, but I have to imagine that apartment-style "dense" living, is way more sustainable than almost any type of house.
It's true that high density housing is efficient, but if you are going to build a single family home, strawbale is a great way to do it.
I don't think limiting what we view as sustainable to only the things we want is being reasonable. Sure, there's degrees of sustainability, and we can talk about it in those terms. But, when I look at the world, I no longer believe that we are necessarily entitled to things that we want. Greeks, for example, would like to continue living well beyond their financial means. Should they be allowed to simply because they wish for it?
We have a good system to measure the financial cost of thing. So, at the very least, what you want is something you need to be able to afford (although that plays to the disadvantage of the truly poor). However, there are few checks in places for the social costs, and even fewer for the environmental cost.
So while you want to live in a big house, and you can afford it, do you have a greater social responsibility? Or, put differently (and possibility unfairly), what impact would it have if the considerable number of people who lived in such a dwelling moved to something more sustainable?
When you are piping large amounts of raw sewage around you need strict rules to protect people, property and the environment. So now you need to get it up to code, and pay trained people to check that it complies.
Straw is a promising material but I think we've already tried harvesting logs in "large quantities" and it hasn't worked out perfectly.
Regarding logs, I'm currently sitting in a house with wood framing in the suburbs, and every house around me as far as I can see is also framed with wood.
My point was about this particular style of amateur building not being amenable to things that require standards.
Strawbale houses do not look significantly different from normal wood-frame, drywall and stucco homes. If I hadn't been told I would not have known.
However, in there base form, they cost around $5000. See the link below for pricing:
(I am not affiliated with anyone selling any yurts, I just happen to like them).
Whilst the earth provides great protection against summer heat (thermal mass), it offers you nothing against the winter cold. Seriously, I question this house surviving a winter in liveable condition. By his drawing, there's likely minimal to no foundation structure, which means his retaining walls are relying solely on their mass to hold back soil. Note that frost heaving can exert a force of 14,000PSI and you better hope your wall is big enough.
Modern built homes in cold climates (where I live, Canada) rely on footings below the frost line (so your house doesn't split in two or more pieces), the basement floor and first floor joists to supply the lateral forces to resist the freezing soil. Simply put, rocks on soil and timber shallowly buried is a serious danger if a heavy freeze gets under any of them.
They're warm enough, in one of the coldest places in the world.
What I said was that ramped earth walls provide little value in a winter climate and are in fact extremely dangerous. >4' of dirt against a laterally unsupported foundation wall is actually illegal in my municipality. I see no lateral support in this guys structure. His walls would have to be incredibly thick (which they don't appear to be) to support the weight. The timbers need to go down a sufficient depth, which without the use of machinery, is unlikely to have happened and unlikely to have had the soil re-compacted properly.
What I'm saying is that the $5000 this guy spent on a 'house' is likely to collapse and kill whomevers inside the minute frost gets anywhere near his walls, let alone under the foundation or timbers.
A yurt on the other hand, due to its tent like structure and completely using flexible building materials would cope extremely well with differential frost heaving (which is what cleaves houses in two).
If the houses foundation doesn't extend below the frost line, you've got two choices. Heat it like you want it to spontaneously combust, because you want to keep the frost line well away from your structure. Or 2, ride it. I've seen many cottages here in Canada built on grade that have survived decades of winters because they aren't tied to the ground they simply move when shifted.
In terms of heat the single slow-combustion-wood-fire will be plenty (assuming a good wood supply) to heat this relatively modest space in winter (in Wales).
As for the frost, it might be an issue in a real heavy winter, but Wales is not Canada. Also, the dissapating heat from the building will help, and timber is inherently far better at handling structural stresses than concrete/steel/etc. That said, I hope for his sake the hill-side retaining-wall is built well (well-drained, structurally strong, etc.) to ensure this doesn't happen.
Not saying it won't cause an issue, but I think you overstate the case somewhat.
I wouldn't trust the retaining wall if it wasn't at least 20" of masonry when it's laterally unsupported. Flagstone walls here with lime mortar, laterally supported on floor and ceiling cope at around 14" thick, at which point they can support 6' 11" (by the municipal bylaw) of earth, his walls are laterally unsupported, and by law here can't support more than 3' 11" (if built with a strength equivalent to 8" of 15 Mpa poured concrete, locally about a 14" flagstone wall). Well drained soil will help, but when you're building a wall into the face of a hill, you're being stupid and putting your house below-grade.
I seriously expect this house to fail in a bad winter. I would trust this house in warmer climates, but definitely not in anything colder. I'd also like to know if this guy got approval by a structural engineer, because I certainly didn't read it when I glanced over.
I couldn't tell you how well they age, though, as they're new this year.
Heres an example built with 2; http://thechive.com/2011/07/26/unbelievable-home-built-out-o...
e: also, a more aspirational one.. obviously more expensive and more containers required; http://www.lowimpactliving.com/blog/2009/07/07/affordable-sh...
There was an amazing compund a guy in Texas built from shipping containers, shown on the show "Doomsday preppers" on TLC the other day.
This guy used NINE containers for his thing.
I like the idea of prepping, but it still takes a good deal of resources to be able to do stuff like that..
Pretty impressive, given the basic template they're made from.
I'd be interested in seeing the construction costs of that though, as compared to a similar design not based on shipping containers.
I forgot about zerocabin - I had seen that site before. Thanks for the reminder.
That's likely, to conform to building code. Still, they stack those things full of goods 7-8 high on shipping vessels.
What is cool about the OP is that it's totally built in the rustic style - sticks, logs, etc. This is a bit distinct from deciding to build a "yurt." For more examples, google it, or check out something like Dry Kye (http://drykyerustic.com/). Disclaimer: this is my cousin in Maine. He harvests his own materials and is especially fond of salvaging patina-ed, old-growth wood from very old abandoned barns in the Maine countryside.
For some time now I've been digging for info on building ultra-cheap housing, starting with an interest in log homes and branching into "tiny houses". Goal is to get my kids to earn and move into paid-off real estate by graduation.
To keep it short, here's some interesting links:
Tumbleweed Houses - http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ (plans starting at $20; in one notable case, house built for $10K)
MIT $1K house project - http://web.mit.edu/1khouse/ (seems defunct, but a noble start)
Tiny House Blog - http://tinyhouseblog.com/ (ongoing reviews of small and/or inexpensive options)
Cheap houses - https://www.google.com/search?q=cheap+houses (there is a lot of dirt-cheap real estate out there if you're flexible)
Free land - https://www.google.com/search?q=free+land (some jurisdictions will, in fact, give you land free if you'll build a house & live there a while)
...BTW, I understand sections of Detroit are super cheap, and a motivated developer might be able to leverage that.
Not saying not to buy land in Detroit, there are lots of businesses making good money on cheap land (and there are quite a few startups, especially around Woodward Ave, see: Dan Gilbert). Just make sure to do your research to keep away from any nasty surprises. That $25 half-acre with a plant already built might actually cost $100,000 up front.
There's a reason it's free...
Apparently middle-of-nowhere North Dakota, Kansas, and Alaska are the spots to look at.
It's all good until the roof fails catastrophically.
I cant find a decent site that shows the build, but for any one interested, it worth a google. Ben has a website, but there is not much detail there. There are also various vids on youtube.
For any one vaguely interested, this project is well worth look up.
this was such a wildly popular (for channel 4) programme that they did a follow up. He had built an extension for his new family (single originally, and let's face it the project was a form of therapy) and was / is now making a small income teaching others how to do it.
My concern, and only real defence of the construction industry, is there probably are not enough hillsides and trees to go round. But as one living opposite a building site, yes, the construction industry can stand to learn one or two sustainability lessons
You are right in the point you make though, continental Europe is awash with ridiculous red tape and pompous bureaucrats. Although I have to say I am surprised that the he "got away with it" in the UK as it's not much better there.
It seems to stand for "Sorry, Could Not Resist".
Which, is still great for such a cool house IMO.
I'd be really interested in seeing an easily repeatable solution that doesn't come down to living in squalor.
I have a job:
Go down to 50-60%, adjust living expenses accordingly
I can't build a house 8 hours a day for 30 weeks (1500 hours)
So go a bit more than 30 Weeks. Let's assume you work 3 days a week (60%). If you average 4 hours a day on the days you work and 8 hours on the days you don't, you'll be done in 60 weeks. Also there is nothing that says you have to work on the project alone. If you have just one person helping you 50% of the time, then you're down to 45 weeks.
I can't get the land deal he did
Have you tried? Sure you probably won't get land next door to where you're living right now, but if you're willing to relocate finding cheap or even free land is far from impossible.
No one said that it was easy, and I'll be first to admit that it's not for me and I'm not even going to try. But I'm also sure that for someone who really wanted to do it and was willing to make the necessary sacrifices it's certainly an option.
Sure his solution isn't "easily repeatable" and involves living in squalor. He's not giving up productivity to build the house, but you would be. As such, it's a step up for him, and a step down for you. If it was "easily repeatable" it wouldn't entail 1500 hours of labor, or ~$100K to buy it.
What does resemble an "easily repeatable" solution is http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/plans where you can start with the plans for a really minimal home for $17, little box bungalows for $99, or more normal looking houses (albeit tiny) for a few hundred. Most are designed for small trailer frames, so you can build one in your spare time with supplies as cheap as you willing to get, find suitable cheap/odd land, and haul it there when ready.
Upshot is you pay high prices because the alternative is doing serious labor yourself.
There's a reason we use modern materials, like bricks, modern insulation and tiles, to build modern homes. They work and have proven robust (although mass production has also lowered price on some less desirable materials). Nice little project though.
Additionally, it was fully plumbed with water (though used composting toilets outside), as well as electricity.
If it rains enough, I expect that the house will collapse.
Also what about Electricity, Water and Internet (ok there is wifi) but electricity and water needs their proper setup. Gas is important too, if it gets too cold, and I expect they want to cook something.
Though if i went back to where my parents came from in south east asia i could think of alot of places where that would work.
Also how does something like this work with county inspectors?
Think about these massive Middle-Ages cathedrals done before we had Newton's Laws and modern notions of engineering. How did the architects do it? Well, they were hackers with a large budget. The architect usually had never built anything on this scale before and had no idea how their much-smaller-scale building experience would scale up. In particular, the fact that arches create sideways stresses which tend to bulge a large, open building outwards wasn't necessarily well-known by many of these architects.
So what did they do? They just tried it and saw what worked. They hacked it together. If it doesn't start buckling and collapsing in the first month, it could probably last for a couple hundred years, maybe more if the ground doesn't shift in unexpected ways. The walls started bowing out? Then we'll build structures to buttress them back in. There's a dangerous sagging happening between these two columns? Well, place a third column in there!
Of course, wood offers a lot of questions as a building material, since it's got a lot of energy in a bioactive form which lots of critters and cellular lifeforms might enjoy eating, and therefore needs to be treated in ways that might tend to prevent these critters from using it as a food source. Keeping it not-wet is an important first step which isn't discussed very well in the article.
But for what it's worth, this was the way you built houses before we had engineering. You just went for it and spent a bunch of the year working on it, and it better be successful because you've got to have a place to sleep this winter.
That's a fascinating thought. I'd like to read more about this "hacking" aspect -- can you point me to any references / citations?
And here's a short book review about a book which might describe a dome that was hacked together on a budget:
I was reintroduced to this by a recent BBC series on architecture, though, and I can't figure out which one it was! It could have been Climbing Great Buildings, which had some moments where they would sneak underneath these great cathedrals and see what little bits had been "swept under the rug". But it might have also been Churches: How to Read Them. (I vaguely think it's the first because I have memories of some reference to Durham Cathedral partially collapsing, but memories of this form are notoriously unreliable.)
Conclusion: we should develop ways so that we learn less by osmosis. When you learn by osmosis, it's very hard to track down actual sources for the crap you've learned, and you basically have to get lucky.
They didn't do it a lot of the time. It just seems that way because only the few cathedrals that happened to strike on a physical supportable design are still around. Ie, survivorship bias.
IMO, it is highly improbably that adequate structural analysis was done on all those small twisted members because branches and stunted trunks contain so many knots and so much sapwood.
On the positive side, the approach is straight out of Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language, and any victims of the inadequate structural design will be due to Darwinian forces.
Also, if you're ever in CO, it's worth the visit. Really.
My experience with county inspectors is they don't build anything.
They show up to inspect the work after it's done, certify it's to standards and call it a day.
If you're real lucky you'll get an inspector who is buddies with certain contractors in the area. Woe to the poor SOB who doesn't use them - you'll have a heckuva time getting that work signed off.
Yeah boy: how would we get anything done without county inspectors.
And how would you get something like this past a city inspector?