The Smiths’ cabin, which they built in rural Alaska, started as a shell that the Smiths moved into as they worked. They took their time building so they could save money, and their journey has led them to a debt-free existence.
Diane Smith, the author, moved into this cabin with her husband before it was finished so they could sell their former home.
Photo by Diane Smith
We are both in our 70s and are just finishing our home that was built out of pocket with no debt.
We were fortunate to have purchased our lot as a package deal when we bought and built our former home. This lot — 2 3/4 acres with a well and septic — came with the deal. We had to purchase both lots or nothing. We let this lot sit for about 10 years while we finished the other home. This time we wanted no debt so decided to build as we went.
We sold our former home too quickly and had to move into our new house way too early. It was just a shell. We stayed in a hotel for the first two weeks while we got some plumbing done.
We decided on a log home and bought our logs from a mill down the road that was milling "beetle kill" logs. We paid $4,500 for the total package. Each square log had to be routered (to accept chinking) and set into place. We used a "cherry picker" that my husband rigged with a small motor to help us lift our logs into place. Some were more than 20 feet long. It worked quite well for us. The two of us put the entire two-story shell up alone.
We have built the entire home by ourselves over the past six years, metal roof and all. Our kids have come down some weekends and helped with some of the heavier jobs.
Our two-story home measures 30 by 20 feet — just under 1,450 square feet. It has two bedrooms and a bath upstairs, as well as a great room, kitchen and bath downstairs.
We have spent approximately $50,000 finishing our home. It is still a work in progress, but nearly finished.
We live in rural Alaska and do not have to deal with building codes or building inspectors, so that is a big plus for us.
At our age, we probably would not do this again, but it has certainly been an interesting journey. We live a better life without a mortgage hanging over our heads.
Unless you have unlimited funds (rare these days), my advice to anyone building as we did is to be prepared to camp out in your home for an extended period of time. Be patient when you are still installing all your plumbing and have to wash your dishes in your bathroom sink because the kitchen is not ready. Learn to live with particle board on your floors until you can get carpet or tile down. (We stained the particle board to be able to scrub it). Enjoy your particle-board countertops (we used three coats of varnish). They work great until the permanent tops are installed.
Each new addition to the house is a joy. Not everyone would do this, but if you can live in the mess of construction, the joy of a debt-free home is worth every day of building.
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