Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.
After MOTHER EARTH NEWS ran an article on selecting a DIY kit home, I have been intrigued by the idea. Many of the homes are energy-efficient— which is important to Tyler and me — and come in a range of size options. We plan to be as involved in the building process as we can be, and a kit home seemed like it would be a good fit for our limited construction skills. (Tyler likes to say that we know just enough to muck up a job. I have a bit more confidence.) The structure of a kit home goes up quickly, there is little waste at the construction site, and it would allow for us to customize our home without going, well, totally off the wall.
We looked through several options, and decided that if we were to build a kit home, we would want a Deltec model. Deltec recently released their Renew Collection, which focuses on reasonably sized, net-zero energy designs. As with all Deltec designs, you can choose between 2-by-6-foot or 2-by-8-foot studs to create a super-energy-efficient structure. The idea sounded like a dream come true: We could help build our own home without having to tackle the entire project totally from scratch, and end up with a great home that met our ideal home requirements. The basic process is fairly simple: We would map out our home plan with the company, and then they would build the wall frames in sections (with the windows intact). Next, the pre-built walls and the roof pieces would be sent to us via semis, and we would work with a local Deltec contractor for about a week to put the frame of the house up. So, we did what any couple planning to build a home would do. We combined our honeymoon earlier this year with a trip to the Deltec headquarters to check out the company and our options firsthand.
We met with designers, talked with several members of the company, and left with an all-around positive impression. The company really talks the talk when it comes to sustainability — and that was a huge deal to us. When we came home, we visited a locally built Deltec round home, and were incredibly impressed with the energy-efficiency and “feel” of the home. Being inside the house feels nothing like being inside a kit home — it has the look and feel of a standard stick structure. We were pretty much sold, and made plans to start finalizing which Deltec kit home would become ours. After several more meetings, talking with our bank, and hours of pouring over various floorplans, we ended up deciding that this wasn't the right fit for us.
The main reason we ultimately walked away from the Deltec option was the distance of the shipping. With their base in North Carolina, the monetary and environmental price of trucking our house frames would be pretty substantial — they would be shipping two semis loaded with our wall sections halfway across the country. Also, the cost of the house plans didn’t include a subfloor, which you need to have a basement. (We live in Kansas, so a basement, in our opinion, is a non-negotiable part of our house plan.) Deltec’s plans are designed to be built on a concrete slab. You can certainly add a subfloor to any Deltec plans in order to have a basement, but the price tag will significantly change.
If our circumstances had been different, we would have definitely gone with the Deltec option. We were pleased with the company, and we still think choosing a kit home, either from Deltec or another company, is a viable, eco-friendly option for folks looking to be somewhat hands-on with their house-building process.
But, before you decide for sure, you should decide what your “non-negotiables” and “nice-to-haves” are for your future home. An explanation of how we compromised to set our house priorities coming up next!
Photos by Jennifer Kongs; top: Deltec's Mark Bloomfield and Tyler on a tour of the Deltec factory in Asheville, N.C.; bottom: A Deltec wall frame with window installed, getting ready to ship to the happy owner-builder.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!