A Blueprint for Better Building

Follow these simple steps to create a strong, beautiful, energy-efficient and better building.

| August/September 2005

Sooner or later, most of us will need one or more buildings to serve our homestead — there are tools to store, animals to house and workshop tasks to complete in all seasons. Whether you’re talking about upgrading your house, building an addition or creating a work space for a home business, it’s never been easier to create your own durable, attractive and energy-efficient structures thanks to advances in tools and building materials. I know about these things because I’ve been building on my own land for almost 20 years. (Read about Maxwell’s The Self-sufficient Homestead, June/July 2005. — Mother)

During that time, I’ve occasionally made some mistakes in planning and building, but I’ve also honed my skills and discovered a process for design and construction that makes sense for homesteaders working alone or in small groups. My current project is a two-story woodworking shop with an office loft. What follows are practical guidelines to help you build or renovate a long-lasting workshop (or other structure) of your own.

Start With Design

When it comes to creating terrific buildings, the most important thing to keep in mind is not the most obvious: Don’t let your enthusiasm get the better of you. As strange as this sounds, it’s good advice because excess enthusiasm can short-circuit proper planning and diligent workmanship. When you make a mistake in these areas, you’ll pay for a long time indeed. Relax, slow down and get it right the first time.

If a high level of workmanship is your goal (and I’m convinced it always should be), then you’ve got to start with careful planning based on a scale model. Why take chances gambling on a dream worth thousands of dollars and buckets of your own sweat, guided by nothing more than a few scribbled notes to yourself and an imaginary design? Those scribbles can be the motivating factor in your decision to start the project, but you’ll need more than that for success.

Three things are necessary for every new or renovated structure to succeed. First, it must be designed to endure the forces of time and nature — and designed to use energy frugally. Our society can’t afford to create wasteful environmental liabilities like it has done in the past, and all effective solutions begin with good correctly, you can enjoy terrific comfort in your new building using minimal amounts of energy.

The second important design feature is aesthetics. Beautiful land deserves structures that look attractive to family, friends and passersby. Will your property look better with the building you’ve envisioned? If not, go back to the drawing board. And while you do, understand that great aesthetics aren’t achieved primarily with money. The most cash-strapped rural family I’ve met had a beautiful home that was always immaculately tidy and attractive. They built it themselves on the shore of a lake, following classical design ideas and working diligently to keep the house’s exterior painted in the most vivid colors imaginable. These folks didn’t have much money, but visiting their home was like stepping into a colorful fairy tale.

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