Mistakes are an integral part of a learning process and can be expected if you are an amateur builder, but it might also be very frustrating, since this isn’t just a practical lesson – it’s a real dwelling you are trying to raise and make livable and comfortable, often under great constraints of time and money. It would be wise to mentally prepare for making mistakes and fixing them as you go.
We had bought a load of rubber tiles, which took a couple of labor-intensive days to be attached to the roof – only to be blown off by the first strong wind. We learned from this mistake and opted for a tin roof instead, writing off the lost money as a kind of tuition fee.
Also, thinking back to when we sat down and planned the cabin layout, I would probably allot more space for the kitchen. I’d also dispense with the storage/office room in favor of enlarging the bedroom next to it. The point is, there are always things you only think of in retrospect, and that’s a part of life.
Think of future prospects: do you think you might enlarge your house at any point? If so, how would an addition merge with the first part? I have been in houses with extremely inconvenient layouts, simply because they were built, in the first place, as a unit without the thought of expanding in the future, so rooms were added here and there, with walls stuck in the middle and corridors that waste space. When we built our cabin, we kept in mind that we would eventually want to enlarge it, so we planned accordingly.
Be especially careful as you are laying the foundation for your house, since mistakes made at this point are usually the most difficult to fix.
If you are building under time pressure, for example just before the beginning of the cold or rainy season, focus all your efforts on enclosing the main structure and putting on a roof. We did that, since we knew that we’d need to take a break in building (for budget reasons) and didn’t want the cabin to come to harm during the winter rains.
Whatever you do, if you are building with wood, choose pressure-treated lumber that is resistant to wood pests, and if at all possible, opt to use types of wood which are naturally resistant to wood borers, such as cedar or cypress. Wood pests can be a major problem and one extremely hard to get rid of. The house we currently live in has wood paneling and wood ceilings, and unfortunately, it is deeply infested – whatever treatment we have tried provided only temporary relief. Fortunately, we will probably leave this house in the near future – but we won’t be able to take our wooden furniture with us, as it is now also infected, and we don’t want to run the risk of bringing wood pests into our new cabin.
I thought I should go a bit more in-depth on the subject of insulation, because a well-insulated house really pays off, returning the initial investment you make within a short space of time. A well-insulated house is much, much easier to keep warm in winter and cool in the summer, and therefore requires less energy. A small cabin with good insulation is a truly energy-efficient home.
In our cabin we used glass wool for insulation. Glass wool or mineral wool makes a great insulating material, provided that you don’t use it in a way that exposes you to mineral wool dust. For example, if you are building a house made of lumber with wood paneling along the interior, and you want to put some glass wool or mineral wool between the outer walls and the paneling, the glass wool has to be wrapped in plastic sheaths, because otherwise some of it will eventually start to break down, and tiny dust particles will leak into the house through little cracks in the wood paneling, which can cause severe health issues including but not limited to skin irritation, eye irritation and respiratory problems. We know this from experience – the person who built the house where we currently reside skipped the sheathing part when using glass wool, and for a couple of months we experienced persistent coughing and other symptoms of respiratory system irritation without even knowing why. Once the problem was detected, we solved it by plastering the walls.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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