A Guide to DIY Kit Homes

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Deltec Homes offers round and traditional house kits. 
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Shelter-Kit's barn homes are designed for beginning DIYers. 
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Sustain Design Studios builds modular homes with green materials. 
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Deltec Homes' round houses can be sophisticated and elegant.
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Rocio Romero's sleek modern homes draw nature into the house through walls of glass. 
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Turtleback Nomadics specializes in wood-framed, yurt-like homes. 
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With no bearing walls, Turtleback Nomadics' interiors are spacious and airy. 
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Small Home Oregon's houses meet modular housing codes. 
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Cusato Cottages' homes, often called "Katrina Cottages," helped spark interest in tiny homes. They were designed to replace the much-maligned "FEMA trailers" in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. 
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True North Log Homes' Louisburg model shows French-Canadian influences. 
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Cusato Cottages are available as plans, not kits, online. Most are expandable. 

You can see it in your mind’s eye: that perfect house, a snug cabin nestled in the woods alongside a pond shimmering in the sun’s slanting rays. You’ve held that image in your head since you were a teenager, and now you’re finally ready to build it.

You’d love to build it all by yourself, but you’re not sure you have the necessary skills. Or perhaps you know that you have the skills, but the time and effort of finding all of the materials seems daunting.

Maybe a kit house is the answer. Kit houses can be grand or tiny, sophisticated or rustic, traditional or ultra-modern. Kit homes can offer efficiency in construction as well as in energy use after the house has been built, and many kit home companies offer state-of-the-art green and renewable energy options. In short, if you’d like to build an affordable custom home (or cabin), a kit house may be a solution.

One of your first decisions will be how big to build. Census statistics show that the average home size in the United States has grown from 1,600 square feet in 1975 to more than 2,200 square feet in 2005, notes Steve Linton, president of Deltec Homes. No one but you can say what size home is right for your family, but maybe you don’t need a formal dining room or that “bonus” room.

Is there a way to calculate how much your dream house will cost? The website B4UBuild.com, which answers questions about home construction, says a new house “will probably cost $80 to $200 per square foot.” Thus, a 1,500-square-foot house, with no sweat equity from you, could cost $120,000 — or $300,000. 

A DIY home kit can simplify a lot of your building decisions. Check out our DIY Kit Homes for Every Style, Size and Budget chart for some companies providing house kits. Some kits, such as Shelter-Kit’s owner-built homes, are designed for the beginning do-it-yourselfer. Other companies offer kits for more experienced builders, often with panelized construction (in which walls are built in a factory, then shipped to the homesite to be installed).

The next step up would be the contractor-built kit home. Finally, some companies offer home kits that can be finished as “turn-keys” — everything from the weather-tight shell to interior walls, cabinets, plumbing and electrical work. Do your homework to find out what’s included in your kit. Shop carefully and be sure you understand exactly what you’ll need before you commit to buy.

Robin Mather is a senior associate editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and the author of The Feast Nearby, a collection of essays and recipes from her year of eating locally on $40 a week. In her spare time, she is a hand-spinner, knitter, weaver, homebrewer, cheese maker and avid cook who cures her own bacon. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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