Budget Building: Randall's Owner Built-Home

A budget building doesn't have to be Spartan, as demonstrated by Randall Lankford's owner-built home.

| September/October 1981

Back in 1976, Randall Lankford decided to erect an owner-built home on a parcel of land nestled in the mountains of North Carolina where he'd spent his childhood. Since he had a limited amount of cash available, but enough carpentry experience, ideas, and willing acquaintances to compensate—he felt—for his lack of capital, the determined Tarheel embarked on a budget building project that wound up involving a lot of swapping and the help of two good friends: designer Jeff Warren and artist Stan Caton (the latter individual contributed a good deal to the aesthetics of the completed structure).

Planning Pays

Randall's initial task was to find a suitable construction site, and—after walking his property and listing the positive and negative aspects of several potential spots—he finally settled on a location that offered accessibility, available water and power, and good solar orientation. Once this chore was out of the way, he bartered with a neighbor ...who, as it turned out, was more than willing to trade his expertise with a bulldozer for the largest of the trees that had to be removed (the remaining felled timber would later heat the Lankford residence for two full years).

That swap, however, was just the first of a long series of informal transactions that decreased the Carolinian's dependence on hard cash. Shortly thereafter, in lieu of hiring a crew to do the foundation work, Randall merely hosted a barbecue party at which only one rule prevailed: If you don't work, you don't eat! Needless to say, before the day was over the job was complete ...and as far as we know, there wasn't a single complaint to be heard from the well-fed construction workers.

But Randall's most successful piece of "horse trading" took place when he began scouting about for framing materials and discovered that new lumber was just too expensive for his limited budget to handle. "So, we took on a job dismantling a few old warehouses for their roof timbers and blocks, then went on to strip some houses in an area where a new section of highway was coming through. The scrap materials taken from those to-be-demolished buildings didn't cost us a cent, and all we needed were a few basic tools, a dry storage area, and a '48 Ford pickup! "

Further exchanges helped reduce the cost of the structure, too ...including (once the house was dried in) a swap of carpentry for temporary room and board, and a trade of landscaping services for some of the hardy and plentiful vegetation native to the Lankford homestead's mountain terrain.

A Commonsense Passive Solar Design

The 2,800-square-foot structure (2,200 square feet of it is heated) purposely wasn't designed to be a "typical" house. For one thing, Randall planned from the outset to provide his subsistence heat with wood or coal, and to back that up with whatever solar gain he could realize during the day. Therefore the three-level dwelling had to allow for the unencumbered passage of convected air. To accomplish this, the owner-builder included a raised ceiling directly above his ground-floor great room, and positioned a den and fireplace on an exposed half-story that spans the area between the open space and the building's north wall. Above that, a two-tiered, balconied third level encompasses two bedrooms, a second hearth, a bath, and a sauna. These are surrounded by several triangular air galleries which encourage a balanced flow of warmed air from the rooms below, while providing access for both natural and artificial light. (The latter is supplied by inconspicuous fixtures made from stovepipe elbows!)

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!