Seven Reasons to Prefer Building With Stone

Building with stone offers a number of advantages. Here are seven, according to the authors.

| November/December 1981

  • 072 building with stone 1 frame windows and doors
    When building with stone, use wood to frame the windows and doors.
    SHARON AND LEWIS WATSON
  • 072 building with stone 2 building materials
    Building material can be had for cheap, or even free.
    SHARON AND LEWIS WATSON
  • 072 building with stone 4 work crew
    The work crew included the authors'  9 and 11 year old daughters. 
    SHARON AND LEWIS WATSON
  • 072 building with stone 3 fill wall forms
    Fill up the wall forms with concrete and rocks.
    SHARON AND LEWIS WATSON
  • 072 building with stone 5 clip wire ends
    Clip tie ends and remove excess concrete.
    SHARON AND LEWIS WATSON
  • 072 building with stone - cover
    The completed stone house.  
    PHOTO: SHARON AND LEWIS WATSON

  • 072 building with stone 1 frame windows and doors
  • 072 building with stone 2 building materials
  • 072 building with stone 4 work crew
  • 072 building with stone 3 fill wall forms
  • 072 building with stone 5 clip wire ends
  • 072 building with stone - cover

After spending eight years in our $2,000, self-built stone house in southern Idaho, Sharon and I sometimes wonder whether—were we somehow forced to start construction all over again—we would still build our home with natural stone. After all, the owner-builder can now select from many intriguing low cost shelter possibilities including log, cordwood, wood frame, pole, adobe, and earth-sheltered homes ... plus yurts, domes, tipis, houseboats, and an endless variety of innovative salvage-material structures.

Of course, it would be absurd to suggest that any building material or type of structure is "best" for all people under every circumstance, and certainly each one has its own outstanding advantages. Still, we can't help concluding that building with stone— aka "plain old rocks"—has more to recommend it for more people in more building situations than does an owner-built home made with any other material. Here's why:

Reason Number One

Good building stone can be found most anywhere, usually free for the gathering. We built our 1,100-square-foot home with 18 pickup loads of free boulders, most of which were gathered from a single field about a mile from our construction site. The rancher who owned the land was delighted to have his field cleared of "all them blankety-blank, machinery-bustin' rocks." Similar rancher/farmer/ landowner situations exist all over the country.

Collecting stones—for free—from public lands is also a possibility. However, since "rock foraging" isn't currently a common practice, regulations governing such activity are usually vague or nonexistent, so be sure to inquire locally before gathering. Some commercial rock quarries, too, will allow you to hand pick inexpensive stones from their huge rubble piles ... or will even haul the material to your site for a reasonable price!



Of course, the best source of building stone could be your own property if you're lucky (or smart) enough to own a piece of "worthless," rocky ground.

Besides the stone itself, you'll need only cement, sand, and gravel, plus maybe some steel reinforcement for corners and lintels. Our own home's 8' X 28' X 45' walls went up for only $250 in 1973, and—though cement and rebar prices have increased substantially since then—it's still possible to put up some really super stone walls for very little money.

PNW_DIYer
8/15/2018 12:05:03 PM

Thank you for this great article. I'm doing as much research as I can on building a stone house as my husband and I plan to build our own home in the next few years. The first step is navigating the extremely expensive PNW real estate market to find a perfect piece of land to start with. Our county, though not in Oregon, is incredibly over priced due to its proximity to the city of Portland. Ugh. It may mean moving a county up to get a decent price. More affordable (though still highly expensive) properties are densely wooded, and our desire is to build something that would have the potential to withstand wild fires, which are not uncommon around here. Of course, that means clearing nearby terrain as well since we want slate tiles which can break if a large enough branch falls on them. That's something for readers to consider as well. Thank you for this excellent information. I love the idea of building into a hill if possible. Stone has an amazing aesthetic, warmth and durability that is missing in this part of the country. Cheers!


PNW_DIYer
8/15/2018 12:05:02 PM

FASCINATING! My husband and I live in the PNW just north of Portland and land in our neck of the woods is far too expensive for its own good. Thankfully, however, uncleared and rocky lots are much less expensive, and we both see the diamond in the rough in terms of opportunity. I've been wanting to self-build a stone cottage for years now. Do you happen to have any written notes on the construction of your home that you can post for free to help us modest income folks out? Do you have any good resources we can look for?Thank you for the inspiration!


TobiasMalik
2/27/2018 8:50:58 AM

Hi Rosefolly, there are stone houses in very high seismic areas of which have literally withstood hundreds of years of earthquakes. It's all about the technique. Stone houses can and have been safely built in earthquake prone areas. Traditional stone masons who knew how often used timber confining elements and bands to give ductility to a building. The modern way of doing this is called "confined masonry." There are UN publications on building earthquake resistant stone houses in places like Nepal, Pakistan, and Northern India. You can find them free on the web in PDF. The same methods are often used in South America to build earthquake resistant brick houses as well.







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