A MOTHER's Staffer's Hand Built Low-Cost Home for $50,000

A MOTHER's staffer takes a "housebuilding sabbatical" to create a hand-built low-cost home measuring 1,800 square feet at the cost of $50,000, includes building diagrams for the low-cost house.

| November/December 1985


We used a simple rectangular design with dimensions in multiples of four feet to save on labor and materials.


One of MOTHER's staffers trade his typewriter for a tool belt to create a hand-built low-cost home measuring at 1,800 square foot home and costing a mere $50,000. 

Two summers ago, my editor at THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS graciously let me take a onetime" housebuilding sabbatical." I hired a contractor/designer/carpenter and his two-man crew . . . asked MOM's technical experts—and anyone else I could find—lots of questions . . . borrowed ideas from solar houses, consultants, and computer programs . . . and then pitched in to help design and build the passive solar home you see pictured here. It has 1,818 square feet of enclosed floor area, provides solar hot water, burned one and a third cords of wood its first winter (my family's prior residence needed five), and cost $50,000 to build (not including the cost of the property).

Now, let me admit two things right off the bat. First, nobody can rightly say that I built this house. You know the term owner-builder? Well, I was more of an owner-bungler. The three experienced carpenters I worked with are really responsible for the home's clean looks and basic soundness of my hand-built low-cost home. Me, I spent the summer fetching boards, cleaning up, and making errors typical of a greenhorn carpenter. Still, I did learn a lot—enough that I now feel confident about tackling most of the remaining work myself.

And that statement leads to my second admission: The house isn't complete. Actually, the first floor looks fine (if you ignore the missing baseboards and the scrap-lumber stairs). The upper story, though, has a few shortcomings—in fact, when we moved in, it didn't even have interior walls! (They were framed, wired, and plumbed, but not covered: We called it" the visible house.") I've since nailed up 110 sheets of drywall upstairs, but those gypsum backbreakers still need taping, spackling, sanding, and painting. From there I'll move on to hanging the bedroom doors . . . installing the vinyl floor in the upper bathroom . . . stoning the first-floor chimney . . . converting part of the porch into a mudroom . . . and, well, you get the idea.

Still, it's a good home, even now. All five members of my family love it. And we think it looks attractive, as well.

May I take you on a tour?

noel robertson
11/14/2012 3:40:29 PM

This is the best article on efficient home-building I've found yet. Thank you so much for your details, analysis, and experiences. This is exactly what I've been looking for!

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