The Owner Built Home and Homestead: Introduction to Building

Ken Kern shares an introduction to the basics of building using low-cost, simple and natural construction materials and techniques.

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    Everyone in the building industry appears to be busily engaged making "improvements" in his personal area of concern. But quality makes a steady decline. The end product is as inadequate and unsatisfactory and costly a house as ever.
    Photo by Ken Kern

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Ken Kern, author of The Owner-Built Home and The Owner-Built Homestead, is an amazing fellow and everyone interested in decentralist, back-to-the-land, rational living should know of his work. Back in 1948 he began collecting information on low-cost, simple and natural construction materials and techniques. He combed the world for ideas, tried them and started writing about his experiments. Eventually, Mildred Loomis started publishing Kern's articles in The Interpreter, Way Out and Green Revolution. Ken has also issued a three year series of pieces (called Technic) on his own and a greenhouse-sun pit design of his has been featured in Organic Gardening. 

This installment of Ken's work is taken from The Owner-Built Home. I'll be featuring never before published material from The Owner-Built Homestead in my No. 7 issue. Again, I have to apologize for jumping back and forth as I reprint Ken's excellent material, but that's the way I have to do it and Ken's writing makes it all worthwhile. 


The Homestead Building Site: Introduction to Building

I am intending this to be a how-to-think-it as well as a how-to-do-it book. As a designer-builder of contemporary homes—a self-appointed specialist in the low-cost field—I have long had the compulsion to express my feelings and thoughts in regard to the home-building industry, and to do something constructive for the people who are now suffering under it. I have yet to find one critic who comprehends entirely why our houses are so poorly constructed, why they look so abominable, why they cost so much for building and upkeep, and why they are so uncomfortable. Some critics blame the building contractors personally; others feel that the fault lies with urban codes and building restrictions. Some believe that expensive housing is due to the high interest rates charged by the bankers; others blame the trade unions for hampering efficient construction. Every writer on the subject seems to fondle some pet corrective measure. And every year some noted architect develops a sure-fire technical solution to the housing problem. Even more often the building material manufacturers come up with a new wonder; an improved wallboard or window or what-not which can be installed with a ten-minute saving in labor!

Everyone in the building industry appears to be busily engaged making "improvements" in his personal area of concern. But quality makes a steady decline. The end product is as inadequate and unsatisfactory and costly a house as ever. The architect spends more and more time at his drafting board, exhausting possibilities of new construction techniques and more economical arrangements; the contractor conscripts even more and specialized equipment for building efficiency; the banker resorts to undreamt-of-schemes to make it possible for everyone to buy his new home—even if he lacks money to make the down payment; building material manufacturers work overtime in their laboratories making "more and better things for better living." With all this hustle one might well expect some major improvements in new home construction. Whatever improvements occur are insignificant in comparison to the improvements that should be made. The causes of the world's housing problem still remain.

Tracing these causes to their sources has helped me to view the problem in perspective—comprehensively. This procedure has also suggested some workable alternatives as solutions to personal housing needs. Here they are in the form of seven axioms for the Owner-Built Home.

Gregory Thibeau
8/15/2009 12:00:11 PM

Hello Everyone: I am new here so I hope to make some real good contributions. I have spent a lot of time in the Philippines. Since they have a warm climate,they tend to try to make do with what they have. One of the things that I plan to do is to make a cold storage house/shed for keeping things cold. Most people do not own a refrigorator,and if they do,you have the problem of the electricity going out. My plan is to build a build a building that is 4ft,wide,by 10ft long,by8ft long. The structure could be anything that would work. I plan to use cememt. It is relatively cheap and I would be sure to get the best use of the temprature that I wish to maintain. This will also be above ground as people will need to go in whenever they need to. My plan at this point is to have the stucture 6inches to a foot thick. There will be two air holes on each end.One for the intake and one for the out take. This is so that the air is circulationing all the time. To me this is a must for any homestead. It can help cut down on the use of electricity again. What is even better is that my place in the Philippines is next to a well traveled road so we can have a small store too. I hope some of you may have other ideas that may be of help.

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