MOTHER's Low-Cost Home-Building Contest: Winner II

Winner number two in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Low-Cost Home-Building Contest are the Marquardts, who passed on a mortgage and went to work with planning, conviction and logs.

| May/June 1986


Diagram of the Marquardts ceiling cutaway.


The Marquardts passed on a mortgage and went to work with planning, conviction and logs. 

MOTHER's Low-Cost Home-Building Contest: Winner Number II: The Marquardts

If there had been a prize category in our contest for best use of indigenous materials, the Marquardts' home in Mediapolis, Iowa, would have won hands down. Though four out of the five winners in the contest made use of trees on or near their own property, Wayne, Marcia, Jamey, Matt, and Sara Marquardt put 252 logs directly to work as the floor joists, exterior walls, loft joists, and rafters of their home. No milling was done, other than notching and flattening some sides with a chain saw and hand tools.

Half of the logs were earned in trade for clearing a farmer's land; the other half were purchased for a dollar apiece from a state forest where fire lanes were being cleared. Thus all the major structural elements of the 1,580-square-foot, two-story house cost only $126. In fact, getting the 18 foot to 24 foot logs to their building site cost more than twice as much as the materials themselves! (See the diagrams of the Marquardts home in the image gallery).

Low-Cost Home-Building: Fundamental Economy

From their first inkling of a plan, the Marquardts intended to build their home without a mortgage. This, of course, required that they design and build the house themselves-despite having no previous construction experience — and that they keep very tight control of expenses. It helped them to admit at the beginning that they wouldn't be able to afford the time or money for everything they wanted; from that start, they focused their energy and funds on the necessities.

Using local logs for most of the structural elements saved thousands of dollars, and they shopped carefully for the store bought materials they needed. But the family took an even more fundamental approach to cost control. As they put their concepts to paper, they looked for building techniques that didn't require heavy equipment or expensive tools. Rather than succumb to the allure of gadgets, they bought only basic hand tools, the most expensive of which was a $400 chain saw that's still in use for cutting firewood. Because of their building's design-it has a post, rather than trench, foundation, for example — they had little need of heavy equipment, and when more sophisticated tools were needed, they borrowed or rented them.

One of the particularly fascinating things about the Marquardts' home is the way they mixed logs and conventional materials. The selection of one or the other for a particular job shows an understanding of both the relative durability of materials and reasonably simple construction practices.

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