Our $150 Recycled Wood House

Using recyeled wood and windows scavenged from old barns, this couple spent only a small sum for new materials to build a wood house in rural New Hampshire.

| March/April 1972

  • recycled wood house - under construction
    Mary and Van's wood house under construction on their New Hampshire homestead. They obtained all the recycled wood they needed from old barns.
    Photo by Mary Lee Coe
  • recycled wood house - diagram
    A simple diagram and floor plan of the house.

  • recycled wood house - under construction
  • recycled wood house - diagram

Some time ago I determined that I would take as much responsibility as possible for the conditions of my life and, toward that end, I worked in New York City editing manuscripts for a year until I had saved enough money to make a break to the woods. Last June I used those savings to buy into a 180 acre homesteading community in New Hampshire and now—three months after building a wood house on "my" six acres—my friend, Van, and I are thriving in what looks to be a long, cold winter.

From my writing desk in the loft of our new home I can watch the sun pass from east to west and the wind blow through the trees outside ... and I can do it in the comfort of crackling wood heat because I am surrounded by one window that faces east, two that look south and one on the loft's west side that gives me a view across a spectacular swamp. Thus, the loft is filled with sun all day long and is a good place to keep our parsley and sage growing through the winter. It's also my favorite part of the house because it's the height to which much of the warm air rises from the downstairs stoves.

From my second story perch, I can let my mind's eye wander over the Good Life that Van and I have built for ourselves: seven cords of wood cut (half by hand with a crosscut and bucksaw) and stacked in the dooryard, a Glenwood parlor stove, a funky old Household cooking range with an extra large firebox, two loving woods dogs, a kitten, and a very beautiful, warm, well-lighted spacey house which we completed in October. It's hard to believe that, once I had those six acres, we built our cozy, satisfying home in three months for less than $150 cash-out-of-pocket!

We brought the building in on that tight budget by following the ideas in Rex Roberts' book, Your Engineered House, and by constructing our year-round lodge almost entirely from recycled wood. We got all the necessary lumber and windows free by simply knocking on the doors of folks with old barns and asking if we could tear the structures down for the beams and siding.

The method worked amazingly well. If you're high enough (and we were ... on homesteading), people always seem to turn up at the best possible moment to give you the things you need. We had beautiful sets of old windows, chicken houses, barns, sap houses—even an old boat house—offered to us. The potential swaps (our labor for their lumber) far exceeded our needs and we ended up taking down only a sap house, the boat house, and a barn with magnificent beams of 7" x 7" white pine.

1 found this dismantling an appropriate prelude to constructing my own home. Neither Van nor I had ever built a house (I had hardly handled a hammer) and tearing down the old structures taught us something about the strength and function of different materials and tools.


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