Rebuilding a Burnt House

This couple eliminated much of the cost usually involved with owner-built homes by rebuilding a burnt house.

| November/December 1981

  • 072 burnt house 4 rebuilt house
    The rebuilt burnt house like this when it was finished.
  • 072 burnt house 3 original building
    The exterior looked like this when  the Taylors purchased it.
  • 072 burnt house 2 gutted house
    A gas explosion caused the fire that gutted the house.
  • 072 burnt house 1 charred beams
    The charred beams were still structurally sound and even better than before, having been fire-hardened. 

  • 072 burnt house 4 rebuilt house
  • 072 burnt house 3 original building
  • 072 burnt house 2 gutted house
  • 072 burnt house 1 charred beams

In these inflationary times, the major stumbling block facing folks who want to build their own home is often simply the bottom-line cost. Much of that expense has nothing to do with the ever-increasing prices of lumber and land, however. Both of those can be bargained for, given persistence, prudence, and a lot of legwork. Nor do the rest of the necessary finishing materials—such as windows, doors, paneling, hardware, roofing, and cabinets—account for all of those dollars. Such items can frequently be obtained by creative scavenging and careful combing of junk sales, auctions, flea markets and salvage yards.

Actually, one of the most expensive components of an owner-built home is simply the hole in the ground that it sits on. After all, that "starting point" includes a costly excavation, a foundation, and a number of hookups (including electricity, gas, water, sewer or septic tank, and that most maddening of all luxuries, the telephone).

You might also be surprised to hear, as my wife and I were when we set out to build, that the price of concrete has almost doubled in recent years. Worse yet, backhoe operators (who dig the main excavation and trenches for incoming, and outgoing service lines) command up to $100 an hour!

Furthermore, we found that the utility companies and city services would both have their hands out long before we were ready to lay one stick of wood on the foundation. Their fees for setting up the umbilicals (and the meters that attach) seemed high enough to daunt all but the hardiest, most stubborn do-it-yourselfer.

Finally, with building codes being tightened up in response to the human tendency to cut corners and save costs—and with local, state, and federal watchdogs mandating new regulations by the minute—we were faced with the realization that it's danged difficult to build a home without such approved "necessities" as electricity and a sewer connection. Just try telling the city or county building inspector that your house is going to be strictly solar heated, or that it won't require commercial electricity because you're going to wire it to a wind generator.

Or see what happens when you suggest that you've decided to forgo flush toilets in favor of composting ones. The water-saving commodes are still "experimental," the official will inform you, and intimate that you'd best postpone using that particular innovation until it's been approved by local, state, and federal regulatory commissions.

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