By far the biggest expense the average person will have in the course of their lifetime will be their house. Reducing or eliminating the cost of housing when you retire, can go a long way to making retirement comfortable. Imagine how different your life would be today, if you didn't have a payment for housing, and the energy costs of your house were 1/10th that of your neighbors.
I know what your thinking, I can't build a house, I don't know anything about building.
Well, you most certainly can learn about building, and once you learn, you can build.
Very few people can do everything from design to finish trim, but even fewer people aren't able to do anything when it comes to building a house.
First let's look at some simple economics.
Most people buy a house, then take a 30 year mortgage on the house. At todays interest rates, you end up paying about the same in interest that you do for the house. Which means you pay twice as much for everything that goes into the house. Which means you save twice as much for every hour of labor you put into your own construction. Everytime you save an hour of plumbers time, at about $60/hr., you're saving roughly $120 of the total cost of your home. Same with electrical, or carpentry, or roofing..., you get the picture. Now, I've never ever been payed anywhere near $100/hr, so you end up paying yourself some big bucks to do your own work.
Where do you begin? Energy! Energy! Energy! If you're thinking of purchasing a new house, and you're not thinking energy, then you are either filthy rich, or you would like to experience what it's like to default on a mortgage.
We are at Peak Oil, and all fossil fuel energy prices will be skyrocketing from here on out, except when we are in the severe recessions that the higher prices will cause. In the next 10 years, we will look back at $4.00/gal gas as the good ole days. Remember, every dollar in energy that you save, can go to paying off your mortgage even faster.
I really can't give you a cookbook approach on how to design and build your own house, so I'll tell you about the approach I took, and hopefully others will add their own approach, or how to do it better, then you'll have to decide what would be best for you.
1) The local climate conditions.
What are the local weather conditions? Are you in a cold climate where solar heating would be plentiful? Are you in a cloudy area where solar won't be as important as super insulation? Are you in the southwest where summer cooling will be more important than winter heating?
I live in the Mountains of Colorado. The winters are long, cold, snowy, and we have brutal winds. But we get a fair amount of sunshine. So my local conditions immediately pushed my design toward something that could handle the strong winds and heavy snow, and my energy requirements to solar and wind.
2) Local topography.
Is your property steep hills, or flat? Is it heavily treed or are there clearings to the south? Is the soil sandy, or clay, or rock...? These types of conditions can put limits on your design, or force you to change your design to adjust for the conditions.
I looked for a property that had a good southern exposure, was relatively flat, and had good soils to build on.
3) Your skill level.
The design and construction type of your house will largely be driven by, what is it you think you can do. You can brake down the construction of a house into many skill types and sub types like, plumbing, electrical, framing, roofing, concrete, drywall... The thing to keep in mind is, these tasks take a combination of experience and knowledge. The knowledge can be acquired from plenty of books, talking to plenty of people, and the internet, the experience will be on the job training. Will you be able to do the work with the same quality of an experienced plumber or electrician or carpenter? Most likely no. Can you do the work well enough to pass an inspection, to be trouble free, and to not cause any problems with the rest of the construction? Most likely yes.
After gathering as much information as you can about every phase of the construction, you have to ask yourself, can I do it? You'll be surprised at how many times you'll answer, you're darn right I can! A very important factor to keep in mind is, when you're designing your house, design for your skill level. If this is your first big building project, you probably don't want to design a house with dozens of corners and bends in the foundation that ends up making for a multi-sloped very complicated roof. Keep it simple.
For me, when it comes to building, I am about the least skilled or talented person you'll ever meet. I absolutely don't have an eye for detail. But I like to read a lot, and I find the whole process quite fascinating. So I read dozens of books, and spent many hours doing research on the internet. I was able to understand the concepts enough, and find enough illustrations, that I could do most of the work without too much trouble, but I also designed the simplest house I could. I also had a skilled friend who I would occasionally ask to come by and check my work to point out any problems.
Financing is a complicated subject that I really can't comment too much on. But keep in mind, by doing much of the work yourself, you won't need as much financing as paying someone else to do it. You might be able to get a construction loan, but not likely. Family and friends might be a possibility. A 2nd mortgage on an existing property? Or, pay as you go.
Since I was limited to weekends and free time to build my home, It happened to work out that I could pay as I built.
Make no mistake, building your own home is a lot, and I mean a lot of work. And hammers and frustration are often not a good combination. But the satisfaction of living in a place that you built with your own hands, and where the energy costs are so low as to be laughable, and where your mortgage will be payed off in a very few years, is something that makes it well worth the effort.
This diary is already too long, and this just scratches the surface, but I hope it's enough that people will understand that they really can free up their lives from the life long mortgage debt, and they really can gather enough knowledge to build their own home.
Here are some of the books I used. Some of these books will help you decide what you shouldn't be doing as well as what you should.
Modern Carpentry-Wagner (The bible of carpentry, although a bit dated)
The Passive Solar House-Kachadorian
Earth Sheltered housing design-University of Minnesota
Complete Book of Underground houses-Roy
Building the Timber Frame House-Benson
Plumbing a House-Hemp
The Solar House-Chiras
The Solar Electric House-Strong
Framing Roofs-Fine Homebuilding
Home design software (don't get the cheapest, and you don't need the most expensive).
Talk to people at lumber yards, electrical outlets, plumbing stores...
Below is a listing of some facts about the house I built and some pictures.
Climate is very cold. -40F wind chill is common.
1800 sq ft.
Simple ranch style, with earth berm 20" on 3 sides.
About $100,000 cost, including well, septic and energy.
Walls are insulated concrete forms R25.
Ceiling of R40.
Large thermal mass in concrete floors with solar radiant heat system.
70% Solar heat, 30% wood, propane fireplace backup, no furnace.
95% electricity from PV's and wind generator, 5% from gas generator, off the grid.
Here's a few links to some pictures.