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I remember the days when we were sitting in our little suburban ranch home dreaming of building a house. There were many nights where I’d stay up late looking at passive solar home plans and ways to build on the cheap. I had Pinterest boards full of homestead and cabin ideas!
And then we actually built our home.
Now, you might be looking for actual home designs that are really cheap to build, or methods to use that keep costs low. That’s well and good, but here’s what I know now that I’ve actually built using both natural and conventional methods:
There is no one method that is THE cheapest.
It is entirely possible to build a home with natural materials for millions of dollars (like this cordwood home). It is also possible to build a very conventional house for little or even no money depending on how you source your materials. So rather than searching all over the internet for the magic bullet, here’s some actual advice to help you build as cheap as possible while still getting a great quality house at the end.
5 Ways to Build a House on a Tight Budget
1. Build smaller.
The obvious first step to reducing your budget is to reduce your overall housing needs. Generally, the smaller the house, the fewer materials you need and therefore the less money you’ll spend. Along with that, smaller homes will require fewer resources to heat, cool, and maintain it over time.
But before you rush off and build a tiny house, you need to address what your housing needs actually are for your family. While tiny/small may be the best way to save money for many people, there are situations you have to address before you fall in love with small home plans. Click here to learn some critical points to evaluate whether or not tiny/small homes are right for you.
Beyond that, it is entirely possible to end up spending MORE on materials per square foot on a tiny house build than you would if you’d built slightly larger. Aim to strike a balance of materials to living space when planning your home.
2. Use as many reclaimed materials as possible.
Doing this not only keeps building materials out of the landfill, but it helps save you money as well. You can get some stunning, high-quality building materials if you find the right deals.
For example, one of our followers dismantled an old Sears kit home and salvaged the materials from it. These homes were sold between 1908 and 1940, and contain some beautiful and strong old-growth lumber. She and her husband took it down in exchange for all the lumber & beams, which they then used as the frame for their house. Between the lumber and the other various items they gathered (old tongue and groove, wood flooring, and bricks to name a few) she estimates that they saved around $10,000 on materials. You can see their project in progress here.
Be careful though. Not all reclaimed materials are safe for use and some could actually cost you money in the long run. Read more here to learn what to look for in your reclaimed materials before you use them.
3. Get as many materials and services as you can for cheap or free.
This goes along with number 2, but your cheap and free materials don’t have to be reused items. It is entirely possible to get brand new items at deep discounts. For example, we got four brand new high-efficiency windows still in their shrink wrap at a local builder’s surplus store. We paid roughly 30% of their retail price just because someone else had a mis-order!
You can also save huge amounts of money on services by simply finding the right people and ASKING. We hired our excavator after lots of friends and family referred him to us, and the relationship we formed with him easily saved us five figures. He’s been in excavation for decades, and was always willing to share his expertise with us whenever we had questions. Not only that, but because we kept coming back to him he was more than willing to work out deals with us.
4. Use a natural building technique.
Using a natural building technique is a great way to save money while also working in harmony with the earth instead of against it.
We built our house with cordwood masonry. Cordwood was the perfect fit for us because we have a LOT of Eastern red cedar on our property, which is a great wood for cordwood construction. In addition, cordwood plays well with our local climate and doesn’t require any additional finish work. A regular stud wall would have needed studs, sheathing, vapor barrier, insulation, and finish coverings like siding and drywall. Our cordwood walls, built within a post-and-beam frame, negated the need for much of that.
Careful though. As I stated earlier, just using a natural method doesn’t mean you will reduce your costs. Incorporating natural building methods along with other strategies, however, is a great way to save money. Here are some tips:
What if cordwood isn’t your thing? Luckily, there are loads of great natural building techniques. Here are some to consider:
There are pros and cons to any of these methods so do your research carefully!
5. DIY as much of your build as you can.
The more of the construction you can complete on your own the less you will ultimately pay out in labor and materials. This is an area where knowing your skills and your limits is a huge asset. Even more important is your ability to learn and adapt.
We both spent a lot of time learning how to complete tasks ourselves.We used our first home as a sort of “practice” house. It was an unfortunate looking foreclosure with great bones, but it needed a lot of work. Together, we gutted the kitchen and rebuilt it from scratch, ripped out parts of our old bathrooms to build new, fixed a cracked foundation, and removed old aluminum wiring to replace it with better and more code-compliant circuits.
Here’s a throwback to a time before we even knew our off-grid homestead was a possibility. This was how we learned back in 2010:
Doing a solid DIY job as a partnership is about half skill and half cooperation. If you’re planning to build a house with your spouse, you definitely need to check out this post before you start.
By far, the BEST way to build on the cheap is to have a PLAN.
No matter what kind of house you want to build, if you haven’t figured out everything from your living and building budgets to your insurability, materials cost to building code, you WILL spend way more money and time than you thought you would.
Sure, you need to get a real idea of what kind of house you want to build. Looking at plans in books or on Pinterest is honestly one of the most fun parts of homebuilding! BUT say you get your land and you set to building. Now what? Do you have a roadmap to help you navigate the nitty gritty of building your own house?
If not, and you’re serious about building your house, I highly suggest you take a look at our Owner-Builder Home Planner.
You can also subscribe below to get our free PDF quick-start guide to help you think about those “hidden” tasks that have to be completed when you’re building a house. Fill out the form below to get a copy:
We bought 16 acres of raw land and built an off-grid cordwood house from scratch! You can learn more about it here.
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