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Absolute cheapest building method?


Joined: Aug 08, 2011
Posts: 4
Hi there - I apologize in advance for a question that I'm sure y'all have addressed a million times.  But I just found these forums and am really excited to get input! 

My husband and I are planning to buy some land in the next few years, which will pretty much tap us out on cash.  So we're wondering what the absolute cheapest way to build might be.  Earthbags?  Cob?  We're hoping to scavenge some windows and maybe stuff for the inside.  We've seen videos of "tiny houses" that were really cheap, but we have 3 small boys and an older daughter (who will be going to college but probably coming back pretty regularly too), so doing something really tiny just isn't reasonable for us.  My husband is in construction and is an electrician, so we can do pretty much all the work ourselves...  I'd also mention just as an fyi that we're hoping to buy somewhere without codes, maybe missouri or somewhere in west virginia if we can find it... 

Joined: Aug 08, 2011
Posts: 16
Location: Maryland
Find a way to use all the material available on whatever land you purchase, that will make for the cheapest build. You're doing it once so you don't need to develop a model that you can replicate at $XX per square foot or whatever. Temperature, moisture, site orientation, etc, will also be factors. What makes sense in one climate on a specific site may not perform well in another.

For me the toughest struggle is to keep thinking 'How can I use what I have?' vs 'What can I buy to solve this problem?' I think we've been hard-wired to ask the latter.

Most informative books I've read are Becky Bee or Ianto Evans' books on cob building and Mike Oehler on using earth-sheltering.

Probably not much help but good luck!
Kathleen Sanderson

Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 985
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
For inspiration, you might read Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder -- her father built them a cabin on the new homestead entirely out of on-site materials, including the door hinges and latch.  It wasn't big, but if you put in a sleeping loft, and curtain off a corner downstairs for a bed for Mom and Dad, it would work.

In the areas that you are looking at buying land, you should consider 'cobwood' construction -- cordwood walls mortared with cob.  I don't know if you'd even need to let the wood dry for very long (especially if you can cut it in the winter when the sap is down), because it would be easy to re-chink the walls with fresh cob if the wood shrunk too much and cracked the walls. 


Joined: Aug 08, 2011
Posts: 4
Am I right in assuming that one could do either earth bags or cob with materials most places (except somewhere that was all sand)?  In the videos I've watched, the builders mentioned adding sand to clay in both earth bag construction and cob, so I thought perhaps cob was cheaper (if you don't need to buy the bags) but maybe alternately you'd need to purchase a larger amount of sand for cob?  Also seems like earthbags might be much faster?  I'm relatively confused on this. 

Joined: Jul 22, 2011
Posts: 13
I used rammed earth construction to build a house using just dirt, some scrap wood, and a tamp. I had everything already so all it cost was the time to erect the house. if you had to buy everything new it would probably cost around $500 including the roof for a 1000 square foot home. The best part? Crazy good insulation!

Nathan Wrzesinski

Joined: Aug 08, 2011
Posts: 16
Location: Maryland
Affordable walls are probably the least of your worries as there are many solutions. I would suggest figuring out what materials you have on site, can scrounge, or pick up for cheap or free, then tackle foundation and roofing. Those will be your biggest expenses. Rammed tires are a nearly free solution for foundation if you don't mind work. Look up Michael Reynolds earthships for info on those.
Dale Hodgins

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 5500
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
      The absolute cheapest building method is to find a way to get paid to dispose of other people's unwanted resources. Build from this stuff. All of this found material combined with whatever resources your land supplies should put you in a very inexpensive home.

Dale's picks - These are some of my favorite threads. Greed - http://www.permies.com/t/10736/md/unbridled-greed-ambition-compatible-permaculture My garden - http://www.permies.com/t/27910/projects/Dale-Day-Garden ethics - http://www.permies.com/t/11534/permaculture/frustration-ethics Good wood bad wood http://www.permies.com/t/12206/hugelkultur/Hugelkultur-Good-wood-Bad-wood Alder - http://www.permies.com/t/10609/plants/Alder-nitrogen-fixation-native-tree Bees - http://www.permies.com/t/10917/bees/time-replace-European-honey-bee Pulling nails - http://www.permies.com/t/10249/natural-building/Removing-nails-recycled-wood-techniques
Jake Van

Joined: Jun 18, 2011
Posts: 32
Check out earthships:
May not be the cheapest initially but no heating or cooling bill, designed to run on solar/wind power, designed to catch and store water(no well needed), processes its own sewage and greywater. The main structure is made from tires which you may get paid to take them or at least they will be free. The roof structure can be mostly made of beams from trees off your own property. They look pretty cool too!
Brice Moss

Joined: Jul 28, 2010
Posts: 700
Location: rainier OR
grabing a cheap mobile, or camp trailer and living in it for a year or two while you build/recover your finances can be a good move
Kathleen Sanderson

Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 985
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
If this place sells, I've found eighteen acres with a small, unfinished cabin on it, with a (dug) well and a septic system.  The price would be good for the land alone.  I can finish the cabin, then add on to it as needed and as I can afford to. 

Walter Jeffries

Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 1027
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
Hmm... Do you want the cheapest up front cost or the cheapest long term cost? Something to consider.

In either case, we built our house for $7,000 in materials. We provided all the labor. 252 sq-ft plus loft and attic space. It is build of masonry, ultra-low maintenance, floats above 40°F through our northern Vermont winters if left alone and uses only 3/4 cord per year of wood to heat to nice warm temperatures.

What ever you go with, think about your long term maintenance (paint, etc) and energy costs (heating, cooling, etc).

See our cottage at:


in Vermont

Kirk Mobert

Joined: Jan 07, 2011
Posts: 136
Location: Point Arena, Ca
Cob walls, or locally harvested pole construction (w/light straw infill) will likely be your cheapest wall solution.. Really depends on what can be found locally. Cob is labor intensive, pole construction requires a measure of skill.

The expensive bits of a building are the foundation and the roof.
If you live in a seismically stable area, you can use dry stacked urbanite (broken sidewalk, patio, etc.) or found stone.
If you build small, roof structure can be lightweight, increasing materials choices.
Going up (building higher) in a building minimizes roof and foundation area.. I recommend building in stages, keep each stage reasonably sized (as small as possible) and plan to expand as time, money and/or season allow.

Build it yourself, make it small, occupy it.
Patricia Ramirez

Joined: Aug 25, 2011
Posts: 19
Location: Sioux Lookout, ON
We're building a cob home. It's 75 sq ft with a loft on either end. We have probably been building it for approximately 5 months and it is now nearly completion with just the roof to be placed on. Our total cost todate is around $800.00 and that does not include the steel roof we need to get (hopefully salvage). The logs we are using was last years firewood. Sand we retrieved locally, it was a five minute drive down the road, the owner charged us only for having to use his loader to dump it into our truck, which was $80. Then the 3/4'' rock we had delivered was about $400. 10 bales of straw ($50) 6 tarps ($42) misc items total ($100).
We estimate the grand total may run us to about $1000.00.

If you want to check out our progress, I have a link to our website on my profile page.

Looking forward to seeing what your final decision will be.
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subject: Absolute cheapest building method?