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Cheap House Design

Can you design and build a cheap house? Well, yes, but only if that means it is designed well but is inexpensive.

If you want a shack that will fall in on your head during the next heavy snowload, then look elsewhere. If you would practical information on designing a home of your own, like how I designed and built an energy efficient, passive solar, straw bale house for $20,000, and would like for me to share my secrets with you and how we did it on the cheap, then you have come to the right place.

These methods can be used to build ANY type of home, whether you choose standard construction (wood frame), a brick house, post and beam, straw bale, hempcrete, rock or block, or a plethora of other styles.

5 Rules on how to make a cheap home that will save you money in the design, construction, and utilities without sacrificing quality

Build your dream home

Build your dream home

Rule #1: Build it yourself

Two-thirds the cost of building a house is labor. When you do your own labor you just saved two-thirds the cost of the house.

That means you can build a $150,000 house for around $50,000.

This method is exactly what we did. Not too bad, eh!

By the way, you can also ask for help from family, friends, and in some cases even find volunteers to help (I explain this secret in my “Cheapskate’s” book).

Owner built homes are typically better constructed than those by a regular building contractor, who build them only “to code” (the absolute minimum requirement). Owners care more about what goes into their homes, so tend to do a lot of extra “little things” that contractors simply do not have time nor concern about.

This leads me to…


Rule #2: Design the house right the first time, and keep interior design options open

When designing a home you intend to build, there are some things you can change, and some that you shouldn’t. For instance, you can change lines on a piece of paper as many times as you want, but changing your construction process, or choice of materials mid-stream, can cost you a load of wasted money.

Design the home right first by knowing what floor plan you want, what features you desire, and doing some research on which types of materials you have in your local area, and what resources are available to you.

Here’s the kicker, settle on a solid plan for these, and make sure that the home will pass the building codes, then stick with the plan without making any more alterations to it… but keep certain things open, such as: a small range of sizes or types of used windows, door types (hollow core or solid core, colors that can be changed), kitchen counters and cabinets, and flooring options.

It is important to keep these latter, more loose plans, open in case a special opportunity arises (whether that’s a big sale, or hearing about someone that is getting rid of a bunch of stuff you can use, etc.), which will provide you with the chance to find something better for less cost–sometimes even free!


Rule #3: Use as much natural eco-green and local materials as possible because they can save money and are healthier

Natural materials are usually local materials, thus they are cheaper in cost than hauling special order items in from thousands of miles away (shipping costs are added into the price, typically).

Natural materials, used in green home building projects, can also mean materials like rock and fill from local quarries, locally made brick or tile or other products, a local lumber mill or source for recycled wood, local businesses and manufacturers of building materials and products, and so on.

When it is natural it is typically healthier than man-made products that are filled with glues and resins and chemicals that gas off–this reduces air quality in the home and increases chances for respiratory problems or worse (formaldehyde or other chemical fire retardants in new carpeting, for example, is a carcinogen).

Local and natural materials can save you money now and potential health problems down the road. Use eco-friendly green products or materials instead. Sometimes just getting something that is newer-used will save a bundle, and will already have much of the outgassing issues depleted.


Rule #4: Reduce heating and cooling loads significantly by designing the home to be passive solar

Passive solar is NOT active solar (solar energy panels)… instead, a passive solar house is where the house itself becomes the collector. Passive solar has no moving parts. It does not require electricity to work either. It just sits there passively doing its job.

(click on image to see book cover)

(click on image to see book cover)

A passive solar home can utilize solar gain through south-facing windows, store the heat in the thermal mass floors and walls, and then hold that heat inside the house because of the insulation values and other design features.

This means you save big bucks on heating and cooling for the rest of your life (if you live there the rest of your life), or at least for the lifetime of the house!

You can learn about how to make a passive solar house design here.

You can also see the book, DIY Simple Passive Solar House here.


Rule #5: Use the Buy-and-Barter Method

(click on image to see book cover)

(click on image to see book cover)

Cheapskates like me use the buy-and-barter method… this means you buy inexpensively, barter for services and/or materials and goods, and find things free as much as possible in order to build your home as inexpensively as possible.

For instance, we got a hold of some free wood and tin and built a shed. The shed cost us nothing, but held windows and doors and items that we bought used, which we put into the house plan materials list, and they were stored safely until we needed them.

This is cheaper than renting a storage unit, and better than trying to store stuff inside of where you live while you build your house. Plus it allows you to take your time to find the really best deals for free or used items and provides a safe place for them until you are ready to install them into the home.

This and other tips, lists, and tons more information for doing things cheaply or free, or on a tight budget, are covered in my Cheapskate’s Passive Solar Home Design book here.

If you like these tips you can learn more by reading other articles on this site or seeing some of our free e-book downloads.


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