If you have a craving to build your own cozy home, but have felt frustrated trying to make it happen, you are far from alone.
You don't need me to tell you that the typical recipe of work, work, work (and then work some more) to save up for a down payment and then try to pay off the mortgage for the rest of your life, does not often bring joy and happiness, and can even end up with the hard worker poor and destitute and even homeless.
And then there's the housing chicken and egg: when you have some time to consider building, you don't have the money. And when you are able to earn enough money, you don't have the time!
I'm writing to you to say, YES, there is way to build your dream home without working yourself into a grave!!!
I'm sure there are MANY other ways, but I know one and I want to share it with you. It not only brings me constant joy and happiness, but it has allowed me to build my dreams and do it without going into debt - at all!
The path I chose started in 1996 when I took my first Cob Workshop. I was thrilled to learn how to build my own house...all in a week! My next challenge took longer: finding a place to build. But when I finally landed here on Lasqueti, I knew this was it.
What I didn't know was that the method I learned to build with would exhaust me and not even get an outhouse completed. It was beyond slow. It required a sizable community to effectively build. And luckily for me, there was a burgeoning cob community right here on Lasqueti!
So the Mudgirls and I organized the first workshop at our home. We agreed that the 9ft/3m-diameter utility shed would be completed in 1 workshop. So 4 hard-working women, an instructor, and I started. 6 full days later, we barely reached the top of the door frames; there was still another foot+ and a loft to go! So we organized a fall workshop, and it got us up to the first floor. Oh well, the first of the winter tarps was laid and the following summer, 10 people wanted to learn and help build! How could it not be done after those 6 days?
Well, it wasn't. But I'll never complain because that workshop provided the birth of the revolutionary method that we now call Fast Cob! At the time, we coined the phrase: "4 corner Korean noodle take out" to describe the method that Soban literally invented in a couple of days of tinkering. Suddenly, I could mix much faster, and with practice and more tinkering, I estimate that I now mix 10x faster and use MUCH less of my own energy doing so. It's not as easy as lying on a couch, but I can do this all day, everyday and not be exhausted (which I can't say is true when I lay on a couch:).
That workshop ended and I finished the utility shed in two weekends all by myself. Well, actually I had the help of a beautiful Arbutus tree who offered her body to allow me to pulley up buckets of Fast Cob! to the 2nd floor. In gratitude, I built the cedar shake roof around her generous self and she still seems as vibrant and alive as ever.
Since then, I've been teaching others how to build with ease and joy. And now I want to share it with you.
Fast Cob! is at least 10x faster to mix than "traditional" West Coast Cob, and it is up to 30x faster to put on a wall. But more importantly, it now compares to the speed of conventional building with wood. Fast Cob! can build a 400 sq ft, 1 bedroom cabin in a month. That's 1 person, working 7 hours a day, 5 days a week. And it includes the foundation and roof and a finished coat of plaster.
But how do you do all this and stay out of debt?
There's no doubt that land costs will make this tricky. If you want to build in a populated area and own the land outright, it will cost a lot of money just to get started.
But there are options here, too.
Land co-ops are more common than you'd think. Often they are disguised as Stratas. Some require a commitment to the community but offer a almost free fee to join and maintain your membership. Bottom-line: it is possible to find land that is affordable for you to start building on.
And once you do find a place to build...
No debt is required to get your dream house on the ground! Cob is literally dirt-cheap! This is what I know:
Fast Cob! needs material that is mostly sand and has enough clay to make it all stick together. We add straw for tensile strength, which basically keeps that sandcastle from melting in the waves. Water allows us to mix it all and activate the clay that will keep it stuck together for centuries. That's it. Dirt cheap.
Sand and clay can literally be dug out of the ground. If you're lucky, your building site will provide all the material you need for free (if you dig by hand) or cheap (if you use a machine or hire someone to use a machine). I've hired people to bring it near our building sites with dump trucks. It would be a challenge to exceed a few thousand dollars here; the 400 sq ft 1 bedroom cabin would cost about $400.
Straw can be grown or bought. But if you have another hollow grass/reed that is plentiful and nearby, use that, especially if it's free. This cost is at most hundreds of dollars; that cabin would cost at most $100.
Doors and windows can be expensive. But they can also be free. Let's compromise and budget $500.
Water can be the biggest delay to building, if you're starting on raw land without public water service. Always choose gravity feed over pumps. Don't go the easy route and buy pumps if you have any chance at all of using gravity to do the water collecting/transporting. Gravity always works; pumps will break, guaranteed.
Starting from scratch to provide your own water for living and building can cost as little as a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Now your tools. Timber frame houses will cost you tens of thousands of dollars in tools. Fast Cob! will cost you about a hundred if you buy new and don't need a wheelbarrow. Let's be extravagant here and buy everything new, including a wheelbarrow: $300. Yes, you read that right, which includes a waterhose, spray nozzle with valve, tarps to mix on, level, shovel, and an (old) handsaw.
Are you beginning to believe that building your dream home can be done without going into debt? I hope so because our budget for that 1 bedroom cabin just got up to $1,300. But we haven't factored in a foundation or a roof yet....
I prefer to build foundations out of real (free) rock. If you have access to free urbanite (broken concrete that is banned from most landfills), that would likely be easier but less lovely. If you really prefer concrete, you can do that, too. I'm not sure how much that would cost because it depends if cement trucks can get to you and if you do it yourself, the tool cost just went up. So I'm going to add together the cost of all of the foundations for the 6 buildings I've built and add that to our running total: $0.
The roof, however, is far from free in my experience. Thatchers would likely disagree, but I don't have those skills (yet). I have built cedar shake roofs with shakes I've split myself, but believe it or not, that was much more expensive than the metal roofs I've purchased. And metal roofs are fireproof and SO much easier to put up. So I'll put a metal roof on our 1 bedroom cabin: $640
The rafters and purlins to support the roof can be free as well if you build near a forest. If not, then there's a significant cost, which I'll assume for you since there ain't much forest left on our planet (I'll get to more of that next email;). So for our cabin, let's add $400.
The strapping for the roof is another $500. The ceiling is optional but would cost about $300 for tongue and groove pine.
Screws are not cheap but won't break your budget either. Let's add $400 to be safe.
Now there are other details to add, like kitchen counters, appliances and even a wood stove. All of these can be obtained for free or for a lot of money. I'll let you decide.
Ignoring those details, our 400 sq ft, 1 bedroom cabin is $1,000 plus tools and the roof, which I've estimated to cost $2,240. Maybe you are a thatcher or have a friend that can do it for less. But if not, our dream cabin costs a total of $3,540!!! And it can be built by 1 person in 1 month with Fast Cob!
That's right, less than $4,000. There are no missing zeros. The last new home price I rode by in Parksville said $419,000 plus GST. The GST alone is more than 5x the cost of our hand-crafted home.
Yes, it IS possible to build your dream home and NOT go into debt. And in my next email I'll show you how it's possible to build your dream home and NOT destroy the planet...actually, we'll even help the planet...imagine that!
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