100 Tips for a Cheap House

House building figures are usually counted in scary dollar-per-square-foot figures. Houses are expensive, but much of the cost can be bypassed with the help of some basic shuffling. Think of the following as a brainstorming guide - each one might conceivably be added to a conventional low cost home plans and save you thousands. There are less than a hundred tips here because we're waiting on your tips - and each one will form the basis of future posts.

1. Free is Better than Cheap

A free kitchen offered on www.freecycle.org

The cheapest option you are going to have is if someone gives you something, and almost all low cost building approaches make good use of the generosity of friends and strangers. Think of ways to get free things you might need - land, building materials, and helpers. Knowledge that they are helping others, and a small, heartfelt thankyou gesture of thanks (such as a card, dinner party, working bee lunch, or invitation to stay in your home) may be all that some people need by way of payment.

2. Trade Your Abilities
If you can't afford to buy things, think of what you can trade. What do you do in your daily life that to others is equally difficult for them? Even Thoreau traded looking after land for the building of his hut (see post).

3. Move it!
Can't find the perfect house in the perfect place? Buy them separately! On-line classifieds like ebay it is easy to find a low cost home that is transportables, or houses for the buyer to demolish and transport. Often these are at severely reduced prices, for the seller can be rid of the house to rebuild. We have even seen advertised houses to take away and a payment of $2000! Even considering the time and money of dismantling and transporting, getting money for your building materials is the ultimate in low cost building.

4. Capital Gains
Before you get overly excited about your hobbit-hut in the side of a hill, think to the end of your project, when time comes to sell and move on. A low cost home needn't be a low yield investment. Think - will all your costs and efforts be rewarded in a resale? The best low cost building will be the one that actually brings you a profit in the end.

5. Recycle!
See our (future) posts on wood pallet floors, door tables, and fixing up transportable buildings. Consider shipping container architecture. Your house is out there - it just needs a little reordering!

6. Transit
Can't find a low cost building in an area you need? Consider all that cheaper land between two areas you like visiting regularly. There may be a little island of calm that suits you fine. Suddenly you have reduced both your property costs, and the distance to your favorite places you like to see.

7. Go Mobile
We have been amazed by the movement to beautiful, mobile, and very 'real' low cost homes. Stay tuned for a feature on this.

8. Think About Your Final Destination
Ok, so you can't afford your castle in rural France. That doesn't mean you need to forget it altogether. You could buy and renovate a smaller low cost building from a similar period, gaining skills that will be useful when you later buy. Or perhaps look for smaller French properties, to learn the laws and procedures you'll need when you are able to get closer to achieving your dream house.

9. Friends Indeed
Your friends will be your best asset when the time comes to build, renovate, or clear a property. But why not consider going in with them more substantially? Dividing ownership can reduce your costs (and labor and time) by half, two thirds, or three quarters - it all depends on the size of the property, and how much of it you "need" to keep.

10. Mi Casa...
While it was famously declared that "all property is theft" - we can all at least agree on the point that leaving a property vacant is a shame. Share your newfound home ownership, and have your generosity returned to you in wonderful and unpredictable ways.

11. Trade Up
You will save thousands if you can rely on your own abilities rather than forking out for someone else's. Simple ways to learn basic trades include adult education short courses, books, online resources, and even volunteering in charity housebuilding - of which many exist internationally (often in the third world). You not only get a great sense of helping others, you'll gain invaluable skills you can apply to building your own low cost home.

12. Simplify, Simplify
You may not think you can live in a tiny house. But what if you only had half of your possessions? Fortunately, the trend towards miniaturization in almost every aspect of our lives helps us out. Swap your bulky 1990s stereo for an Ipod (and miniature speakers), your desktop PC for a laptop, your bulky wardrobe for a sleek Ikea number. File your data to that great big attic known as the internet, even. Hire external storage space for things you don't use often. Dropping all that extra room you use to store stuff will save you thousands. "Leaving out" is the biggest tip in low cost building.

13. Migrate!
Be a true modern day pioneer. There may be parts of the country (or indeed the world) that you disregard as a possible home site, due to the climate. Fortunately, so do millions of others! We can do what the animal kingdom does when there is competition - adapt. Invest in air conditioning (for your house and car) or extra insulation. Land was once sold for $1 in central Australia, because few people wanted to spend time there due to the fierce summers, but in winter the weather was ideal. Learn from the birds, and move between different areas over a year. That desert or tropical place might be too hot in the summer, but it'll make all your friends jealous in winter! Likewise, that cold mountain top site will be great to move to in summer. Similar places are perfect locations to search for existing, unwanted, and low cost homes.

14. Low Cost Building Materials
There is really no need to buy new building materials. While most of us won't want to straighten out old nails, or make our own lime, most every type of building material, from doors to lumber, ends up in salvage yards, as well as online on sites like Freecycle, Ebay and Craig's List, or thrown out at tips. Even new building materials can be bought at auction houses for a fraction of their retail costs.

15. Find it on the Back of a Truck?
Know someone who is a tradesman? They might be able to sell you some materials, or let you use their trade discount.

16. Two For the Price of One?
We all know things like dog food, toilet paper and beer is cheaper by the bulk, so why not houses? Sometimes you can find two houses advertised together, at a discount to save time in selling them. Why not go in with a friend or family member (how often do you get to chose your neighbor?), or else sell one yourself and take the profits.

16. Go Upwards
Skyscrapers are built for one reason - land is expensive and as buildings they're cheap per square foot. Even for houses, going up (rather than out) is a good option for a low cost home.
"Building up often saves money as the foundation and roof tend to be the most expensive (and technically difficult) parts of the buildings. You could put living/cooking/washing areas below and sleeping above. This makes heating the space easier, as you can heat the lower level and control the passage of heat up into the 2nd story (or loft) as you need it. A higher initial roofline also simplifies later additions, as the add-on roofs can be tucked under the original one. The only real disadvantage of a 2-story is that it requires more wood and more carpentry than a single-story cob building." Says Michael G Smith, from www.greenhomebuilding.com

17. Play to Your Own Tune
If you employ an architect, they will usually first talk with you extensively, to discover what are your unique needs, constraints, and priorities. "Form follows function", as they say. If you are designing your own house, it is easy to forget about this, and get stuck on what your "dream house" looks like. This could make things slower, more difficult, and more expensive in the end.

In designing your own low cost home, think about the top ten priorities you have. Is it price-at-all-costs, or is anything under $20,000 okay? Do you need to expand your structure later on, and what for? What is more important, low cost building, speed of construction, or insulative properties? These type of decisions will influence the style, and material, of construction best suited to you. For instance, straw bales may go up faster than cob, but they are more susceptible to rodents. We all have more than one style of house that can make us happy.

Any more tips? Post them here.

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