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Archive for July, 2007

David Lee

Raising Cash

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

cottage

The last post was for young people starting their home building education in the real world. Today’s is for people who have been out there awhile and have a few miles on them. I am thinking of 25 to 35 year olds. I was 29 when I decided to build my first home. I had obligations, a job, bills, a mortgage and hardly any savings. Does that sound like you?

On the plus side, I had a few assets. I had a nice car that was almost payed off and a collection of stamps, coins, and other semi-precious items that I had saved from my youth. About one third of my little house was paid for and I had My Baby, a 10 1/2 foot long chopper (motorcycle) painted OSHA Safety Purple, that I had to ride after midnight because it attracted too much attention in the light of day.

I know you are ahead of me here and realize that I am going to tell you to sell off anything you have that is worth money. It hurts, I know, but console yourself with the thought that in a couple of years you will be able to buy a better…whatever it is. My Baby had to go. It was heartbreaking. I sold everything I could and it actually turned out to be a freeing experience. The person who said “He who owns little, is little owned” was right.

Anything you owe payments on should go next. I sold my nice little car and replaced it with an old pickup truck that I bought for a few hundred dollars. I estimated it would last two years (it lasted eight, great truck.) All the money went into the credit union because their interest rate was higher than a bank’s and I wanted their cooperation when I needed loans later.

Another area where I saved a surprising amount of money was by altering my entertainment and social life. When I wrote down what all that fun cost me I was shocked. I changed from movies, clubs and parties to long walks in the park and TV and popcorn dates. I got so disciplined about this that I limited myself to only two steady girlfriends. It was tough.

Everyone has different circumstances but the procedure is the same. Sell everything you can to lower your debts as drastically as possible (plus 10% more) and stash your money in an interest bearing account. All this should be accomplished during the first year, which is long enough to do it gracefully. You won’t have time to feel deprived because there will be plenty of interesting things happening to keep you occupied.

If you have a mortgage on a house you have options. I’ll go over those with you next time. For now, go sell something.

* * *

D. Chandler emailed today asking about a stucco finish over bricks on the outside of a house:

D., scroll down these posts to find several that cover just this subject. Yes, you can smear stucco onto exterior bricks but be prepared for the Masons when they come over and do a protest march in front of your house.

David Lee

Money and Money

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

weathered-shakes

Money…always a concern. Sometimes it is useful to comparison think. Something like comparison shopping but not quite. Here is how it goes for our purposes.

Let’s suppose you are a fresh young high school graduate full of hope but financially worthless. Think about where you would get the money if you wanted to go to college. Mom and Dad (mostly Dad) would be the first source. Next would be college loans. Next, perhaps the military. You are thinking like a student.

Let’s compare. You are that same broke but hopeful young person and you want to learn house building – on your own. Where would you look for the funds? Well, start with Mom and Dad as before. Then, instead of college loans, you would look for Venture Capital!!  Sounds exciting and it is. It means you can expand the money hunt to include Uncle Roy or Grammy Mavis, a wealthy family friend, a bank or a credit union. (You won’t have to resort to the Military.) Now you are thinking like a businessman.

You can do this with confidence and pride because instead of looking for a handout you will be borrowing in a businesslike manner, with legal papers, and you will be paying them back with interest. But not just yet. Read the next paragraph before you go loan hunting. You will see a plan developing here.

You may be a young person of no financial means but you are able to work. I recommend that you plan on having one, better yet, two jobs during the whole first year of this home building course. And those jobs should be building houses. Get on a work site and try to learn all you can by direct experience. Work with a mason for a while, then a framer, then a roofer, then a drywall installer and learn about finish work. Making money while learning was called an apprenticeship in the old days.

Watch closely the way each professional does his job. Be especially observant of the plumbers and electricians. Be respectful and learn a lot. Take notes, lots of notes. Take pictures and keep them in order for easy reference later.

This work binge does not have to be done in your home town. In fact, there may not be enough house building locally to be useful to you. But if you are young and fancy free maybe you could go to New Orleans, or Florida where they are begging for construction workers. The pay is very good. It would be a good adventure for you to get away from home and out on your own for 10 months or so.

Being away from hometown temptations might help you save your money. Or maybe big city temptations would be too much for you. I have heard there are lots of pretty girls in cities. Perhaps you should have your checks sent to your Mom and Dad. You know yourself better than I do, I hope.

So, at the end of 10 months you should have a very savvy hands-on understanding of professional home construction with notes and photos to study later. You should have a good stash of money in the bank too. Mom and Dad will be so proud of you they will insist on giving you a venture capital loan to add to what you have. Other loan sources, like banks, credit unions, even Uncle Roy, will have more respect for your proposal if you have some money saved when asking for a loan.

Next time I’ll have money ideas for slightly better off people who have a few assets and want to build a house. There is a lot to talk about yet.

David Lee

Time Is Relative

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Stone-Church

It is exciting to plan big events. What I am proposing here could be an important life changing event, but you don’t have to commit to anything unless you see the sense in it, understand it and have the determination to do it. This kind of self education can easily become a career. It did for me.

For our first adventure in Home Building let’s rough out a time budget. I use two years as a time frame and separate that into one year of preparation and one year of actual building. Since time is relative, your two years may be longer or shorter than mine. Time will tell.

During the first year you will be rearranging your life to focus on the many jobs and details necessary to get you to the actual point of building. In later posts I’ll give you suggestions on how to manage money, subjects to study, basic tools you will and won’t need, how to find the right property and deal with bureaucracy. I will also discuss options for customizing your ‘curriculum’ during Year One, however long it is.

Year Two involves putting what you have learned to use by doing a project. I will show you four different projects ranging from hard to harder to very hard to hardest. (I hope you weren’t expecting this to be a cakewalk.) I will tell you lots more about Year Two later on.

Next post I’ll talk about money. While you’re waiting, look over your vast assets and figure out what you have available to put into this project. I think I can show you ways to enhance your finances that you might not have noticed.

David Lee

Home Made Ph.D.

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

fern-cottage

Back to Life Choices. I’m sure you have figured out that I am suggesting you build a house rather than pursue a college degree.

Shocking? Probably. But let’s compare the two choices and their impact on your future. While comparing, do not think of this as a possibility only for 20 year olds. At about any point in your life you could decide it’s time for a change and go for it.

Let’s start with money. College will cost money. Building a house costs money. The amounts in each case vary so much that specific amounts don’t mean much at this stage of planning, but it is a lot.

Just to get a good start on a basic, average college degree takes at least two years. For my house building discourse I’ll be using a time frame of two years for reasons that will soon be evident. So for either of these choices you will need two years’ time and a commitment of a substantial amount of money and not need to work for a living.

Study is necessary for college. Studying will take much of your time while house building too. Studying plans and following directions for assembling things correctly is an expected part of the house building life just like studying and taking tests is part of college life.

House building and college are both taught through “courses.” The first year at college gives you basic courses to help you progress to the next level. The first year of house building, the way I am giving it to you, uses something similar to courses to prepare you for the next level.

If you convince yourself that you are going after a degree in House Building just as you would pursue a degree in, say Liberal Arts, and give it the same level of dedication and commitment as college, you will accomplish a valuable goal. The college degree gets you ready for a better job. House building gets you a home and much more.

Think over the various benefits each of these choices gives you for later in life. You may think of ones I missed. Feel free to add your thoughts to this discussion. I confess that I am prejudiced in favor of house building but I would like to hear your views on either choice.

Next time I will start giving you the curriculum for the freshman year at House Building University.

David Lee

Bale Homes

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

Fishing Shack

Reader Terri Anderson has asked my opinion of hay bale construction. I have several and most are favorable.

My first opinion is that hay is for horses. Straw is for houses. There is an important difference between hay and straw. Straw is left over after the nutritional parts of the plant are sent off to become Wheaties. Hay still has all the food value contained in it. Hay remains interesting to food seeking wild life, molds and possibly horses for some time. Straw is not so attractive as food, thereby making it a better building material and it has a slightly better R-value on average.

Hay has been used for building and if rigorous care is taken to keep it encapsulated and very dry, it will work. Straw must be kept dry too but it has the advantage of being less vulnerable to deterioration during the life of the structure.

In areas of the country where grains are grown, straw is low priced and available. Where grain growing is not a big business and animal grazing is, hay usually has a price and availability advantage.

Speaking of money, advocates of straw bale construction often mention its low cost. I have never built one but I have read extensively about them and drawn up some plans and cost estimates just for fun. When straw bale cost is compared to fiberglass insulation in R-value versus wall thickness then straw bale wins hands down. However when the costs of enclosing the straw structurally, covering the outer surface with something to weatherproof it and finishing the interior surfaces to keep the family goat out of it are taken into account, the cost advantage over regular construction starts to diminish.

The structural design (by you or a profe$$ional) must accommodate window and door casings, be strong enough to hold up the roof and take into account the settling of the bales over time. Building 18″ wide straw bale walls on conventional 8″ concrete basement walls requires special attention too. There are the challenges of how to install the plumbing, wiring, heating and cooling systems. Then you have the building code enforcer working overtime writing up all the violations you have to commit when building such a home. You also have bankers to charm and your insurance agent is not going to be happy with you. Your neighbors may shun you because your remarkably unusual home gets so much more attention than theirs. Those are some of the trials and tribulations of the technologically adventurous home builder. Believe me, I know.

But I want to give you hope. So many pioneers in straw bale construction have persevered in their quest for their idea of the perfect home that many of the obstacles have been breached, if not quite overcome. Jurisdictions do exist where builders of straw bale homes are given building permits by the powers that be. Bankers, insurance companies and real estate dealers are realizing there is money to be made here and they are taking advantage of the trend. House plans are available as well as some very good books on the subject, and there are 650,000 Google sites waiting to be studied.

My own experimental alternative design is a straw bale house that is round. This avoids many of the structural technicalities of square designs plus gives more floor area in relation to wall length. (It’s a geometry thing; you can look it up.) The roof is cone shaped, putting an equal load on all parts of the walls. Picture a Yurt shape with bale walls.

You, Terri, are lucky to have a brother who is a mason. I designed my straw bale Yurt with a masonry heat mass around a center chimney that would radiantly heat the home and hold up the roof. An extra safety (and efficiency) factor is the placement of the heat source as far from the (potentially) flammable walls and furniture as you can get in such a structure.

Keep reading here because on my list of stuff to write about is an idea for a wall that equals bales in insulation value and has considerable inherent structural qualities. The main ingredient is easy to find and FREE. Stay tuned.

Next post I will get back to the Life Choices story.

 
 


 
 

 
 
 
 
 
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