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Build a home for under $5,000.

Can you build a home on less than $5,000? Yes, I did it. And it is solid, sturdy, warm in winter and fairly cool in summer.

The first thing to do is locate land, reasonably priced, preferably with water. Mine was cheap--$29 a month for 20 acres. I went to see the site and surveyed it with a compass. I measured out my land, 2,688 feet on one side, 2,340 on the other. I cleared out room for a road, cutting away mesquite and grease bushes (also called creosote bushes). When I measured my land, I tied a ribbon to all bushes that were in the way, so I had a clear idea of where to set my house. Rule number 1: Make sure your house will be built on your land.

I accumulated a number of useful items beforehand--50 panes of glass for $3, four bundles of shingles for $3, a heap of used bricks (600 of them) for $2, two rolls of wire for $10, 60 posts at $1 each, and I rented out a silo to store these treasures. Meanwhile, I offered my services at pulling nails off planks for 10 cents a plank. I did not make much, but I was able to buy lumber at five cents a foot, and I gathered enough to build a chicken house. A number of houses were being demolished and I was able to buy doors for $5 each, with hardware, and several hinges as well.

Then, well laden, I made three trips to my house site and stored the materials. I returned for the silo, since the man who owned it dared me that if I were able to take it apart, I could have it for $5. I did.

It was fairly easy to do with a torch, as the solder just ran off, and then I was able to separate the three rows of metal with a screwdriver. When my son, Eric, came for Thanksgiving, he helped me put it on the trailer.

I had been looking for a trailer, and at the auction house they showed me one antiquated thing with broken tires and broken wood, but it had a good metal frame. When I tried to move it, the well-greased axles rotated easily. I bought it for $30, put on two good tires, tore off all the rotten wood and put on new planks, installed two back lights, and I was ready to drive it to my house site.

By then I had already built a 10' x 16' chicken house, with homemade windows, well glazed (from the 50 window panes) and a good roof, albeit in two different colors.

Eric also helped me bring home a sofa. We set it in the chicken house. He stayed in the RV, I stayed in the chicken house. We had a good time.

When he went home, I looked at the plans I had made, measured out the house site, and bought four inch pipes, two inch pipes, and half inch pipes. Then I located a spot 10 feet away from the house, dug a trench from house site to the septic tank site and put in the four-inch pipe so it would end up right under the toilet site. The two-inch pipe I located under sinks, both the bathroom and kitchen. I installed both elbow and T-joints, using the rising pipes underground as a guide. I also put a third line to the bathtub and installed an elbow under the pipe as well.

Remember to give yourself enough room to put on an elbow. Later I had to close off the top hole of the sink in the bathroom because there was no room for the elbow, it fitted straight up to the sink. Glue the bottom parts of the fittings--T or elbow--but don't glue the top part until later, it might have to be moved higher or lower.

Now the septic system

My water lines Were all in the general area, and all were higher at the house site than at the septic site. Now I dug for dear life! I dug for three or four days until I came to a sandstone area I could not dig through and my septic area was only four feet deep. No matter, I'd make it larger and dug a wider 6 x 7 pit, four feet high. I put on planks around it to allow for three or four inches of cement all around the edges of the pit, mixed the cement, and cemented all the way to the pipes, then around and over the pipes. This gave me 3-1/2' x 5-1/2' x 6-1/2' or roughly 600-plus gallons of sewage space. After pulling off the plank forms, I cemented the bottom of the pit.

Along the western edge, I installed a four-inch pipe lower than the receiving pipes, and that was also cemented in. This pipe went to the grease pit, drained into four perforated pipes. The idea is that wastes go to the septic tank where bacteria change the dirty water into rich fertilizer. Then the waste falls into the grease pit where it is further digested, and the remaining gray water drains off into the holed pipes to enrich the soil.

To make the grease pit, dig the pit then put on the pipe four inches solid from the septic, then arrange the other pipes as you wish. I spread mine like a fan and angled them down a bit, be fore cementing them in (contractors make them even longer). I found putting crushed rocks under the perforation at the bottom and plastic on the top helps a lot for a perfect operation. Then cover it evenly with dirt.

I made a cement top for the septic tank over the planks which I later removed. The next year I went to check it and the cement broke. I literally went swimming in you-know-what! So I went to the dump and found a sheet of 1/4" solid metal, covered my septic tank with that before adding four inches of cement. This time it stayed. It was a lesson I will never forget!

The total cost of my septic system was $35, including the cement and the pipes. Quoted by a contractor--$2,000. (Ed. note: Check your local building codes--not everyone can build septics in this manner.)

Foundation and walls

Now came the hard part--the digging and hacking away of the mesquite and evening out the house site, which by shovel and "pioche," took nearly a week. In another week, I had dug up the foundation site and it was now nicely prepped with planks held by stakes in the ground. I now made cement in an old wheelbarrow--from three to eight loads a day, until in a week's time I had formed one side.

Financially this was all I could afford--three bags of Portland cement a week, or $15--and that was but one side, 1' x 1' x 20'. But in four weeks I had a very solid foundation. Next, I set 2 x 4s in the ground every four feet all the way around the house, after marking the area where I would put my two outside doors. In those areas I made a casing around them of hinged planks, then nailed them partway on the opposite side so they could not shift. By putting a shim 1/8" thick top, bottom and side, I had the clearance needed so the door would later open easily. And I made the cement only eight inches thick on the walls. By sliding the planks upwards as I finished one row of cement, I was able to reuse the same planks, and by gouging a hole in the fresh cement with my hand and putting that handful in a pile, I had a wall that was indented to be secure in earthquakes. Indeed, my house has survived three earthquakes. The ends of the walls I also blocked so that the next row would cover this end. It was a slow process, but I was able to run my electrical wires in on the first row, though if I were to do it again, I would put in pipes to cover the wires. I also embedded the plumbing on the second row that went to the kitchen, bathroom and later, outside faucet as well.

When the wall was two feet high, I propped up the door unit with casing in place, and nailed lots of nails in back of it to hold it in the cement. When the cement was poured in the mold formed by the door casing and the forms, that door was going nowhere. And had I not put on shims to keep the door from being bound, I couldn't get it out either. Don't forget to pull out the retaining nails that hold the door from opening, though. I forgot one and had to cut it later.

Once four feet of the cement is poured and cured, you can take out the shims to use the door. It won't move when you're ready to add on another row, and you should chip that part of the cement until it cures.


Let us make a cheap window. You do have lumber and glass. Cut out from a 2 x 4 a strip 1-1/4 x 1-1/2. Measure your glass panes. You want to put a strip of wood in the middle about 1/8" longer than your pane. Cut three such strips.

Add 1/4" to your two panes, plus either end, to give you a little clearance of 1/8" on each side. Then nail all of the ends and if you can find them, those gismos that look like this, "-," through each corner. Now you do have a good frame, able to take your glass, but you do need a back-up piece. Cut a strip 1/4" thick, 3/8", or 1/2" and cut it lengthwise again until you have a back-up strip. Now the glass can be rested against that. Put one such strip all around, then try out the glass. Does it fit flat? If not, refit it until the glass fits nicely, then nail it in place. Next, paint this frame. When dry, put a small amount of glaze against this back rest, then put in the window glass, and glaze the edges all around. To finish, spit on your jackknife blade and slide it in a pressing, downward motion over your glazing to even all to a thin line at a 45[degrees] angle that just covers your back drop. Gather all the extra droppings, they can be reused again. When cured, coat with paint.

For the casing, a 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 is okay. Again, fit the window with a 1/8" clearance on all sides. Install hinges. Once the window hangs properly, you add the back to it--a trim on which the window will rest, and on which you can add a foam strip to make it weatherproof. Once you take out the 1/8" shims, the window will hinge beautifully. Cost? Only the glaze and the paint.

Or, if willing to go broke, make a frame 6' long, 2-1/2' high. Install in the wall as you build with nails on backside as on the door. When the walls are finished, make another frame of 1/2 the size of the outer one. That will be the outer glass slider. The inside glass will be bigger. Make a frame for the glass, again using 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" or by 1-1/2", with a thinner edge to hold the glass. Then add a wood piece to the outside, and a strip to the inside both at the top and bottom to create a sliding area for your frame. It should fit nicely, with 1/8" to spare at both ends. On the inside of the window, make sure that strip on the lower part is put on with screws so you can remove it later for cleaning.

Do the same for the outer glass. I find an aluminum strip works better than wood--there is less space between the windows. Once both frames are done, go to a glazier and have glass installed. Come home, put first the smallest window, install the edge with screws, then put on the inside one, screw in. Wax to help both sides slide easily.


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Author:Welsby, D.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Previous Article:The summer of the cabin: this industrious lady describes the trials of single-handedly building a cabin on the range.
Next Article:Notch your logs for a perfect fit.

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