Building your own house isn’t impossible, but neither is it easy.
How did I find myself here and what possessed me to do this in the first place I can’t recall exactly. I managed to make it through a short career in the oilfield and a divorce to find myself alone with 80 acres, and I knew that I had to do this before I was too old and weak to start. So I began.
A load of medical problems interrupted the process on a couple occasions, and some things needed done with thrift and expedience, but I’ve gotten the place livable. This post will focus on the building process, but since I’m sure there are some who might wonder, the entire house, including the solar panels, batteries, etc. came to just a touch over $20,000. I started at the end of 2018, and since the spring of 2019, very little has been done. I’m short on funds to finish, so the final flooring and siding will need to wait a bit.
I started the whole project by making a phone call to a local loader operator, who brought in some heavy machinery to help me clear out the site. Clearing it with a chainsaw was too long and time-consuming, and that process nearly killed me twice. I knew that I was approaching the wire, so for about $400 bucks I cleared somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 of an acre as a build site at the summit of my little hill, directly beside the pole barn and shed/cabin that I’d already constructed.
I didn’t have running water on site, per se, but I did have some large totes to collect rainwater set up and ready, so I used these to mix concrete for the footings. After agonizing over some sketches of the house idea for weeks, I’d landed on a floor-plan, and a sub-frame that would hopefully be strong enough for the structure and the wood stove I planned as a later addition. Aside from a lot of reading, and some basic carpentry skills learned by my previous two builds, I began.
I dug 15 holes in the ground. The house plan was 16×24(feet), which wouldn’t meet the requirements for a dwelling in a lot of places, even in Missouri. Being as remote as I am though, there are no building codes, no inspectors, and no legal paperwork. The county office people actually laughed at me when I asked about getting a building permit.
The footings would be questionable, but on a budget. The ground up here is pretty solid, and the frost rarely runs to 11 inches. I could have saved money on concrete by using tubes, but I didn’t realize it at the time, so I dug 15 square holes pretty deep in the ground. They say “measure twice, cut once,” but I must have measured the site a dozen times before I broke ground, and several before I ever poured an ounce of concrete. Those black lines were paint markers that I put down to mark the corners, and I ran string lines to keep everything as straight as possible.
I poured the cement, and kept it wetted for a week to ensure that it cured properly, before waiting another week to start drilling. I used the time to work on my books and continue running over the plans in my notebook. I also built a box frame out of 2x8s that would serve as an outline for the footings.
4×4 studs were mounted atop steel footings on the concrete pads. Everything at this point needed to be precise, so I measured another 20 or so times, marking bolt holes on the concrete with a Sharpie before drilling them. The boards were placed as level as I could get them.
Those structures you see in the background are my shed/cabin (known as the shabbin) and my pole barn.
Why fifteen footers? My plan was quite simple. The floor was double stacked (That’s why I didn’t use 12 inch boards). Three rows of five pillars would place one along each wall and another down the center between them. The grid placed one pillar directly in the center of the house, where I wanted the wood stove to be. At this point I looked long ar the inside, getting my first real look at the space I would have and planning at how the house would be arranged.
Each of the rows would have fastened a 2×8 beam on either side, giving a strong foundation. On top of this, another box frame was put in place, and floor joists were run perpendicular to the beams. This method of construction reduced the span for the beams to 5 feet, with the floor joists only spanning 8 feet unsupported, which helped me keep the boards smaller. This is treated yellow pine (which is also the species of the closest tree in the above image), and it’s incredibly heavy.
The plywood on the outside was a later thought for skirting to keep small pests from invading the underside of my house. The second barrier was of stone. I had the dump truck drop it in the frame, and spent a whole day leveling it by hand. The massive chunks of rock should be heavy enough to discourage burrowing creatures as well.
Plumbing needed to be taken into account, and I devised the simplest I could imagine. I have one wet wall in the house, and the drain line runs front to back under that side of the house. No kinks, turns, bends, etc. Just a single line. It had to be right, as there would be now crawling around under there later. I still have three drain stubs sticking up through the floor to this day that weren’t used, but just in case I had put in more fixtures, some of which will be added later on. Then the floor joists were installed, and the fun could begin.
I brought in the subfloor in my own truck, but when I prepared for walls, everything was delivered. Delivery from the local hardware store, R.P. Lumber, was free. Giving those guys a plug because of all the help.
Now, this stuff was a little tricky. The floor pieces were not exactly the size they claimed to be, and I should have measured them. I forget exactly, but each one came up a little short, so I did a bad thing and gapped them to fill up the space. I didn’t want to buy two more sheets only to cut a four-inch strip from each. these were tongue-and-grove pieces, so the gaps were technically invisible, but small valleys remained, which I filled with some type of compound or another. Time was growing short, and I’d already taken a job in town to keep myself out of trouble financially while I finished.
A friend of mine helped me raise the first two wall segments, and that was the only outside help I asked for with the build. Bit by bit, I constructed each piece of wall, attaching some of the outer plywood before lifting them into place. They were secured to the floor, and reinforced with 2x4s that ran from the wall to the deck as temporary supports. And it was windy every friggin day! This part of the build made me quite nervous, as there were days that I left for work and expected to come back to a heap of broken lumber, but it all worked out.
The walls are probably the fastest part of the building process. I felt like I was zipping along, which I was, but I did underestimate how much work there was still to be done. Soon, all four walls were in place, I wrapped everything in house wrap, and started prepping to build the trusses for the roof.
Let me tell you something about trusses. They’re heavy. They’re also held in place by these little metal brackets which look flimsy until you dry hammering or pressing them down. With a hammer, it’s a trick, and a proper press would have been better, but I managed. I shattered countless 2×4 and 2×6 blocks along the way, but eventually had a stack of 17…IIRC. I’m not going to count them this second, but it was a lot. The bottom beam is yellow pine while the king studs and rafters are 2×6 fir to keep the weight down.
To raise them, I lifted one side onto one wall, then hoisted the other side up with care, leaving the whole thing suspended upside down between the walls. After that, they were flipped upright from the middle.
I mounted plenty of scrap 2x4s to help me, but it was still daunting getting the front and back gables in place. I only added the additional pieces to them later on, which are essentially studs for the attachment of more plywood to cover the front and back of the house.
Using more 2x4s, I made some little runners to hold them all together while putting the rest in place. This was not an easy task, and if I remember correctly, it took 2 days to raise all of these, and even longer to build them.
That’s when things got a bit tricky. Hoisting heavy slabs of plywood onto a roof from the ground by oneself is not to be taken lightly. My ladder nearly tipped several times, stuff was sliding around, and I fell twice hanging the big triangles for the front and back gables. I carefully observed the potential danger of each step, and my emergency measures of how to fall worked out for me. Sometimes you need to trash a piece of plywood to save your skin. It happens, but it can be replaced. You can’t.
I mounted a front door as soon as possible, and the whole place was pretty well boxed in. Even with the window holes, the only rain invasion came from the front door, but that’s a topic for another time, and one I’ve touched on in a prior post.
Next came roofing and windows. I spared no expense. I wanted heavy tin and new windows (which were actually a bit cheaper than I thought they would be), and I wanted that done. I also put some more house-wrap up top.
Unfortunately, I don’t have pics of the roof building at my disposal, even though I posted many to my Instagram. Tar paper was laid down first, and then I cut the roof plywood with a skillsaw to make a four-inch vent. 2x4s were run length-wise along the roof, and the tin material was attached to these (it’s actually heavy gauge aluminum). Then the aluminum ridge vent and skirting was added.
The stove-pipe was another bit of worming and experimenting, but it went up fine. Basically punch a hole in the roof and make sure that any wood near the pipe is well insulated from it. Double or triple-wall pipe works well here.
These are my wonderful windows, just over $100 each as I recall. They mount from the outside but must be shimmed from the inside. More scrap 2×4 helpers to the rescue. After lifting a window into it’s slot, a piece of 2×4 was butted against it and secured to the wall with screws until I was finished.
And the final piece of important stuff, the wood stove. Dry plus warm inside equals house to me.
I might do another post on constructing that floor piece, but that sucker is probably the most solid part of my home, and mounted securely above two of the posts I put in the ground in the beginning. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that those 4x4s were surrounded by 2×6 reinforcement before the floor went on. The stove sits upon tile and two layers of cement board, laid on top of a 3/4 inch sheet of plywood and 2×4 slats. It’s very rigid, and very solid. Plus it has about twice the recommended thermal insulation from the manual.
Then there were soffits to put up. I filled the walls with R-13 fiber insulation, which I also used on the roof rafters. Since the rafters are deeper, an air space is left above the insulation to allow airflow from the side vents to the ceiling vent. Foam was attached under the rafters to bring the high ceiling to an insulation value over 20, including the weak insulation spots to allow room around the stove pipe.
Then there was the electrical rig-up for the batteries and generator. Solar included an additional blue box and a few more cables.
Dusty, dirty, and ready for drywall (and inside walls, and bathroom, and countertops, etc.) But that’s the long and short of it, the rest is meringue.
This post is already incredibly long, and I think I’ve covered the major components, so I’ll leave it at that for now. This shell of a house has become my home. I moved in officially on the 1st of 2019, and I’ve never looked back. Getting it to that point took me about six months (including the interior walls and shower area). I’ve added masonite to the floors, drywall (and painted most of it), a countertop with sink, some shelving, and four kittens. This continues to be a work in progress, but one that I’m fully committed to. I could go on forever about the ups and downs, pros and cons, and much more, but that can wait for future posts.
So. If there’s a particular point you are interested in, let me know so I can dig up more pictures and show you what I did. 🙂