The Real Cost of Building

Here is a little rant that I came across on Facebook just a little while ago. It speaks to the frustration that many builders feel when we see posts about homes built for a few thousand dollars.

“One thing that bugs me when I see Facebook Posts or Blog Posts or Websites promoting ‘Off Grid or Tiny Homes, and they include the “All for just $600!” or “Only cost $1,200!” as a way to get you to click.

First of all, the picture they show you usually includes a foundation that probably costs that much right off the bat. They don’t mention the septic system or water/well dug, etc. They don’t mention whatever factors were already present at the site, that they didn’t have to pay for, but YOU, the homesteader, WILL have to pay if you just have a nice spot on bare land.

They also show homes with all kinds of landscaping and stuff too, which all costs money, or at the very least, a lot of time and elbow grease and constant looking out for good deals or free for the taking stuff.

As a builder, I can tell you that you probably CAN build a small house for a few thousand bucks, if you do EVERYTHING yourself, and you actually KNOW how to do everything yourself already, (like, if you are a builder!) and you also love solving problems and working really hard.

But here’s the thing. If you DO build it yourself, you have to also count how many hours you spent getting barn boards for free, or doing all the work, as part of your price. Your time is worth something. It’s disingenuous to say that it only cost $2,000 to build a cabin if you spent three years and every spare minute building it.

Why does this bug me? Because, if you put the actual cost of both material and labour, it would probably still be about $20-30K, which is a REALLY great price for an off grid cabin! And, it would be very realistic for other people who are thinking of doing it too, and help them plan in a smart way.

Also, it helps you not feel like ‘you’re doing it wrong’ when you start building your camp and it costs ten times more than $2,000. That’s a crappy feeling.
I build cabins and camps and retreats and let me tell you, there are a lot of people who really balk when they get the price of a beautiful Timber Framed cabin and the cost of everything, that they expect other people to build completely for them, because they see these articles and somehow imagine that it’s somehow dirt cheap. Ugh.

Heck, even getting a wood stove, and all the stove pipe and threshold/hearth and safety gear set up is going to cost you a good amount, but yeah, you could skimp on the details and do it all yourself, and then put your entire family at risk of death by fire…. NOT!

Most people who aren’t builders who try to build their cabins usually learn a ton of things that they wish they had known prior to doing all that work. Mistakes in building, just like auto work, are generally expensive.

I know why the articles try to emphasize how cheap it is, but let’s face it. If we want to live on a homestead, it’s not just about the money, and it’s not going to be something you do entirely for free. Which is really okay.
Okay, rant over! Have a great day, everyone! Let’s get out to those gardens and stuff!”
~ Ricardo Sierra

Metal frame from reclaimed pipe.

Reclaimed pipe: free
Welding it together: not free

Now, these are not my words, though they are my thoughts. Future home builders: it is not realistic to believe you can build yourself a home for a few thousand dollars.
There is so much more behind the stories of these “low-cost” houses that make the real/true cost close to 10X what you are lead to believe.
I know I’ve posted this before, but the rule written in stone is you can have 2 of the following 3 options:
Low Cost, High Quality, Fast.
Each factor has it’s cost. If you want a cheap, well built home, it is going to take a long time = human hours (yours or mine). That is the closest you are going to get to a home for a few thousand dollars, which actually isn’t even that close.
If you are retired, then sure, you may not feel the need to factor in the labour hours as a cost of your project. If, however, you are not retired, and you are building much of the home yourself, and you just happen to know what you are doing, then you have to factor in what you are paying yourself, either in unrealized wages or lost wages.

I really couldn’t put it better than Ricardo. So, I wont let this post go on and on and on. I’ll leave this with you here and let you think about it. I know I’ll burst some bubbles, maybe even crush some dreams, but that is not the point of this post. This post is to help people make better choices. I have seen way too many projects started only to be left unfinished and neglected due to bad budget forecasting. I want you to realize your dreams. I want you to build amazing and beautiful homes and buildings. I don’t want you to have a half finished headache on your land that just taunts you and breaks your heart every time you look at it.
Help stop the “half-finished home” problem by putting together realistic budgets and building within your limits.

If your interested in learning more about how to budget for your natural building project, drop us a line. We work with clients on all aspects of building and can consult with you for your building’s budget.

About Kata

Kata is a professional and creative natural builder and designer. She loves the freedom that natural building offers and how inspiring working with natural materials is. With a passion for colour, form, and flow, she really shines when working with the creative details of a home and space.
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