How To Build A House For Under $20,000

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Outlining The Project

Building a home for under $20,000 is a topic that requires some definition. Here are the parameters for the house I put together single handed in southeastern Arizona:

1. We’re talking about the shell only, i.e. the foundation, walls, windows, entry doors, and roof that constitute a barrier to the elements. Not included are floors; ours will be simple and cheap but added later, not included as part of the initial building effort–unless you count bare dirt, which is what we have at the moment. In other words, our Little House On The Prairie has a floor that is the prairie–um, well, the desert….

2. The exterior dimensions are 36′ x 36′, amounting to 1,296 square feet in total, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an office, a storage hallway, and a combination area that will serve as both the kitchen and dining room. Laundry facilities may or may not be included; in order to avoid claustrophobia, those may be located in a separate structure at a later date.

3. The construction type is “hybrid earthbag home”. Yes, I coined that term, but it fits. The walls are of earthbag construction, but only for the first six feet of height. Above that is a very short frame stud wall topped by a quite ordinary roof system composed of trusses, sheathing, tarpaper, and steel roofing panels.

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The Expense Record As It Happened

CATEGORY 1: THE HOME ITSELF (INCL. SEPTIC SYSTEM)

Date……… …Expense Detail………………………………Amount………………Subtotal

09/01/09….. Soil analysis & site plan …………………….$ 550………………….$ 550

09/01/09……County building permits……………………..$ 485……………….$ 1,035

09/02/09……Concrete foundation blocks………………..$ 505……………….$ 1,540

09/05/09……Sandbags………………………………………..$ 275……………….$ 1,815

09/05/09……Curved needles & thread…………………….$ 58………………..$ 1,873

09/06/09……Exterior doors…………………………………..$ 235………………..$ 2,108

09/07/09……Stucco “How To” card set…………………….$ 12………………..$ 2,120

09/12/09……10 spikes, 100d (12 inch)………………………$ 7………………..$ 2,127

09/14/09…….Materials for work table……………………….$ 43………………..$ 2,170

09/16/09…….Cash to Gary (septic)……………………..$ 2,450………………..$ 4,620

09/16/09…….Barbed wire (6 rolls)………………………….$ 414………………..$ 5,034

09/18/09…….Lug wrench for semi………………………….$ 106………………..$ 5,140

09/18/09……Cheater pipe for lug wrench………………….$ 17………………..$ 5,157

09/27/09……Laser level…………………………………………$ 60…………………$ 5,217

09/29/09……Cash to Gary (septic done!)……………..$ 2,300………………..$ 7,517

10/10/09……3″ PVC, fittings, glue…………………………….$ 32………………..$ 7,549

10/26/09……600 sandbags (total 1600)………………….$ 185………………..$ 7,734

11/04/09……2″ x 12″ plank, 4 rebar @ 4’………………….$ 20…………………$ 7,754

11/09/09……Roll of staple-making wire………………………$ 7…………………$ 7,761

11/09/09……Corner & control joints…………………………$ 52…………………$ 7,813

11/09/09……3 rolls of stucco furring net…………………$ 177………………….$ 7,990

11/10/09……8 windows………………………………………..$ 502………………….$ 8,492

11/11/09……2″ x 12″ planks, 100d spikes……………….$ 193………………….$ 8,685

11/18/09……Staple wire…………………………………………..$ 6………………….$ 8,691

11/18/09……2″ x 4″ (18), 2″ x 12″ (2)………………………..$ 54…………………$ 8,745

12/01/09……5 gallon bucket……………………………………..$ 3…………………$ 8,768

12/06/09……100 sandbags……………………………………..$ 40…………………$ 8,808

12/08/09…….2″x12″s, spikes, mend.plates……………….$ 292…………………$ 9,100

12/12/09…….Hurricane & strap ties, nails…………………$ 177…………………$ 9,277

12/12/09…….5 gal.paint, Skilsaw blades…………………….$ 75…………………$ 9,352

12/15/09…….Trusses………………………………………….$ 1,576……………….$ 10,928

12/15/09…….Framing & sheathing lumber………………$ 1,136……………….$12,064

12/15/09…….Nails……………………………………………………$ 50………………$ 12,114

12/15/09…….Glue……………………………………………………..$ 3………………$ 12,117

12/31/09…….Nails, lumber, bricks, braces……………….. $ 424………………$ 12,541

01/03/10…….Nails, drill bits, rebar, saw blade………………$ 56……………..$ 12,597

01/03/10…….Safety goggles, cord……………………………..$ 10……………..$ 12,607

01/04/10…….Gas installation textbook(s)…………………….$ 63……………..$ 12,670

01/12/10…….Steel roofing panels & accessories…….. $ 1,798…………….$ 14,468

01/15/10…….Booster pump………………………………………$ 116…………….$ 14,584

01/19/10…….8d nails………………………………………………..$ 54……………..$ 14,638

01/26/10…….Extension cords 100′ x 2…………………………$ 82……………..$ 14,720

01/29/10…….9 rolls roofing felt, 1 pallet OSB……………..$ 683……………..$ 15,403

01/29/10…….Staple gun, staples………………………………..$ 27……………..$ 15,430

01/29/10…….Burgundy roofing screws………………………..$ 94……………..$ 15,524

02/10/10…….Diablo Skilsaw blade………………………………$ 15……………..$ 15,539

02/16/10…….8d nails, ABS pipe/couplings…………………$ 105………………$ 15,644

02/16/10…….Paint, brush, rollers……………………………….$ 30………………$ 15,674

Overall, not bad. We even got a snow day as a brief distraction–just one, with the white stuff gone by noon on the valley floor, but pretty while it lasted.

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Journal Updates

I’ve never been a great keeper of journals but did jot down a note here and there over the months. Here they are, such as they are:

09/29/09 Progress Status Update: Septic installation, all inspections, site plan, building permits, water line trenching, and homesite leveling all finished and paid.

10/26/09 Progress Status Update: Concrete foundation blocks set, water & septic lines stubbed in, door casements built & installed (with doors), 4 rows of earthbags (21.5″) laid.

11/09/09 Progress Status Update: Eight rows of earthbags laid.

12/31/09 Progress Status Update: After wind took down 2 walls, rebuilt. Now top-framed, needs interior bearing wall next, then trusses (onsite now).

01/30/10 Progress Status Update: Trusses up, sheathing (OSB) done.

02/15/10 Progress Status Update: Shell entirely done except for a coat of anti-UV paint and (when weather warms a bit) stucco.

Okay, let’s get this budget boondoggle published and call it a night–plenty of paint to apply tomorrow with brush and roller….

East wall top sheathing painted....

East wall top sheathing painted….


 Later, multiple colors so Pam can pick one (no success yet)!


Later, multiple colors so Pam can pick one (no success yet)!


Photo taken 06/28/10, after adding stucco, paint, and an open-faced shed to house the propane tanks.

Photo taken 06/28/10, after adding stucco, paint, and an open-faced shed to house the propane tanks.

2 thoughts on “How To Build A House For Under $20,000

  1. Note: This page was first published on another site in 2010. When I moved it over here, the $$ columns didn’t line up all nice and straight–no surprise, but it may be a while before I can allocate the time to straighten those out. In the meantime, the information is all there, though it does strain the eyes a bit to figure some of it out.

  2. Pingback: How To Build A Survival Cabin On A Shoestring Budget | Ghost32Writer

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