The ‘Low Down’ on Housing Costs

We’ve been explaining how you can build a sustainable earthbag home for around $10/square foot. To build in this price range requires extra time and effort, but it is possible.

Unfortunately, if you look on the Internet, you’ll find people making outrageous claims about various building systems and how you can build for much less than $10/square foot. What they’re doing is playing games with housing costs. The bottom line is everything has a cost (including your time).

Unless they’re referring to a bare shell, an actual house has walls, windows, roof, basic electrical and plumbing, etc. If you want to create a realistic budget, you have to assign believable numbers to each item. Say, $200 for recycled windows, etc.

Let me tell you a story about Jim Bob, who’s developed a “breakthrough post and beam building system”. Here’s a summary of his “budget”.
creosote drenched telephone poles = free
cut and milled wood from owner’s property = free
windows, doors, roofing, and $20,000 solar system = free from curbsides
nails scrounged from burned down buildings = free
paint = $100

So Jim Bob has built this amazing house for only $100. It’s true, that’s what he actually spent. He’s not lying. But then he goes on the Internet and starts telling everyone about his $100 house, explaining how post and beam only costs 50 cents a square foot, or whatever. While he is telling the truth, it’s somewhat misleading if you don’t know the full facts.

You could do the same thing (play games with housing costs) with any building system and make outrageous claims. What’s the point? From my lifetime of building experience I’ve learned it’s nearly impossible to get below $10/square foot. Like I said, there’s a cost to everything.

7 thoughts on “The ‘Low Down’ on Housing Costs”

    • HA! I mean, choke/gag! That house is green because of the money going into it…..

      I wonder how ‘green’ it is when you count all the transportation methods used to bring in all those blocks from the skyscrapers, wood from Portugal, and flooring from old granaries (which makes me a little ill to imagine what became of those ancient granaries….)

      And only a few percent more than your ‘average 5600 sf multi-million traditional home’…. which I guess means a ‘home built in the ancient traditions of a 20th century Hollywood filmstar/peasant family…’

      I think I’d like to drown myself in that (gasp) 50,000 gallon underwater cistern, since I can’t use the exhaust from (another gasp) FIVE electric cars….

  1. Hi Owen,

    I write a pretty popular blog about repurposing shipping containers (ISBUs) and turning them into affordable, sustainable housing.

    You often find earthbags sneaking onto our building sites. We’re not quite sure how it happens… we suspect gremlins… :)

    Actually, we (quite often) use these wonderful steel boxes as components in “multi-alternative building practice” builds.

    Frequently we hear about outrageously low square footage costs being achieved. We know it’s not true, and we then try to explain it until we’re blue in the face!

    And then… you just mosy on in and tell it like it is, and we all just sit around wondering why WE didn’t just say it that way.

    Thanks for making us look stupid! :)


    (Er… Not for making us look dumb… for telling it like it really is, in a manner that can’t be dismissed.)

  2. I’m talking about building a sturdy, durable home that meets modern standards, is insulated against heat and cold, etc. You could build a jungle hut or whatever out of wattle and daub, bamboo, etc. for less.


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