What is 'affordable housing' & can I build one?
So. Affordable housing. I’m sure there’s an actual legal definition of it. From my limited knowledge of taxes and real estates investing ‘affordable housing’ is a building that caters to people who have ‘low income’ (another legal word). The IRS has a number and if you earn less than that number yearly you live in poverty by their standards. The poverty line is used in calculations to determine other things like food stamps, medicare, taxes etc. If someone who lives around the poverty line lives in ‘Affordable (I think the legal term is ‘section 8’) housing’ then I think the government helps pay for a portion of their rent. Additionally, the building owner gets a tax break because he’s providing the housing that the government apparently doesn’t want to. There’s often grants at the city, county, state, and federal level that can be awarded to the the affordable housing owner &/or builder.
Now you can forget about everything I just said because none of that applies to me and what I’m doing. The definition I just described are for commercial enterprises; say one person renting it to another. That’s not what’s happening here. I’m using a more literal definition. It’s housing that I can afford. Notice that my definition is also much more subjective than a arbitrary number the IRS uses to establish a poverty line. What I can afford to build will be different that what you can afford to build. So my forthcoming evaluations of various building methods will be judged subjectively. Keep in mind too that I’m married. I like him most of the time too so I want to live with him. He gets a say in the matter because I want him to continue living with me and cooking me breakfast.
Remember back in blog 1 when I described my tumultuous life. A lot of the tumult was caused by housing problems and it lasted years. So I had years to research this shit. I’ve researched most various forms of housing from the high tech, recently developed to literally how native Americans built huts. I’ve basically been the big bad wolf conducting a logical litmus test on not only the three little pigs but their entire extended family and lineage. Also, I live in a forest so my building will be exposed to numerous opportunities to deteriorate and degrade. If I’m going to take my time to build this thing with my own two fucking hands then it had better last for a really really long time. Here is my compilation of various building materials, resources & thought processes regarding viability in both financial and practical senses:
Wood: Traditional housing uses ‘stick framing’ on the inside and often times has wood on the outside that sometimes have a plastic siding to protect it. The problem is that wood sucks. It’s susceptible to everything going wrong with it. It can grow mold. I don’t even know how many species of mold and mushrooms are growing in my forest at any given moment. Fire. Wood burns. While a forest fire isn’t highly likely, it is within the realm of possibility. Termites. I know for a fact our woods have termites.
Straw: Yes, people can (& have) built houses out of actual straw bales. I’m guessing this is the real life basis for the ‘dumb’ little pig. From what I’ve read, it’s a cheap, fast, and fairly easy means of construction. However it doesn’t pass my litmus test because it can burn and grow mold. I’m sure they probably put some waterproofing around it but still 2/3 isn’t good enough for me. I’m not a dumb pig.
Steel: I like steel. It’s strong and durable. Won’t burn and bugs can’t eat it. It’s got no insulation though and technically it can rust. The problem is that you have to pay to install it, which can cost as much as the building itself.
Still I liked it enough to buy a shipping container (that will have to be another blog post) to use for storage. The cool thing about shipping containers is that they’re modular. You can basically buy them in different lengths & put them together to be different rooms. They’re strong enough that you can stack them too. Damn near indestructible. I’m not sure an 18 wheeler with an shipping container on it could make it up our road & I don’t want to even price out air delivery via helicopter, though my husband likes the idea. A regular shipping container isn’t too expensive but modifying it is. Finished home prices from construction companies are also out of budget.
You can also buy modular ‘kit’s with steel beams that you assemble yourself. When delivery was included they were too expensive too. I even searched alibaba. A search of ‘modular house’ renders a sea of options. Kit prices from asian manufacturers seem to be cheaper than US companies & they use higher quality products (steel vs. wood) but the cost of delivery is as much as the kit itself. It’s also hard to judge square footage considering most of the planet uses metric (& we’re the silly ones using our own system) so it’s hard to understand the description & really know the cost. The business model of Alibaba isn’t convenient either. On most e-commerce sites they have one listing for one specific product. Each of these listings appear to be for multiple sizes and options. To be 100% certain of the price quote you need to contact the manufacture; which makes sense. I tried to make it super easy. I had drawn up a floor plan and included it with my quote request. Very quickly my message box became inundated with questions from every comapny I had contacted. It’s a hassle if you’re trying to compare prices. There’s so much back and forth just to get a single quote.
Adobe & Cob: This is basically just building with mud/clay. For Cob you mix in some straw & maybe a little sand so it forms it’s own concrete. I’ve seen it them stuffed inside wooden pallets. Where we are building is primarily red clay so this initially is a very attractive option. Clay is fire proof, termite proof, and it shouldn’t grow mold. However it can rain a lot here. For several days in a row & I don’t want to take the risk of my walls melting so I’ve nixed it. Adobe is more common than cob. You can find Adobe construction companies much easier than cob. There’s also something called ‘super adobe’, which is really more of a building technique than another material. It’s basically cob but they pour it into long net mesh tubes. The material is similar to the plastic mesh bags produce comes in. Just image a roll of 300 ft. of that stuff & you get the idea. So they pour cob into the tube and move the tube as they go to shape the walls. So basically all of the walls are totally connected & you build it from the bottom up. It’s fundamentally & conceptually very similar to a 3d printer. Except here, you’re the printer. The mesh of the tubes is wide & I don’t want my walls to melt, so again this is out.
There's too many to go in a single post so I'll continue my litmus test of building materials and methods in next weeks post.