Buildings under 200 sf

Started by jraabe, July 10, 2005, 10:07:46 AM

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I have been experimenting with burlap, cement and acrylic. This size home can be built very cheaply using bamboo or almost any kind of sticks. It is uncanny how waterproof it is.

Here's the research. Get busy! Housing for all will change the world!



Very interesting, Garret, but I'm still wondering how you get this inspected if necessary.  Seems for shelter in a non-code required area it would work fine or as non-structural infill but most have code and inspection issues.


Interesting article.  I seem to remember something similar from the Helen and Scott Nearing books on slip form construction.  In one of their first homes they created partitions by stretching burlap over frames and then brushing them with a light coating of plaster of paris.  The wooden frames were stained and surrounded the panels of slightly textured plaster, which they tinted with pigment.  Very sort of bungalow arts and crafts.  But they said it made a fairly solid wall and held up well to wear and tear and of course wasnt hard or expensive to repair.  I dont have the Nearing books handy but perhaps someone can post more about the method they used.


I am beginning to build a small 200 sf cottage the first part will be a 8x10 storage shed which will actually be delivered already built ( I need something I can lock up and leave for weeks at a time) then off of that I will be building a 10x12 straw bale addition.  Earth plaster floors, flat roof with deck on top of the addition.   Eventually I will build another withthe same footprint/design accross from it facing the same direction with some outdoor kitchen/patio space inbetween.  I plan to use the rubble trench foundation with concrete footings and that insulating stuff that looks like stybrofoam for the moisture barrier between the straw bales and the concrete.  I can get the straw free or really cheap, the land has good soil for making plaster too,  I have the plywood and 2x4's and some other scraps of lumber laying around.  I want nice looking old windows so until I can scrounge some of those I am going to use whatever I can get free.  That is my plan. The first cottage will just have living/kitchen space and the bedroom area.   I plan to use hooks and dowels and small shelves all over in that storage unit to make the space go as far as possible.  The sawdust toilet, 12V shower and washing machine will be housed in an entirely different building close by.  I have a generator and some 12V stuff lights, battery and etc. ready to go as well as a lot of tools I have been gathering over the years.  I also have a truck to haul the water etc. I have to do this with very very little money.    I have a teeny tiny bit of experience, I worked last summer as a construction laborer mostly sweeping and picking up garbage but I did get some good ideas and information.  Any ideas or leads on solar items would be appreciated.  I have one to share too although I haven't visited the site yet my friend gets tons of free stuff on craig's list freecycle for her area.  
Peresrverance, persistance and passion, keys to the good life.

glenn kangiser

Sounds cool tanya.  I do quite a bit of alternative building stuff so will be glad to help out with what I know.
"Always work from the general to the specific." J. Raabe

Glenn's Underground Cabin

Please put your area in your sig line so we can assist with location specific answers.


Do you know how many hours I should expect to be digging the 10x12 rubble foundation trench, it will have to be about two feet deep and two feet wide and the digging is fairly easy where i am.  I think I can get at least one teenager to help out.  I am pretty used to digging because I do the french intensive style of raised bed gardening so digging trenches is not new to me.  

And will the concrete footing part be to much to mix by hand in a wheel barrow?  I could rent or buy a portable mixer too, or will I have to call the big concrete truck?  If I can manage to do it in small batches I can definately level it myself but if I have to call the truck I think I will need professionals.  
Peresrverance, persistance and passion, keys to the good life.


4 cubic feet per running foot x 44 feet = 176 cubic feet / 27 = 6.5 cu. yds.  
That is quite a bit.  Probably a weeks work digging plus you have to get rid of the dirt but what comes out of the ground will probably have a lot more volume after it is loosened up.  Got a friend with a backhoe?

Rubble trench - so I assume you are mixing large rocks in the cement -in the trench then pouring mortar over it?  That will probably take about half as much cement as there is trench so - 3 or four yards cement mortar and 3 or so yards of big rocks -- to make the 6.5 yards - plus whatever you go above the ground.  Most of the big guys probably wont want to mess with a rubble footing so I would guess you will have to do it -- maybe some independent smaller operator might but  it may cost quite a bit.  

If doing it yourself I'm pretty sure you will at least want a power cement mixer.  It can be done but is quite a bit of work.


hmmmm that seems like a lot of work for such a little building.  For now I think I will stick withthe little storage shed on skids parked upon some nice leveled gravel.  Maybe once I begin the "addition" I will make a slab.  More than likely though I will lock up my belongings into that little storage shed and camp out or go traveling and stay with friends.  I got a good book at hte library todaya nd I am pretty sure I can build ANYTHING withthe directions in it but it still looks like a lot of work.  The book is Barn's Sheds and Outbuildings published by creative homeowner and the authors are John D Wagner and Clayton DeKorne  Good book with DETAILED pictures and explanations for everything from hardware, tools to the different types of concrete and woods.  Still....  it looks like a lot of work.  


Well after I went to the land and saw that gorgeous view i have had to change my plans a little for one thing the cottages will all have windows all around as many as I can fit into it.  I am also using hte panel ideas that I saw so that once I do get there I only have to build the floor and roof and set the posts.  I am going to use the pole building with 4x6 posts to hang the rest off of.  The first cottage will still be the 10x20 storage unit refurbished into a delightful little sottage with windows along both sides and french doors on the ends.  Then there will be covered walkways (shade) between the two cottage units so that I can use one right away and the other I will build as I go.  One building will have the kitchen and living and the other will have bedroom office a third smaller 12x16 will be the toilet/shower/washer/and closets.  Everything will be enclosed in a walled courtyard, to keep out snakes.  The two units I build will have flat roofs so I can build decks on top.  Now I am just saving up my dollars for some lumber.  Posts first.  4x6 20 ft.  I have the plywood and 2x4's for the panels already so that will go easy enough I am nrevous about setting those big posts though but I am sure I can find someone to help me if I wait until the heat wave is over.  My new plan is so much better tahnt he old plan and I knew I got a good deal on my land but I had no idea how good of deal until I saw that view.  My aritst friends will be painting that view, the sunsets and sun rises for years to come.  I feel very lucky.  But there is no trees, or bushes, or grass, only sagebrush and it is very small sage brush I drove right over the top of it and that area is now the driveway.  I guess that was the easiest thing other than finding the survey markers, I thought we might have to hunt for those but nope they were right out in plain sight.  It was easy enough to level out the spot for the shed, the land is pretty level already and we were done in no time then we went to the lake.  I have some ideas on building hte floor and roof too.  The book I have says to draw in the areas where the joist hangers will go on each board with them lined up flat one board right next tot he other and ends level.  I am wondering then if you can mark the spots where the joist hangers go, and the book says the joist hangers have to be level with the top of the board then couldn't you also screw down the joist hangers while they are nice and flat like that, instead of hanging the sill first and then screwing them on from what looks like an extremely uncomfortable angle,  What do you guys think?  Maybe that is how you are supposed to do it ?


Don't forget to leave room for brace panels.  You need bracing to keep the walls from folding over time and from earthquakes etc.


Ok, is the brace panel a diaganol brace 2x set up to hold the wall? or is it some hardware I have not heard about until now.  I don't think the book says anything about brace panels other than to brace the posts square, level and plumb before putting in the concrete.  I think I have seen these diaganol type braces before theough.  


I think what Glenn is referring to is your comment about windows all around vs. the need for adequate diagonal bracing to provide sheer or racking strength. The code requirements have been discussed here on the board before.  Usually plywood sheathing at or near the corners fulfills this structural requirement but there are several other ways. Diagonal 2x4's can bet let into the studs but I believe you would need to have a 2x6 stud wall to avoid cutting too deeply into the studs.  There used to be some metal T material made specifically for diagonal bracing and I've seen some wire and turnbuckle rigs.  

I'm guessing a current edition of Wagner's "Carpentry" would have several alternative.  It's probably available at your local library.


OK I am going to look for that book at the library tomorrow.  I Was planning on just putting in 2x3 double hung windows in the spaces between the studs with using the header and extra studs to set it in.  I didn't think about diagonal bracing Do I still need it if I jsut use lots of little windows and not the bigger windows?  There isn't a code for buildings under 200sf where I am building but I know that I still have to build it solid because the winds actually do blow stuff apart in that area and I don't want my little cottage blown apart especially if I happen to be home.  and will a 2x3 double hung window fit between studs 24 inches on center?  


Yes you still need to consider bracing.  A frame wall by itself has little resistance to falling over like a bunch of stacked cards.  The plywood gives it that strength.   Are you building from John's plans, or others?  What do they show for sheathing?

I doubt a 2x3 window will fit.  I have a Pella catalog and their 1'9" windows need a 1'  9-3/4" opening.  There is a 1'  9-1/2" space between studs 24" o.c.  

Their 2'1"  window needs an opening  2'  1-3/4"  wide.   These dimensions vary greatly by manufacturer.


I also have a question about the enchilada plans.  I am going to get some of those as soon as I get some money but do they come with detailed instructions along with the plans so that I can know what to do and at what point in the process.  Also is there a comprehensive materials list so I can just call up the lumber supply store with my order and go pick it up and be ready to start?  That would certainly be worth the price.  I am just starting with the very smallest building I can start, either the dog house or the little building for the generator, maybe a tiny stable for the horses,  then I will build something bigger once I know how to use the materials I think.  My new county doesn't allow modular or mobiles because the wind is terrific so I have to build everything solid or I will have all kinds of neighbors upset.  I am kind of worried.  


Well what is sheathing?  That is another thing the book doesn't talk about but yes, the walls will be covered in 3/4 inch A plywood, 4ft up and then above that I will have as many windows as I can fit.  It sounds like I may not get as many windows as I want.  Can the bracing be down in the lower half of the wall where the plywood is?  How many braces will it take in the upper top four feet in a twenty foot wall?  how much space do they have to cover?  I don't like these diagonal braces.  Messing up my window plans.  


The sheathing is what gets nailed directly to the framin, in your case the 3/4" plywood is the sheathing.  3/4" A plywood is pretty heavy and high grade for sheathing.  I would guess they are intending it to be sheathing - siding in one.   Do they show any other siding over the sheathing?  

I would think 5/8 T-111 would be less expensive than 3/4 A Plywood and would also serve as sheathing an siding.  


QuoteCan the bracing be down in the lower half of the wall where the plywood is?  How many braces will it take in the upper top four feet in a twenty foot wall?  how much space do they have to cover?  I don't like these diagonal braces.  Messing up my window plans.  

It depends.  If the winds are as high as you say the amount of bracing need to be calculated for the local conditions.  

Generally a 4x8 sheet vertically in the corner fulfills the requirement.  As I said there are other ways to provide the diagonal bracing.  I've seen metal braces let into the studs in a V shape with the point of the V  4' up from the bottom plate in the corner.  That allowed windows to get closer to the corner.  There are many buildings that are mostly glass, it can be done.


I appreciate all this help.  I went and looked in the book again and of course there is a whole section on bracing with step by step instructions and pictures too.  I skipped that part because it looks complicated.  I can live with square and level and plumb but slanted and diaganal.... I am the sort of person who can tell right up front where the trouble spots will be and this is it.  The bracing.  So once again I have changed my mind.  I am sticking to the prefab shed already built to code, and since the county has strict codes it is pretty solid.  and I am sure the bracing is already in place and I will just cut out windows where ever one fits.  

I will probably have to find windows a the second hand stores because the sales ad I have from the building supply store states the sizes beginning at two feet. I will use the plywood and 2x's I already have, on the little generator building and etc.  I will have to give up my idea of having the flat roof with a deck on top away from the snakes but simpler is better and how hard can it be to level a little building and cut some windows into it?  Between the dogs and cats and horses there wont be any snakes around anyway.  The money and time I save on building something I don't even have any idea of what I am doing, can be spent on making a good foundation and setting up the little cottage with some vintage windows and good paint.  Today I started collecting flagstomes for the walks and patio.  

Maybe after I actually have some good experience building a little generator hut and putting in some windows I will take on a bigger project but for now I am sticking to the simplest way I can find.  Short of living in an RV, I would do that but I have all this furniture I spent a fortune on and I want to keep it.  Plus a lot of it is my family antiques and I like it better than built in cabnets and counters.  I know the real builders here will think I am weak letting a thing like bracing hamper my plans but it is a good reality check for me.  To complicated.  


The Enchilada set is a good set of plans, very well thought out and reasonably simple to build giving you many options from simple to more complex.

You will need to study some to understand the proper building sequence.  You can post questions here as you are doing and someone will point you in the proper direction.  Remember that all answers given here are suggestions - no guarantees and ultimately you are the one who has to decide what is right for you.  We do have a great bunch of helpful members though. :)

Adding a few brace panels is not too bad -- It can give you a bit of privacy - places for bookshelves -tall things etc.


Well once I see how they are set up I might be able to actually get it figured out in my mind but just thinking about having a diaganal brace right where I want windows is driving me nuts.  This house I live in now has an entire wall of floor to ceiling windows with no diaganal bracing on that particular wall whatsoever but between each window is a 4x4 post.  Even so when the wind blows sometimes I think it could pop those windows right out.  For now I am going to stick to the easy plan and maybe in a couple of years the little cottage can be the barn and I will build an awesome cottage.  I wish I had paid more attention to the diagonal bracing in the building where I worked last year as it was being built.  Once I have a little success with a small building then I might feel better about trying something bigger.  Does the enchilada plans show proper building sequence in the instructions/plans?  I know the hospital I worked on last year had huge packets of plans but there were no instructions to say how to start or what happens when, my boss seemed to know that stuff and organized the crews to make stuff happen when it was supposed to.  But there must be directions to that effect for smaller buildings?  OR is that the reason most people don't build their own?  You really have to have solid hands on experience or a degree in building?  For now I am going withthe simple plan, over the winter I will study building sequence and hopefully get some hands on experience and then in the spring who knows maybe I will build some big awesome house.  


John has a pretty good general construction sequence in the plans in the Read Me First booklet, along with lots of other good information -

Fine points can be gone over here on the forum.

You don't have to have the diagonals if you have a well nailed and glued plywood or OSB sheathed box wall in the corners.  Then the rest can be pretty much as you please with headers over the windows and doors to support the roof loads.

The Wagner book will answer a lot of questions and is available here through Amazon for as cheap as $4.00 used.


oh thank you for the book link, I am going to be ordering a bunch of those books.  I always feel like books are a great way to spend money.  By spring I will know what I am doing maybe by then I can actually have some hands on experience as well.  


My main way of learning - study and do it. :)


This fits here ,

 Home Small Home
No McMansion for this guy: For four years, 6-foot Gregory Johnson has lived in a 10-foot-by-7-foot home. It's cedar-sided with a metal roof, double-pane windows and a small deck. It's a normal house by those standards, except it's only 70-square-feet!

The bigger shock is that he's not alone in his love for tiny houses. There's even a Small House Society.


 Another maybe interesting link :