I have a saying that whatever you need is probably within 50 feet of you. In part this is because I have a basement full of stuff I have gotten off the street on trash day, or stuff I used to have in the house but replaced by stuff off the street.
I was once in Nicaragua with a neighbor, Tim, when someone asked me how much I paid for my red sneakers.
Nothing, I said, I got them out of Tim’s trash can.
The principle applies outside the home as well. I have often fixed a broken down bike or even car with things I have found in the gutter or by the side of the road: wire, bolts, pieces of metal etc.
But I wanted to write about building houses with this principle.
The first house I ever built was a stone house overlooking a canyon in Western Colorado.
Stones, clay, sand, and dead trees (the mortar mix called for ashes) were within walking distance of the site. Aspen poles for rafters were a bit up the canyon, and the boards were from a local sawmill that was making railroad timbers.
The nearby town of Marble had inch thick slabs of white marble along the side of the stream which were left over from the Lincoln Monument in DC. That was my floor.
Total cost, $140.
The next house I built was a partnership with 2 other families. I said I’d do most of the work if we could build it my way. The property had been logged of the big pines 30 years earlier. In New England, it is the Maples that grow up after a logging, so there were plenty of tall straight maples, 9” to 12” in diameter, maybe 30 feet long before they reached the canopy and spread out. I used them for a frame.
I bought a truck load of rough cut 1×6 and 1×8 boards. I made all of the windows out of 2×4 stock. The little town of Cummington had a building supply store, so everything else came from there.
Total cost of construction $8/ sq. ft.
About three years ago I built a small cabin on the same property. Between three families with many of us retired, and all of us with grown children who loved to use the place, I felt the need for another structure.
A large pine had fallen up in the woods. At a workshop I attended on forest management, the presenter said “think lumber first, not firewood.” So I decided I would make the structure from this one pine, using my chainsaw, freehand, to cut all of the posts, beams, joists and rafters.
I used the sand from the road, the water from the stream for the mortar of the foundation, and stones from the river to make the chimney.
One side was the kitchen, the other had a wood stove and a table. The bedroom was in the loft. 10×12 downstairs, 6×12 upstairs.
Not everything was within fifty feet, but most things were within two hundred feet and were carried to the site by hand. It is amazing what is in our world that doesn’t come from a store.