We have been taught that building a home costs X amount of dollars for this or that because we only have one way to build homes that are accepted in the world market. For some people, Natural Building is different, here we have artisans crafting a home the way homes where built 100 years ago and more. A naturally built home is not looked at as if it is a commodity ready to be sold off at the end of its usefulness with hopes of gaining profit by its rise in area valuation. Naturally built homes are typically homes that the owner plans to live in forever and passing it down to his and her children and so on.
However, for others, the building’s financial value is of concern, and perhaps they are looking to make an investment and want to ensure a return on profit. Regardless of the method, conventional or alternative, it is always our goal to create the highest quality building which will result in high value & high performance.
The client’s budget is always one of the first things I ask about. This helps us to be able to craft and create a project which will be reflective of the client’s budget, as well as ensuring their intended end-use is captured. Different materials and methods will be chosen based on the client’s budget and end use.
You can spend as much as possible as well as little as possible. The factors that would determine this would be square footage, the overall building program, who is providing the labor, where are the materials coming from, as well as what kinds of other factors there are such as solar panels, living roofs, plumbing and mechanical systems, site work, etc. If you are planning to build on an empty lot, you must take infrastructure into concern such as septic, wells, power, etc.
Many have read or assume that a natural home means that you can build for very little money. This equation assumes you have nothing to do except work on your home for the next several years, you are doing all of the labor yourself, all of your materials are salvaged, you probably don’t have plumbing or electrical needs, and you are not getting a permit. There are fees associated with getting a permit because either an architect or engineer (or both) is doing the brunt of the work as well as taking on liability for your project.
Even a naturally built home will have some conventional elements such as site/foundation work, possibly timber framing or other structure, a roof, countertops, toilets, etc. All of these items add up.
The cost of a project will also depend on how detailed and customized you want it to be. So in other words, if you want an extravagant custom house with lots of artistic touches and you want to move in in eight months, be prepared to spend $200 to $300/sqft. If you are an owner builder looking for a solid shelter, made of salvaged and natural materials, hopefully finished in the next handful of years, think $45 to $80/sqft. (these numbers are ‘rules of thumb’).
Many banks and financial lending institutions are starting to recognize alternative methods and are assigning them a value. Rammed Earth & CEB’s should be considered ‘solid masonry construction’ and valued as such.