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Yurts, Domes,Straw bale, A-frame ??Cost effective???

September 20, 2003

Does anyone have any valuable information or good stories about these types of homes, we will soon be purchasing property, and plan to build a future home there. We are interested in all information pertaining to any of these structures or perhaps, one we do not know about?

Thank you.

Comments (42)

  • pnbrown

    An unmodified A-frame is without doubt the most cost-effective structure imaginable. Wood-frame with metal roofing, fiberglass insulation and wallboard inside - it just doesn't get much cheaper for finished space.

    Of course, you'll only have windows on the ends unless you use skylights, which aren't cheap - at least for good quality ones that last. Even so, it is the cheapest structure for labor and materials.

    Straw bale will be very expensive; even if you contract and do the labor on your own. The others I don't know much about.

  • lilgasunshine

    Ever thought of a cordwood/masonry house? Go to http://daycreek.com/dc/HTML/journalmenu.htm

  • hunter_tx

    Definitely A-frame. The walls and roof are one and the same, and the ease of construction is great. They are structurally very sound and the cost is very efficient. The largest consideration is arrangement of living spaces, but you can get pretty creative and do some fun stuff with the design. If I didn't mind going up and down stairs at my age, which is only going up and up, I'd definitely consider it.
    Mrs H

  • lemon306

    Anyone know of construction details for A-Frame homes. I have searched the internet but can't seem to find any info for someone wanting to build their own. I plan to build early next year so any help would be appreciated.

  • pnbrown

    There's nothing special to know. Anyone who can build a roof by definition can build an A-frame.

    Some kind of foundation, floor, roof, gable ends, done.

  • hunter_tx

    I don't know if you have Simm's lumber yards in your area, but we have several around here and they have a book rack with different building plans. Last time I looked, they had some plans for A-frame houses. Also, go to your local library. Our local one has lots of books on construction techniques dating back to the sixties and seventies. There seemed to be a small boom in interest during that time period. I'll look through some of my books and see if I can find you any resources and post back if I have any.
    Mrs H

  • johntommybob

    I lived in North Florida in the 1960's. In driving around I chanced to drive by an A-Frame house. I had never seen one before and I was quite taken with it. I stopped, walked up and rang the door bell. The owner invited me in and was only too glad to tell me all about his house. He said he was a seaman and had designed the house while he was at sea. He had even built a model of it which he showed to me. The model, just like the house, was in the shape of an X. You could pick up the model's roof and see the inside. The house was an exact replica of the model. I was hooked! Years later I moved to East Tennessee and I built an A-Frame. I designed it myself and my wife and I, with some help from my brother, built it mostly ourselves. We have lived in it now for over thirty years. It took us a while as we built it on a pay as you go basis and lived in it long before it was completed. It was, at the same time, one of the hardest and one of the best things we ever did. And that's just a little part of a very long story.

  • DebNP

    I have seen the construction of domes, and believe me, it didn't look cheap. Lots of steel and concrete involved.

    A "winged" A-frame with dormer type windows on the sides will give you more light on the top floor, and is still cost effective.

  • dreamin_outloud

    Thanks to all that have replied,we are certain that it
    is an A frame that we will be building. All information we have obtained seem to tell us this is the most cost effective.

  • solrebble

    I am also searching for code conforming cost effective housing I wish to build in Puna, Hawaii. Anyone know how water catchment would work on an A-frame on post and pier foundation or any other info on building in hawaii?

  • hunter_tx

    Water catchment would probably work well if you have buried tanks and a good pumping system. There's a link I posted on another forum that has some good info on use of cisterns. If the thread is still around, I'll find the link and post it for you here.
    Mrs H

  • Jason_MI

    You can get free cabin plans through the USDA...simply do a yahoo search on A-Frame and USDA and plans (or something like that), and they'll come up through the various university extension services.

  • chroma2424

    This house didn't seem to0 expensive and its strawbale. Why would straw be expensive? I suppose though...it also could do w/ materials- if you are also interested in using a more quickly renewable resource (as in, it takes a year to grow the house for straw, 20 for trees). I suppose a quick put up timber house might be cheaper. I don't know, I'm $25 and I rent...

    Anyway, here's the article.

    Here is a link that might be useful: A House of Straw.

  • ladykemma

    i have seen some impressive spacious yurts, built on a nice, level, wooden deck. the initial cost wouldn't be much more than a coupla grand, i would imagine. for a permanent home i imagine you would need to replace your roof every couple of years.

    "natural home" magazine had an article on yurts this past year.
    I have a 20x20 panther single center pole tent that i could live in. with a floor and some oriental rugs, it is quite snug. i guess it really depends where you want to put this. i don't think it would work in michigan, but in mild houston, i would be fine.

    the SCA's annual "gulf war" is coming up in march in mississippi, if you want to peruse all types of yurts.
    the viking A frames are most interesting. panther pavillions will be there as well.http://www.gulfwars.org/

  • ladykemma

    just found a good website

  • weebus

    Yep, being in WA, home of one of the best Yurt builders in the country, I would definately look at building a Yurt.

  • wisgardendude

    How are Yurts in COLD temps (below 0)??? I'm also interested in a Yurt, but might have to stick to something a little thicker. A-Frames can be hard to heat i've heard (cold down low, hot up)...

  • hunter_tx

    A simple remedy to heat stratification in an A frame is to use a couple of ceiling fans set on the low speed.
    Mrs H

  • lucky_p

    Whatever you do, stay away from fiberglass insulation. Cellulose is vastly superior to fiberglass in its insulating & sound-proofing qualities(cellulose will cut heating/cooling costs 20-40% compared to identical construction insulated with fiberglass), won't burn & repels insects(roaches/termites, etc.)due, in part, to regulations requiring it be treated with boric acid. It also has less 'embodied energy' - it requires less energy expenditure in its manufacture, since it's a recycled paper product - wise use of a recyclable resource.

    Additionally, in many markets, it may be cheaper to have cellulose blown in than to purchase the fiberglass batts and install it yourself.

    Check out the article linked below from the CIMA website(www.cellulose.org)

    Here is a link that might be useful: CIMA - Energy shoot-out at the CU Corral

  • aphroditelaughs

    Why is strawbale expensive? I had heard the opposite.

  • frog_ladyofTX

    How about an earth home? Great book: Building with Earth by Paulina Wojciechowska. Have you ever noticed all the abandoned houses, barns, sheds, etc while driving thru the countryside? (We jokingly refer to them as "retirement homes"......oops, waited too long on that one, roof is caved in!) I really hate the idea of leaving something like that behind. If an earth home is not lived in & cared for it will, in a much shorter time, dissolve back into earth. If you're looking for something to leave for future generations, then it probably isn't for you, but if you're looking for something cost effective(as in cheap cheap cheap), easy (no large tools required), sustainable, etc this is it.

  • Peach_Fuzz

    I live in an A-frame with a dormer, and I love it! Even though we only have windows on the back and front on the house, it doesn't seem dark at all inside. This house was built in the early 70's (not by us). We recently put on a new metal roof, and I was amazed at how fast the roofers got it put on, considering the pitch of the roof. And if you're interested in harvesting rainwater, there's nothing easier than setting up a harvesting system on an A-frame; the rooflines are so simple you just need a simple gutter system.

  • erlyberd

    You need to build with the local materials. Straw is too expensive if you live far form where its grown. Round here its 5 to 6 bucks a bail. Besides it rots if wet. Them yurts look too much like a tent for my taste. Not to mention the cost of replacing things. Cord wood looks very nice, cheaper and the concrete equals thermal mass = passine solar in my books. Domes are way too expensive. A-frames cool too but space is abit funny. You need low maintenance too. I like the house on the natural home site!

  • EvesApple

    Hello! Here in KS we can get straw bales anywhere from free to 3$ a pop. Not expensive at all! I'm not sure about Washington, but I thought I'd chime in with something a little out of the ordinary you may not have thought of...earthships. I'd love to have one but building one in KS involves blasting which becomes expensive...yet if your town is not dubbed "the city of native stone" you probably won't run into this sort of issue. :) We have lots of bedrock here. I have to second whole-heartedly Erlyberd's sentiments - build with what you have! Tires and pop/beer cans can be obtained cheaply anywhere if not for free...I'm not promising it won't be a bit of work, though. Google "earthship" for more links than the one I've posted.

    Good luck in your housing adventures!

    Here is a link that might be useful: one earthship experience

  • herb_wi

    I have a cordwood house. 24 years ago it cost $2000 to build the basic 20x26 ft structure. There is a low kneewall upstairs and it has a steep metal roof with 16-foot rafters.

    If you can cut your own wood free cordwood is a cheap method. A rubble rock foundation is also cheap to make. Your own free peeled straight poles for rafters is good too. But it does take more time to gather natural materials than buying them from the lumber yard.

    In a cold climate cordwood walls tend to leak air and I later insulated the inside of my walls. Now it is quite warm and easy to heat.

  • sunshinelovegirl

    hey guys what about earthships. sure it's hard work and it takes a long time if you don't have friends eager to help but we built a 1200 foot earthship in under 3 years at around $35,000. we are happy and warm in our beautiful home

  • zachrey

    We LOVE our earthship! see www.greaterworld.org and www.earthship.com for more info.

    We have a 1,500 sqft home at the Greater World earthship subdivision and they are amazingly comfortable and we have plenty of power and water. The website greaterworld.org has an online discussion forum where you can see the latest discussions at our 633 acre earthship only subdivision near Taos, NM.

    We hired a crew to build our place and ram-rodded it through in 9 months and 1 day. We sunk in about $250,000, our life savings, but life is great out here. I love our neighbors! Not just anybody says, 'Oh, lets build an earthship out in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of other mis-fits'!

    Here is a link that might be useful: Greater World subdivision members website

  • huisjen

    I'm unconvinced. Okay, so you can use roofing for walls in an A-frame, but...

    Stick built is more complicated in concept, but not by much, and yields a better house that's still easy to build. It uses materials efficiently. A normal stick built house can be arranged for better use of space -- none of that wider at the floor bit -- and a have a better surface to volume ratio.

    A-frames without the dormer or skylights are dark in the center. A-frames with the dormer, well, what's the difference between that and an ugly stick built house? And I'm not old, but I can tell when there's more stair than house. A-frames are too vertical for their own good. You get good usable volume from a lower, wider, more conventional design. Your knees will thank you.

    And the A-frames I've seen have a lot in common with post and beam. A couple people working alone are going to have a hard time getting those 30' rafters into place. (Yeah, I'm sure they're spliced somewhere, but...) Stick frame uses smaller, easier to handle framing members.

    The reason that alternative building technologies haven't taken over is economics. Stick built is economical to build and economical to repair, assuming you're building to last. In some special cases some other form might be better, but that case will have very different economic circumstances. It will have an exploitable resource on or near the site (timber, straw, good building stone) and owner-builders with more time than money or than skills with which to earn money. Sure Earthships have some advantages in a desert climate, but I'd hate to live in a hole here in Maine.

    Someday you'll be old, and have to get someone to repair something. Everybody knows how stick built goes together. It's sustainable in a community sense. It doesn't get abandoned or neglected because nobody quite wants to figure out how to deal with it. Something like post and beam with strawbale infill would work that way. Domes generally leak. I have some friends who live in a yurt, and I'm helping them stick build a real house. The yurt has no storage and builds up an inch of ice on the inside of the plastic windows in the winter. It was designed for nomadic mongols. Most Americans don't need to compromise strength for portability.

    All that said, if I was in Washington (and I used to be) and I needed something quick, I'd dump a few loads of gravel, tamp it, lay a moisture barrier, pack some tires with sand or gravel as a simple foundation, and stack bales in a circle. Add window and door frames, and use yurt-like compression straps. Pour sand in the middle to cover the tires, then put down a cob floor and plaster the bales with clay mud. The roof can take inspiration from round barn roofs. I'd probably make it octagonal, and maybe gambrel/mansard in cross section, with some sort of trusswork to keep framing light. A simple yurt roof doesn't allow joist depth for insulation, and bales will need an overhang to protect them in that climate. (I'm assuming westside, no?) And in earthquake country, tie everything together well!!!

    That would do for a few years, durring which you build the real house.


  • quirkyquercus

    Great for a simple shelter but what about plumbing?

  • huisjen

    Plumbing? I dunno. Dig a trench before you do anything else. Run whatever plumbing you need through it inside some larger pipe as a sleave. Maybe use 4" drain line or a small culvert. Or maybe haul water in from the hand pump or rain barrel in jugs and let it run out through a greywater line laid through the wall as the bales are stacked. Maybe even use a hand pump inside to draw water from the rain barrel. Use a composting toilet bucket system. It's nothing a little imagination can't fix.


  • jaybc

    There are two different types of Straw bale homes, (keep in mind that straw, wheat, oat, etc with the seedheads removed, not hay is used). There are stressed skin straw bale homes, where the straw bales are the load bearing walls, and then there is timber framed straw bale homes, where a timber frame supports the weight and the coated straw bales form the inner walls, the insulation and the exterior sheathing of the home.

    The straw is wrapped with wire inside and out, and parged and plastered with concrete, adobe, stucco or plaster. In wet areas or areas that recieve significant snow falls, the exterior wall needs to be protected against water accumulation by a high footing and generous roof overhangs. Of course, so should a stick built home be similarly protected, but all too often there is reliance on housewrap for protection with sad results.

    According to some studies, timber framed straw bale homes are slightly cheaper and are easier to construct than stressed skin veraions.

    Straw bale homes typically cost 30% less than stick framed homes of similar size and finish. In addition, they create an R50 wall, compared to an R22 wall for 2 x 6 construction, with 40% greater thermal mass, (the ability to store and slowly release heat).

    Of course, the savings are even greater if one does much of the work themselves. You may however, have to teach your local Building Authority about straw bales before you begin.

    Books, courses and hands on seminars are readily available for those who want to tackle the job themselves.

    With cordwood homes, there are as well, two differnt types again, infill Cordwood homes, where a timber frame again bears the weight and the cordwood acts as infill, and stacked wall construction where the cordwood wall bears the weight.

    Choice of wood, mortar and insulation are critical parts of cordwood construction. The wood needs to be well seasoned, dry, bark free and free of rot.

    On the exterior, the exposed wood can be sealed, stained or plastered over. On the interior, the exposed wood can be sealed, stained, drywalled or plastered over.

    Properly built, minimum wall thickness of 16 inches, interior and exterior mortar with infill insulation will create a cordwood home costing 35% to 40% less than 2 x 6 stickbuilt, with again, a higher thermal mass and R32 walls.

    In wet areas or areas that recieve significant snow falls, the exterior wall needs to be protected against water accumulation by a high footing and generous roof overhangs. Of course, so should a stick built home be similarly protected, but all too often there is reliance on housewrap for protection with sad results.

    You pretty much have to use very expensive SIP panels, to attain cordwood or straw bale insulation values for walls in a stick built house.

    Of course, the savings are even greater if one does much of the work themselves. You may however, have to teach your local Building Authority about cordwood before you begin.

    Books, courses and hands on seminars are readily available for those who want to tackle the job themselves.

    The best approach of course, is an inground home, taking advantage of the earths shelter, with a cordwood or straw bale face.

    Stick built however, is easy, low technology, low skill, comfortable and familiar, which is why most homes are still on site stick built.

    For any home, the cheapest floor plan is a square, this gives you maximum interior square footage for minimum structure costs.
    The cheapest roof, is a Schilling roof, ( a single flat structure, sloped in one or two dimensions), as this requires minimal rafter complexity, minimal flashing issues, etc.

    For overall cost effectiveness, one has to balance the house plan, the construction methods, the labor costs, the materials and the operating costs to suit what one can build, afford and maintain. Not a simple equation, is it.

  • florey

    Quonset info?

  • fruithack

    I've been into alternative structures for thirty years, and my uncle Ken Kern was a pioneer in the field: go stick built. Build rectangular with the longest side oriented south. Use a trussed roof with a 6-8/12 pitch, maximum 32' span. Keep everything as simple as possible

  • organic_farmer_bob

    Cob is also an option. We are currently researching cob, more as to where to get what we need and how to satisfy building codes which assume hight polluting and wasteful stick built structures. Cob is sand, straw and clay... the clay and sand we can harvest from local, public land for free and the straw material we can buy from a local grower relatively cheap. Since the material sources are less the 10mi from our construction area, our family members own several heavy duty pickups and we are building the walls all ourselves the basic wall structure will cost about $250 bucks, a tad more if we buy beer and pizza to get our relatives to help us. We are still pricing flooring systems, electrical and plumbing. However dollar for dollar stick build can't compete.

  • fruithack

    Cobb? Straw bale? Cordwood? Rammed earth? These words are all associated with a type of home construction. The truth is that cobb, cordwood, and rammed earth are only wall types, and straw bale is only an insulation type. You could just as easily call stick built "fiberglass" or "blown cellulose". You've still got foundations, floors, and roofs. The two most critical components of home construction are the foundation and roof. Personally, I identify homes by roof type: clay tile, cedar shake, asphalt shingle, concrete tile, etc. Walls, foundations, roofs, etc all must work together as a system, and that's the fly in the ointment of most alternative structures. How is that stickbuilt roof going to transfer loads to the cordwood walls? What type of foundation are you going to use with cobb and how will the system perform in an earthquake? Stick is a perfected system with off the shelf components.

    A basic rectangular house has a minimal area of structural walls relative to roof and floor area, yet people use the wall type as an identity. Note that the single most expensive feature in all these systems is wall openings. Think you can reinvent the wheel? You have my genuine best wishes in designing a more conscious house.

  • organic_farmer_bob

    Fruithack -

    You clearly don't know anything about either building, much less alternative building. If you can't say something relevent can I suggest you just say nothing. Stick built is the least efficent home building system imaginable. OSB out gases toxins, as does cement, pressure treated lumber. The best standard stick built house will have a wall R value of 22, using 2x6 construction (an added cost)...while cob walls have an R-50 at 16" thick. Combined with the thermal mass evening out heat and the lack of toxic chemicals...tell me again how superior stick built is. Furthermore, according to every source I have seen earthbuilt homes are stucturally superior to stick built, and are much more earthquake resistent. If you knew as much as you claim, as a 30 year vetran of the alternate housing biz, you'd know that cordwood tends to use 16 rafter, circular systems, usually with 1 single large center pole. The roof is actually built into the wall using concrete and wood making an almost monolithic stucture. Earthbag constuction usually forms a dome roof which as any architect can tell you is structurally much stronger, earthquake and wind resistent. Cobb houses have survived as long as what 450 years? Tell me again how unstable they are. I believe the oldest standing, and still in use Cob home was dated to the 1540's. Stick built doesn't compete with that. Not if you want to get some fact and figures out that might be good...otherwise you sound like a red-neck mouthing off about how great gasoline, clear cut forests and coal burning power plants are... Which I think probably means your opinion doesn't fit in the context of this conversation.

  • brendan_of_bonsai

    Organic Farmer Bob typically when you rebuke someone for not knowing about something, you are best not to reviel that you your self know even less.

    I can imagine lots of home building systems less efficient than stick building, a well built stick house will provide more living space and use fewer resources than a well built standard A-frame, be easier to sheath and take less to heat in a cold climate (thats right, a tall stack like building has a large stack effect, and an A frame has a huge surface area, an a frame with dormers has an unnecessarily complex roof line which leads to leaks and air infiltration).

    Not all OSB off gases much, not all stick built houses use OSB, no form of alternative building excludes OSB, from an OSB standpoint it doesn't matter what you do the subfloor is still fair game, and probably the area where any offgassing will have the largest effect in any home.

    Also, where are the toxins coming from in the stick walls that they are not in the cobb walls?

    As for structural stability there are countless homes of all types that are good in a quake and countless homes of all types that fall like a house of cards. In most cases the strongest house for the money and effort that doesn't use some cheap but very limited resources is going to be either stick or very similar to stick. There are lots of very old stick houses all over Europe as well just FYI, its a safe bet (although I do not have an example that springs to mind) that stick or stick like (say timber frame with stick walls) hoses that are older than 450 still exist, sadly many have been taken down because of the valuable and reusable materials that go into them, a cob house is not reusable nor is a rammed earth house, they just sit and crumble.

    Also, since fruithack is probably into fruit trees I doubt he is going to rail against forests, and since I am on record all over gardenweb talking about how great trees and forests are I'm going to say it, occasionally clear cutting is the most environmentally friendly thing to do. When Spruce bark beetles started to hit hard here in Alaska the loggers asked to go in and harvest the infested and dying areas. The envirnomental movement stopped them because they were going to clear cut (because it would take too much gasolean and to many lives to try and selectively harvest with how stron spruce branches are) so the beetle infestation was left to go, and each year we loose thousands and thousands of acres of forest to them. had we acted quickly we would have healthy forests and a relatively small patch with all new growth, but no, clear cutting is wrong, so now we have huge swaths of dead forest with no trees growing, fewer logging jobs, and somewhere in the world another forest or plantation was cut to provide the wood that we let rot in the wild, and then a bunch of bunker oil was burned to move that wood to Alaska.

    Gasolean is also great stuff, with lots of uses.

  • organic_farmer_bob

    I will be the first to admit a few things...

    1 - I should post when irritated...
    2 - I don't know everything....

    However, sitting there trying to nitpick that "not all houses use OSB"doesnÂt strike me as proving how stupid I am, or how wrong I am. Neither does "I can imagine less efficient systems". Great, so can I, I can admit that. How about the one where they make the house of cards and it falls over a lot. Ya know the one that falls down "flush" to the ground? It doesnÂt change the fact that for any given area you can probably find a cheaper, cleaner way to build. My cob home is costing me about 70% less then a stick built. My UncleÂs Strawbale saved him about 40%. These are based on building cost, not heating, cooling etc which as has been stated will be less in these homes then the average, run of the mill stick based structure.

    I have to say that while I may have been out of line with the redneck crackÂ. Trying to prove that clear cutting forests, coal power plants etc are good for the environment, to me, is just bizarre. Clearly in this context clear cutting didnÂt refer to clearing a section of a ten acre plot to build a cabin, nor did it have to do with beetles, or a Dutch-Elm. I am pretty sure you got my real point and were, once again trying to nitpickÂso I think saying more would be silly.

    Also gas maybe great stuffÂ.in moderation, and where it is actually needed. My neighbour actually uses a diesel generator a fair bit, in spite of the noise, the wastefulnessÂ.then again he has tried to get a court injunction to stop me from installing a small wind turbine (2.6x2.5 meter, mounted at about roof height) on my land because he can see it (the house would be almost 3 acres apart)Â. This is the same breed of slob who starts getting all sorts of loud and stupid when they over-hear you discussing a small electric/duel fuel tractor for the stated reason of "Electric is for pussies" and when you ask why they say that the response is "Because it will make ya a wuss". (Real life conversationÂ)

    Did Fruithack hit a nerve? Yes. Did I maybe get a bit prissy because of other current life experienceÂsure did, dealt with the pussy/wuss spouting jerk a few days ago. It doesnÂt change the fact that Fruithack is saying that he is an expert in green building (30 years involvement) and that they all are less the structurally sound (supposedly because you canÂt make a timber roof and a cordwood wall connect properly, etc). He is wrong, he clearly isnÂt the expert he claims to be and I think it would be a shame if the original poster, or anyone else, opted out of a great straw bale or cob, or whatever, house because they got the impression that they were newagey and sub-standard. Lastly, if you have some specific point I was actually incorrect on let me know, I like to learn and can admit if I am mistaken on something.

  • fruithack

    Organic: "according to the sources I've seen" - how about actually building something and living in it for several years. Cobb house on a Canadian island- go for it gumby.

    Damn rights I'm a redneck. Oh, and by the way, superinsulated (developed in Canada) is the most energy efficient buildable structure there is- and it's stick.

  • contact_yurtsofhawaii_com

    Aloha all~ We build, permit, plumb and provide electric services for yurts here in Hawaii. We're located in the Puna district and have been in business for over 3 years. Yurts are very affordable, for a 30', 706 sq. ft. yurt on a platform, permitted, with basic plumbing and electric the cost ranges from $25k on up. It depends on what you'd like to do. For more info you can check us out at www.yurtsofhawaii.com
    Our manufacturer is Colorado Yurts (www.coloradoyurt.com), with the best material in the business for UV and mildew resistance. The exterior material will last for at least 10 years (7 year warranty on standard materials, 15 year warranty on the Dura-last roof upgrade), then you'll simply replace the exterior, your infrastructure should still be very sound for many decades to come.
    A note on the A-Frame structure, I'm not sure that it is ideal for water catchment, a steeply pitched roof makes it very difficult to utilize gutters.
    Melissa Fletcher

  • ed92253

    r1ar7 if your out there I NEED A LENDER FOR A DOME HOME.HELP!!!!!~

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