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A Dream Home in the Country

Build for less than $25,000

Anne Hart Lieb
Ohio

The Lieb's built their dream house in Ohio for less than $25,000.
The Lieb’s built their dream house in Ohio for less than $25,000.

After we retired, my husband and I decided to build a four-season cabin so that we would have a place to stay while maintaining the 160-acre farm in Millersburg, Ohio, where I grew up (and where my parents still live in their mid-80s). Additionally, we had signed a multi-year contract with the state of Ohio to rid that same farm of invasive and damaging species of vines, trees, and thorn bushes, which turned out to be a Herculean effort for just the two of us. Even though we successfully completed this forestry project in November 2012, we still spend at least half (or more) of each week at the cabin working on the farm, gardening, helping Mom and Dad, and visiting other local relatives. The remaining days are spent at our primary home about 50 miles away.

We decided on a location for our cabin just across the road from my parents’ home. My dream home would reside in a hayfield, which happened to be one of the highest points in Holmes County, known for its hilly terrain. This spot was ideal, because it was close to the road, sources of electricity and water, an abandoned garden, and a two-story garage. Building 65 feet from the road meant that building a gravel driveway would be inexpensive.

One day, while driving by Weaver Storage Barns near Sugarcreek, Ohio, a cute prairie-style cabin on display caught our attention. After stopping to tour this 16′ x 24′ model cabin with its railed loft, we visited the sales office and were delighted to learn that the cabin started at $10,500 (December, 2009).

The sales manager created instant blueprints on his computer as we added a post foundation, extra windows, four skylights, additional second-floor height, increased loft length, and loft-floor reinforcement for a heavy upstairs water-holding tank (explained below) that would supply water to an upstairs bathroom sink and shower, and also the downstairs kitchen area. We chose a gambrel roof, which yielded more upstairs living space than a steeply-pitched roof.

By doing most of the work themselves, the Liebs cut their building costs considerably.
By doing most of the work themselves, the Liebs cut their building costs considerably.

We decided to cut our expenses by completely finishing the interior of the cabin ourselves (flooring, walls, electricity, plumbing, insulation, etc.).

Within days, Weaver Storage Barns sent out a work crew to the cabin site. In only a few hours, they built the post foundation and a 12-inch-thick base floor, filled with insulation. This box-style wooden base has kept our cabin floor warm on the coldest winter days.

Two days later, the same crew returned with our pre-built walls and numerous other supplies on flatbed trucks. Amazingly, within seven hours this four-person crew had completed building our shingle-roofed, lofted cabin with porch. They even handled the installation of the chimney for our wood stove during the construction of the roof.

The first thing we did was build a stairway, which was not included since we had opted to finish the interior ourselves. Next, we put in an outside stairway leading to the porch.

We placed a waterless composting toilet upstairs, and installed the above-roof wind turbine, which sat on top of the toilet exhaust pipe. This facilitated the composting process. Our composting toilet eliminated the need for building an expensive septic system, saving us thousands of dollars. As advertised, it had absolutely no detectible odor.

With a seemingly endless supply of firewood on the farm, it made sense to heat the cabin with a wood-burning stove. Additionally, it would have been impossible to work in the cabin that winter without the wood-burning stove that we bought online. We were lucky enough to find a new Drolet (French manufacturer) wood stove with a large window at an unbelievable sale price of $595 (with shipping). This small wood stove was built to heat an area 500 to 1,000 square-feet, perfect for our cabin. We temporarily placed the stove over ceramic tiles and cement board for safety. Later, we would permanently attach the tiles to the cement board, grout the tiles, and finish the edges. But for now, we did what would work quickly so that we could work indoors throughout the winter.

The next task toward completion of the interior was installing a circuit box and electrical wiring throughout. Having built and wired three homes in the past, my husband had the expertise to hook up our electricity to a meter near the road via underground conduit. Thus, no unsightly wires were strung from the top of the cabin.

Next on our list was to carefully insulate the entire cabin from floor to ceiling. We unrolled several loads of pink fiberglass insulation and stapled it onto all the interior vertical stud boards. We have been very thankful that we went the extra mile and stuffed insulation into every crack, hole, and corner we could possibly find. As a result of this thorough insulation, we learned that we could build a fire on the coldest January evening before going to bed, let it burn out during the night, and wake up to a warm cabin in the morning (63°F+). This has been great for getting a good night’s sleep without the interruption of having to get up to feed a fire.

Insulating the ceiling was a daunting task because of the ceiling height, especially over the area that was not covered with a loft. We built safe scaffolding to work on the unlofted part of the ceiling. Between the wooden studs of the gambrel ceiling, we applied foil-covered foam boards to allow an air gap for hot summer air to escape up to the roof ridge vent. We then covered the foam boarding with the standard pink fiberglass insulation.

First floor: Kitchen area.
First floor: Kitchen area.

In order to cover the newly-insulated walls with something pretty, we purchased a truckload of knotty-pine tongue-and-groove interior wall boarding from a local Amish wood shop for an incredibly low price. We positioned boards onto the walls horizontally up to a four-foot height. Above that, we installed boards at a 45-degree slant up to a 10-foot height (the beginning of the roof line), then horizontally again throughout the gambrel-shaped ceiling. This created a beautiful herringbone pattern in all corners of the cabin and gave the cabin more style.

Loft area
Loft area

Next, we installed “tile look” Congoleum flooring upstairs, put in a shower, sink, and a 60-gallon water-holding tank that would feed the upstairs sink and shower and also the downstairs kitchen sink.

Running a “hidden” hose from the water-holding tank to an outside spigot made it possible to fill the holding tank by extending a short hose from the yard hydrant to the cabin’s spigot. The water source for our yard hydrant was my parents’ 550-foot-deep water well across the street. If we were to have dug a water well, it would have most likely been over 500-feet-deep, also costing a fortune. Luckily, my parents had installed an underground water pipe many years ago from their farmhouse to the garden across the street, next to our cabin.

To get water to our hydrant, we simply connected an underground water pipe from the garden to the cabin and attached it to a yard hydrant next to the cabin. The only thing we needed to be careful about was to not fill our water tank at a time when my parents were using water in the farmhouse, because it caused a serious drop in their water pressure. This was exactly why we installed the water-holding tank, so that we could avoid causing their water pressure to drop if both households used water at the same time.

Next, we installed a small 220-volt, wall-mounted, on-demand hot water heater and a tiny, four-inch diameter, on-demand water pump. I was afraid that an on-demand water pump would cause a time-lag between turning on a faucet or shower and actually seeing the water flow, but to my surprise, the on-demand water pump works fine.

A 20-inch, low-energy-consumption, super-efficient, window air conditioner comfortably cooled the cabin on the hottest summer days. We installed it in an upstairs window at the top of the stairs. A large ceiling fan evened out the temperature wonderfully throughout the cabin, an advantage to a one-room dwelling. To help keep the inside temperature down on the very hottest summer days, we cut rectangular pieces of foil-covered foam, which popped in and out of the skylights in about 10 seconds. All four skylights were easily reachable from the loft without the use of ladders.

Next, we built the kitchen area in a corner on the first floor. We obtained a 15-year-old refrigerator/freezer in good working condition, free for the hauling.

We built kitchen cabinets from cherry wood harvested from trees on our farm and built a counter top using “granite-look” Formica. Wall shelves located above the counter held our small convection/rotisserie oven, microwave, and other miscellaneous kitchen items. For cooking with pots or skillets, we kept a portable range-top in a kitchen cabinet.

In small dwellings such as our cabin, storage space is extremely valuable. So we built a closet under the stairway, which was otherwise unusable space (behind the brown beanbag chair in bottom photo on page 26).

We finished the downstairs floor by using a rented floor sander then applying three coats of clear floor finish to the thick pine floor. It ended up looking shiny and gorgeous!

Since being here, we have brought the garden back to life, enlarging it and protecting it against rabbits, groundhogs, and deer with a fence made from huge, used power-company posts left on our property (by request) after workers installed newer, higher posts along our road.

One advantage to building in a hayfield is that it is never necessary to build a lawn. Hay is a tall grass, and the wind on our hill spreads the seeds everywhere. Our lawn was made by Mother Nature. We only mow a small amount of grass close to the cabin to minimize the disruption of hay making by a farmer who rents the fields from us.

One day, we will replace the secondary set of porch steps (stacked crates) with something more permanent like what we have on the other side of the porch. But because the driveway is on the opposite side, and we are the only ones who use the “crate” steps, it has not been a priority.

And finally, the finishing touches were carried out in the spring when we stained the cabin exterior to protect the wood, and had a gravel truck come out and “pour” the driveway.

My dream home was finished, and I loved being there.

Before starting on this endeavor, I truly would not have believed it possible to build a permanent and comfortable dwelling like ours for under $25,000.

After we retired, my husband and I decided to build a four-season cabin so that we would have a place to stay while maintaining the 160-acre farm in Millersburg, Ohio, where I grew up (and where my parents still live in their mid-80s). Additionally, we had signed a multi-year contract with the state of Ohio to rid that same farm of invasive and damaging species of vines, trees, and thorn bushes, which turned out to be a Herculean effort for just the two of us. Even though we successfully completed this forestry project in November 2012, we still spend at least half (or more) of each week at the cabin working on the farm, gardening, helping Mom and Dad, and visiting other local relatives. The remaining days are spent at our primary home about 50 miles away.

We decided on a location for our cabin just across the road from my parents’ home. My dream home would reside in a hayfield, which happened to be one of the highest points in Holmes County, known for its hilly terrain. This spot was ideal, because it was close to the road, sources of electricity and water, an abandoned garden, and a two-story garage. Building 65 feet from the road meant that building a gravel driveway would be inexpensive.

One day, while driving by Weaver Storage Barns near Sugarcreek, Ohio, a cute prairie-style cabin on display caught our attention. After stopping to tour this 16′ x 24′ model cabin with its railed loft, we visited the sales office and were delighted to learn that the cabin started at $10,500 (December, 2009).

The sales manager created instant blueprints on his computer as we added a post foundation, extra windows, four skylights, additional second-floor height, increased loft length, and loft-floor reinforcement for a heavy upstairs water-holding tank (explained below) that would supply water to an upstairs bathroom sink and shower, and also the downstairs kitchen area. We chose a gambrel roof, which yielded more upstairs living space than a steeply-pitched roof.

We decided to cut our expenses by completely finishing the interior of the cabin ourselves (flooring, walls, electricity, plumbing, insulation, etc.).

Within days, Weaver Storage Barns sent out a work crew to the cabin site. In only a few hours, they built the post foundation and a 12-inch-thick base floor, filled with insulation. This box-style wooden base has kept our cabin floor warm on the coldest winter days.

Two days later, the same crew returned with our pre-built walls and numerous other supplies on flatbed trucks. Amazingly, within seven hours this four-person crew had completed building our shingle-roofed, lofted cabin with porch. They even handled the installation of the chimney for our wood stove during the construction of the roof.

The first thing we did was build a stairway, which was not included since we had opted to finish the interior ourselves. Next, we put in an outside stairway leading to the porch.

We placed a waterless composting toilet upstairs, and installed the above-roof wind turbine, which sat on top of the toilet exhaust pipe. This facilitated the composting process. Our composting toilet eliminated the need for building an expensive septic system, saving us thousands of dollars. As advertised, it had absolutely no detectible odor.

With a seemingly endless supply of firewood on the farm, it made sense to heat the cabin with a wood-burning stove. Additionally, it would have been impossible to work in the cabin that winter without the wood-burning stove that we bought online. We were lucky enough to find a new Drolet (French manufacturer) wood stove with a large window at an unbelievable sale price of $595 (with shipping). This small wood stove was built to heat an area 500 to 1,000 square-feet, perfect for our cabin. We temporarily placed the stove over ceramic tiles and cement board for safety. Later, we would permanently attach the tiles to the cement board, grout the tiles, and finish the edges. But for now, we did what would work quickly so that we could work indoors throughout the winter.

The next task toward completion of the interior was installing a circuit box and electrical wiring throughout. Having built and wired three homes in the past, my husband had the expertise to hook up our electricity to a meter near the road via underground conduit. Thus, no unsightly wires were strung from the top of the cabin.

Next on our list was to carefully insulate the entire cabin from floor to ceiling. We unrolled several loads of pink fiberglass insulation and stapled it onto all the interior vertical stud boards. We have been very thankful that we went the extra mile and stuffed insulation into every crack, hole, and corner we could possibly find. As a result of this thorough insulation, we learned that we could build a fire on the coldest January evening before going to bed, let it burn out during the night, and wake up to a warm cabin in the morning (63°F+). This has been great for getting a good night’s sleep without the interruption of having to get up to feed a fire.

Insulating the ceiling was a daunting task because of the ceiling height, especially over the area that was not covered with a loft. We built safe scaffolding to work on the unlofted part of the ceiling. Between the wooden studs of the gambrel ceiling, we applied foil-covered foam boards to allow an air gap for hot summer air to escape up to the roof ridge vent. We then covered the foam boarding with the standard pink fiberglass insulation.

In order to cover the newly-insulated walls with something pretty, we purchased a truckload of knotty-pine tongue-and-groove interior wall boarding from a local Amish wood shop for an incredibly low price. We positioned boards onto the walls horizontally up to a four-foot height. Above that, we installed boards at a 45-degree slant up to a 10-foot height (the beginning of the roof line), then horizontally again throughout the gambrel-shaped ceiling. This created a beautiful herringbone pattern in all corners of the cabin and gave the cabin more style.

Next, we installed “tile look” Congoleum flooring upstairs, put in a shower, sink, and a 60-gallon water-holding tank that would feed the upstairs sink and shower and also the downstairs kitchen sink.

Running a “hidden” hose from the water-holding tank to an outside spigot made it possible to fill the holding tank by extending a short hose from the yard hydrant to the cabin’s spigot. The water source for our yard hydrant was my parents’ 550-foot-deep water well across the street. If we were to have dug a water well, it would have most likely been over 500-feet-deep, also costing a fortune. Luckily, my parents had installed an underground water pipe many years ago from their farmhouse to the garden across the street, next to our cabin.

To get water to our hydrant, we simply connected an underground water pipe from the garden to the cabin and attached it to a yard hydrant next to the cabin. The only thing we needed to be careful about was to not fill our water tank at a time when my parents were using water in the farmhouse, because it caused a serious drop in their water pressure. This was exactly why we installed the water-holding tank, so that we could avoid causing their water pressure to drop if both households used water at the same time.

Next, we installed a small 220-volt, wall-mounted, on-demand hot water heater and a tiny, four-inch diameter, on-demand water pump. I was afraid that an on-demand water pump would cause a time-lag between turning on a faucet or shower and actually seeing the water flow, but to my surprise, the on-demand water pump works fine.

A 20-inch, low-energy-consumption, super-efficient, window air conditioner comfortably cooled the cabin on the hottest summer days. We installed it in an upstairs window at the top of the stairs. A large ceiling fan evened out the temperature wonderfully throughout the cabin, an advantage to a one-room dwelling. To help keep the inside temperature down on the very hottest summer days, we cut rectangular pieces of foil-covered foam, which popped in and out of the skylights in about 10 seconds. All four skylights were easily reachable from the loft without the use of ladders.

Next, we built the kitchen area in a corner on the first floor. We obtained a 15-year-old refrigerator/freezer in good working condition, free for the hauling.

We built kitchen cabinets from cherry wood harvested from trees on our farm and built a counter top using “granite-look” Formica. Wall shelves located above the counter held our small convection/rotisserie oven, microwave, and other miscellaneous kitchen items. For cooking with pots or skillets, we kept a portable range-top in a kitchen cabinet.

In small dwellings such as our cabin, storage space is extremely valuable. So we built a closet under the stairway, which was otherwise unusable space (behind the brown beanbag chair in bottom photo on page 26).

We finished the downstairs floor by using a rented floor sander then applying three coats of clear floor finish to the thick pine floor. It ended up looking shiny and gorgeous!

Since being here, we have brought the garden back to life, enlarging it and protecting it against rabbits, groundhogs, and deer with a fence made from huge, used power-company posts left on our property (by request) after workers installed newer, higher posts along our road.

One advantage to building in a hayfield is that it is never necessary to build a lawn. Hay is a tall grass, and the wind on our hill spreads the seeds everywhere. Our lawn was made by Mother Nature. We only mow a small amount of grass close to the cabin to minimize the disruption of hay making by a farmer who rents the fields from us.

One day, we will replace the secondary set of porch steps (stacked crates) with something more permanent like what we have on the other side of the porch. But because the driveway is on the opposite side, and we are the only ones who use the “crate” steps, it has not been a priority.

And finally, the finishing touches were carried out in the spring when we stained the cabin exterior to protect the wood, and had a gravel truck come out and “pour” the driveway.

My dream home was finished, and I loved being there.

Before starting on this endeavor, I truly would not have believed it possible to build a permanent and comfortable dwelling like ours for under $25,000.

 





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COUNTRYSIDE is the truly original country magazine (established 1917) serving that branch of the Voluntary Simplicity movement seeking greater self-reliance (homesteading), with emphasis on home food production. This includes gardening, small-scale livestock, cooking, food preservation, resource conservation, recycling, frugality, money management, alternative energy, old-time skills, home business, and
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