Building Your Own House in 2009/Here's to Ken Kern

Can you? It’s a question I get asked once in a while. In 1960 it was simple,. You could draw up your own plans. You could use recycled wood and single pane windows and french doors. Very few people built with recycled wood, so it was cheap. Building inspectors held you to decent safety and health standards, but were reasonable. You could build a gravity-flow septic system (mine was about $3000 in 1971, and has worked flawlessly for 37 years). Even in 1973, when I built this place:

• The building permit was $200, water meter $250.

• I built as I could afford it, never borrowed from a bank. No interest payments — that saves over 50% of total cost.

• I saved a ton by doing most of the carpentry and wiring, half of the plumbing.

There are drawbacks. Cooking and living in unfinished rooms. Sawdust on the floors each night. Wiring not yet hooked up. Moreover, building a house is a BIG project (I figure it takes an owner-builder a year to do it all). It also isn’t like doing a painting or sculpture, where you can toss out an unsatisfactory result.

Could you do it today? Unless you have a chunk of cash, you won’t be able to do it within an hour of a cool city. You’ll have to be farther out, farther from draconian bureaucracy and overblown regulations. But with the state of the economy now (and in the future), doing it yourself is still a viable option for creating a home. The principles are still the same. You can do it.

A final note: these days, keeping it small makes infinite sense.

Addendum: Here’s to the memory of Ken Kern, author of The Owner-Built Home (1961), my bible and inspiration in the mid-60s.

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

2 Responses to Building Your Own House in 2009/Here's to Ken Kern

  1. Lloyd, thanks for remembering Ken Kern, I miss the radical philosophy behind his writings. That never found another voice instead we have communism. On a personal note most of what I have learned about building I have learned from my San Bernardino County Building inspectors. You have to learn the basics before you get creative. I think there is plenty of opportunity to build it is just that so many of the population are victims of chemical castration. 🙂

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