A friend of mine is planning to build a house, and he recently sent me an email with a question: “I can’t help but wonder, ‘What would Martin build?’ ”
I’m still living in the house I built in the 1970s, so my first reaction was, “Whatever you do, don’t build a house like the one I built.” My leaky house has never been tested with a blower door—and that’s probably a good thing, because the building’s air leakage rate must be embarrassingly high.
I answered my friend’s email as best I could. But there’s a lot to say on the topic—so I decided to jot down my ideas in the form of this article.
Longtime readers of GBA will recognize much of the advice I’m about to present. While these opinions may not all be fresh, some readers may appreciate having all these threads pulled together in one place.
Have you ever built a house?
A few readers have already had the pleasure of designing and building a house. If you’re one of those, you probably know how privileged you are. Designing and building your own house is expensive. If you did it 40 years ago, as I did, you probably realize that the task has only gotten harder recently.
In the U.S., our housing affordability crisis is worsening. Rents are high and rising. In most communities, it’s increasingly difficult to buy a building lot. Building code enforcement is stricter than it used to be. Permitting costs, as well as the costs of connecting to utilities, are way up. And supply bottlenecks associated with the pandemic have caused huge increases in building materials costs.
If you can still swing the numbers for a new construction project, be grateful—and…