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How To Build an Open Source House? 274

Posted by timothy
from the mind-the-gap dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I'm starting a project that I hope that the engineers, makers and general DIYers in the Slashdot crowd can help out with. The full story's on the website, but the short version is as follows: my aim is to make a cheap, recycled, sustainable building, to document the process fully and to release anything that would help others to do the same. I intend to use an old train carriage as the shell, but the ideas should extend to shipping containers, aeroplane fuselages or anything similar. I know I'm not the first to do this, but I can't see anyone else who's provided a detailed step-by-step account of the build, complete with plans and the rest. Before I start, though, I'm trying to draw on as much collective experience as possible, and to head off mistakes before they happen. My question to Slashdot is simple: what do you think I need to know before I begin?"
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How To Build an Open Source House?

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  • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:57PM (#32813064)

    First off, build a list of local electricians and plumbers, and the name of whomever is going to sign off on this house with regard to permits and other legal issues. IE: People who know your local regulations.

    Get their opinion and evaluate their willingness to work with you, because the last thing you want is a finished project that gets condemned.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ngrier (142494)
      Right on. Even if you learn enough to be a:
      • Plumber
      • Electrician
      • Engineer
      • Architect
      • HVAC installer
      • ...

        you'll still need to design plans, get permits and get the whole thing inspected and approved. And while most jurisdictions will allow you to make said improvements to your own dwelling, they're going to go over everything with a fine tooth comb if you're not licensed in that trade. My parents built their own home, but even still, got help from all the above to do the plans, oversee inspections and help w

    • by AshtangiMan (684031) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:21PM (#32813462)
      I'll second this. I'm an architect and have a friend who is also an architect who had a plan to add to his existing house using some shipping containers. After drawing the detailed plans, the city refused to permit (I'm not sure exactly why, but he scrapped the idea). You'll want to put together a fairly detailed set of drawings, calling out the shipping container (or other shell), how it is finished, insulated, how the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems interact, the windows and exits (for life and safety code), etc. I would make sure to have all the decisions made before I started, and consult with the various engineers (MEP, structural, civil) before going to the permitting authority. The biggest deal (depending on your location I suppose) is the insulation. If you can rely on passive solar for heat and you can find some good heat storage mechanism (I'd recommend water) then you may be able to get by with less insulation but it depends on the climate. Shipping containers seem like a great idea (as do A/C fuselage) but are very hard to insulate, esp given the limited interior size which a fur out for any reasonable insulation would make even smaller. I think you'd be better off with using recycled wood products with integral insulation (like SIPs for instance), or even rammed earth or earth block (like adobe) and doing the majority of the labor yourself.
      • by cowscows (103644) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:54PM (#32814060) Journal

        Yeah, I've only spent a few minutes thinking about it, but I'm having a hard time coming up with a way of adequately insulating a tube car without completely destroying the character of it. Especially if you don't want to spend a fortune on fancy materials. Maybe from the outside it'd still look like a tube car, but on the inside it would feel entirely different.

        While I see the appeal in reusing existing containers of various sorts, really the only benefits they offer as a building material is that they already exist and they've got some structural qualities. Other than that, their original design requirements are often rather harsh in terms of long term human habitation. A storage container is a miserable place to spend an afternoon. Just because you can spend a bunch of time and money making it comfortable doesn't mean that that is a good use of resources.

      • by gr8_phk (621180)
        I've been thinking about housing for a while. It bothers me that most homes are temporary structures. Wood rots, drywall crumbles (and can get moldy) roofs degrade. It seems to me it might be nice to build things that are not only efficient, but designed to be permanent - i.e. 1000 years without major rework (i.e. replacement of siding, roof, or interior). In this line of thought, the notion of using recycled materials is not very relevant - no need to recycle when the structure lasts so long. Steel shippin
        • - i.e. 1000 years without major rework (i.e. replacement of siding, roof, or interior).

          You would be hard pressed to find a nation that lasts nearly that long. It would be incredibly hard to design for as there are no modern materials that have been around long enough for us to know conclusively how they would behave after even 200 years of weathering. Our first hand experience would be limited to stonework as I don't know of any other structures that have lasted that long. Perhaps there are a few, but c

          • - i.e. 1000 years without major rework (i.e. replacement of siding, roof, or interior).

            I don't think it's even close to possible to do what you suggest.

            Bedrock. Dynamite. Wheelbarrow. Hammer and chisel.

            Other than that, I think you're right.

        • I'm not sure how true this is these days, but I always had the impression that, overall, European houses were of the built to last category, while US houses were rather faster and cheaper in construction. 1000 years without any kind of rework sounds a bit overengineered to me, though.

          • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @03:31PM (#32815720)

            I'm not sure how true this is these days, but I always had the impression that, overall, European houses were of the built to last category, while US houses were rather faster and cheaper in construction. 1000 years without any kind of rework sounds a bit overengineered to me, though.

            I think there is a difference between built to last, and built so that it's 1000 years before major renovations are required.

            Many buildings in the US were built just as well as their European counterparts, but we lose a LOT to people who want something bigger or more modern. There are also few homes that have a succession of owners who have the financial means to perform the maintenance on an aging home. Mount Vernon, George Washington's home, was near collapse before it was purchased with the intent to renovate it.

            Modern US homes do suffer from the problems that you are referring to, and I refuse to purchase (or rent) any of the homes in modern developments. I won't reward the developers or the enablers who continue to turn our countryside into throw-away cookiecutter landscape (Personal rant concluded)

            But back on point, there are simply parts of homes that wear out. Plastics degrade, roofing is subjected to continuous weather (Stick a stone outside in the sun/wind/rain/snow for 500 years and see what happens). Technologies change (Anyone renovating even a 75 yr old house will know). Every known material will wear out during use.

            Take a look at the stairs in some of buildings in DC. These stone staircases have significant indentations worn into them from people simply walking on them for less than 300 years. (I'm not sure if they have been repaired or replaced, so it could even be less) And of course, this ignores some of the issues with the environment changing. Rivers and streams change course even over such short times. Consider how much the Capitol of the Aztec empire has changed over a mere 500 years.

            A better approach might not be to design things to last 500-1000 years, but design things to be easily repaired and replaced when they inevitably need to be.

    • by morari (1080535)

      Or bypass the permit altogether and do it under the table. It's really no one's business what you build on your property.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Things I didn't bother thinking about until I bought a house:

        The sad part of home ownership is that unless you paid cash you have a mortgage payment to make. If your property is devalued, you not only lose value (in the 'lost money on paper' sense), but if you say, lose your job and have to move elsewhere for gainful employment, you are now saddled with a huge debt or at least lose a lot of the equity you have accumulated (and then you might as well have been renting for the last 10-15 years).

        This is why yo

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by westlake (615356)

      First off, build a list of local electricians and plumbers, and the name of whomever is going to sign off on this house

      Talk to your wife.

      Talk to your bank. Your lawyer. Your real estate agent. Your insurance company.

      This project of yours may have no re-sale value.

      The equity you build in your home is an important part of your estate planning.

      Take the time to get to know your neighbors - otherwise you will be dodging pitchforks from the day you begin.

      We all grow older - and "cool" doesn't age well.

      Ugly doesn

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wvmarle (1070040)

      And there are a few more issues why it is hard to "open source" a design. There are many ways to build a house, which is best for you depends on where you live.

      Climate. Can be dry, can be humid, can be hot, can be cold. This influences your material choice - also in my experience heating is using natural gas, while cooling is using electricity. Heat from the sun: do you want to capture it or avoid it? Do you have lots of rain (tropical rainstorms) that need sufficient drainage? Or do you have snow in winte

  • You could live in a lean-to or a sod house or a log cabin might also work, depending on what you are using for fasteners.

    Or didja mean within City limits that may enforce certain structural requirements beyond your control?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:58PM (#32813072)

    It's my understanding that if you GPL it, Richard Stallman can come and stay there for free.

    IANAL, IAAT.

  • Experience Required (Score:5, Informative)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:59PM (#32813096) Homepage Journal

    If you don't have personal experience, find someone who does to help you. Especially where code is involved.

    Get the blessing of whoever signs your permits before you choose a site.

    As an engineered structure if you want to use it in your design you might have to have some kind of plan for the tube car. ISO shipping containers can probably sometimes sneak around this because they are designed to spec, but your tube car was designed for something wholly different and if it's not getting grandfathered in then you may well need its blueprints. But this goes back to the previous point; you may not.

    Make sure to use a shared water wall so that you need as little plumbing as possible. You probably want an on-demand electric water heater. It's popular to mount such a thing to the wall inside the house as near the kitchen sink as possible, and to run all hot water lines outward from that point.

    Insulate, insulate, insulate. And at the same time, ventilate, ventilate, ventilate. In your situation I would want to install HEPA and carbon filters on an intake fan, but I'm a country dweller, all I have to worry about is spray days. Seems like if you need a heater an underfloor unit will be easy.

    I have many grandiose plans for shipping containers but first I need someplace road-accessible to site them.

    • I have many grandiose plans for shipping containers but first I need someplace road-accessible to site them.

      And I thought I was alone in thinking shipping containers would make a very durable house shell.

      • I've though about it and really they are not a great material. The costs and maintenance vs a 2x wall sheathed with t1-11. Stained the T1-11 lasts a lot longer between paintings than the container is a better insulator and a well built 2x wall will stand up to anything but a tornado and a shipping container after you put a lot of holes in it will not do much better. Florida does the concrete revetments for big class a rv's that's about the only thing that can stand a direct tornado strike and be undamage

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Stained the T1-11 lasts a lot longer between paintings than the container

          you're insane. painted steel lasts a lot longer than plywood, which lasts longer than T1-11.

          a well built 2x wall will stand up to anything but a tornado and a shipping container after you put a lot of holes in it will not do much better.

          That's not really true in the latter case. What is true is that you can't move them without emptying them if you put a lot of holes in them.

          Florida does the concrete revetments for big class a rv's that's about the only thing that can stand a direct tornado strike and be undamaged (foot thick concrete and re-bar with the metal roll down security shutters that stand up to a riot).

          So you're saying that a wood wall isn't any better?

          I've built houses and tilt up construction is very fast and strong if you go over the minimum code.

          And yet still not as fast, strong, or indeed inexpensive (especially for multi-story structures) as plopping down some containers. Not to mention that putting up timber homes requires cutting down trees when what we need is MORE

  • know I'm not the first to do this, but I can't see anyone else who's provided a detailed step-by-step account of the build, complete with plans and the rest.

    That's because every building, no matter how modular or factory-built, is very customized due to local building codes, site-specific issues, and the personal tastes of the owner or builder.

    What you're doing sounds cool (London Tube train car into a home) but it's such a niche idea that of course you're not going to find step-by-step how-to guides. It's admirable that you want to share every step of the process online, but truly "open-source" doesn't really make a difference in this situation. Oh, and btw, there are legal issues with releasing your construction documents for others' use. Architects and contractors are licensed because they are taking on liability for the specifications and buildings they produce.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Facegarden (967477)

      know I'm not the first to do this, but I can't see anyone else who's provided a detailed step-by-step account of the build, complete with plans and the rest.

      That's because every building, no matter how modular or factory-built, is very customized due to local building codes, site-specific issues, and the personal tastes of the owner or builder.

      What you're doing sounds cool (London Tube train car into a home) but it's such a niche idea that of course you're not going to find step-by-step how-to guides. It's admirable that you want to share every step of the process online, but truly "open-source" doesn't really make a difference in this situation. Oh, and btw, there are legal issues with releasing your construction documents for others' use. Architects and contractors are licensed because they are taking on liability for the specifications and buildings they produce.

      Just build a house that meets every building code in the world!

      *snickers*
      -Taylor

    • by tibit (1762298)

      Architects and contractors are licensed because they are taking on liability for the specifications and buildings they produce.

      Architects are licensed for that reason, yes. Contractors -- not so. Contractors are licensed not because they are "taking on" liability. Quite to the contrary -- the problem is that some would not feel liable even if they were. They are licensed so that they can be held financially liable for money owed to subcontractors, suppliers, and customers. In many US localities, all it takes to become a licensed general contractor is to post a bond and fill a form. The bond is a financial instrument that will have

      • by cowscows (103644)

        While the stuff you said is true, you're implying that contractors don't bear liability for their work, but they in fact do. If a foundation collapses because the drawings didn't have enough steel in the concrete, then you sue the architect. If it collapses because the contractor put less steel in the concrete than the drawings called for, then you sue the contractor. Well, in reality you probably sue everybody, but the contractor does have obligations to build to the drawings and can suffer legal consequen

    • by IrquiM (471313)

      I just spent 10 minutes on one of those

      There is no way I want to live in one of them!

  • by nweaver (113078) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:02PM (#32813144) Homepage

    A high-cube container is 9' 6" tall, which gives about 9' internal vertical space to work with, which means that even with 6" in the floor and 6" in the ceiling for insulation, electrical, plumbing, etc, you have an 8' vertical space.

    Normal containers are a foot shorter, which means it will feel more claustorphobic, and train carrages are even shorter.

    The biggest challenge is the width, with only less than 8 feet of width, you pretty much HAVE to mate containers side by side and remove the interior walls to get nice space.

    • by tibit (1762298)

      Train carriages differ between countries. Pretty standard CSX (north american) rail boxcars can be bigger than studio-sized apartments. Think 60'-9" long, 9'-6" wide, 13' tall -- that's 577 square feet, or 54 m^2. Presumably you would install insulation on the outside -- at least in Europe there are plenty of exterior-grade acrylic-finished styrofoam systems, that are easy to install.

  • Can I answer "You need to know how to build a cheap, recycled, sustainable building"?

    Heh, had to get that out of my system.

    I suppose the questions I would ask have to deal with legal regards? I don't know what its like in London. I don't REALLY know what its like in the states either, I'm Canadian, but I hear news stories about Americans in various states who run into issues with the law when they don't have the 40% plant coverage on their lawn, or homes that use solar powered get in scuffles with the elect

    • Just a quick question: what has a basement got to do with water and other service hookups? I ask out of genuine curiosity. I'm sure basements are convenient places but the vast majority of houses here (the UK) don't have them. My electric and gas come straight up out of the ground into my hall way by the front door (there's a little 20cm squared cupboard up the wall) and my water comes into my kitchen under the sink.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jeff4747 (256583)

        My electric and gas come straight up out of the ground into my hall way by the front door (there's a little 20cm squared cupboard up the wall) and my water comes into my kitchen under the sink.

        In colder climates, you have to take greater care to prevent your water supply from freezing.

        In the colder parts of the US, for example, the water supply will enter somewhere in the middle of a heated basement. Basements are typical in such areas because you need a deep foundation to protect against frost heaving, an

  • Building codes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MpVpRb (1423381) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:06PM (#32813198)

    You need to know the building codes in the area.

    You may have lots of great, cheap but illegal ideas.

    Inspectors can be your friends, helping you do it right, or a real pain.

    • by TheCarp (96830)

      Plus since he said cheap, I assume that means he isn't factoring in the kind of cash bribes that are required to get codes changed or exceptions granted in most US localities.

      -Steve

  • What do you think I need to know before I begin?

    • It's going to take a *LOT* longer then you anticipated.
    • It's going to cost a *LOT* more then you calculated.
    • If half of the complete construction goes according to the original plan you have done a great job.
    • You have less friends then you thought you had.
    • You overestimated your own skills and knowledge. Not even a little bit, a lot.
    • If you have the guts, stamina, willpower and cash to complete it. It most likely will be one of the most fulfilling you will ever do in your live.

    Building your own house from scratch is not for the fainthearted. But if you succeed you will have done something most people dream of their entire life.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      So, it's just like a software project.
      • by cowscows (103644) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:28PM (#32813604) Journal

        Yes, except that when you screw up, you've not only wasted some time, but you've also damaged a bunch of expensive materials that you have to pay for again.

        I know software isn't easy, but when the costs for prototyping and experimenting are so much less than in the physical world, it's amazing how much software still doesn't work well.

        • I would argue that it is *because* prototyping and experimenting are so much less than in the physical world that so much software doesn't work. Nobody pays any attention to getting it right because it'll all be so easy to fix, right?

        • by wall0159 (881759)
          The old adage "measure twice, cut once" springs to mind. :-)
          • by cowscows (103644)

            Indeed, that is excellent advice. Although I would also suggest that it gets even worse, particularly when dealing with buildings. The enormous costs involve in actually construction a building means that you're usually doing all of the testing with the actual production model. It's not unheard of for mock-ups and such to be built, but they generally just model a small part of the building, so the way that a building works (or doesn't work) as a whole doesn't get tested until it's done and occupied, and by

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by icebraining (1313345)

        Except we already know we have no friends before we start.

    • by grazzy (56382)

      You made a small error:
      done something most people never dreams of in their entire life.

    • by b0bby (201198)

      It's going to cost a *LOT* more then you calculated.

      If the permits are available for such a project, this is going to be the next big hurdle. Land in London is expensive, there's no getting around it. A cheap shell and lots of custom work inside it will leave you with a moderately priced dwelling on very expensive land. In many areas, that's what you call a teardown. ;) I've been wanting to build an LV (http://www.rocioromero.com/) modular home for a while - not relevant to you in London, but an example of a fairly moderate priced structure with the potentia

    • by eln (21727)

      But if you succeed you will have done something most people dream of their entire life.

      In my experience, when most people say they would like to build their own home it means they would like to someday make enough money to pay someone else to build them a home to their specifications. Very, very few people dream of actually building the thing themselves.

    • by oztiks (921504)

      *facepalm*

      What has the world come to where we lack the skills to build things. I bet you were one of those kids who never touched an electric drill and failed shop class, ordered your lunch every day from the cafeteria and to this day survive on fast food and make the occasional microwave dinner when you feel the urge to cook.

      Construction is hard, construction isn't THAT hard, if it were it would be up there with neuroscience of physics. Granted, that most of us on this forum couldn't handle a hammer withou

  • Zoning Laws.

    Doesn't matter what you're building, you need to know what's allowed for your area.

  • by syntap (242090) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:12PM (#32813304)

    A bread pan and some water is all you need; fill, freeze, stack, repeat until you have a house. To recycle, add heat. Freezing water hasn't been patented by Amazon yet, so do it while it is still an open technology.

  • " can't see anyone else who's provided a detailed step-by-step account of the build, complete with plans and the rest"

    For the same reason you don't see much of that for more conventional houses. There's just too much that's unique and individual to a given climate, microclimate, regulatory environment, local customs, materials availability, individual preference, zoning, building lot, etc... etc...

    A house properly designed for Miami will have to deal with heat and hurricanes. A house properly designed for

    • by hoggoth (414195)

      What I love is all the jet-skiing bikini babes just East of the mountains in Seattle.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        They weren't in bikini's, but there were babes jet skiing on the Snoqualmie river this past weekend.

      • by Blakey Rat (99501)

        What I love is all the jet-skiing bikini babes just East of the mountains in Seattle.

        You're either:
        1) Making an ignorant joke
        2) Aware of all of the beautiful lakes east of the Cascades which do indeed have jet-skiing bikini babes in them (in the summer)

        But I'm not sure which one!

  • Sourceforge (Score:5, Funny)

    by ajlitt (19055) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:15PM (#32813350)

    There's a Sourceforge project for this already. The developers have done a wonderful job on the home theater and kitchen, but nobody's worked on the plumbing and foundation yet.

  • Rebut Global (Score:5, Informative)

    by Massacrifice (249974) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:16PM (#32813362)

    We had a french TV show here in Quebec called "Les citadins du rebut global" (loosely translated to "Citizens of the Global Trash"), which is part home building show, part junkyard wars. They have four seasons up to now, each in which they build a house in a different setting and from different found materials. It's quite a good show actually, it won a few TV industry prizes. The website also has a few interesting blurbs of video sprinkled in the "reportages" section.

    http://www.citadins.tv/ [citadins.tv]

    In one season they have to build a house with only 15000$, in another they renovate an abandoned industrial space, in the third season they build a house supplied only with alternative energy sources.

    I dont know if english subs are available for it, but the process of building a house being very graphic by nature I assume you could grasp quite a few concepts just by watching it. They used to sell the show in boxset format, but it might be obtained from "other sources" too. Just sayin'...

  • by SuperCharlie (1068072) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:18PM (#32813412)
    I am in the process of building my own eco-house. The first step is to get some land outside the "rubber-stamp" "where's your permit" world because when the inspector shows up he will take one look at your creation and since it will not fit neatly in one of his stacks redtag it until it does. What we did was buy unimproved land a few miles from an unincorporated city of a few hundred people. The only regulations we are under are county which deal with water and septic, which is good all the way around. As for anything else.. I could build a match stick house on a gasoline foundation with a blowtorch door bell and no one would say squat.
    • by jjohnson (62583)

      I could build a match stick house on a gasoline foundation with a blowtorch door bell and no one would say squat.

      God, I want to live here. Or at least send out party invites.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Where he lives "Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms" is a convenience store.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by b0bby (201198)

      He's in London. There's not going to be any escape from regulations and permits.

    • How useful is an open source house when it's not up to the average building code?

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      He's in the UK. Even if he goes outside London, that type of environment simply doesn't exist there... unless he wants to move to a western US state and build there, but then he'd have to ship the tube car.

    • >> I could build a match stick house on a gasoline foundation with a blowtorch door bell and no one would say squat.

      I wanna party with you next 4th of July.

    • by rahvin112 (446269)

      Better push that doorbell in before you leave the house for good on your matchstick home.

      The sole reason for building codes existing is to protect YOU the homeowner, buyer and builder. You might think it's Nanny government or whatever but you don't follow code (such as building your home with straw insulation) and you have a good chance that your home is NOT salable, is not insurable (oh they will take your money till you have a claim, first thing the adjuster will do is verify the home meets code, when it

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:20PM (#32813442) Journal
    You are going to have to comply with things like building and fire codes, unless you want to exist in legal limbo. On the plus side, because rail cars presumably had to follow DOT regulations of various sorts(and are only one story tall) code compliance isn't going to be the biggest hurdle in the world; but you'll still have to do it.

    http://bulk.resource.org/codes.gov/ [resource.org] is, by a fair margin, your best bet for free access to building, fire, and similar codes(run by one Carl Malamud, something of a hero in the "open public access to government documents" business). It might be less useful to someone of the Limey persuasion, which you seem to be; but many US municipal and state codes simply incorporate wholesale various industry-standard codes, many of which are of international reach. Depending on your location, you may still need one or more licenced people to sign off, for it to all be legal, and you might be able to get a copy of any local codes from some local authority.

    More generally, If you want this project to be "open source" in a useful sense, you'll likely want to focus on two things: One is obvious: documentation. You want documentation anyway, just to save your sanity; but that is what you will be sharing with others. Second, slightly less obvious but more important, is modularity. An "Open Source" project that beings "Obtain 1 model XYZ-FOO-123 underground train car. Follow the following steps precisely to convert it into a house." That's a build log, which is fine; but it is of rather limited re-usability. Train cars(and probably other things you will end up incorporating during the course of the project) are the sort of item that is cheap to free(depending on the scrap/collectors market at the time) if you get lucky, uneconomically pricey otherwise. Some people will have them, some won't. Those who do have them will pretty much be stuck with the model they have.

    What you will want to do, if you wish to make this a useful "OSS" project, is build it out of a bunch of documented modular components that fit in your environment; but could, possibly with some adaptation; be used in all sorts of other contexts. "Design for platform with sliding wall-mounted pivots that can be unfolded as either a sleeping surface or a table" is useful for anybody who has a flat wall and not much space. Various things of that nature will add up to the solution to your specific problem; but will also be generally applicable.

    Coming back to code, and general applicability, and legality, you might also wish to explore minimizing your dependence on things like gas lines and mains electricity in your design. These are the most dangerous if a n00b fucks them up, the most likely to be code/legal-requirement encumbered, and the most likely to differ between nations. 12/24 volt electrical systems, for instance, will allow you to tap the experience of the camper/RV enthusiasts, and may well subject you to far fewer regulatory headaches. Trivial integration with solar is fun also.
    • What you will want to do, if you wish to make this a useful "OSS" project, is build it out of a bunch of documented modular components that fit in your environment; but could, possibly with some adaptation; be used in all sorts of other contexts. "Design for platform with sliding wall-mounted pivots that can be unfolded as either a sleeping surface or a table" is useful for anybody who has a flat wall and not much space. Various things of that nature will add up to the solution to your specific problem; but

  • Well, based on my experience with open source projects,... I imagine you'll generate a lot of interest, the blueprints will look great but in the end, you'll end up with a shody foundation and maybe some framework done but your workforce will abandon you before you put up the drywall...
  • I live in a large city. The price of an apartment or a house here is so high that I could built the same size apartment from new LCD TV sets.

    I mean walls and roof from the flat TVs.

    The plumbing can be done nowadays practically with bare hands from metal-plastic tubes, which are not that expensive. In the past such things had to be welded on the spot and it was long and expensive.

    A phone cable I do not need, I can use wireless 3G network for Internet and telephone.

    I do not understand why the housing keeps be

    • You see that new guy outside walking into the Super's office? He's willing to pay the rent the landlord is charging. that's why it keeps being that expensive. And in a big city, the rent is determined by the value of the land far more than the value of the building materials.
    • I live in a large city. ... I do not understand why the housing keeps being that expensive.

      Location, location, location.

    • by IrquiM (471313)

      Because the people that build the houses want to be paid in proper money - the same goes for the ones selling you the stuff it's made of and the guy that used to own the land you wanted to build on.

      Then there's all the hassle with getting permits etc.

      And in the end, people compare that cost against buying one that's already build, and actually pays more, because they can move in in a couple of weeks.

  • My first question is regarding the choice of starting materials - in particular how do you plan to transport said piece? A train carriage is large and heavy - and hence not even remotely cheap to move around. Your Ford Mondeo will probably not be able to tow it, and I'm guessing the odds are slim that your site has easy railroad access to have it driven there.

    In other words, while said carriages may be plentiful in availability, they might not be that great in practicality.
  • You sound hipstery (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly (148874)

    While its all charming and cool to come up with an "open source house" - there are many pitfalls/roadblocks to just coming up with your own home design. Most of us call that "The Real World".

    • by ascari (1400977)

      Good point. So maybe an important part the project should be a "lint" utility that reads some form of standardized blueprints and other specs and issues warnings when a "hipster-home" is in violation of local and national building codes, health regulations etc. and maybe even laws of physics?

    • by e4g4 (533831)
      Ah the word "hipster". It has evolved in such a way that it can refer to a very specific demographic (really, any number of specific demographics), or a very general demographic, depending on how you want to use it. In this case - you're using it to describe the young/naive (and into the "cool", green, enviro friendly) demographic - next time use those words. In "The Real World" there are more than a few "hipster" engineers, who would not give up after a few (or even a lot) of pitfalls/roadblocks, if the
  • If you can get your plans permitted in Santa Monica, you should be golden for the rest of the planet.

    /Adam Carrola
  • A recycled tube train is tough, weatherproof and small enough to fit into a plot of land in a crowded city

    I am not a backyard architect, but even if this modular or prefab home was cool looking like a Rocio Romero and was able to meet laws and deed restrictions, if this is any sort of nice urban place, you would probably be instantly hated by all of your neighbors. I like these kinds of houses though and also took an interest to tiny houses [tumbleweedhouses.com] and some of the modern designs at freegreen.com. I unfortunate
    • by radtea (464814)

      As much as I dislike having my cookie cutter home, there are other factors to consider.

      But wait, everyone else replying is pointing out how every home has to be a unique and special little snowflake or the building inspector won't pass it based on the byzanine local regulations that have to vary 1000% from one county to the next!

      So how can you have a "cookie cutter" home, and describe it in those terms in the certain knowledge that absolutely everyone here--at least in North America--will understand exactly what you mean?

  • Your website isn't specific about why you've dismissed shipping containers. Let me explain why they're your best bet compared to the other modular materials you're considering.

    Shipping containers are cheap and easy to transport and arrange. They can easily be modified with standard cutting and welding tools. No pre-existing windows or other openings than the doors on the end, so it's a sturdy, stackable modular material.

    Airplanes are made of high-grade aluminum and are not cheap, easy to obtain, or co
  • by boristdog (133725) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @02:08PM (#32814292)

    I have built 4 small houses/cabins, a couple barns and other structures. Your main expenses will be for utility hookups.

    I have a ranch, so my experience is somewhat different since I don't have to pay much heed to local permits and regulations. I just make sure I build above code so everything works well.

    Building costs are not much for a simple structure. Your major costs are going to be a septic system or sewer hookup, water and electric hookup. I can build (and have built) a small cabin with bedroom, bathroom, closet, living room, kitchen and porch for under $5000 in materials. But a small septic system, a well and electric hookup will cost over $10,000 in my area, and that's if I build the septic system myself. Just sewer hookup in a city can cost anywhere from $5000 to $20,000 or more. Electric hookup can be between $500 and $3000. Not sure about water hookup, but a well ain't cheap.

    So first concentrate on the utilities. That will let you know if you can afford it.

  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @02:09PM (#32814300)

    When many, many people spend an enormous percentage of their energies in paying down mortgages and similar, there is little time left over to work on the self.

    This is a huge problem, and if the housing/energy problem can be effectively solved, then you are on your way to freedom. And there ARE solutions.

    Buy cheap property and build on it. There are going to be massive regulations on house building; the government has a vested interest in preventing people from growing strong, so you'll have a million and one obstacles thrown in your way. I don't know what to suggest there except perhaps keep your head down and stay off the radar, or wade in and do the paper work. It depends on your personal strengths and personality type.

    As for train cars. . . Why not an old school bus? Train cars are hard to move, but you can DRIVE an old bus to a location and it provides a similar kind of of weather-proof shell to work with.

    Another idea is that a simple shelter of two by fours with a tarp on raised shipping pallets, along with a propane heater can get you through the winter if need be, and provide general shelter while you build your other projects.

    I know one guy who did this, and ran 150 meters of power cable from his neighbor across the property and just paid him whatever the extra cost was on the meter. Eventually you can put up solar panels to service your basic needs.

    There are lots and lots of ways to do this and hundreds of web sites which have info to help you out.

    The main tricks, though, are getting property where you can drill a water well. If you can get some land near farmers, then you can learn how to feed yourself also. Not a bad idea considering the way the world is turning. Though, England is kinda screwed for weather. No matter what climate change does, England is pretty much fsked, so perhaps moving somewhere warmer is a good idea. . ?

    Anyway, good luck and have fun! (And

    -FL

  • The "shell" part of a house is cheap. If you just want a box, cinder block or concrete slab construction works fine. There are also many panel building systems [nucorbuildingsystems.com] used for industrial structures. (Nucor notes that their product is "89% recycled content", which it is; their steel mills run almost entirely on scrap.) A useful exercise is to figure out how to build good-looking houses out of those standard low-cost components.

    Here's a streamlined railroad train that's now a fixed structure in San Francisco. [google.com]

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @03:07PM (#32815234)
    Unless you superinsulate it, you may have condensation problems on the interior, leading to mold. Airplanes avoid this by constantly blowing fresh air through the fuselage. Stationary objects, particularly partially underground ones, can only avoid it by constantly running dehumidifiers. My parents house with a partially underground bottom floor with cinder block walls gets puddles on the floor if they don't run the dehumidifier.
  • by RogL (608926) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @03:27PM (#32815620) Homepage

    Find some back issues of Mother Earth News - they've been running articles on folks doing all sorts of low-cost houses for decades. They have books / plans available, info on insulation / solar heat and power / etc.

    Lots of good stuff.

  • Buzzwords (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @04:49PM (#32817184) Homepage
    Sounds like 'open source' is becoming like the word 'organic', where people hoping to sound cool just jam it in to phrases randomly whether it makes sense or not.
  • by Luke has no name (1423139) <fox&cyberfoxfire,com> on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @08:07PM (#32819668)

    If you build your own house, you should be able to build it however you like. Caveat emptor!

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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