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It’s not super common for people to build their own houses without hiring a general contractor. It’s even less common for people to build with an alternative method the way we did. So naturally, we get a LOT of the same kinds of questions about our house.
This post is a continuation of some of our biggest cordwood FAQs.
The first section is about some of the basics of cordwood and how it is constructed. If you’re new to this building method you should definitely check that out.
The other is about the performance of cordwood walls. That FAQ guide explores everything from log shrinkage to rot and fire resistance.
THIS part is entirely about our specific building project and some of our commonly asked questions. Was it hard to build it? Did we get permits? How much did it cost anyway? And what the heck does the inside look like???
We’ll explore all of that and more!
Frequently Asked Questions About OUR Cordwood Home Project
1. What are the specs of your house?
- Cordwood construction (infill for post and beam frame)
- NO! Cordwood will not rot if you do it right! Read more about that here.
- 50-60 cedar trees used to build the cordwood, all harvested by us on our own property
- Open cell spray foam insulation for roof and stud-framed portion
- Over 280 bottle bricks used in our house! Learn how here.
- Footprint of 30’x34′, mudroom on front an additional 8’x12′
- Approximately 1200 square feet of interior living space
- 2 beds/2 full baths on the main level, 1 additional bedroom/multipurpose area upstairs
- Off-grid solar power – 1.14 kW system
- Water via concrete cistern (rainwater catchment, water hauling if necessary)
- Heating via Hearthstone soapstone wood stove and from radiant heat in the concrete slab from Radiantec
- Propane for water heating and cooking
- Internet via LTE signal
You can get ALL of the full details on it here.
2. Why did you decide to build with cordwood as opposed to other styles?
We’d been interested in natural and alternative styles for a long time. We’d looked at domes, Earthships, stone, cob, tiny houses, prefab sheds, steel frames, shipping containers, Quonset huts, straw bale, and of course, cordwood.
We settled on cordwood because Eastern red cedar is abundant in our area, is relatively easy to build for owner-builders, and is often touted as a way to build mortgage free. We wanted to be able to build our home as inexpensively as we could while using natural materials as much as possible.
3. Did you get a building permit for your house?
YES. In fact, we worked extensively with our county building inspector for several years during the planning and construction of our home.
He made himself available to answer questions, look at our work, and offer guidance as needed. Some people get huffy when they think of having to answer to an inspector, but in truth, they want your build to succeed as much as you do.
I go into quite a bit of detail on working with code officials as a natural homebuilder in this post.
3. How did you manage to learn the code and build to spec?
Two words: research and connections.
First, we did years of research and practice. The cordwood and building exploratory phase lasted a good 8 years before we even bought the property.
We completely gutted and renovated our old fixer-upper, taking the opportunity to hone our building skills and get knowledgeable of building code. We obtained a lot of great resource books in the course of those projects, which you can find here.
Mark also had the opportunity to attend a cordwood construction clinic with cordwood expert Rob Roy before we started building.
We also had guidance from my uncle, a retired general contractor who built the house I grew up in. He offered his insight, gave us tips and tricks, and even lent us all kinds of tools. We consulted our master plumber friend when we planned our plumbing layout. And of course, our friendly building inspector was happy to answer our questions along the way.
And I would be remiss not to mention our fabulous excavator friend who delivered all the sand/gravel/dirt we’ve needed, prepped our site, built our septic, installed more than he bargained for and saved our necks (and several thousand dollars) more than once.
Everything about our house, from the framing to the insulation to the solar and more, is built to current national code standards. It was thoroughly inspected by highly qualified professionals with decades of experience in the field.
4. Is building with cordwood hard?
The actual construction of it? Not at all! The technique requires some finesse, but it was still easy enough that we could teach some family and friends in a few minutes on group work days.
The hardest part was cutting and prepping the trees. If you choose to harvest your own cordwood, be advised that you will be operating a chainsaw extensively. It took us several months to cut and peel enough trees, and it remains some of the toughest and most exhausting work of the whole project.
5. Did you run an electrical harness through your cordwood walls?
No, actually. For any receptacles and switches on the cordwood walls, we used approved electrical conduit and surface mounted everything instead of running it in the walls. You certainly can run it in the walls, but it takes a lot of extra planning. We also wanted the flexibility of being able to access the wiring if needed, rather than having it trapped in the cordwood.
In this picture, you can see a straight line of gray conduit coming down to a gray receptacle on the wall between the windows. We don’t mind the look of it since we had really practical reasons for not running it in the cordwood. If you prefer the aesthetics of having everything enclosed in the wall there are ways to run your wiring inside the walls. See the book Cordwood Construction Best Practices by Richard Flatau for a more detailed look.
6. What about plumbing? Is any of that in the cordwood walls?
We ran all of our plumbing within the slab and within the stud walls. No pipes pass through the cordwood. We did this to avoid any possibility of having pipes freeze in the winter.
The one exception is the black iron propane supply line, which actually runs through a PVC pipe we used as a “log”. We put one on each side of the house to give us flexibility over time to run different things into the house if needed. Both “logs” are filled with spray foam insulation.
7. Was it hard to get insurance for your cordwood house?
NO! This was actually pretty surprising. The trick is to inform your insurance agent about what cordwood masonry is, chiefly that is is a style of MASONRY building and not LOG building for their purposes.
Some national insurers will NOT insure “log construction” homes, including some modern log cabin kit homes. They WILL, however, insure it if they understand that it is a masonry home. This is key.
Additionally, the cost to insure it is really quite low because of cordwood’s inherent fire resistance (yes, it is actually fire resistant). Due to its build type and the fact that our home is new, it is actually about half the cost to insure our cordwood home than it was to insure our little midcentury ranch.
You can get more information on insuring and financing your build here.
8. How much did your house cost to build?
That really depends on how you calculate it.
The cost of all materials, including our excavation and septic, came to $67,655.36.
The cost of materials PLUS the labor, permits, and tool rentals came to $80,204.98.
And the entire cost including some of the things we bought that allowed us to build the house at all (including our tractor, scaffolding, prefab shed, mortar mixer, and other assorted tools that we didn’t own previously) comes to $88,557.53.
You can find out more about the cost breakdown here.
9. That seems like a lot of money. I’ve heard of people building better houses for less.
Sure, me too. It’s not like it’s a competition though.
You can explore this topic in much more depth in the post where I break the cost down. Sometimes you see people saying they built some fantastic house for some aspirationally low price, but in many cases, you’re only seeing the material cost of the house. You’re not always seeing permits, labor, or the random incidental costs you incur along the way.
And even when you are seeing everything, there are WILD variants in price from place to place and house to house. For example, an on-grid house won’t have the solar expenses we had.
There are other choices we could have made to save money, but overall we’re quite happy with how our home has turned out and rather enjoy living in it. As long as it meets our family’s needs and makes us happy to live in it, it doesn’t particularly matter what other people think of the cost. Every home is going to be different and this works for us.
10. We never see pictures of the INSIDE? What does it look like in there?
Honestly, I’ve avoided taking pictures of some rooms because we are very slow to unpack from moving in and those rooms are embarrassing disasters. One day in the near future I will have those Instagram ready. In the meantime, here are some pictures of our rooms as they’re coming together!
Our living room
Dining and kitchen area
Our son in his room
Our son’s room
The bathtub in progress (read about how we completed it here)