June 16, 2016

Castle on a Shoestring: Small Home, Built Large

Castle on a Shoestring: Small Home, Built Large
By The West View

With my very modest savings and income, I knew that to build a custom home I would have to leverage my extensive experience and knowledge of the construction trade for all it is worth. My construction resume spans 48 years and includes homes, tree-houses, shops in a $100 million mall, shopping centers, hotels, the main salon on a $7 million, 110-foot yacht, and numerous other small watercraft.

Like my other construction projects from Maine to Hawaii, this one, in Salt Lake City's proud and humble Glendale neighborhood, has been challenging, gratifying and fun.

The budget for my custom-built, energy efficient, 3-story, 700-square foot home, including its $43,000 lot purchase price, has been about $113,000.

As retirement approaches, a mortgage-free budget determined the size, together with an ample supply of recycled construction materials and very careful shopping, especially at the NPS store where I work. I purchased the small 50' x 100’ lot in February 2013 at a housing-recession-low of $43,000. Materials cost about $50,000. Architect, engineer, insurance and city building fees cost $20,000.

Except for HVAC, plumbing and electrical work, I did most of the construction labor myself. Neighbors, family and friends did some of the work for free or for trade.

Here's a description, and some photos, of the design, build character and quality.

Six-inch walls sit on massively overbuilt footings and foundation walls. The modest 20' x 24' footprint rises three floors, the first two of which have 9-foot ceilings, and are topped by a serious attic.

Ample windows and eight-foot high entrance door survey the neighborhood's major scenic assets: the Jordan River, the International Peace Gardens, the newly-created Fife Wetland Preserve just a half-block away, and on a winter day, glimpses of the Utah State Capitol dome.

The home's dramatic, steeply sloped, metal saltbox roofline is supported mid-span by exposed, massive rough-cut 8" x 12" timbers on the partition-less second floor and a 4" x 12" ridge pole.

Solid bronze door hardware allows entrance to an open plan, chandeliered atrium and kitchen, the full 20' width and 24' length leading past a bathroom with extra-long tub, and extra-high wash basin, open in turn to a utility/laundry room.

The bathtub surround and floor are made from Italian 12” tiles reminiscent of southern Utah's colors and strata, and the outdoor landscape rock is from Stansbury Island.

Kitchen cabinets are clean-lined Scandinavian solid birch topped by a whitish quartzite counter and deep high-sheen stainless sink; Ikea cabinet drawers have automatic silent closures and stainless handles.

The furniture showcases my love of hardwood: an African high game table of padauk and lacewood with ebony legs, a breakfast table of Santos mahogany and olive wood, a coffee table made of a single slab of black walnut.

Connection to the loft on the second floor is by means of a grand stairway nearly four feet wide, with risers and treads made from ipe, an exotic South American hardwood as heavy as iron. Newel and balusters support maple handrails.

Site plan and setbacks allow for future expansion front and back, particularly an octagonal sunroom on the south side of the house, nestled among raised-garden-bed "mesas," 5 to 6 feet high.

Since I will be living on a very tight budget in retirement, I have tried to make the house as energy-efficient as possible through the following measures:

  • Energy efficiency is enhanced summer and winter by means of the thermal mass "flywheel effect" of an overbuilt, insulated concrete foundation rising four feet above grade.
  • The first floor includes a sleeping nook so that all of life's major necessities are accommodated at this level. The first floor ceiling has 12 inches of insulation.
  • The stairwell may be curtained, reducing total heating and cooling area by two-thirds.
  • Since I am a “wood-aholic,” I originally considered a wood-burning stove, but in consideration of our city's air pollution problems I have opted for all-electric heating, with an estimated cost of $35 to $75 per month.