Rex’s pallet house in Texas is expected to cost around $4/square foot

Rex’s pallet house in Texas is expected to cost around $4/square foot


This is an update on the pallet house in Texas that we reported on earlier. The ultra-low cost is what really caught my attention and kept me following their progress. The latest cost estimate is around $4/sq. ft. Now that is dirt cheap!

“The photo shows the ‘padobe’ pallet walls we are doing. They were built on a rock and gravel foundation. The soil under the foundation is very hard as about 20″ down is solid rock. The padobe is caliche clay, water, shredded paper and borax. The padobe has been packed in between pallet wood framing. The lower 6′-6″ half of the walls are roughly 14″ thick, with the upper half packed in between support planks and are 9″ thick. The interior height at the peak of the clerestory roof is a bit over 14 ft. All the framing is from the pallets I reclaimed.

The design has worked out well and is very solid. In the photo the walls are still in the rough aside from a section around the whole tree that we have the next to last coat on. The ease of constructing the padobe has been great. I’ve been impressed with the workability of it and I haven’t screened an inch of it yet. I’ll screen the final ‘paint’ coat. There’s been very little cracking and the integrity of the product has been impressive. It’s been setting up like concrete with very little cracking. The roof insulation was reclaimed from a friend of mine. I hate fiberglass insulation but couldn’t turn down free. We’ll be doing a borax paper to fill out the rest of the space between the 2×6 rafters as we plank it with pallet wood.

Short summary of how the walls were built:
The walls are made of padobe, juniper posts and pallet framing of doubled 2x4s. The padobe is packed between the juniper posts and framing. We used 1×6 planks that were on 10′ pallets to create a wall cavity. We sawzall’d off the planks and the 10′ 2x4s that were on the 10′ pallets. The 2x4s were used as the vertical framing between the trees. Fairly conventional framing with the 2x4s with the planks nailed horizontally on the outside of the studs. I’ll design up how the walls are framed if anyone is interested. Using 10’ pallets means the final design is pretty specialized, but one could use reclaimed 2xs and planks off regular pallets to accomplish the same.

With padobe you have a pretty broad range of mixes (i.e. more paper, less paper) to get something that you can work with. I first was attempting to get something like straw clay slip. However I found that doing more of an adobe is the best bet. The more dirt the more like adobe, the more paper the more it is a straw like clay slip infill. The more adobe like the more structural integrity, the more paper heavy the more it’s an infill and needs extra support.

Here’s my mix (in a Harbor Freight mixer):
1- 5 gallon bucket of water
Borax was added to water until you could smell it in the mix.
4-5 large scoops (large grain scoop) of caliche clay.
Note: For the bulk walls we did no sifting aside from the larger rocks etc. Shredded paper added until desired mix is accomplished. I like a mix that is sticky, just wet enough you can smooth it down with your hand, and you’re able to meld paper into itself. Again depending upon application you can have a drier mix or wetter. My mix was more of an adobe cob that can be molded and shaped into anything you want.

The lower walls are 14″ thick and we packed the mix between the trees using 2x4s nailed into the trees, that held larger pieces of masonite siding that we had laying around. I framed out between the trees with reclaimed 2x4s from the foundation to the 2×6 header, leaving about 2′ between some type of support. I at first was going to use accurately built slip forms but found that throwing together just about anything that would allow you to pack the padobe worked great. Remembering that you’re working with a natural product and NOT a commercial product is the key. It’s that balance of remembering ‘I’M NOT TRYING TO BUILD A COMMERCIAL CONVENTIONAL HOUSE. IT’S MY RULES, MY WAY.’ You can mold the padobe to fit whatever your mind can dream up…so no need to have the ultra flat walls that conventional sheetrock walls provide. Once you get over that hump, it becomes a joy to work with.

Above the 6′-6” section… i.e. above the 2×6 box beam header, its framed up to the upper roof header as needed with reclaimed 2x4s. There’s actually two sets of 2x4s above the box beam. 2x4s that are flush with the inside 2×6 and 2x4s that are flush with the outside 2×6. So the upper walls are the width of the double rafter header, which gave me @8″ upper walls. I then went on the inside and outside of the 2x4s and attached pallet planking. This gave a space to pack the padobe over head. The walls below had the forms removed when set up, but above head I wanted to leaver permanent support. The padobe was packed in all the way to the roof. It seals the house well and thus far is hardening like a rock with virtually no cracking.

All the beams are done in standard pole construction manner. All beams are 2x6s on each side of a post, bolted thru at each post. Then 2×6 blocks have been added between the 2x6s. No bend, no flex, solid. I weigh 220 and hung and jumped on the beams and there’s no give.

You can build into the walls any shelving, cubby holes, windows etc that you could want or imagine. All of the shelves will be built into the walls. Basically any creative ideas one has can be explored easily.

Timeline of work so far:
At the moment it’s estimated around 550 man hours into the project. That’s working on it part time over the last 3 months, full days on Saturdays and 3 days a week after work for 3 or 4 hours. I’ve estimated that it will take about 400-500 more hours to get the house the way I want it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to the interior so there will be many nuances that will take me some time. The excellent thing about the padobe is not only can create just about anything you can imagine, but it’s the ultimate wart cover. Lain and I have tried to keep in mind that many of our imperfections can be covered so pursuit of perfection in terms of beauty of the structure can be hidden, just as in conventional homes with trim etc.

The first posts were placed in the ground May 27th. 85% of the labor has been done by two people and we will be in the dry this Saturday. So roughly 3 months, and we have a metal roof, bermed walls, clerestory windows, padobe walls. We estimate that we should be VERY close to having a livable home within 6 months of the first post in the ground. And that’s with 85% of the work being done by two people. When you consider the quality of roof (sheet metal), large juniper post structure, bermed exterior, and thick insulated padobe walls, you are talking about a hardcore house. If built in a communal fashion, say 4-6 people, one could be in a livable situation within 3 months.

Approximate cost so far and approx total cost:
I’ll have to tally the total cost, but we are still looking at getting in around $4 a sq. ft. if not cheaper. That’s with a legitimate metal roof, top notch windows (Thank you Lowes and people bringing back custom windows. We got $200 windows for $30), new 2×6 rafters. It’s really been a melding of the best aspects of conventional building (roof) with the positives of reclaimed and natural.

Interior square feet:
The house is 720 sq feet, with an 80 sq foot loft. 14.5′ at the clerestory peak, with the lower clerestory box beam sitting 10′ over head. The loft is 6′-6” off the floor and will be a functioning room, as you will be able to stand up, not simply a sleeping loft.

Other important info:
I’ve talked with many folks about ALL the benefits of a project like this. A person can design, talk about all the different aspects of such a project, from the interior design, structural, cultural benefits, etc. Basically talk is cheap. When it’s all boiled down, it takes a TOTAL commitment. It takes HARD work and a little bit of a crazy spirit that says ‘The hell with convention’. It takes pushing yourself and others to stick with the commitment to the end. It takes tapping into self reliance, into those that have come before us and into a spirit of independence. In all honesty there are many people that think they can build their own project, but they can’t. Because they simply haven’t weighed the costs. Not monetary costs, but the EFFORT it costs to accomplish something. It’s going to cost much sweat, effort, cuts, nicks, pulled muscles etc. to accomplish your goal. BUT the pay off is worth the sacrifice, and one soon realizes why the majority of people will go into debt to build energy sucking homes. And it’s simple why. They don’t want to sacrifice to the extent that it takes to build your own home. So weigh the costs and the rewards. It’s worth it to me and many others.

I don’t have pictures from this past weekend but the interior walls are looking great. I recently did a very fine sift of the dirt we are using, and made a thick ‘paint’ and it has turned out wonderfully. It’s smooth and is bringing the walls together with a very consistent hue and texture.

I also started on a glass insulator wall window that is turning out nicely. I found many glass insulators on the place from the 30s that are turning out to be jewels.

The floors will be reclaimed stone and the ceilings planked out with 1×6 planks off of pallets…with a small section done latilla style and another done with some old reclaimed sheet metal from the 40s. We are adding a second loft on the north gable end that will be a triangle loft. It will provide some lounge/sleeping space without cutting into the openness and height of the house. It should be interesting.

Anyways I just wanted you to know I’m still making solid progress and it’s been pretty much a two man show, but have 5 people helping out this coming weekend, so I’m excited about that.”

Rex


Comments

Update on Rex’s Pallet House in Texas — 9 Comments

  1. I am putting plans together for a similar structure in the Chihuahuan desert and like to see a photo progression from bare site to current. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.

    • We haven’t heard from Rex lately. We’d love to get another update. I suspect he’s putting on the finishing touches and wants to get everything perfect before showing his completed home.

  2. Im a 43 year old single mom of 2 boys age 16 and 20. We have been in our home in Northeast Connecticut for almost 18 years, and with the cost of living at a sickeningly high rate in this state, we are unfortunately losing our home to forclosure. As soon as my youngest son graduates from trade school we hope to relocate to western North Carolina and build a few small homes on a nice sized piece of land. My 24 year old nephew is coming along so there will e at least 4 of us doing the work. I have a lot of knowledge and experience building thanks to my ex husband and good friend. This house is very, Very interesting! I’m gathering all the ideas, websites, instructions and photos I can find of natural building methods. I am quite intrigued with this project, and the low cost blows my mind! I am looking forward to the next update :) Keep up the good work Rex, and thank you Owen for all the amazing posts!

    • He’s working on getting some new photos soon. The main key to doing something like this is building where there are few or no building codes. You could build all sorts of structures for less than $10/sq. ft. if there are codes (earthbag, adobe, pallet building, cob, etc.). The codes make this impossible.

  3. Hi there,
    I’m very interested in the cost-cutting aspect of this project!
    Are there any more pictures of the design/way the walls were built that you/Rex could share? I’m having a little trouble visualizing, just from the description.

    Kind regards,
    Maarten

  4. Area of house = 720 sq. ft. times $4/ sq. ft. = $2,880.

    Now, he’s not finished yet, so keep in mind the total cost could be higher. Unexpected expenses have a way of creeping in and raising costs. Still, this is outstanding. The key to building like this is getting recycled and locally available natural materials. Find out what resources you have in your area and then create a careful plan to maximize their effectiveness.

    Maybe you’re more pressed for time and want to speed the building process? That’s possible if you’re willing to spend a little more money. For instance, you could buy poles instead of spending days cutting and dragging them out of the woods. (I like this type of work, but I’m just pointing out how some people might want to speed things up a bit.) Spend a little more money on each step of construction and you still might be able to build this house at say $10,000. That’s about $14/sq. ft.

    I’m eager to see the final drawings. I don’t think there are any yet, because they sort of built by the seat of their pants. They had a fairly detailed plan starting out, but they also remained open to changes as they built.

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