Building Our Upland Dream Home
(Part 2)

Dateline: 29 January 2017 a.d.

Marlene, mixing concrete in the spring of 1983

In Part 1 on this series I told you about how Marlene and I had a dream of building our own home, on a piece of our own land, in the country, and then we made it happen. 

Marlene recently dug out the old pictures from back then, and that's how I've come to blog about this now. These are good memories for us, from long ago, and they make me feel a bit melancholy. Life is so short. If I live to be 110, life is still so short. On with the story....

Here is the building lot, with batter boards in place....

Before the house, it was just a section of field. A few years ago we bought
a portion of the field that you can see beyond the trees in this picture.
Unfortunately, there is a deep gully separating the two properties.

With my mind firmly against getting a bank loan for a house, I seriously considered living in either a teepee or a yurt. Marlene didn't like either of those ideas. She told me that her father might loan us some money to build a house.

In retrospect, even if I did go to a bank looking for some money to build a house, they would not have given me a loan. I was 25 years old, with no college degree, doing manual labor, making less money than my wife who was working as a receptionist at a doctor's office. 

Besides that, I didn't intend to have a basement or central heat in my house. For that matter, I didn't even plan to have running water at the start.  Banks aren't interested in loaning money to young people to build a humble home of their dreams, unless it conforms to what the bank thinks a house should be. Our dream home surely didn't conform.

So, Marlene's dad loaned us $10,000 to build our house (I don't suppose he wanted his baby living in a teepee, though that was never discussed). 9.5% interest. Five years. $210.02 a month. It was the spring of 1983.

9.5% may sound like a lot, and it is,  but it's not so bad when you consider that the standard interest rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage in 1983 was 12.8%. 

Which means, our dream house wouldn't be entirely debt free. But it was close. And we avoided the conventional bank mortgage.

An online inflation calculator tells me that $10,000 in 1983 had the purchasing power of $24,097 today. Could I build another house today like I did in 1983 for $24,000. I think it might be possible.

The main part of the house would be 16' x 24' and it would be built on 12 concrete piers. Each pier would be 12" square, with a 3' x 3' footing at the bottom.

I hand-dug the hole for the first footing. My intention was to hand-dig all the holes. But after digging that first one, I called a man I knew who had a backhoe. He dug all the rest of the holes in less time than it took me to dig the one. He charged me $50.

We mixed the concrete for the piers ourselves. I got a truckload of sand and stone and lots of bags of portland cement. As you can see in the picture above, Marlene mixed concrete. I love the pictures of Marlene mixing concrete.

That mixer was in a hedgerow behind Marlene's dad's house. It had been there for years. I greased it up, put an old motor on it, and it worked great.

Me in '83

We did not have a permit from the government to build our house back then. Permits were not needed. We just dug the holes and started building our dream home in the corner of a field. No well, no septic system, no driveway (and no money for any of those things). But I did have a pole with a temporary electrical service, which gave us a place to get power for the mixer and tools.

I got the electric pole free from a farmer where I was helping to build a pole barn. It was an old telephone pole. I put it in my pickup and it stuck out the back end about 12'. That was a lot.

A few weekends of work and the foundation was in...

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, where we start framing up our dream home.

to go to Part 3 of this series


  1. Elizabeth L. Johnson said,
    Love it! Love it! Love it! Still romantic! Young people building their own home. I bet there are few, if any, young people nowadays who would dare to do this; they are so dumbed-down in school. What a legacy!

  2. Elizabeth L Johnson said,
    I was going to also say, surely with your three grown, strapping sons you could find a way to build a car bridge over to your field behind. What a tremendous advantage that would be!

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      We have seriously considered the bridge idea. But it's a deep and wide gully. Very expensive proposition. And there is red tape with environmental agencies. Still, we think about it.