Hi Everyone. I posted a while back about the 5000sqft basement and got
a lot of good answers. I have a few more now But first some
background and an update.
We're sort of in a blue-sky brainstorming out-of-the-box thinking mode
now. We have nine kids and have decided that traditional houses just
aren't cutting it for us. The space is used inefficiently and the
layout is totally wrong for our needs.
When I say steel building, I mean a large factory made steel building
shell with steel paneling on the outside and inside with 6" of
insulation between them. We'll have some windows and doors to start,
but will probably add more later.
We decided against the basement (yea!). We'll probably build some sort
of concrete tornado room or something instead. Haven't given it much
The size is now probably 50x80.
The idea is to get into the house as cheaply as possible up front, then
have a lot of flexability and options to partition the space later. By
doing it this way, we can pay cash for everything and add rooms or
features as we have the money. No mortgage. And we would end up with
an industrial loft type house with a lot of space and with our unusual
requirements for a house.
So I have a few new questions.
First, instead of the basement I'm thinking we'll opt for an 18-20 foot
eve height. The idea is that we'll have really high ceilings now, and
add a free-standing second floor later inside the shell. I figure
we'll start with some normal 1st floor type rooms, but make the
ceilings in these rooms out of appropriate floor joists for a second
floor, so like 2x6s or 2x8s, at the normal 8 or 9 feet off the ground.
Later, I would just climb up there, put in a staircase, throw down some
plywood, flooring, and whatever else to make a second floor. I think
I'll have to treat these like load bearing walls. I can't transfer the
weight of the second floor to the shell. So they'll have to be
free-standing. Would I need a footer under the slab under all these
walls? I'd like to have the freedom to rearrange the locations of the
new walls after we've moved in. So maybe rebar in the slab instead of
wire mesh or a thicker slab would make the footers under the interior
What if I made a post and beam type structure, footers under the posts?
I've seen these free-standing steel structures in industrial settings.
Maybe that would be better? What about footers under those? Can you
point me at someone who sells such things?
The second question is assuming a mostly flat grade to start, how much
can I expect the footer and slab to cost?
And lastly, we're thinking of doing this in a rural part of northern
illinois or southern wisconsin. What can I expect the well and septic
to cost, planning for a dozen people?
are the costs so far:
shell - 35,000
footer/slab - 16,000
building assembly, 4 guys, a crane, and a week - 15,000 (this is a
windows and doors - 10,000
well/septic - 10,000 (this is a guess)
hvac - 10,000 (this is a guess)
plumbing - 5,000 (this is a guess)
electrical - 5,000 (this is a guess)
general contractor crazy enough to do this - 20,000 (another guess)
stuff we didn't think of - 20,000
Does anyone have any interesting ideas?
Yes! Abandon this idea. Making a pre-engineered steel building into a
code-acceptable habitable space will take more time and money than you
You can accomplish some of your ideas (large open spaces) with wood
construction that will be easier to install and easier to modify in the
With 50x80 you could very easily run a beam line down the middle and span
the 25 feet with I-joists. 50-foot span for wood roof trusses isn't out
of the question. Exterior walls would be 2x6 bearing walls.
You would then have a structure that can be customized and modified over
time and still look like a house. You do want to sell this thing some
time in the future don't you?
Insulation and wiring will be more easily accomplished in a wood building
than in an industrial steel building. With this type of framing system
you can even put a basement in all or part.
Bob Morrison, PE, SE
R L Morrison Engineering Co
there are companies that already do this,. I have seen flyers. I think you
could get a lot more than you think for 150k. try to find a floor plan /
kit from one of those companies. google pole barn houses
There is a world of difference between "Pole Barns" and pre-engineered
rigid frame metal buildings.
Neither one makes a very good house. Yes, you can turn them into
residential structures, but that is not the purpose for which they were
designed. Why do it? It is much easier to build with wood, especially if
you intend to modify the building over the years.
I have worked on several pole building to residence conversion projects
over the years. They almost never work out as well as promoted. This is
particularly true if you want the building to be energy efficient. In
order to work efficiently you must build energy efficient walls and
ceilings inside the skin of the pole building. For all that work you
could just skip the pole building and build a conventional wood frame
structure. In the end you will have something that looks like a house and
can easily be re-sold. Not many people want to live in a house that looks
like a barn.
Bob Morrison, PE, SE
R L Morrison Engineering Co
How can I say this? I've made it my mission in life to ignore people
who tell me I can't do things. Now, you may be completely right. If
someone gives me good supporting arguments for why something can't be
done, then I'm open to listening to their ideas. But my knee-jerk
reaction to knee-jerk reactions is to simply ignore people. People
think I'm nuts for making my own furniture, yet they tell me how nice
it is and complain about the junk in the store. People think I'm nuts
for doing my own car repairs, yet they complain to me about how much
the repairs cost and wish they could get $50 brake jobs. People tell
me I'm nuts for being a consultant and hopping around rather than
getting a nice "stable" job, yet they wish they could get away from
their dead-end job and make more money and have more freedom like I do.
People tell me I'm nuts for having nine children, and for adopting
five of them from three different countries, yet I have interesting
life experiences and a big loving family. People tell me they wish
they had more children, but never do because they decided they can't
afford them. People think we're nuts for renting the house we're in
now and "throwing money away" every month instead of buying, until I
tell them how the $12,000 a year property taxes mean the house has to
appreciate that much every year just to break even. Most people are
confined to a prison of conformity, unwilling to try new or different
things, limiting their options, because it's not perceived to be normal
or proper. In short, my wife and I have built a life around walking to
a different beat, thinking outside the box, doing things that other
people think are nuts.
So why, specifically, shouldn't I consider this?
What if I want to accomplish all of my ideas? And who would wood
construction be easier for? I'm not ruling out wood construction. I'm
just considering all my options.
I'm sure there's a wood frame solution to this. Whether it's more
cost-effective to do wood vs steel is debatable. The only advantage to
wood frame I see so far is that I may be able to tie the second floor
into the outside walls. But that may not matter.
Do I need for this to look like a house? What do you mean by "look
like a house"? What does a house look like? Do you mean the
cookie-cutter tract housing polluting our nation? Does a normal house
have vinyl siding or bricks instead of painted steel? Or maybe you
mean a "normal" house just like everyone else. If that's what you mean
then I definitly don't want it to look like a house.
Houses today have an "open" floor plan. I don't necessarily want this.
For example, I have to limit access to the kitchen. I have to be able
to lock the kitchen and pantry. I need a kitchen larger than most.
And I need a pantry the size of most bedrooms. I have three
refridgerators. Most "normal" houses today have a large open kitchen
in the middle with 8 different ways to get there. Look at your kitchen
and tell me how many baby gates you would need to totally block it off.
And are some openings even impossible to block? Could your three year
old pull the gate down or climb over?
What if I told you that I don't want closets in the children's
bedrooms? (oh, the horror!) I want one large combination
closet/laundry room with three sets of washers and dryers. They can
have dressers and armoires in their rooms if they need them. And if
it's really an issue, we can add closets later.
What if I told you I wanted an outdoor bathroom? Or the ability to
open an entire wall of the livingroom to a garden outside? How about
roll my computer desk into this courtyard?
What if I said we hate drywall and don't want it in our house?
No. I don't ever want to move again. We've built several houses. And
it's always a compromise. A compromise between what we want and what
the builder is willing to do. And also a compromise between what we
want and what has resale value. No more. We're building what we want
how we want it. We're tired of neighbors or the city telling us what
we can and can't do. We're also paying for it how we want. We're
tired of mortgages and worrying about equity and whether we are
upsidedown or not, being tied to this payment until we're 100. We
don't get the mortgage deduction anymore anyway so there's no advantage
left. (as if that's really an advantage)
I disagree. Insulation could be done at the factory. Or it could be
installed when the building has no interior walls. I expect that all
the conduit will be surface-mounted around the perimiter. I'll run it
through the interior walls like normal.
We sort of decided against that in the last thread. But that decision
was based on cost because of the size, not because of wood vs steel.
If we made the building small enough, we could have a basement just
fine in the steel building.
I was sort of hoping for ideas and not judgement.
The man gave you good advice. FREE. If you don't want it, why
are you still here? Looking for someone to agree with you even
though you are wrong? As I said before, the nice thing about NG's
is you don't have to take suggestions.
You're right. I should have just not responded. I guess I was just
trying to clarify my position. I was annoyed because it sounded like
he was being judgemental. It's like I asked, "I have this new (for me)
idea, can anyone help me explore it?" and his response was, "Your idea
sucks. Use this old idea that's been beaten to death." And it's true
that the old idea may still have merit. But it doesn't help me explore
the new idea.
I assumed you were asking for the best professional advice I could give.
I responded accordingly. Your idea to use a pre-engineered metal building
for housing is most certainly a "new" idea. However, there are reasons
people don't attempt to make housing out of these type of buildings. If I
didn't give you enough then here's a quick summary:
1. Energy efficiency - metal buildings are not efficient.
2. Modifications at some later date are more difficult.
3. Egress - each bedroom or sleeping room must have 2 exits.
4. Plumbing and wiring are more difficult than with stud construction.
5. Resale value - you or your family will need to sell the building
Wood framed buildings have been used for hundreds of years because they
are efficient, can be easily modified and if maintained tend to hold their
Are there other options to conventional stud construction? Certainly.
Think about SIPs, or steel studs, or logs, or some combination.
Here's a rule of thumb I use for commercial metal buildings:
Cost for the shell with slab on grade and minimal wiring and plumbing is
To get the space to be habitable you should think about doubling the cost
to $150/SF. For that kind of money you can build yourself a pretty nice
Bob Morrison, PE, SE
R L Morrison Engineering Co
I'd say it's unconventional, but I'm certainly not the first. I have
half a dozen examples from tv shows alone. I'm sure there are many
The website i'm looking at says 6" of insulation in the walls and roof.
I don't remember the R value off hand, but 6" in the walls is more
than most stick built houses. After that, it's all about BTUs and air
movement. We're also thinking about geothermal. It costs a lot more
up front, but it makes the monthly heating and cooling costs really
hole in the metal and put it in. You don't need to frame up a header
since the building isn't supported by the wall panels. And as far as
inside is concerned, there's nothing there. Put the walls where you
yep. that's planned in. Everyone gets a door and a window, just like
a normal house.
Plumbing unfortunately will most likely have to be under the slab. But
that's true for a stick built house on a slab as well. Electrical will
be surface-mounted on the exterior walls which is fine with me.
Interior walls would be stick-built so we can run the conduit inside
them if we want.
Maybe. Maybe we retire in the building and give it to our children.
The resale could be lower if the execution is poor. What if it's not?
What if it's unique and worth more? Where else can you get an 11
bedroom house? I don't really care.
Have you ever left the country? Wood framed buildings are used *here*
because of the natural resource situation. Many builders own the
forests where the SPF comes from. I'd say they have a vested interest
in using wood. In places like greece for example, wood framing isn't
used at all, it's all stone and concrete. Marble is considered cheap
and common, whereas wood floors are considered really expensive and
high-end. It's all about what's close by.
We have. And we still haven't ruled them out.
That's making *a lot* of assumptions about what's going in to the
No they've been around because there's a whole infrastructure of builders
that understands it and has a vested interest in seeing it continue so that
their income stream continues. It has nothing to do with the merits of stick
which is just about as inefficient as you can possibly get compared to
modern technology. This is the 21 century and there are much better options.
Unfortunately some people are stuck in the 18th century, or 17th or 16th and
continue to peddle their buggy whips to an ignorant public.
Forgive me but I am planning a steel frame house in the future and disagree
with some of your points. Being a welder steel is my material so to speak
and I know what can be done.
I dont see how they are much less efficient (assuming you are talking
heating etc) especially with modern insulations.
Not a chance if anything they would be easier. if you want to add more floor
space for example you just unbolt one side of the house and add what you
want to add. assuming the planning was done properly to allow this without
no different from any other house. again its all down to design.
Why? Its not that much harder to drill through steel than wood. probably
easier because you would be drilling a hole through, what 8mm? 10mm? got to
be better than drilling though 4 or 5 inches of wood and rubber grommets
around any holes would solve any chaffing problems.
maybe at the moment people dont want steel frame houses but who knows what
the future will bring. someday people may want to buy a nostalgic steel
frame house when they are replaced by some other space age fibreglass.
Okay! Don't take my advice. I don't care.
I do structural design on perhaps 20 houses per year and have done so for
more than 30 years. But I'm no expert.
If you choose to build a house that has very little resale value in the
future then that's your choice. I'm most certainly not going to stop you.
If you really want inexpensive, why not buy a bunch of shipping
containers, put them in a stack and cut a few holes for windows and doors.
That, in effect, is what you are proposing.
Bob Morrison, PE, SE
R L Morrison Engineering Co
You're like the Ford dealer telling me that Ford is the best while the
Checy dealer tells me that Chevy is the best. You don't exactly have
an unbiased opinion. You're promoting the methods and materials that
are tried and true in your industry. It's easy and comfortable for you
because that's what you know. It's not bad advice, and I'm sure you
know what you're talking about. But it doesn't help me explore my
That's debatable. It depends on a lot of variables. If you watch some
of these show that talk about unusual houses, you'll see some really
strange stuff. A lot of people would never be caught dead in some of
those houses. But others would like it a lot. So the market isn't
really uniform. I guess you have to find the right buyer. In a normal
tract house, everyone agrees that they're normal. So the people
looking for a normal house, which is most people, would value that
house. We don't. Some of the houses on these shows are really
strange, yet are valued quite high. You can't just make a summary
judgement about the value of a house you've never seen simply because
it doesn't sound like something you'd want to live in, or look like the
buildings you work on.
You saw that show too? :-) Actually, we considered that. We deciced
against it because of the inflexability of the layout. Every room
would be shaped like a shipping container. We didn't want to be
constrained that way. It's a good idea though.
I actually considered buying four used single-wide trailers and
arranging them in a square with a deck and courtyard connecting them.
We would gut an entire trailer and make it one big kitchen and dining
room, another for just bedrooms, and so on. The build quality of the
trailers made us turn this one down. The shipping containers would
work in this arrangement also. :-)
I also know metal buildings and all their attendant problems.
I'm not telling not to use a metal building for the shell of your house.
I'm simply trying to point out that it won't be as easy or as inexpensive
as you seem to think. If it were, more people would be doing it.
As I said before, don't take my advice. I don't care if you do or you
don't. Just don't complain that it doesn't match your pre-conceived
notions about what you want to do. If you have your mind already made up,
then don't ask for advice. It's that simple.
Bob Morrison, PE, SE
R L Morrison Engineering Co
It's like Ford "debunking" Toyota. "Don't buy their cars, ours are much
better & we're really objective." Resales of Monolithic Domes & AI Domes
have proven a high quality product will get market value & then some. There
still are are some intelligent independent minded people in the world who
can think with their brain instead of some other organ.
Well, you've been given quite a number of reasons, some of which may
have no bearing (if you really never have need to sell the property,
for example, then resale value obviously is not a consideration. That,
however, is certainly not the norm and at an age where you still have
(apparently) quite young children, it would seem at least somewhat
difficult to be able to determine that you won't possibly ever have to
relocate). Others, based on experience of what it takes to actually
make the necessary modifications, contra-indicate that starting with a
_commercial_ steel structure would be cost-effective.
Again, however, if you (and your family who have to put up with the
result) are willing to live in the type of environment you describe and
through the inconvenience, nobody said you "can't". Suggesting
alternatives is the same thing.
OTOH, have you asked the children what _they_ want? :(
Don't see that has any bearing at all on the question of what the outer
structure is--so what _do_ you want?
But can you positively predict the future well enough to know you will
never have to, want or no want? Seems only prudent to at least plan
for such expediencies.
Well, the general idea is and judgement of the group is what you're
thinking isn't going to be nearly as cost-effective as you say you
would like to believe. Of course, again, if you're determined to live
in a warehouse, build a warehouse.
I didn't ask for reasons for or against a steel building, unless he
were to come back and tell me that the wood frame shell would be
cheaper. He says this, but I don't think he's right. Everything I've
seen says the opposite. Maybe he could point me to a modular builder
who could beat steel building prices? I really doubt a stick builder
could even come close.
What ever happened to people living in the same house for their entire
What's the difference between comercial and residential construction?
(this is rhetorical, i know there's a pedantic answer) Am I not
allowed to use comercial type construction materials in a home?
And knowing whether something is cost-effective relies on knowing what
the final costs will be. And that requires a good picture of what the
final building will be. And I'm still trying to figure this out. He
may be making assumptions about the types of materials or types of
labor needed whereas I would do things like buy tile on clearance and
install it myself. So who knows what the final costs will be. I'm
just sort of guessing. But I think things like the well and septic
will be the same cost no matter what. So it would be nice to have a
better approximate price for things like that.
Another goal we have is to pay for this as we go without a mortgage or
construction loan. Without a mortgage payment, we should be able to
pull this off nicely. Instead of paying $3000 a month (plus $1000 a
month in taxes) to a bank, we could put that $4000 toward new features
in the house. A new bathroom here or a new window there. Whatever we
want. And at any moment, we own it and owe nothing. Even if after 5
or 10 years of work, it would have been cheaper to build the same thing
stick built from the start, I'd rather pay as we go. With the long
term cost savings from not having a mortgage, I think we would come out
To me, there's a huge difference between "hey you could build this
building for bla% cheaper by using this method or these materials, go
to this website or call this company to hear about it" and "your
idea is terrible. I won't even consider it. mine is cheaper anyway.
use what I've been blindly using for the last 30 years"
Yes. They like the idea. They don't care about closets, they're more
interested in making the laundry situation easier and finding their
clothes. All of this leads to fewer chores for them. And believe me
they're totally on board with that.
By the way, there are millions of europeans who have bedrooms with no
My point was that he was placing value judgements on a type of house
that I don't plan to build. Who knows? Maybe he was assuming that I
would drywall the entire interior of a steel building because that
would be "normal". My goal here isn't to turn a steel building into a
normal house. It's to create a unique house that fits our unique
needs. I made the what-if statements to demonstrate that we're clearly
not after a normal house.
Why would I *have* to? I don't want to live like that. And why are
you assuming that no one would buy the house? You have no idea what
the end result will be. We're planning to do this on 5-10 acres. The
land will have value no matter what. With property values around here,
I doubt it will be long before the land is worth far more than what it
costs to put up the building.
I listed cost estimates, shoot them down. That was what I wanted from
the original post. Some things like plumbing and electrical are
impossible to estimate, but the well and septic, or the cost to erect
the buildings, those should be easy to figure out.
Believe it or not, I'm not the first person to have this idea. If you
watch the home shows on tv, you'll see one of these every 5 to 10
episodes or so. One guy had a steel building in kentucky with
all-glass rollup garage doors. The outside looked like a warehouse,
but the inside looked like a nice house to me. Another one I saw was
about half garage to house his car collection, while they lived in the
other half. They had maybe 6000sqft. There were a few others. Some
were a little odd, but others were very nice places. And I think you
could make the outside look less warehousey with the right choice of
colors, good maintenance, and good landscaping.
I think you guys are constrained by an utter lack of imagination.
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