Marketing An Inexpensive Micro Home Trying to make a difference in America
Guest Post by Walt Barrett
It’s not like the “Micro Home” is a new idea that was recently invented by some modern day genius. New England is loaded with them. I would venture to say that the micro home was invented in Africa in prehistoric times seeing as mankind came out of Africa to begin with. I just wanted to get that little fact out of the way. I consider any home under 700 square feet to be a micro home. My parents built our home themselves with the help of a few friends and neighbors in 1929. It was 20′ x 24′ with a fully divided loft for sleeping. I came along in 1933 and the three of us lived there together until I left for the Korean war. It was a great little home and is now a wing off our new home and offices that we built to green specifications in 1998. Now it is 1700 square feet including the offices. We have family members living with us, or we would still be living in the renovated old micro home my parents built. As a point of reference, many micro apartments in Japan and New York City are only 250 Square feet in Size. Why not, if you are hardly ever home like many people are these days.
Because of my background having lived the first nineteen years of my life in a micro home with no central heat, or plumbing except for a small kitchen sink, I have been following the micro home business with great interest. My son John and myself actually built an 8′ x 8′ model with a full sleeping loft giving us a total of 128 square feet of space which are really too small for most people. We did that to give our company a little more credibility when we speak about micro homes in the market place. Believe me, we learned a lot with that little exercise. Not being carpenters didn’t help a bit either, but we got the job done, and that is what counts. We won’t make the same mistakes twice. I have wanted to build a totally off the power grid micro home for forty years, and now we have done it. I visualize these homes as being mass produced as kits and costing completed as little as the price of a clean used car. In other words, totally affordable.
The current high costs of micro homes is what I am leading up to here.
There are actually three markets to serve today.
- The DIY market.
- The dying lower to middle class, trying to survive in a nearly dead economy.
- The extremely wealthy, price does not matter market.
I am concerned about the first two groups. The wealthy are quite capable of taking care of them selves. Please, let’s not forget about the others. We need an inexpensive route for them to follow. I remember when when my poor young wife and I had three little kids and were living in a housing project in Providence, RI. We were desperate for a home in the country so we could get the kids out of the project. After a year we found a great buy in the country for $8,750.00 which was like a gift even in 1958. The Realtor wanted us to have it so badly that she even lent us the money to add to ours so that we could make the $1,000.00 down payment, She didn’t have to do that because she was one of the biggest Realtors in RI. We paid her back, and we never forgot that nice lady. She could have sold that house to anyone and would not have had to lend them money. That loan was a total act of Charity.
Now I find it extremely alarming when I see prices climbing towards $300.00 a square foot for a micro home. Those kind of prices are totally out of line with the income levels of the working class market. I just had a very nice lady, and here husband write to me and they ave manages to save up $6,000.00 towards a micro home and felt that they just didn’t have enough money when they saw the high prices they are quoting on the Internet. Well we sent them a free 45 page set of plans for a home they can build on a DIY basis, and they are now very happy. We have got to spread the word that micro homes do not have to cost a fortune!
My own personal idea is to not go insane with the interior, or exterior including all the fixtures and finishing materials. We used composite hardwood flooring material and we used bead board on the walls which is dirt cheap, and only costs about $11.00 a 4′ x 8′ sheet. If you follow this line of thinking you can come up with some unbelievably low prices per square foot, and you still get a very nice look to the interior. Stay away from the exotic and expensive building materials for the interior unless you have money to burn.
We used Texture 111 siding with a high quality exterior solid stain on it. We rolled it on before we installed it. Micro homes are small and do not require a lot of materials. They are also much less expensive to build labor wise and heating or cooling are very low. Even propane is only about $200.00 a year according to my sources.
I see building any home today as an exercise in the material science of the building material industry. For instance, we now have both roofing and flooring that anyone can install easily, and are both rich looking and inexpensive. I prefer metal roofing over the composite sheets because my friend had a bad experience with it in the hot weather.
We work with the new LED lighting in either 12 volts DC or 120 volts AC all powered by solar modules. Because of the LED lighting, there are fewer solar modules required. The biggest deal killers are the electric appliances. Most people want a washer and dryer and they use a lot of energy. We are constantly seeking ways to cool food and wash and dry clothes. Clothes can be hung, or use a gas dryer which would also heat the home when running if you put a heat exchanger on it, but that still leaves the washer and refrigerator.
Lighting, computers, radios and TV’s are really cheap to build a solar power supply for.
Well anyway, my plan, as soon as we have a market for these units, is to mass produce micro home frame kits and complete micro home package kits in a local factory. God knows, we have enough of them empty around here these days. These kits are highly shippable on wooden pallets. I think the frame kits are the best because:
- They are cheap to ship.
- They are totally pre-cut including all the difficult rafter angle cuts etc.
- They come with a full set of assembly plans including a full cutting schedule in case you ever have to duplicate any pieces.
- They have all of the holes drilled in the studs for the wiring
- They are not that much more expensive that the original cost of the raw lumber because a factory pre-cutting line move like lighting compared to doing your own measuring and cutting.
- They can be built to any width as there are no shipping problems. All pallet loads will fit inside of any shipping container. Shipping by rail is very inexpensive. I was surprised.
I would like to see more companies follow these conservative guidelines, and just work on a reasonable and fair markup. We all like to make money, and make a good living, that’s understandable, but let’s not be gouging people. Let’s not ruin the dream of so many Americans to have a nice little place they can call home. Everyone deserves a home. Remember Henry Ford, he built a car for the millions, and as I recall, his income was not to shabby. The real wealth in this world comes from when you help others. I know, I have spent my life helping others and God has been very good to me and my family.