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DIY House in Just 5 Steps — for less than €25,000

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DIY House in Just 5 Steps — for less than €25,000

Wanna ditch the mortgage and live in a modular, open source, ecological house? Introducing the Open Building Institute Eco-Building Toolkit.

Picture this: you own a small piece of land. Nothing fancy — just a small plot. A group of people shows up, sets up a workshop in your shed, and within five days, using materials available at your local hardware store or made from the raw resources of your land, builds you a small starter house kitted out with state-of-the-art eco features for less than $25,000.

Sound crazy? Well, open source advocate and maker Catarina Mota and inventor Marcin Jakubowski (see their TED Talks, “Play with smart materials” and “Open-sourced blueprints for civilization,” respectively), are making the dream of accessible, affordable eco-housing come true with their Open Building Institute Eco-Building Toolkit. They’ve already built several prototypes and tested the concept through a series of educational builds.

As they close out a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to take the idea to the next stage of development, Marcin and Catarina give the lowdown on barn-raising, open source style. Here’s how it works:

1) Create an open source library of modules.

Each essential piece of the house is designed to be built individually, then assembled like building blocks, kind of like Lego. Walls, roofs, doors, windows — each has a design that can be downloaded and and then put together to make a home. You can start with a 700-square-foot starter home loaded with ecological features like rainwater catchment and water filtration, solar panels, efficient LED lighting, bricks made from your own soil, passive solar heating and biogas, all for less than $25,000 in materials. You can even add an aquaponic greenhouse for growing your own food. When families grow and have more money in the bank, the modular system is designed to allow folks to expand by adding more rooms and features to the building.

2) Train people to build in this way.

Lots of people want to learn how to build their own house — and lots of people would prefer their house to be built for them. OBI solves both problems at once by offering an intensive training program that teaches people how to build the modules and houses. The large groups of workshop participants allow rapid construction — what Jakubowski calls “a large parallel swarming process” — so a house can be erected in as little as five days. Once builders are certified, they can be contracted to build more houses either as contractors or under the workshop model, allowing the idea to propagate.

3) Construction pays for itself.

By charging fees for skilling people up, OBI not only removes the cost of construction for the homeowner, but turns the labor equation on its head by turning an immersion learning workshop experience for participants into financial support for OBI, while essentially eliminating the cost of labor for the homeowner.

What might this look like? “All you need is a plot of land connected to a utilities infrastructure and a workshop space. A group of people — around 35 — who have signed up for an OBI immersion course show up to learn,” says Marcin. “We teach them how to do the build using cordless drills and a number of saws and normal big-box store materials, which would be ordered by the homeowner and delivered. Then we assemble the pieces needed for the house, including modular electric wiring and plumbing, and install them rapidly in place.”

Although many of the materials used in the current designs do come from stores, OBI is moving towards the production of local materials — lumber, bricks, insulation, lime concrete and paint — to be produced right at the build site from natural resources and using open source machinery. OBI trainees learn not just how to build a house, but also how to build construction machines and produce materials.

4) Get people out of debt.

The ability to grow a house incrementally offers housing security, without the need to go into debt. “We’re creating a bridge between the tiny house and the mansion,” says Catarina. “The system is designed to grow towards the bigger house that you may need one day down the road. Right now, the housing market only has one offering, which is a really big, expensive house. There’s a lack of starter homes. The incremental build approach offers an alternative.”

5) Build in open source hardware — and aesthetic design.

With the Kickstarter campaign, OBI is moving on to the next stage of development: creating simple instructional diagrams for each module and building, consulting architects to help create more design choices, harnessing experts to help produce more state of the art eco-features, and developing technologies and processes for producing local materials, all of which will be made available via an open source licence. The goal is to make freely available to the public all the know-how necessary to build affordable eco-houses.

Sound cozy? There’s still time — only just! — to support OBI on its mission. Visit the Kickstarter page to pledge and learn more.

The TED Fellows program hand-picks young innovators from around the world to raise international awareness of their work and maximize their impact.

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