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Shortcuts: How to build a house

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(CNN) -- The Stirling Prize for architecture is awarded this weekend. Fancy getting in on the act without the eight years of training? Why not try and build your own house?

Building my own home sounds like a great plan!
Nice idea, isn't it? What could be more rewarding than building your own homestead, to be bequeathed to generations to come. However, ensuring your hand-made ancestral pile to be is just that, rather than simply a pile, will take a fair amount of skill and a large amount of planning and determination. If your previous experience of building amounts to putting up wonky shelves, you might be better suited to erecting a tent.

Ok, I don't want anything fancy, maybe something minimal?
How about a log cabin? Before you begin chopping down the nearest tree, there are a few things to bear in mind. Use logs from conifers - they're much easier to work than hard woods like oak and more environmentally sound as they are faster growing. Also, use logs that are as straight as possible and at least 20cm in diameter -- they should have been seasoned for at least two years to dry out. Cut out notches for the logs to overlap at the corners of the building...

Hang on, this sounds like hard work?
It is and unless you've got the strength of a lumberjack and a sharp axe you're going to need some help. You may be better suited to buying a kit - the home equivalent of flat-packed furniture. Everything is delivered; you just have to put it together. There are plenty of companies that offer different styles of homes from American barns and English country cottages to modern versions of traditional German houses. There are some simple tips rules to follow before building any house. First of all consider your budget and add 20 percent to the total you have to spend for contingencies. Next, draw up a project plan, setting out what needs to be done, when and by whom, being honest with yourself and not over-estimating your skills. This plan should cover everything from finding the site to furnishing the house and moving in. Once you've done this read through it and realise that things won't go according to this plan.

Ah yes, finding a site...
Unless you already own some land there might be some problems getting permission to build, and even if you do own enough land to create the home of your dreams there will be plenty of bureaucracy to get through and local conservation and environment laws to wrangle with. But there's a simple way around this one -- don't build a house, create a piece of art that just so happens to be inhabitable. It's a nifty trick that sculptor and DIY enthusiast Graham Hudson used to create a house from pieces of scrap and reclaimed material. His residence cost the less than princely sum of £1,500 and was situated in central London, where neighbors' homes cost millions. The downside was it didn't pass all the health and safety regulations or have water or electricity. Alternatively you could take a tip from Peter Callesen, a Danish artist who built himself a floating castle in Hamburg's docks from scrap wood. Who could resist a waterfront property with its own drawbridge?


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Home is where the graft is

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