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A DIY Case Study: Building a Fancypants Detached Studio

studio-closeup1About three years ago, my family was happily living in a comfortable, mortgage-free house. There was more than enough room for everyone, it was in a walkable neighborhood, and thanks to some unexpected boosts in our family income, life was more affordable than ever.

But suddenly, perhaps due to some combination of a romantic whim* and the quest for constant optimization, we decided to downsize to a house that was about 50% smaller.

While the above-ground space only dropped by a couple hundred square feet (from 1734 to 1532), this move also cost me my nicely finished basement, a warm dry attached double garage, a garden shed, plus a nifty “tiny house” building I had built out back. The total pain was thus much larger: my almost-3200 square feet of dry indoor space was cut down by more than half.

I use the word “my” because in our family, I really am the main consumer of space. While my share of bedroom and closet space is minimal, I am responsible for a bulky drum set, too much audio and computer equipment, most of the bikes, and of course the whole Confused Renaissance Man’s set of tools for working on houses, gardens, metal and electronics. And of course, the accompanying materials and salvaged scraps are even bigger than the equipment itself. I’m a living contradiction because in some ways, being a Maker is the opposite of being a Minimalist.

So, moving to this new house came with one condition: I could survive the compression if I could at least build something about the size of a garage – to function as a place to work, think, create loud music of questionable quality,  and spread out my big messy projects.

Thus, before even signing the contract to buy the place, I checked with the city’s building department to make sure I could squeeze this future building legally onto the lot. They approved the idea, so after getting the main house mostly built, I broke ground in April 2016 to start building The Studio.

Sometime in the fall of that year, I declared this new Mancave mostly done, and this is in fact the first full article that I will have typed inside the structure. Thus, I thought it would be the perfect time to share some of the decisions, numbers, and lessons learned from this project.

After all, nearly every home buying quest brings up the question: “Could I add extra space onto this old house? If so, what would it look like and how much would it cost?” – Often the best-located houses are in the older and more central neighborhoods, built during an era when a family would happily squeeze into 800 square feet and share a single bathroom. It’s a noble goal if you’re tough enough, but for those of us who prefer a fancier pad (myself included), a few modifications can make all the difference.

So here’s a rapidfire recount of the process I went through to build the Studio:

Design: 

The main house (always in progress), as it looked in early 2016

The back of main house (always in progress), as it looked in early 2016. We wanted the studio to go along with this basic style.

I wanted something with similar style to the simple midcentury modern lines I stuck with for the main house: a single-plane roof with substantial overhangs, and big windows on the South side to let in the sun. After doing some sketches, we happened to find a local kit-building company called Studio Shed that offered almost same design. The benefit of a kit is that all the materials come in one package, which saves a load of shopping and ordering work, plus the wall segments come partially pre-assembled.

I weighed the convenience of the Studio Shed prefab kit against the extra cost, which was fairly high. But I still ended up buying the kit in the end, partly as an experiment to report on the prefab experience to you, and partly because I am trying to value my time more highly these days. The purchase would eliminate most of the boring administrative work: shopping for materials, getting quotes and placing orders, coordinating with a structural engineer, and getting materials to my building site.

Since extra money will no longer help me these days, it helps to take money out of the decisions and think about where time would best be spent. So I bought something called the “Summit Series 16 x 22” with a few nice customizations.

Layout and Digging: 

stringlines

This decision went the opposite way of the Studio Shed kit purchase: since I had never laid out a foundation, dug the actual hole, created large concrete forms or built a complex rebar structure, I decided to do all this stuff myself so I could learn a few more new trades.

I used tape measures, plus the existing lot survey and structures to figure out where to pound in stakes and pull some tight strings. Once everything was verified, I used bright orange ground marking spray paint to clearly define my digging lines.

Then the fun part began: I walked down to the local equipment rental shop and inquired about how a man might go about renting an excavating machine. It turned out that they’ll lend one out to anybody, as long as you’ve got the money. Why did I wait over 40 years to learn this amazing thing about our country?

I only needed a 3 foot deep trench with roughly 16″ width, and it turns out that even the smallest digger can dig down to 8 feet, so I rented a John Deere 17G. Rental rate is a little under $200 per day, but you also need to transport the 3800 lb machine to your house. Not owning a heavy equipment trailer, I paid the shop an extra $80 for drop-off and pick-up service. With taxes and fees it was around $300 in total.

mini-excavator

Note: I had never driven an excavating machine before. But it’s just like a simple video game with a few levers to control the joints: three for the arm, two for the treads, plus one lever for the body swivel and a final one to control the small but surprisingly useful bulldozer blade. I was able to get a pretty straight, tidy foundation hole (really more of a “footing trench” in this case) in only a single day of work. There was plenty of time to spare and the machine burned through less than two gallons of diesel ($5) over the course of the day.

After digging the hole successfully I taught my son to use the machine and he was able to load the 6000 pound dirt pile nicely into an open-top trailer for transfer to our front garden.

I'm saving this picture in case there's ever a future dispute about me being the Best Dad Ever.

I’m saving this picture in case there’s ever a future dispute about me being the Best Dad Ever.

After the machine digging, I set the strings back up and went back through with a shovel to fine tune the depth and positioning of the trench. My son made a nifty timelapse video of the process and even wrote some music for it – watch it on YouTube if you like.

Forms and Rebar

This was a great challenge for me, because precise foundations are inherently tricky: you have the imprecise medium of rough soil, combined with heavy wood or steel forms and reinforcement bars that are hard to work with. And all this needs to withstand the force of a 30,000 pound liquid concrete delivery that must be distributed and smoothed quickly as soon as it arrives. But the end result must be precise to within an eighth of an inch, and dead level across the span of your entire structure. As a beginner, I had to invent various shims and jigs to make the adjustments. It was particularly fun to figure out how to bend and weld up a complex 3-d mesh of rebar to match the structural engineer’s specifications (and pass an inspection!):

rebar_jig

One of the four overlapping walls of rebar that I had to create.

A builder’s transit level (borrowed from a friend) was absolutely essential for getting the form positioning correct, and lots of fun to use as well.

I put some rough timelapses on YouTube of these stages as well: building a form wall, and installing it alongside the other three walls.

In the end it looked like this:

foundation_with_rebar

Here is the final form, filled with rebar, radiant heating tubes, and even rough-in plumbing for a possible future small bathroom just in case. Note my haphazard reinforcement to compensate for overly flimsy forms. In the future I would make them more like walls: full 3/4″ plywood screwed to full studs on 16″ centers. You can always unscrew and reuse the wood later, as I did with all this stuff.

 

Pouring a Truck Full of Cement

Concrete is another dark art that is worth learning. Think about it: it’s liquid stone that can be formed into any shape, then can last for hundreds of years with no maintenance once it cures. Yet it costs only 5 cents per pound if you buy it in bags, even less if you order a truckload for delivery. Shortcut: ask for “4000 PSI mix with a 6″ slump, fly ash added to slow curing time.” You order it by the cubic yard and each truck load holds 10 cubic yards, so you can do the math in advance and sound smarter on the phone.

My foundation and 6″ thick floor slab required about 15 cubic yards worth, which cost me $2176 in total. The base price of $145 per cubic yard was much higher than I’ve paid in the past, but all the local companies were in that range – blame it on the building boom.

This was my third large concrete pour. It’s a fun, intense type of work. The basic procedure is to recruit at least three friends, work with them to fill the form uniformly with the truck’s chute plus some wheelbarrows, then scrape off the top with a long, rigid piece of metal to get a flat surface. Then work the surface several times over the next few hours with trowels of increasing precision to smooth it out more.

My Youtube timelapse of the part of the second truckload: pouring and smoothing the concrete.

Assembly (also known as Framing) 

Once you have a flat, solid slab of concrete that has hardened for a few days, the job is much easier – you’re just framing a very small house. Which sounds fairly advanced, but if read a book on the subject or intern with a skilled framer for a day, you’ll get the picture.

The Studio Shed kit presented a mixture of advantages and disadvantages in this stage: because the wall segments are bulky and can weigh up to 350 pounds, you really need four people just to unload the delivery truck. Then, you have 10,000 pounds of bulky wall modules, lumber and siding scattered around your yard until you put it all together. On the positive side, the assembly process was slightly faster than manual framing and did not require quite as much knowledge.

Timelapse: Unloading the Studio Shed from the delivery truck
Timelapse: Assembling the walls

The roof comes completely unassembled, so the process was the same as building any other house roof: set the rafters in place and secure them with endless blocking and hurricane ties, heft up the sheets of 3/4″ roofing plywood, fire in a few hundred nails, then move on to roofing paper and final roofing material (we used a metal roof in this case, because metal roofs rock).

Finish and Electrical work

To finish out a building like this, you need exterior siding and interior finish materials. This particular Studio Shed came with a very modern kit of painted cement board panels and aluminum accent pieces. The style was something I had never built before, so I feel I learned a few new tricks that I can use elsewhere. The downside is that it was incredibly labor intensive compared to other siding materials – lots of precision required to get it all to work out properly.

Super Insulation for Sound and Temperature

After that, I insulated the structure meticulously with a combination of rigid foam, canned spray foam for the cracks, and batt insulation for the bulk of the building. I used heavy 5/8″ Type X drywall on all surfaces for more thermal mass and soundproofing. I even coated  the foundation with 1″ rigid foil-backed foam insulation before backfilling the hole, to allow the concrete slab to function as an efficient chunk of thermal mass for stable temperatures year-round.  The building has gone through a hot summer and now most of a winter, requiring no air conditioning and very little supplemental heat (I set it up as an individual zone on the radiant heat system I built for the main house).

My First Ever DIY Garage Door

studio-cornerWith the exterior finished, I was left with a gaping 8′ x 7′ hole in the front of the building, where they expect you to get a garage door installed. I wanted lots of glass on mine, so I priced out a couple of fancy glass/aluminum garage doors like you see on patio restaurants or fire station garages.  The estimates were coming in around $2000 including installation, for a door that was not even well-insulated. I was also concerned about the overhead track cluttering up my precious high sloped ceiling. So I decided to try something new – making my own pair of side-hinged doors from welded 1″ x 3″steel and thick plexiglas, with a wood interior.

The result was better than I could have hoped: the doors fit very tightly and have not warped at all since I built them six months ago (a huge advantage of steel over wood), and I created a weathertight design much like a standard exterior door.  Total cost was $300 and about 8 hours of work. Thermal performance seems great as well – no noticeable draft even on the coldest nights.

 A Serene New Life with the Studio

studio-interior2

View from the drummer’s seat.

The experience of building this thing was worthwhile in its own right: lots of education, Zen-like days of problem solving and hard outdoor labor. From a financial perspective, it’s probably a good investment, as I spent less than $100 per finished square foot, while the per-square-foot value of houses in this area is well over $300. This might yield a “profit” of roughly $60,000 when I eventually sell this house. But the real benefit has come from actually putting the thing to use.

Suddenly, I have a warm, dry indoor space in which to roll a snowy mountain bike on a winter night. I also used up some scrap materials to add this seven-bike outdoor garage to the otherwise-unused North wall:

Seven bikes that can now stay dry without taking up precious indoor space.

Seven bikes that can now stay dry without taking up precious indoor space.

And an incredibly quiet place to retreat and write or read, when the main house becomes a zoo. And a soundproof place for the newly revived funk band to play whenever we want, without any worry of disturbing family or neighbors. As a result, I’ve played more music with friends (and even with my son) in the past six months than I had in the previous six years.

By the Numbers: Building a Detached Studio

Let’s finish up with a rough summary of typical costs for a project like this in a midrange region of the US , with my spending in the second column from the right.

studio-costs

 

So in the end, it’s about 31 grand and a lot of good hard work, for a building that will pay ongoing productivity dividends and then return more than its cost when it is eventually sold. Overall, building this structure has been one of my happier projects in the last decade, and it’s one that I can recommend as an alternative to looking for a bigger house if you need to expand a little.

————

* The whim in this case was a desire to rebuild an old 1959 house almost from scratch, as well as an even-better location: still within walking distance to everything, but also on a quiet circle with a mostly unused public park as the back yard. An extra 1.4 acres of free land, maintained automatically by the city!

Need More Details? If you have specific questions on how this thing was built, or how to make your own, ask them in the comments section below. I left a lot out of this article in order to keep the length reasonable, but we have more space there.

  • Wendy January 26, 2017, 1:10 am

    MMM, just curious, is the cost a personal expense or a business expense?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache January 26, 2017, 9:14 am

      I’d say it is a “home renovation” expense, or a delayed cost of buying the house. Either way, it’s part of the capital we are tying up in the house for now.

      Since the activities that take place in this house/studio are related to the business, there is some tax deductibility involved.. but it’s still a cost. Between this and the Nissan Leaf, I’m going to need some serious footnotes in the upcoming post about family’s 2016 spending, so people can decide for themselves which expenses to include in our spending.

      Reply
      • Kyle January 26, 2017, 10:29 am

        I wondered this as well. Home renovations are a big part of our expenses and included in our annual expenditures. However, they are not static expenses and are therefore not calculated as part of our withdrawal rate strategy during early retirement. Our home value has increased significantly so there is an ROI associated with these expenses.

        Reply
  • GW January 26, 2017, 4:11 am

    I built a garden office for my wife two years ago. It was a kit and I got the supplier to do the building work but not the foundations or fitting out which I did. We live in Scotland and initially I looked at your US prices for work, materials etc and thought that for once we Brits are not being utterly ripped off even with 20% sales tax. I had paid a bit more but not that much. Then I realised our office is about a quarter of the size.

    Things I wished I might have done differently:

    1. Maybe more space. My wife is fine with it but it always good to have just a little more for shelves etc.
    2. Understanding its heat retention properties. I spent thousands installing underfloor heating. The specially insulated hot water pipe from the boiler in the house 40 metres away alone cost GBP1000. The building is a SIP’s construction with high grade windows. The body heat from my wife, our two dogs and the computer is enough to make it toasty warm. Infact in summer its too hot and as she cannot open the windows due to midges I had to buy an aircon unit. In Scotland. As the aircon is reverse cycle the underfloor heating is now completely redundant. For a cold winter I bought a $20 low energy tubular heater used in greenhouses to keep the place warm.
    3. Its a flat roof and is quite noisy when it rains (which is does alot). I’ve put gravel on it but it still can be distracting. Maybe a normal roof might have been better.
    4. I installed many electric and ethernet sockets in the office all at waist height which was great for a normal desk. I was v pleased with myself. My wife then bought one of those electric powered variable height desks so she can stand and sit. The sockets are at just the right height to get in the way of the desk when raising or lowering. Maybe should have stuck with lower sockets.

    Reply
  • Mr. RIP January 26, 2017, 6:33 am

    So essentially you just told us all this story to reveal your true identity, dear KILLBONE7? :D

    Amazing job MMM!
    I just dug a hole for ducks and gooses few months ago that required an order of magnitude less shovelfuls and I felt dead. That’s an amazing investment dividend on your muscles :)

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache January 26, 2017, 9:09 am

      My true identity is Mr. Money Mustache. It’s my 10-year-old boy who is “Killbone7”.

      You’ll probably see the real rise of his online identity over the next 8 years or so :-)

      Reply
  • Ryan January 26, 2017, 8:48 am

    The picture of MMM on the digger might be the best blog picture yet.

    Reply
  • Fiscally Free January 26, 2017, 11:25 am

    That looks great; thanks for sharing! It’s been too long since I’ve been able to do any serious construction. It’s just been a lot of finish work recently, like a fairly intensive DIY kitchen remodel.

    Reply
  • Florida Mike January 26, 2017, 2:25 pm

    I’d like to know more about the doors you built. I am in the same boat with a patio I am enclosing and the cool sliding doors I want are $8k which is outrageous. I know I can weld up a set but looking for ideas before I break out the Mig.
    Thanks!

    Reply
  • ZJ Thorne January 26, 2017, 8:54 pm

    This is absolutely gorgeous. The only similar building adventure I’ve embarked upon was doing habitat for humanity in a country that did not have building codes. For the build I was on, we had 3 guys who knew things and then 15 college students in charge of being really strong. We used pickaxes and shovels to dig through clay, garbage, and concrete to create the 1 foot wide trench. It was exhausting. Then all of the concrete was mixed by hand on the spot in wheelbarrows and we had to human-chain it from the area with the hose/water access to the structure we were building. Definitely the most tiring day of my life. But a family ended up with a home.

    Reply
  • bryan danger January 27, 2017, 8:37 am

    Wow… this post struck me on any number of levels.
    First, I’m reminded of the outstanding variety of ways that people choose to downsize. Many of our neighbors and friends and now clients are looking to build a similar sized place to move into (usually as an accessory dwelling to move into and rent out the main house to free themselves from mortgage), while you built the same for an extra bike shed/flex space in addition to a 1500sqft home.
    Minimalism is truly in the eye of the beholder. ;)

    Mostly, I’m in awe that while many people might look at your posts as making dramatic cutbacks to their lifestyle when there is SO much further they could go and so much faster gains to be made. All relative and all mostly inconceivable to most people still living/working the grind.

    I love the fact that you and your family are such a great example of the positive successes that can come from small changes without really giving anything up in terms of lifestyle…

    Reply
  • DiZi January 27, 2017, 10:19 am

    The studio looks fantastic! I love the industrial look!
    I wanted to ask a similar question as David (above from 1/24/17)- Roxul vs Foam insulation. I rent out the basement in my house, but there’s quite a bit of noise and cooking smell transfer. I was planning to use Roxul and Green glue to create better barrier, but now i wonder if i should do Foam insulation instead,
    Any thoughts/advice will be greatly appreciated!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache January 28, 2017, 9:30 am

      Standard batt insulation will absorb some of the sound between the main house and basement, but if you really want to isolate them you probably need to cut the acoustic coupling between the ceiling drywall and your floor joists.

      One way to do this is to screw some “rigid channel” perpendicular to the floor joists, and then screw the new ceiling drywall to the RC. I have never actually done this, but I have read that it is designed to prevent the sound waves from transferring. Other options include special soundproofing drywall (expensive), two layers of drywall set at perpendicular angles (cheaper) or attaching heavy rubber sheets to the joists before drywall (expensive).

      Reply
      • DiZi January 28, 2017, 8:14 pm

        Thank you!!! This is really helpful, i’ve read about the rigid channel too, so it must work.

        Reply
  • Stoney January 27, 2017, 10:17 pm

    MMM, Curious why you made forms to go all the way to the bottom of the footing trench. If the sides are fairly vertical, and you don’t knock much dirt into the trench during the pour, you won’t waste much concrete just pouring into the trench with the dirt walls working as a form. Then you only need to make and set forms near the ground surface.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache January 28, 2017, 9:15 am

      A solid idea Stoney, and this would be true if you could dig a really precise hole. But since the walls in this case only needed to be 8″ thick (but never any thinner), that would imply a perfectly placed 8″ trench. Or a wider trench to accommodate any errors in placement, which would consumer more concrete.

      Since concrete is fairly monetarily expensive (and hugely environmentally expensive), I wanted to use the more accurate medium of the forms to use exactly what I needed, but not any more. With even this 36″ depth, an inch of extra concrete adds up to thousands of pounds wasted.

      Reply
  • Brian C January 28, 2017, 8:27 am

    That’s a pretty cool project. It looks good!

    Have you ever considered the DIY concrete countertops or sinks? With combinations of concrete dyes and aggregates, you can make some very cool high-end artistic countertops for only a couple hundred dollars.

    The combination of concrete, thermal mass, and inexpensive DIY project struck me as something you’d like.

    Of course, I’m mainly asking because it’s a project I’d love to do myself (if I ever buy a home instead of renting), and I’d selfishly love to see your “how to do it” post.

    http://www.concreteexchange.com/how-to-center/concrete-countertops/

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 3, 2017, 10:49 am

      Great project Brian! I’ve made concrete countertops and other work surfaces a couple of times. A very rewarding activity. I agree that it is cost-effective and also a great conversation starter at parties, which generally end up in your kitchen.

      Reply
  • Justgettingby January 29, 2017, 3:12 am

    Wow! your house is gigantic. Even minimalists seem to own massive houses in the US. Not sure if you’d survive living in Europe. Its not uncommon for a family of 5 to live in a house under 1000 square foot. And we don’t have basements, huge garages or studios to supplement that.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache January 29, 2017, 12:53 pm

      You are right – I’m not a minimalist by any stretch.

      The US is a big place, with a lot of diversity in living situations. In some parts of San Francisco, my total life savings would not even buy a house of this size. In other parts of the same country, you can get 100 acres and a mansion and some outbuildings for about a tenth of that sum.

      Now that we mention it “Europe” is a big place too – in Eastern post-communist countries there are regions far less expensive than anywhere in the US.

      Reply
      • Justgettingby January 30, 2017, 5:51 am

        True. There is huge variation both across the US and across Europe. Also, the size of one’s house is only part of the picture. There are some small houses which are incredibly inefficient, and some mansions which are carbon neutral. I think your overall ethos of mindful and sustainable living is very impressive.

        Reply
  • Freedom 40 Plan January 29, 2017, 8:06 am

    Looks awesome. Glad it came out so well. And yes – best Dad award goes to you for letting him use the excavator. My Dad never let me…I think because he just enjoyed it himself too much!

    Reply
  • Jason January 29, 2017, 1:06 pm

    I could have eternity and a legion of angels with tool belts at my disposal and not be able to build that.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache January 30, 2017, 10:14 am

      Thanks Jason, but I think you are underestimating the skill of those Construction Angels :-)

      Reply
  • Chris January 31, 2017, 3:02 am

    Wow, this is really awesome and gives me some great ideas for a studio in my backyard. Great job!!!

    Reply
  • Sean January 31, 2017, 9:52 pm

    Very cool post and timely. We’re actually thinking of building a detached unit in our yard in Seattle. I love the fact that you did most of it yourself and the time lapse videos are great. I might have to spend more time learning from your videos, especially on that foundation. Well, great post and great site! That spreadsheet outlining your costs is very helpful as well. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  • Mark February 1, 2017, 8:37 am

    MMM! I didn’t know you were also a drummer! The project looks great and is inspirational for the future. If you want to clean up the sound of the drums inside the space a little bit, you can use Rockwool insulation panels to build some bass traps and absorption panels… the kit will sound better! No practical insulation value, though.

    I’ll have to keep an eye out for the next Denver area tour date I have… you’re welcome to come for a drummer hang!

    Reply
  • Stephane February 1, 2017, 2:52 pm

    This is an awesome post, thanks for much for writing it. To be honest the foundation part has made me decide I’ll probably hire someone to do that ;). I would have like to see more of the prefab panels since I’ve never really seen those. The only other thing you perhaps could have taken into consideration is which roof side is facing south: South facing roofs are very valuable for installing solar electric, solar water heating panels (and in our area anyway) solar heating (air or water) panels. I built my shed to put solar electric on them, including some smaller ones for a garden patio light system.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 3, 2017, 10:46 am

      Right, but South-facing WINDOWS are even more valuable than solar electric panels, because the human inhabitants of the building enjoy the warm sunshine and views of the sky. At least in climates like Colorado, with sunny but cool winters where you welcome the extra heat.

      If you’re building a taller structure, you can enjoy the best of both worlds though: even your low side is high enough for tall windows, and it goes up from there. In my case, this would have cast a shadow on the main house, which we wanted to avoid.

      Reply
  • Michael February 1, 2017, 6:53 pm

    I was puzzled by two things in your form picture.
    1) don’t your radiant lines need to be buried well below ground level to prevent freezing? I understand having it running through the winter should prevent that (though you’d also have more heat lost) and the PEX will expand even if it does freeze, but I would have thought that was code. It looks like it will only be maybe a foot underground.
    2) why didn’t you make the top of your form flush so you could run the metal angle iron off the ends?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 3, 2017, 10:43 am

      Hi Michael,

      The water pipes are about 18″ below the final grade (which is higher than it was during the stage of that picture), and insulated with some really good pipe insulation.

      In theory they could still freeze if you turned off the system for an entire winter, although it would have to be a real record-breaker: I’ve never seen the ground freeze more than the first few inches in my own 17 years of living here in the Boulder area of Colorado. even though the official “frost line” for foundations in the building code is considered to 30″ (average daily high on the coldest day of the year is still 43F / +7C which prevents lots of opportunities for thawing after cold spells).

      You are right that in the event of freezing, nothing would break – you’d just have to wait for them to thaw before you could use the radiant heat again.

      I originally built the form exactly as you said: flat on all sides. But then when doing some final grade calculations, I realized that I had more thickness than I needed, and could save 2″ of concrete (many thousands of pounds) by cutting the form down on those two sides, and still use the scraper. If you watch the concrete timelapse you can see that we still had a pretty easy time with it.

      Reply
  • Laura February 1, 2017, 8:56 pm

    Hey MMM, your posts are always so on point for what I’ve been thinking about! We just bought a house in San Diego. I want to build a She Shed to be my home office. I also want to convert the rear wall of the main house to be all windows. Right now there is a french door on one end of the rear wall and most of the rest of the wall is dark. The french door by itself is nice, but not in the style I want if I will be converting the whole wall to windows. So, I am thinking I would want to reuse this french door in my She Shed. I saw this old post, so know you have experience replacing french doors:
    http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/07/02/hacking-home-depot-to-save-big-bucks-on-renovations/

    Do you know if it is possible to remove a french door and reuse it somewhere else? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 2, 2017, 1:53 pm

      Yes, it sure is – I have moved doors around to reuse in other places many times.

      Just make sure it’s a door you genuinely like, because used doors are almost free anyway (Craigslist or reclaimed building materials shop). The biggest cost is in the careful removal and reinstallation.

      Have fun with the new shed!

      Reply
      • Laura February 2, 2017, 2:55 pm

        Good tip on craigslist again, MMM! I just found used french doors for cheap on CL! They are probably not in the best condition, but could be good for a shed/office (and maybe I’ll build two little cottages). I do like the door we have, just not for the main house. I want wide open views and don’t really like how some french doors have the decorative square patterns throughout the glass. It would be cute in a small cottage setting though.

        Reply
  • Barry February 6, 2017, 3:58 pm

    I’ve been mulling a similar project in my backyard. Two big details of yours I’m curious about are 1) where you routed your electrical to (utility pole, buried conduit to your breaker box, etc), and 2) assuming your studio sewer would tie into your house’s sewer if you require some sort of grey water pump.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 6, 2017, 4:24 pm

      I think you guessed both correctly: the studio has a little subpanel, connected to the main house through some 6 gauge wire in a short underground conduit to the main breaker box.

      The drain pipes, if eventually connected, would also tie into the main house in the existing crawlspace plumbing system. But because of the elevations involved, I’d need to add a lift station (basically a $450 fancy pump that can handle anything that goes down a toilet (http://amzn.to/2jVMyQM) to get the wastewater a couple feet higher to join the main line.

      Reply
  • Beth February 8, 2017, 7:48 am

    Mr. Money Mustache! It looks like you didn’t vibrate your concrete! Does the fly ash eliminate the need for that?

    Reply
  • ken February 15, 2017, 9:33 am

    Has anyone in the form have built a carriage house/apartment garage? Trying to decide if building carriage house as an income investment is reasonable investment. I’ve gotten
    quotes ranging from $144,000 –$166,000 complete turnkey move in ready investment. My intent is to have additional retirement future income.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 15, 2017, 12:08 pm

      Cool idea – that is something that a lot of people think about, including me. At the most basic level, it would make sense to seek at least a 10% annual return on your investment – so make sure it would rent for $1200+ per month. Then, verify that if you sold the whole property later, someone would be willing to pay an extra $150k+ for that building, so you get the capital back eventually.

      If the garage portion below is for your use and not for the tenants, you might choose to accept a lower rate of return (since you’re not spending the whole $150,000 on a rental unit). But in general, the idea could work.

      Reply
  • JohnK February 22, 2017, 12:28 pm

    Im looking for a new bike, is that Fortified in your picture good value?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 6, 2017, 4:36 pm

      Yeah, I’d say it’s a “medium-good value” – I have the Fortified 1-speed that they currently sell for $400. I got it free as a tester from the company in exchange for some stress testing and because I know the founder, but after a year I’m unexpectedly impressed: it is fast, light, super durable and never gets flat tires.

      You pay a slight premium for the well-engineered durability and clever theftproof hardware.

      At Nashbar, you can get their “Flat bar road bike” – reasonable quality and more gears, for $100 less. This is a super good value.

      On Craigslist, you can find slightly better values if you know what to look for. There are also lots of way-overpriced bikes on there too, like super-basic old bikes for $300+.

      Reply
  • Matt February 23, 2017, 7:50 am

    I have a quick question, does anyone have a good pointer on how to build a garage/shed structure on a steeply sloped lot? I have a walk-out basement sloped lot and the only locations for a structure would be on a slope one way or another. (slope either going front to back or side to side depending on the garage’s orientation).

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 6, 2017, 4:51 pm

      Hey Matt – slopes are pretty easy to deal with. If you have dirt, you just dig it out to create a flat platform, and/or raise the forms at the lower side to boost that side of the building to the correct height.

      If building on a gnarly 45-degree-angle rock side of a mountain, you could set the thing onto piers anchored and poured right into the rock. A very solid base!

      Reply
  • Laura February 24, 2017, 9:40 pm

    MMM, where did you get solar panels for $0.37/watt (you mentioned on Twitter). I am imminently trying to buy a solar system here in San Diego and don’t want to over pay. From hours of Google searching, there doesn’t seem to be any single, or even a strong group of solar providers online that stand out. Thanks!!

    Reply
  • Peter March 5, 2017, 8:57 am

    I’m a little confused on your motivation. You are, of course, at the point of wealth where spending money doesn’t move you away from freedom, instead, you have the opportunity to spend your money on whatever will bring you the most happiness, but you describe your motivation as the following, “But suddenly, perhaps due to some combination of a romantic whim* and the quest for constant optimization, we decided to downsize to a house that was about 50% smaller.”

    It seems to me that with this studio, you aren’t really downsizing. I’m clueless compared to you when it comes to heating and cooling and DIY, but it seems to me that if you’re exchanging a house with a finished basement for another house with a studio, then the one with the basement is more efficient because the ground provides cheap, natural thermal insulation while the studio requires you to heat it unnecessarily. Maybe this is the Wisconsinite in me, but this project seems to be expanding, not optimizing. Thoughts?

    Reply
  • Paul April 11, 2017, 10:07 am

    I really like the bike rack, it gave me some ideas to straighten out my own bike storage. But my biggest problem is the bike trailer for the kids. Just curious how you store your trailers, assuming you have something as slick worked out.

    Reply
  • Sarah May 20, 2017, 1:38 pm

    Although we’ve never met, I really want to introduce you to my father someday. He’s an electrical/acoustical engineer and a Vietnam Vet. Although no one would ever accuse him of being frugal, he loves doing things DIY, especially building and restoring historic buildings, and especially with unusual materials. Including a 10,000-square foot historic hunting lodge at 9,500 ft elevation in the mountains of Wyoming, which he and my mother restored together during the summers while I was growing up, using supplies such as: used snowplow blades, a used telephone cable spool, a culvert that he welded into log brackets, a tow chain and 3/4 ton truck, etc. It seems like you and he would have a lot to talk about over coffee if you were interested…

    Reply
  • John Connor August 3, 2017, 9:39 am

    Workshop looks amazing! I’d love to replicate this project, but i’m on considerably more restrictive budget (around 5k currently). Any advice on how I could reduce costs on a project like this? It seems like 20 grand is a lot of money for what amounts to a fancy-pants garage. Perhaps I am completely oblivious though, This may very well be the normal cost (or knowing you, cheaper than normal) for a structure of this size + quality.

    Cheers,
    John

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache August 4, 2017, 8:49 am

      Yup, normal cost is about $50k, but you can still make a great simpler building if you get the materials from Craigslist and do all your own labor. You might want an alternative floor/foundation as well as concrete is expensive (both money and environmentally).

      Reply
  • Emma September 18, 2017, 6:57 pm

    Hi MMM,

    I was wondering what is the purpose of the radiant heating tubes. Is it to make the floor feel warmer, or is it to keep the soil underneath the slab warm enough to avoid damages to the foundation over time? I am thinking about a similar project and I am trying to put all the pieces together…. Not an easy task when this is just not your domain, but I have to say that your post is a lot of help, so thank you!

    Reply
  • Virginia Jernigan April 11, 2018, 12:30 pm

    You and your family are just amazing, amazing people. LOVE everything about this project.

    Reply
  • Daniel Flotten February 11, 2019, 1:16 pm

    Just wanted to say this was a great article, it really laid out the process and what to expect very nicely. My folks needed to move in with me, so I bought a two family house with the right zoning, so they will have their own kitchen and two bedrooms and whatnot, and I’ll be in the main house with my wife. After some work, it will break out to 2000 sqft for the main house and 1500 for the accessory house. But the problem we’re facing is there isn’t a full bathroom in the main house after the conversions, and the cost of either adding one or expanding one of the two 2/3rds bathrooms is so much higher than I thought it would be. The house sits on 2.5 acres of mostly undeveloped land, so I started thinking about adding a stand alone bath house instead. The info you gave is great but do you know if any of it wouldn’t be applicable if you added the bathroom and water lines? Also I live in styx of NH, so it’s well and septic tanks if that’s relevant.

    Reply

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