How I built my eco-home for $7,000

The joy you get from building yourself, scrounging hidden treasures and learning new skills is something I relish every moment I spend in my tiny home.

Cottage goal:

– Minimize the cost of building, whilst having a cottage I would be happy with forever.

– Find the best location in terms of views, access, shelter from the summer sun and capturing the winter sun.

– Make it as small as possible yet feel spacious, and welcoming.

8x3m lounge 24m2
3x4m bedroom 12m2
3×1,5m bathroom 4,5m2
Total 40,5 m2 or R2,500 per square meter
435 square feet or $16 per square foot

3×4 m deck 12m2
3x3m mudroom / conservatory 9m2


Being in the southern hemisphere, I knew I needed to have my home facing north for the winter sun to warm the home, but the views I wanted of the stream running through my property (as well as cooling summer breezes) were to the south. So the cottage was built on a long east/west axis with as many windows facing north and south as possible to maximize winter sun and the views.

I located the cottage between 3 oak trees perched on the river bank of one side of my farm, one at either end of the cottage and one in the middle (between the deck and bedroom) to ensure the cottage was shaded from the summer sun with access to a cross-breeze. and in winter the sun would shine through to the cottage

The cottage is perched on the edge of the riverbank, with the central section made of brick – (the porch / entrance / bathroom and lounge / kitchen) set on solid concrete foundations on the top of the river bank, and the bedroom and deck set on piles sticking out over the river bank.

The cottage had to be carefully designed around the oak trees so that the roots and branches were not affected (only one branch ended up being cut) so that the oak trees would continue to grow and shade the cottage. 

In other words the sun, trees and stream determined the location, size and shape of the cottage.

Doing the above achieved the following goals:

– completely shaded in summer by the oak trees with cooling breezes from the stream below. No need to air-conditioning or fans

– floor to ceiling windows capture the winter sun ensuring a fire is only needed on rainy days or at night. Note – South Africa does not receive the extreme weather of other regions closer to the poles so double glazing is not a necessity and in addition the farm has an abundance of invasive alien wood that can be used for heating. Whilst there is snow in the mountains around the farm in winter, a well-placed fire place and decent ceiling insulation and elimination of drafts keeps cottages warm enough throughout the winter.

Construction practices:

  1. keep the shape simple- There were 2 main rectangles for the slab and brick work – the porch / bathroom, and the main living area.
  2. Reduce material – I used as many windows and openings as possible to reduce build costs (brick cement and labour) as doors and windows are cheaper then walls – see below and take advantage of the views and to open up the small space.
  3. Buy second-hand instead of buy new and upcycle / recycle instead of buying second-hand and build / make everything else yourself. – Every single time I needed to buy something I asked if I could not build it myself or get it second hand.
  4. Simplify – raw brick walls have character and save on plastering and specifically painting (which needs to be redone every few years). Raw cement floors sealed with linseed oil provide a waterproof hard-wearing surface. The bedroom has recycled wooden flooring.
  5. Make your own door frames and window frames – second had doors and windows generally don’t come with frames, so I made my own from recycled wood.
  6. Build your own kitchen – The only things I bought new were the kitchen counter (bought at a discount as it was slightly damaged) and the sink and faucet.


Things bought new:

  • Bricks and cement – The sand is from the sides of the local dam
  • Joists for the deck and bedroom – I didn’t want to risk the foundation beams on which half the home rests on.
  • Decking for porch – I used sustainable and cost-effective local pine that I protect with linseed oil, but I found twice the amount of Brazilian hardwood second hard decking 2 months after finishing the deck for a quarter of what I spent on the pine – buying second hand takes time, but is worth the effort!
  • Toilet – There was a sale at a local hardware store which I took advantage of.
  • Roofing – Silver reflective roof insulation, Roll of heavy-duty plastic and Bidum
  • Gas geyser for hot water
  • Door hinges and handles and locks – The door handles were end of line and at a discount.
  • Shower rose

Construction and finishes:

Every single part of construction was analysed to see how costs could be reduced (without compromising on quality – no plastic MDF or chip board is used in any construction or finished on the farm).Below is a breakdown of the complete analysis and cost savings – you may not be in a position to use all of them, but you may get some ideas for cost savings and alternative methods to build more cost effectively.

The foundations (and piles for deck and bedroom) were completed in 2 weeks, and the walls were completed in 4 weeks. Minimising this time frame was vital as I was paying for a brick layer and helper hourly rates and needed to minimise this expense. I completed 90% of the rest of the built myself.


I did this myself with one helper over a weekend including the built-in bench.  


I built the frame and windows first (the windows being second hand, determined the positioning of the walls and frames), then I put in the wattle roof beams.
I installed the outside cladding (second hand) and laid the floor last – the floor has two layers with insulation inbetween to stop drafts. The bed frame floor was built with scrap timber as there was limited second tongue and groove timber flooring. Also, the bed frame is hollow to allow for storage of clothing and other house hold items to maximise the use of space.


I investigated getting a thatch roof (which is popular in Cape Town) but was stunned to get a quote of $7,000 – the same as the entire build! – and was reminded why I was doing everything myself. Remember we all need to earn a living, so if you hire someone else you are paying their salary.

For the main roof beams, I cut down two poplar trees, and the trusses are Australian Black Wattle that choke the waterways in South Africa and must always be cleared. I organised a memorable weekend with a few friends where we cut, chopped and stripped the trees and rewarded ourselves with several bottles of farm brewed cider. Fond memories were made in the process!

The ceiling was second hand coffee bags from around the world that I picked up at a discount at a coffee distributor to create a collage of hessian tapestry.
The hessian was then covered with silver reflective insulation.
This was in turn covered with scrap timber for strength, that I picked up from my neighbour’s scrap yard.
The timber was then covered in second hand office carpet tiles that I also picked up from the neighbour’s scrap yard. This was used as it was cheap, provided an extra layer of insulation, and protected the plastic from any sharp edges or nails from the scrap wood.

The carpet tiles were then covered in heavy duty plastic to waterproof the roof and then bidum to ensure the plastic was not exposed to the sun.
Lastly there was strips of hard wood installed and then everything covered with earth to allow a natural grass roof to grow.

The result is the only cost was for the silver insulation, plastic and bidum which combined cost $500, significantly less than the cost quoted above.

Note – On a previous cottage I used metal roof sheets covered with plastic, bidum and earth, but I have concerns that the roof sheets will eventually rust as they are constantly damp from the natural roof above (I was not careful enough to stop the plastic being compromised) – as such I decided to rather concentrate on keeping the plastic damage free and do away with the costly metal sheets. Plastic if not compromised (with holes or sunlight) will last a lifetime.

Doors and Windows:
Doors and Windows can consume a large portion of a new build, so I was especially careful to minimise this cost. The results were as follows:

Sliding door entrance to stoep – 3 second hand doors, a hard wood frame and then a rail and steel castors – total cost $200

Arched entrance doors and high-quality hinges locks and ironmongery – Doors – $100, finishes – $200.
Bedroom windows and main lounge picture window – $160 plus $100 for replacement glass (and bottom glass for Bedroom window to ensure stream views from the bed)

Cottage pane windows in porch, bathroom and kitchen were free and donated from friends renovating.
Folding doors from kitchen to deck were free and left by the previous owners of the farm.

The bathroom door was taken from another cottage and replaced by a second-hand door donated by a neighbour.
As such the above was completed at a total cost of $700 including screws and additional hinges.


The shower rose was new as was the toilet. Copper surface mounted pipes were used on the walls (the water supply under the slab was composite pipe as it is cheaper the copper and reduces installation time and need to install time consuming bends and corners).

Taps for the shower and basin were standard garden copper taps. The basin and mahogany base were donated by a friend renovating his house. A wooden roller blind in the shower eliminated the need for an expensive glass door – time will tell how long it lasts, but as long as it can dry after use it should last long enough, and a replacement can always be scrounged for free.

A new gas geyser (8l) was installed for hot water – $250.


As mentioned, the only new material purchased was a eucalyptus composite counter top and shelves, single sink and faucet. – $350

A second-hand dishwasher was purchased $170.

The hob was from another cottage, left by the previous owners. The fridge and microwave were from another property that I vacated when moving to the farm. The kitchen cabinet doors were donated by a neighbour.

Lounge, bedroom and dining area finishes:

The dining table was from another vacated property and the dining chairs are family heirlooms, as are the paintings and lounge chairs.

The lounge coffee table is a 300-year-old oak tree trunk from a split oak in a neighbours back yard that needed felling – the rest of the tree was cut into slabs that will be made into furniture once aged for a year. The cottage is named Oak cottage due to its location under the Oak trees – I tried as far as possible to fill it with oak furnishings and finishes.

The day bed in the lounge had a base made from second hand Brazilian hardwood, creating a space for storage, with a mattress on top. The bed frame in the bedroom was created the same way.

I already had a wardrobe that I snagged a year ago from a seedy second hand furniture store and a rare find – solid oak and only $280.

All curtains, including silk and double lined curtains in the bedroom, as well as solid wood high quality railings and finials were from someone redecorating their home and obtained at a fire sale price of $200.

The centrepiece of the cottage is the fireplace – A petit goudin valued at $1800 and bought for $230 – A friend notified me of the item for sale on Facebook, and I bought it immediately – Make sure you let your friends know you are looking for stuff and remember one person’s trash is another’s treasure!

The cottage took 3 months to build and a further 3 months to finish. The joy of living in something that was create mostly from my own hands, shaded, cooled and warmed by mother nature, with her enticing views and surroundings can only be matched by the fact that beauty, sustainability and upcycling can be done on a shoestring budget and most certainly never requires compromises in terms of the finished product. 

The joy you get from building yourself, scrounging hidden treasures and learning new skills is something I relish every moment I spend in my tiny $7000 home.

The only requirement to build a $7000 house is imagination as well as a determination to ensure that you buy second-hand instead of buying new and upcycle / recycle instead of buying second hand and do everything else yourself. My only regret in the build is that some of the items I bought new (usually as I was in a hurry to finish a particular section) could have been bought second hand for less money and better quality).

The joy you get from building yourself, scrounging hidden treasures and learning new skills is something I relish every moment I spend in my tiny $7000 home.

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