Charlotte, Vt. — In the summer of 1976, Tom and Ebeth Scatchard built their 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom home for a little in excess of $5,000.
If that's not startling enough, consider this: They built the house with little more than a chain saw, drill, and a three-pound hammer, using a building technique that Mr. Scatchard says he mastered as a five-year-old when given a toy house-building kit.
Sound fanciful? Well, it isn't.
I visited the Scatchard home recently and found it real enough - handsome on the outside; warm, spacious, and wonderfully homey on the inside. Moreover, it is about the most solid piece of construction you will find anywhere. There is good reason for this. The house is built of 4-by-12 lumber (heavy beams, in other words), stacked one on top of the other, and sheathed inside and out.
After the Scatchards had bought land here on the outskirts of Burlington, they realized that their schoolteacher salaries didn't bring in enough for them to hire a contractor. Simply, if they were to own a home, they would have to build it themselves.
But neither knew how to build a conventional house. On the other hand, Tom had once built a small cabin simply by laying heavy beams, one on top of the other, and spiking them together. It was a sort of log cabin made with rectangular, rather than round, logs -- not particularly handsome but solid and durable.
If he could build a small cabin this way, he figured, why not a full-size house? All it would need was a design that was straightforward enough to accept the building system.
A little thought and the two of them soon came up with a suitable two-story design -- an open first floor that includes a living room with cathedral ceiling , a kitchen, and a dining room area, plus a bathroom and small utility room. The bedrooms are on the second floor, above the kitchen and dining areas.
(Part of the reason for the low cost of the Scatchards' home comes from their use of green lumber from a nearby mill. Others might pay considerably more for their lumber, but dry lumber eliminates the shrinkage problems, which the Scatchards had to rectify after they had been in their home a year. But, even at twice the cost, the home would still be a bargain at current prices.)
The open nature of the design, plus big east -- and west-facing windows, gives the interior a light and airy feeling that nicely balances the heavy wood beams and overall solid nature of the construction.
The Scatchards decided on a concrete-pier foundation, which included two dozen 12-inch piers set 6 feet apart around the circumference and across the center of the house. It was a relatively simple procedure which required hand-digging the individual holes, but eliminated the need for extensive ground-clearing work.
The total cost for the cardboard sonar tubes and the concrete that was poured into them: $200.
Sills of 6-by-8-inch hemlock resting on the piers support the first-floor platform built of 4-by-12-inch pine beams laid edge to edge. The use of such heavy beams for the flooring eliminated the need for conventional floor joists.
Tom and Ebeth began the walls of their home by spiking the first pine beam to the floor of the home. Subsequent beams were stacked one on top of the other and spiked together, leaving gaps where the windows would go, until the walls were completed. Spiking was a simple-enough procedure: by drilling 8 inches down into the top log, an 8-inch spike could be driven through the bottom 4 inches of the beam, down 4 inches into the lower beam.
Those sections of the walls rising between two windows had little to support them until they rose above window height and could be tied in with the rest of the structure.
Mr. Scatchard suggests that temporarily bracing the walls might be advisable at this point. He did not do this but admits to being somewhat anxious at times. As it is, the entire house would readily sway until it was braced by laying the second floor boards at an angle.
Another bracing option would be to fasten the outer sheathing at an angle, but the Scatchards found this unnecessary once the roof was in place.
Floor and roof have been insulated with 6-inch fiber-glass bats. Homasote fiberboard under the exterior sheathing and 11/2-inch fiber glass behind the interior paneling give the finished wall an R-value of 14.6.
A single wood stove in the center of the house gives the Scatchards ''all the comfort we need.''
When I visited them a few weeks ago, patches of snow still dotted the landscape, and they had just come through a pretty tough winter on roughly four cords of wood. They would have burned a whole lot less had the large windows faced south to let in the winter sun.
But as Tom Scatchard put it: ''The best scenery wasn't in that direction.''
Tom and Ebeth Scatchard picked on this simple form of construction ''because we knew we could build this way.'' They believe others could do the same. Says Tom: ''Putting up the roof rafters requires some technical skill. The rest is child's play!''
More details of the building method are contained in the book ''Low-Cost Green Lumber Construction.'' The cost is $8.95. If interested, write to Gardenway Publishing Company, Charlotte, Vt. 05445.