Owning a houseboat is a lot of fun. As dwellings constructed upon movable pontoons, they float and navigate across water bodies.
While the majority of houseboats are designed for riverside travel, a few are also seaworthy. Living while floating on water is a dream come true for the adventurous. There can be many reasons why someone would consider building a houseboat. You could be a boating enthusiast and this could be one of your self-build DIY projects, or ready-made boats are too expensive in your area to reduce your choices.
If you want to build a houseboat instead of buying one, it will cost you somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000 in the United States. However, that cost can vary according to the size of the boat and if you choose to build it from scratch or buy some parts.
If you are a boating fan and enjoy the open water, a houseboat is a viable first home. However, if you really want to build your own houseboat, you need to understand how to do it and how much money it will cost you. Whether you are planning on constructing your own houseboat or wondering if it is even possible, you have to consider several factors including the design, budget, and timescale. Aside from constructing the hull and body, you might have to buy everything else, such as the fuel tank, engine, masts, and steering system.
While the decision of building a houseboat isn’t something to be taken lightly, if you truly relish sailing and the thought of living on the water excites you, this could be the perfect scenario. Houseboats add adventure to life. Let's look at the expenses associated with building a houseboat.
A Personal Endeavor
One might point out that buying a houseboat is much simpler and less time-consuming. Often, you can purchase a secondhand houseboat that needs little repairs, for less than the cost of building your own houseboat from scratch.
Building your houseboat is a highly personal decision. Before you set out to buy the materials or look for a mooring location, ask yourself if you can really do it. If you do not have a good reason for building one, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
In contrast, for people who are passionate about houseboats, building one can bring a sense of accomplishment and achievement. It is a lifetime experience that also means you now have a home tailored to your taste and lifestyle. You will also be able to save money building one as opposed to buying a new one.
Obviously, if you purchase a used houseboat, some energy and costs will be required to bring the project up to your standards, but this is for those who want an extra level of customization.
A Breakdown of Building Costs
As with any project, the cost of building a houseboat varies based on the materials used, whether you perform all of the labor yourself, the size of the boat, the floor plan, and other factors.
The average cost of constructing a single-story houseboat is between $10,000 and $30,000; however, this might go up considerably if you plan to add another story or additional amenities. Some individuals, however, have successfully built houseboats within a modest budget of $5,000 or less.
Among the costliest components of your houseboat project is the foundation. Pontoon floating bases range in price from $3,000 to $10,000+ due to their flat design. This price is also variable, depending upon whether they are used, and the specific size you desire. As an estimate, I'll cut it in half and assume your foundation will set you back a measly six grand.
The very next expenditure will be the actual construction. The cost varies based on the kind of material used: hardwood, fiberglass, metal, etc.
People who have some experience building a median-sized houseboat predict material costs to fall between $10,000-$30,000, based on the required finishing and the complexity of the project. Given that I proceeded straight down the center for your base, the same may be done here – cutting the total material cost down to roughly $20,000.
Motors and Engines
The final cost which I will discuss here is the cost of the motor. As you are constructing a boathouse from the ground up, you will need to purchase engines to propel the vessel. Motor costs vary substantially depending on their horsepower, if they are genuine or old, and other factors.
An inlet engine will cost between $2,000 and $4,000 for a respectable capacity, whereas an outboard engine would cost between $8,500 and $10,000 for a new unit. Assuming you're going to purchase an averagely-priced motor and have it fitted in your houseboat, it’s safe to say that the motor will probably cost $5,000.
A Summary of Costs
By combining the three figures above, you'll see that the overall cost of building a houseboat will be roughly $30,000. This cost is based on the assumption that you will not need to pay somebody to perform the piping, wiring, or other forms of technical work.
You can understand why I always advocate purchasing and restoring an old houseboat rather than starting from scratch. Boat construction is fairly expensive at $30,000 and may require months of strenuous work.
Comparative Analysis of Homes and Houseboats
If you compare the expense of building a houseboat to constructing a comparable-sized home, the expenditures will be relatively similar, except for the land acquisition. In most areas, a parcel of property will cost between $30,000 and $50,000, which means that building a houseboat will cost between $30,000 and $50,000 less money upfront.
The primary distinction between the costs of constructing a home versus that of a houseboat, therefore, comes down to the price of land. I'll examine comparable sizes and circumstances to provide a valid assessment.
When you construct a house, you acquire the acreage that accompanies it, which is always valuable. Because even if the building itself is destroyed in a tragedy, you may still sell the property for a price comparable to what you paid for it initially.
We excluded electricity, maintenance, and other costs from the above estimates since they will still level out between the two. While living in a house necessitates expenditures on power, a boat requires expenditures for gasoline to operate an engine or docking charges to plugin. Both homes will very certainly need comparable maintenance.
In terms of initial and annual expenditures, building and residing on a houseboat is less expensive, but in the long run, building or acquiring a house makes more economic sense. Of course, this is assuming you reside in an area where properties are reasonably priced. If you reside in California, for example, buying a home for $100,000 might not be a feasible option, so a houseboat may even make more sense in the long run.
Houseboats as an Investment
In most states in the US, houseboats are considered real estate. However, many houseboat homeowners avoid paying property tax as the tax amount is levied by the landowner to which the houseboat is tied. Real estate taxes and utility costs are often lower on a sailboat than they are on a house, since you are not warming, conditioning, or illuminating as much living space.
While both homes and boats need routine maintenance, maritime components and manpower are often costlier – up to 20% more. Movable houseboats, like vehicles, depreciate in value over time, approximately 20% in a year and another 5%–10% each year afterward.
Floating houses, on the other hand, may rise in value at a pace comparable to (or greater than) that of standard residences in certain places. A houseboat will not appreciate in the same way as a regular residence.
Unfortunately, floating dwellings do not operate in this manner. Along with a slew of service charges, you can anticipate the residual value of the property gradually declining per year as the wear and strain due to living on the waterfront gradually undercuts the investment.
If properly maintained, houseboats can survive 50-60 years. Houseboats from the late 1960s and early 1970s are still available in excellent condition today.
How to Construct a Houseboat
Find a Working Space
At this stage, you've already determined whether or not constructing a houseboat is a good idea for you.
If you really want to accomplish anything, the first thing you'll need to do is locate a site large enough to accommodate your construction. Most states do not allow the construction of a houseboat in the backyards or driveways. The shortage of room can drastically affect your timeline, so locating a rural location or a large vacant lot is critical here.
Owning property by the riverside or near a stream is perfect since you may build and keep your houseboat onsite. Additionally, you can construct a private dock in which you can store your houseboat during thunderstorms. The construction process can be rather noisy, and if you attempt to build your houseboat in a busy neighborhood, your neighbors will likely get irritated.
In general, it is best to pick a quiet and isolated spot where you can build anything you want.
Legislative Expenses and Documentation
After securing an ideal site, you need to obtain permission from the Marine Corps to begin construction. While you wait for clearance, you should look up the rules governing the construction of houseboats.
In planning legislation, a "houseboat" is treated similarly to a campervan. If you can show evidence that the houseboat has been occupied for living and domestic purposes at the moorings for more than a decade, you will be immune from regulation.
Boats are not fully treated as property; they are still not subject to council rates and taxes. However, certain private moorings come under these regulations, but they are quite uncommon and, in most cases, Council Tax is incorporated into the marina's expenses. Most houseboat dwellers and renters do not pay Council Tax.
Mooring Service Charge is an expense levied on all boats using space on the docks. If a sailboat is fastened to or kept on a beacon, or if this is one of a group of sailboats tethered to or maintained on a buoy, it is said to be moored. Mooring requires at least a minimum site rental yield of one hour or more.
Make the Hull
After the boat project has been approved, the next step is to obtain or construct your hull. While some individuals construct their homemade houseboat hulls, I would suggest purchasing a pontoon or barge hull to simplify the process.
After building your base, you'll want to initiate the process of building your boat. This may easily be addressed at a later stage, since you might complete the conceptual design before initiating the planning phase. You don’t want to begin construction unless you have a blueprint and specifications in place to ensure that you know precisely what you are doing.
Create a Blueprint
Numerous houseboat blueprints are available online for a few bucks apiece. Pick the ones that appeal to you the most and purchase them together. Since these construction designs are quite cheap, you may purchase a few without leaving a significant dent in your budget. After your foundation and blueprints are in place, you can easily begin construction!
This is the stage that will take the longest to complete, especially if you are planning to build a two-story houseboat. When you're adding additional weight to the top, it's critical to build the foundations and first level as sturdy as possible.
You may also run out of supplies, forcing you to halt work to purchase more. Make a habit of creating a precise inventory of all you need, after which you should get these items in bulk quantities and arrange for their delivery to your workplace. This way, you may devote your complete attention to the construction process without disruption.
If you lack the necessary expertise to complete all of the cabling, drainage, and other necessary tasks, now is the time to look for a professional to take care of these jobs. If you're going to employ someone, double-check that they have the right certifications and skills; the last issue you want is an electronic fire caused by a cost-cutting electrician.
Remember that houseboats are powered by internal generators or 120-volt AC onshore energy. Houseboats may generate their own electricity via the propulsion system, a few generators, solar cells, and wind turbines. They are self-sustainable when equipped with large battery banks.
Know that it Takes Time
One thing to keep in mind while building your own houseboat is that it will take months to complete.
Generally speaking, it takes between three and six months to complete a houseboat, which is determined by the amount of labor and assistance available. That's why you must adhere to a strict timetable.
Building a houseboat is a lengthy and complicated undertaking, and needs your full time and devotion. Knowing precisely what resources you need can save you time. As this is an extremely time-consuming and ambitious project, you will need to maintain a laser-like focus on the task at hand.
Gather the supplies necessary for construction beforehand. Your building site can be located at quite some distance from the nearest town. Therefore, if you purchase supplies piecemeal, you will run into difficulties once you begin the construction.
Alternatively, Construct Using a Kit
While a prefabricated houseboat or a houseboat assembly package sounds fantastic and there are numerous options available, the primary concern here is the price!
Prefab houseboats are very handy and may reduce the time required to construct your boat down to a few days or even weeks rather than years or decades. On the downside, they normally cost as much as a branded and new commercial boat.
You are unlikely to build your personal boat for its own sake, so investing close to the price of a new watercraft on a prefab is not a suitable alternative for most individuals. While you can get kits from other sources at a lower price, the expenditure is significantly higher than purchasing a houseboat design and constructing it yourself. Finally, you must choose what feels right for you and if the time cutbacks outweigh the money savings.
The Bottom Line
As you can tell, building a houseboat can be quite an arduous and painstaking process. But for hobbyists and people who want to go all out on this personal adventure, it can be a worthwhile commitment.
We hope that the breakdown of the costs associated with building a houseboat will help you get a clear picture of the expenditures, budgeting, and planning required to take on such an endeavor. Whether you want to build one from the bottom up, buy a kit, or settle for a refurbishing project is entirely up to you.
With these ballpark figures in mind, you can start planning the individual tasks and map out the expenditures. Create a roadmap to make this personal journey easier, more productive, and enjoyable.
About THE AUTHOR
I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.Read More About Brian Samson