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Houseboat life is a dream for many people. But before you hop aboard, have you ever wondered how houseboats are built?
A lot goes into building houseboats. Some boats are built using unique materials like stone or titanium. Whereas others could come in various styles, from rustic to luxurious. More than anything, each houseboat takes the homeowner's preferences and lifestyle into consideration.
Houseboats are generally made from aluminum or fiberglass. These outbuildings are then built up in a manner that makes them stand upright. Most of the time, houseboats have a steel frame constructed on the outside, giving the boat its structural integrity.
If you (like many others) want to learn more about the thought processes and steps that go into constructing a houseboat, you've come to the right place. Having done in-depth research on how houseboats are built, I’ve gathered a complete guide about these architectural marvels. Continue reading to discover more!
Before we get into the building process of houseboats, it’s worth discussing here what they actually are. As touched upon earlier, houseboats are generally described as floating houses used for residencies or homes. They can be moored at a lake, a river, or a marina. The most luxurious types of boat houses would offer the same convenience as a land-based home.
What are Houseboats?
Houseboat structure is often accompanied by attractive wood-based designs. These could include the use of plywood for small-scale or home-built projects. More efficient blueprints would have wood glassed over with fiberglass and resin. Popular designs would even integrate aluminum somewhere in the boat as well.
Fiberglass boats are more manageable, lightweight, and durable than aluminum alternatives. Meanwhile, steel boats are considered a more traditional way of constructing houseboats. They are found on much older models and were well-known for their corrosion-resistant abilities.
Nevertheless, each material used in building a houseboat has its own range of pros and cons. And each houseboat can vary immensely from its land counterparts. Continue reading to learn about how houseboats are built and planned.
Types of Houseboats
There have been a lot of different types of houseboats built throughout history. In this post, I'll be discussing some of the more common types, along with their advantages and disadvantages.
Fiberglass is a well-known construction product across numerous industries. Especially when dealing with maintenance and repairs, fiberglass is considered one of the lightest materials you can use.
Other than that, the material itself is also easy to repair. You would never have to worry about maintenance because it only requires simple waxing and cleaning. However, I would recommend only washing with soft and clean gel compounds to ensure the repairs look shiny and brand new.
Some manufacturers also consider aluminum a popular material for modern-day houseboat construction. It’s a material utilized by numerous professionals well-versed in how houseboats are built. It's just a great material to work with and offers multiple advantages, such as being durable, rust-resistant, and lightweight.
Similar to fiberglass, the maintenance for aluminum is also pretty straightforward, only requiring a once-a-year inspection. All these benefits tend to work together to make aluminum an ideal building material for houseboats.
Although, if I was to mention the disadvantages of using aluminum, it'd be worth mentioning here that it is not entirely rust-resistant. It can experience corrosion through a specific process which is known as electrolytic or galvanic corrosion.
I recommend checking out the conditions of this process occurring in detail, ensuring you utilize appropriate measures to prevent it from happening. Or you could also just ask a local skilled technician for their expertise and additional help.
Before modern fiberglass and aluminum boats, steel construction materials were everyone's go-to choice. Steel can be found on many older houseboat models, but is rarely seen in new designs.
However, this doesn’t mean steel won’t have its fair share of beneficial aspects. For example, the material is valued for its reliability, easy maintenance, and easy repairs. Since they're not as popular anymore, they are usually cheaper than aluminum and fiberglass.
Meanwhile, as you might expect, the loss in their popularity means there are a few flaws. To be specific, you should know that maintenance is not as effortless as in the case of aluminum and fiberglass. Steel is also quite difficult to repair and take care of. If you’re considering steel, I recommend consulting with an experienced builder who knows how houseboats are built.
Last but not least, wood is one of the oldest options for boat construction. Engineers have utilized the material since the first boat was ever made, with many aspects still beneficial in the modern age.
One of the main reasons people choose wood is because of its aesthetically-pleasing appearance. However, this doesn't mean it's a material that can be managed readily. In fact, the maintenance and repair associated with wooden houseboats are definitely much more strenuous and challenging than any of the other materials. You may even require a trained builder with numerous tools at their disposal.
Plus, with wood, you'd have to worry that your entire boat could just rot away. This isn't possible with any other material, making wood the most difficult material to work with.
Houseboat Design and Construction Process
With definitions and a basic idea out of the way, it’s about time I dive into the details of how houseboats are built. In particular, I'll discuss the differences found in the construction and design process behind fiberglass houseboats.
Step 1: Planning
Design planning is a crucial first step in any architectural project. It’s essentially the blueprint phase for the building process, creating detailed plans that illustrate every aspect of construction.
Typically, this is done with help from marine-based engineers and architects to get a basic idea of whether the plan can even be implemented. They might even use their skills to draw or add to your current sketches or floor plans, leaving more complicated details to be addressed later.
Some things you might want to figure out during this stage include estimating the boat’s dimensions, number of rooms, and similar fundamental structures. You should plan the entire project in detail, especially with the boat’s exteriors. You might also need to do this while making any appropriate adjustments for interiors and arranging additional machinery and systems.
Step 2: Molding and Development Patterns
With a design structure in hand, you can now start working on the foundations. While doing your exteriors, you need to pour roughly 200 liters of diesel for a three-roomed houseboat. This is done to test the outer surface, and the procedure is then followed by a tar sheet coating.
You want to ensure that there are no leaks, whatsoever. To make sure there are none, you may glue an aluminum sheet over this layer. This is then completed after you fix a few curly wooden tips. All of this is done to ensure your boat would always remain buoyant because the last thing you’d ever want is your home sinking to the bottom of a body of water.
On the same note, other manufacturers may also utilize pre-built and reusable molds. While these would immensely speed up the building process, on the downside, they can increase the overall cost of production. They are constructed based on the boat's specifications and can be built from various materials, such as metal or plywood.
Step 3: Creating the Internal Structure and Hull
Like the other components of the houseboats, the internal structure is made by combining epoxy resin and fiberglass. This helps develop superstructures durable enough to be fire-resistant and form impermeable solids. They are even mixed together at precise ratios to guarantee perfect consistency.
You can utilize the molds used in the last step. This allows you to rotate the hull in your desired directions, encouraging you to reach all angles without accidentally stepping on wet fiberglass. Not to mention, fiberglass is a material that can be applied to dried surfaces whenever you want, so you don't really have to complete the layering in one go. The process can be completed in several steps.
When the molding eventually completes, you can leave the units out to dry. This process could take several days, so be prepared to wait. Finally, when everything is complete, you can laminate an additional layer of fiberglass to keep the moisture in and maintain stronger bonds.
For finishing touches on the hull, plan out key cuts that need to be integrated into the design, such as window frames, doorways, ventilation holes, and holes for wiring.
Step 4: Bringing it All Together
With your hull and superstructure ready, you’d be glad to know that you are already most of the way through with learning how houseboats are built. Since the most challenging part of making a large boat is buoyancy, most of what you have to do now is pretty straightforward.
You might just need to add in some essential pieces for the boat next, such as installing the engine and similar hefty components needed before the superstructure is joined to the hull. These pieces could then be glassed, screwed, or bolted together. Any gaps left over should be strictly sealed and structurally secured with fiberglass.
Step 5: Stylizing and Finishing Touches
At this point, you're pretty much done with the building process. And you are only one step away from learning how houseboats are built.
The only thing you need to worry about now is the outfitting phase of construction. This includes moving features, such as carpets, cupboards, paint, and furniture. You may even require the help of various craftsmen, such as electricians, carpenters, cabinetmakers, and in some cases, welders. This would all be needed to install pipes, wiring, utilities, switches, and similar mechanical systems.
It usually gets cold out on the open sea, so it would be wise to check out some possibilities for insulation. This includes utilizing non-skid decks and flooring.
Most of the parts installed during this process would come pre-manufactured, including doors, hatches, electronics, or lights. You could also maybe add toilets, appliances, and sinks, but carefully bring them onto the vessel to avoid damage.
Tips for Making a Houseboat
Now that you have a general idea about how houseboats are built, it’s worth learning a few tips to ensure they’re robust enough to traverse open water. Here are some guidelines.
Make Sure the Boat's Wide Enough
Before embarking on this journey, you need to realize that you’re basically trying to build a house. As with any architectural project, you should check if you have adequate space. Otherwise, you’re just going to have trouble moving your boat into the water after you’re done.
If you own property near a lake or a similar body of water, this would probably be the most ideal space in helping you build and moor a houseboat. You can also just have a personal dock, allowing you to safely park your houseboat in the event of a storm.
Not to mention, constructing a houseboat is a noisy process. It can disrupt the peace of your neighborhood, making it a nuisance to your community. But, with the benefit of private property for construction, you would not have to worry about it all. You can just learn how houseboats are built and carry on with their construction without disturbing others in the vicinity.
Staying Within Budget
A crucial first step in any construction process is to understand the costs involved. As stated earlier, you need to treat your houseboat like a home. As with any house, they’d be amenities and fixtures that accompany you. In fact, the only difference between the two homes should be that one of them floats.
The costs might also vary due to a number of reasons, including the materials used and the size of your boathouse. As a rule of thumb, larger boats would need better and stronger materials for durability. Hence, they'd be more expensive.
If you’re looking for a more accurate estimate, I’d say that a sizable houseboat would cost, in total, about $10,000 to $35,000. And when building a small houseboat, you can expect a few fixtures to only cost about $2,000 to $5,000.
On the same note, the cost of building materials, such as glass, aluminum, and wood, can be expected to be $15,000 to $20,000. It would vary according to the quality of the materials. Plus, you would have to consider the cost of transporting these materials from a local hardware depot.
While learning about how houseboats are built, you've probably realized that this isn't a quick process. Building a houseboat is tedious and can take a really long time. In fact, you could spend about 3 to 6 months on this project. Still, it can take even longer with less available help and larger projects.
For this reason, planning and scheduling tasks is a crucial part of ensuring you get work done on time. You need to be able to allocate strict periods to these tasks, checking that you're never slacking behind on the project.
You should set these activities for periods where you know you wouldn't be preoccupied with anything else. This way, you can always focus your whole attention on the construction or design process.
Do Houseboats Lose Value?
If you’re on the fence about learning how houseboats are built and investing in a project, it’s fair to question the financial value of your decision over time.
Though I've repeatedly mentioned that houseboats should just be considered homes that float, you should know they aren't treated the same on the housing market. Unlike houses that rise in value over time, houseboats can depreciate in value, depending on their type.
For example, mobile or motorized houseboats are essentially considered cars. They depreciate in value, usually by about 20% after the first year. Afterward, you can expect a further decrease of about 5% to 10% each year.
On the other hand, if you’re considering a floating home, the outcome is definitely positive. These houseboats can appreciate in value with rates similar to or even better than conventional homes.
Plus, you need to understand that the season you choose to sell a houseboat will make a difference. Since these homes are considered a limited commodity, they can benefit from seasons with higher demand.
Do Houseboats Have Electricity?
Electricity is considered an essential utility for many people around the world. I understand you would be concerned about whether you’d be able to charge your phone or use electrical appliances in your houseboat.
To answer this question, you should know that houseboats get their electricity from an onboard generation system. This would usually output an average of 120-volt AC shore power. It's sufficient for powering the generator engine, main engine, wind turbines, and solar panels.
In contrast, houseboats also have a sizable battery, and therefore, they are capable of generating their own electricity. They can use these renewable energy sources to get all the power they need. The only thing you would need to worry about when using these energy generation sources is running out of fuel after going without a recharge for a considerable time period.
In general, houseboat power systems tend to be more robust with a higher storage capacity than similar vessels, such as powerboats or sailboats. They can use multiple power generation systems simultaneously, charging the boat directly or powering its external power bank.
Some other houseboats could even come with a DC power supply, primarily supplied by batteries. These are usually used with an AC shore power, which gets stepped down from 120-240 volts to a 12-volt DC supply with help from an onboard transformer.
How Long Does a Houseboat Last?
There are a lot of factors that can influence the lifespan of your houseboat. While discussing how houseboats are built, I also mentioned earlier that some materials can dramatically affect your boat's durability.
For example, wood-based boats would depreciate much faster than your typical fiberglass or aluminum boats. However, your average houseboat would still last at least 50 to 60 years without needing to be rebuilt. However, this estimate would depend a lot on the quality of maintenance.
Especially in the case of wood, if you want your antique-designed boat to last this long, you should always check that the wood is properly sealed and painted over from time to time. This would prevent the material from falling apart or rotting away.
Other than that, there's never really any harm in investing in preventive maintenance. It's much more cost-effective than having to undergo repairs regularly. By creating a maintenance schedule, it'd be less challenging, and you can easily resolve any problems as they arise.
The Bottom Line
You might've realized that building a houseboat is more strenuous labor than you might have expected initially. However, if you're a fun part-time hobbyist willing to dedicate your time and money to this project, it might be worth the trouble.
I hope that this guide helped you understand many different aspects of how houseboats are built. You should have a clear idea of the costs, processes, and planning needed for making these boats by now. With these estimates in mind, you can start to plan and map out a realistic expenditure outlay for your project.
Whether it's building a houseboat from scratch, refurbishing an old model, or buying a kit, I'm sure this roadmap will help in making this journey more productive, enjoyable, and simpler for you.