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Issue #14 December 2005
- The making of the Fedora logo
- Making One Laptop per Child a reality
- Open source collaboration meets construction
- Creative Commons runs annual fund-raising drive
- Doing more with... more: Dual-head display
- The virtues of Xen
- Open Invention Network to protect against patent threat
- Music to make code by
- Answers to your top 10 support questions
- Fedora Ambassadors Program takes flight
- Developing database-driven applications on Linux
From the Inside
In each Issue
- Editor's blog
- Red Hat speaks
- Ask Shadowman
- Tips & tricks
- Fedora status report
- Magazine archive
Open source collaboration meets construction
by Rebecca Fernandez
Two hundred years ago, there were very few proprietary home builders. Most construction was done in a collaborative, community-based environment. Over time, construction has moved toward the proprietary model, and legislation reflects this trend. Building codes are aimed away from owner-builders, and banks have adopted policies to discourage them. The world of construction, it seems, has left behind the idea of accessible, open source building and wholeheartedly embraced proprietary models.
My husband Mark and I grew up around construction and were interested in building our own home. We saw how many companies designed house plansthey charge upwards of $900 for the blueprints and include a clause restricting their use to a single house. Want to build that house again? Be prepared to pony up another $900. Proprietary floor plans restrict inspiration because you cannot legally use them as a springboard for new ideas. Construction loans and building codes are designed with giant builders in mind. Hope to build something unusual, like a straw-bale home? Good luck.
Initially, we planned to get a construction loan and do all of the labor on the house ourselves. Mark is a plumbing contractor and had worked in new construction for several years. I knew there were plenty of great Internet forums, library books, and other inexpensive resources where we could ask questions and glean tips. We frequented places like the Fine Homebuilding Magazine forums, where professionals and tinkerers alike gather to exchange tips, ask questions, and tell horror stories. For an owner-builder, the Building Science Corporation website also contained a wealth of information about new techniques and materials.
Our optimism was quickly squashed by five banks and one credit union, all of which insisted that we needed a general contractor. Add an additional $15,000 for the general contractor's fee and forget about doing any of your own trade workall the trades would have to be done by licensed and bonded laborers. The few banks that were willing to let us do our own contracting placed heavy restrictions on the project's completion date.
We were faced with the comparably attractive option of building with our spare time and funds. We discovered 1.45 acres of what was once part of a tobacco farmnow a dismal, overgrown field of brush, fire-red clay, and a seemingly infinite number of disease-carrying ticks. I barely noticed the ancient fence posts or the swarming yellow jackets, honing in on the tiny cardboard sign where someone had scrawled, "Owner-Financing Available." The appeal of avoiding yet another discussion in a banker's office was great. One private assessment, title and zoning check, and pile of paperwork later, we were proud owners of the county's ugliest piece of property.
We hired a local bulldozer operator to clear the brush away, which had the better part of a ten year advantage on the land. For the tidy sum of $500, we now had a beautiful, flat lot, bordered in the back by old forest, and behind that, a lush field with distant cows. It was substantially more attractive than the pre-packaged lots the bank had offered.
We purchased a giant blue International Code Book at the local book retailer and looked into the general restrictions that we would face before we began to sketch floor plans. We did not think to check online first, so we were unaware of the landmark 2002 case, Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. A renegade citizen in a northern Texas town copied the local building codes, deleted the copyright information, and uploaded them to his website. A federal court ultimately ruled that local building codes, when binding upon the public as laws or ordinances, cannot validly hold copyrightseven if they were originally proprietary material. Enforceable building codes must be in the public domain. In response to this ruling, many individuals were testing their newfound freedoms by making their local building codes available online.
We searched for an open source version of a house plan designer, but did not find a suitable one. I read rave reviews of CYCAS, an open source German CAD and architecture program, but gave up after several weeks of unsuccessful download attempts. An old slashdot thread offered several suggestions, including the use of 3D gaming software, and although I was interested in designing a home that would be safe from the undead and invading alien masses, this did not offer much for the would-be designer who just needed to make sure her door frames were far enough from corner walls. A search at sourceforge turned up the once promising but now inactive G-House 3D, available in a generic tarball that I was unable to successfully compile or install. A more experienced Linux user may have found the four-sentence readme file adequate.
QCad had a respectable library of architectural parts that may eventually prove useful. However, it needed a large number of library parts to rival the inexpensive, proprietary floor plan design programs. For example, QCad does not yet have a simple way to draw interior and exterior walls with inherited standard depths. However, the affordability (starting at $28) of this excellent open source software shows a lot of promise for future developments and extended libraries.