Judge John Hodgman Episode 132: Criminal In Tent


April and her boyfriend Walter share a grand, romantic plan for the future: to buy a piece of land and build their own home. However, they disagree on which type of structure they should build. April thinks a small, wooden house would be best, but Walter believe he's better suited to a yurt-dwelling lifestyle. Who is right? Judge John Hodgman decides.

If you want to join our conversation about this episode, please click on the Forum link below!

Thanks to Elizabeth Loring for suggesting a variation of this week's case name! To suggest a title for a future episode, like us on Facebook at Judge John Hodgman! We regularly put a call for submissions.



Tiny House

At the risk of incurring the Judge's ire I'm going to buzz market. You might want to check out Tumbleweed Tiny Houses. They have all sorts of plans with varying degrees of tiny footprints and are beautifully designed.


A fun episode. They should

A fun episode.

They should definitely get input from experts who know the current building, plumbing, and electrical codes where they plan to build. My hunch is the codes for new construction will make a yurt look like a bad choice.

And the advantages of a regular home: It will have resale value. It would probably be significantly more insulative. They may be able to get a loan to build it. They can find people to work on it if problems pass their level of skill.

Been there, done that - don't give up!

(Wow- I was typing up my comment when the judge reversed himself! Good going! Her Dad might be the best resource for all of these questions.)

April and Walter,
The judge has some great advice, but I want to encourage you to keep planning and learning. My husband and I were 33 when we bought some land in the woods and built our own home - wood heat with passive solar, 1,700 sqft - where we live happily today, 20+ years later. Both of us had rural experience and knew how to swing a hammer which helped, and we steered away from too many "innovative" ideas (like straw bale or cordwood construction. If you are considering yurts I bet you've looked at these.)

The cost (not including land purchase at a price that could never be matched today) was ~ 55,000 for original construction, including excavation, foundation, septic, etc., but not including labor. THIS IS WAY CHEAP! There are ways to keep costs down and still build a very comfortable house.

If you find an area that you like, go live there for a while, meet the neighbors, and get a feel for the place. The folks living there have a lot of expertise to share, as well as local knowledge about how and where to get the best deals. This is doable, but it takes some planning and effort.

Good luck!


50k 20+ years ago is now almost 130k.

And that both doesn't include labor (as you say) and likely doesn't result in a home that is up to current new-construction codes (which make building a house considerably more expensive than it used to be).

I'm not saying every how has to be huge and expensive, I'm just pointing out to people that it's not the 80's anymore.

It's like the "Old Economy Steve" meme --- where a baby boomer complains these new kids shouldn't expect to come out of college and just step into 50k/year jobs... citing examples of their own $12 per-hour starting job... while not remembering that that was the equivalent of 50k/year now a days.

PS. The Oregon Home

A set of plans from the 1980's called the Oregon Home gave us a really good starting point for designing our house to be energy efficient and cheap to build. We found the plans in an architecture textbook; I couldn't find an online source when I looked for it. But, as you are in Portland you might be able to locate the plans. They were developed by Oregon State University in collaboration with Bonneville Power Authority (!)

This is awesome! Thank you

This is awesome! Thank you for the encouragement. - April


If a septic tank is cost-prohibitive and they cannot find a home that has access to a sewer system, April and Walter can consider a composting toilet. It appears to be legal in Oregon.