You can’t be lily-livered to want to build a houseboat, a self-propelled boat with a cabin. It will take a lot of time and more than a few doubloons.
Houseboat kits are a thing, and an alternative to building your own boat is buying a used houseboat and modifying it.
This piece will help you navigate how to build a houseboat and more.
First Off, Can You Build a Houseboat Yourself?
As long as you have the time and money, which can mean securing financing, yes, you can build your own houseboat.
Small houseboats may only have one or two rooms in their cabins, with people using them to fish or enjoy time on a river. Larger ones may be used somewhat like a summer home, with several rooms included. Houseboats of just about any size have a sort of porch on the ends, perhaps covered with awnings.
Although they have this in common with another type of house, the floating home, which is permanently moored, houseboats are designed for quick connection and disconnection with a marina’s electrical, water, and sewer services.
Typical Costs of Building a Houseboat
How much does it cost to build a houseboat? Well, as is the case with the cost to build a house, it depends. Costs will vary based on the size of the boat, the materials used, fixtures included, and so forth.
A small basic houseboat may cost from $2,000 to $5,000 to build, while a somewhat larger one can range from $10,000 to $35,000. (That said, there are luxury houseboats worth millions, so the sky’s the limit if the budget permits!)
First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.
How Long Will It Take to Build a Houseboat?
The time investment will depend on the size of the boat, the materials used, your level of building experience, how much help you have — and perhaps even the weather. One estimate suggests that building your own houseboat will take 600 hours.
Pros and Cons of Building a Houseboat from Scratch
• When you build something yourself vs. finding a contractor, you can save on labor costs.
• You can pick the design you’d like and, when possible, make customized choices.
• You can benefit from the satisfaction of DIY.
• This can be a big job.
• If this is the first time you’ll build a houseboat, there can be a learning curve.
• You’ll need to ensure that you have space to build, ideally near water.
How to Build a Houseboat
Steps include the following:
• Find a spacious location to build
• Request approval to build
• Design your own houseboat
• Build or buy a hull
• Purchase materials
• Start building
• Install plumbing and electrical
Here’s more information about each step.
Find a Spacious Location to Build
Even a small houseboat can take space in which to build, so make sure you have enough room for the boat and for any workers.
Plus, consider how, once the boat is constructed, you’ll get it to the waterfront. Where do you plan to dock the houseboat? Is there sufficient building space near the dock to solve two problems at once?
Request Approval to Build
The U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division provides information about relevant federal laws and regulations, Coast Guard directives, state boating laws, and more. Be sure to follow those while also checking in with your city and county government agencies to dot your local I’s and cross your T’s.
Design Your Houseboat
Determine the design. Check local associations, Google “houseboat plans,” and/or ask the owners of a houseboat what they recommend.
Plans are pretty affordable and can save you plenty of hassle, so pick the one that fits your budget and dovetails with your vision.
Build or Buy a Hull
The hull is the heart of the houseboat’s design and engineering ability. The quality and appropriateness of the hull determine how well it floats and how stable and durable the boat will be.
As you seek out building plans for the houseboat, examine what’s involved in building the hull and then make your decision from there. The hull may be a V-bottom, a flat bottom, multihull, or pontoon style, the most popular for a houseboat.
Pontoon boats can be spacious, which can provide a smooth, comfortable ride. They can be easy to maintain and can be a good choice for family use.
On the other hand, pontoon boats aren’t built for speed or easy maneuverability. They typically come with an outboard engine, and it can be hard to find another kind.
Just as you wouldn’t want to run out of egg whites when preparing a soufflé, you won’t want to run out of important building materials for your houseboat.
A personal loan could come in handy. You might be able to borrow up to $100,000.
Another possibility, for some homeowners, is a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or home equity loan. The interest rate will be lower than that of unsecured loans.
Make a list, check it twice, and then make sure you buy the right quality and quantity. Buying parts bit by bit can be more expensive, create more stress, and delay the project.
This is what you’ve been waiting for, right? Now is the time to take the materials you’ve purchased and, by following the plans you’ve chosen, actually build your houseboat. Perhaps you’ll need to reach out for help, or maybe you’ve got this all by yourself. Either can work!
Install Plumbing and Electrical
With a houseboat, you can navigate the waters rather than being moored in place. Electrical wiring and plumbing will allow you to have access to electricity and use toilets. Waste will go into a holding tank that, when you get to a marina, can be removed by attaching your electrically powered pump to the marina’s system.
Are Houseboats Cheaper Than Houses?
Because houseboats range from a few thousand dollars to over $1 million, the answer is that some, but certainly not all of them, are cheaper than a house.
Expenses will continue to flow after the build. Most houseboat owners will pay mooring fees, liveaboard fees, insurance, and pump-out fees. But they may catch a tax break: A boat can be a main or second home, allowing owners the mortgage interest deduction if they itemize.
Can You Get a Houseboat Prefab Kit?
You can! It may make sense to explore those options to see if one fits your needs and budget — and compare that to the cost of building your houseboat from scratch.
Other Ways of Getting a Houseboat Other Than Building From Scratch
Here are two methods:
• Buy an old houseboat and renovate it
• Buy a new houseboat
Buy an Old Houseboat and Renovate It
You can save money by buying a used houseboat, especially if you have the know-how to make any necessary repairs and modify it. Or, depending on what needs to be done, you might still come out ahead financially if you buy an old houseboat and have an expert renovate the vessel.
Buy a New Houseboat
Just as when you buy a car, truck, or RV, when you buy new, you can benefit from the warranty and enjoy your new houseboat without worrying about what parts have worn down.
How to build a houseboat? You could try building one from scratch or using a prefab kit, or you could buy a used houseboat and renovate it. What’s most important is choosing what fits your budget and enhances your lifestyle.
How to launch your houseboat plans? One way is with a SoFi Personal Loan of $5,000 to $100,000.
Another is a HELOC brokered by SoFi that has a lower interest rate than unsecured loans.
Access up to 95%, or $500,000, of your home equity to build or buy a houseboat.
Can you live permanently on a houseboat?
Yes. Some marinas allow full-time liveaboards. Otherwise, check with your state’s anchoring regulations to see how long you can remain in a certain spot with the houseboat and what you’d be required to do.
Do houseboats retain their value?
Boats in general decrease in value, especially during the first couple of years and then gradually after that. That said, pontoon houseboats can last for decades. So when looking at what you’d invest and then dividing that cost by 30, 40, or even 50 years of potential use, you may consider this a good investment even without lots of resale value.
How long do houseboats last?
Pontoon boats are known to last so long that people use them their entire lives. The average lifespan is 30 to 40 years, with some lasting 50 years or longer.
Can you get a loan to finance a houseboat?
Although it may be challenging to find a loan program specifically for houseboats, you can contact banks, credit unions, and online lenders to see if their boat financing program includes houseboats. Or, if buying one, check with the dealer.
Other options include a HELOC, home equity loan, or personal loan to pay for your houseboat.
Photo credit: iStock/Cucurudza
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