Cheap/Durable Hull Material For Houseboat

Discussion in 'Materials' started by IATGC, Aug 7, 2017.

  1. IATGC
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    IATGC Junior Member

    I am in the beginning stages of designing a 58' L x 12' 6" W pontoon houseboat to cruise the inland waterways of the United States with, but I have encountered a problem!

    I can't decide what hull material to use...

    I need something that is easy to maintain and inexpensive/simple to build.

    This boat will have to be able to stay in the water for years on end without any negative consequences.

    Of course I would perform regular maintenance inspections since I will be living on it.

    I would also pull it out of the water every 5 years or so to thoroughly inspect the hull and recoat the bottom paint if necessary. After all, it would be my house and my money at stake if I didn't keep up with maintenance.

    The construction method I'm leaning towards would be polyester roof fabric/epoxy or fiberglass/epoxy encapsulated marine grade plywood or MDO panels on a frame made of common 2x framing lumber soaked in creosote. Each pontoon will be 56'x4'x4' and will have 6 watertight bulkheads. This method would be cheap, and seems like it would be strong and quick to build.


    I don't have any boatbuilding experience, however I do have construction/carpentry/welding experience. Maybe someone that has built a houseboat or something similar can chime in and let me know what has worked for them.

    Before I get any negative feedback about the polyester roof fabric with epoxy resin, it is MUCH cheaper than glass cloth. I would mainly use it to increase abrasion resistance along with encapsulating the wood to prevent water from soaking into it. I will probably do my own tests to see if it is suitable. These people have tested it and it gave good results apparently:
    The ultimate fiberglass substitute? [Archive] - The WoodenBoat Forum http://forum.woodenboat.com/archive/index.php/t-6429.html

    Also, I know you can't buy real creosote anymore, but it's easy to make. You take 9 gallons of diesel fuel, 1 gallon of turpentine, and 5 gallons of roofing tar. The tar dissolves into the diesel/turpentine and you just mix it really well for a consistent product.

    I will probably coat the interior of each pontoon with this creosote mixture as well as soaking the framing lumber in it. It will NOT be on the exterior, so the epoxy and cloth should stick just fine.
     
  2. jorgepease
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    jorgepease Senior Member

  3. IATGC
    Joined: Aug 2017
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    IATGC Junior Member


    Thanks for your reply. I've been looking at aluminum as an option and it seems really pricey. I actually had already visited that website you provided a link to before I posted this thread. I don't think they make pontoons large enough to fit my requirements. Also I would prefer to build this vessel mostly by myself.

    I realize that the polyester roof fabric is untested, however what about regular fiberglass cloth? Have you had any good experiences with fiberglass/plywood houseboats?

    EDIT:

    I emailed the people at the aluminum pontoon website: (http://www.buildaboat.ca/site/41840412db4b42e3bd00b8078121a63a/default?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.buildaboat.ca%2FPontoonKits.html#2669) and I asked if they can make 56' pontoons. I also asked for a quote. I will post their reply.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2017
  4. jorgepease
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    jorgepease Senior Member

    Nothing wrong with a plywood glass houseboat if you use epoxy and avoid as much as possible drilling holes below the waterline.

    If you wanted higher resale and wanted to learn a little more on boat building, you could use pvc foam and glass for not much more money than marine grade ply. It's more malleable than ply until you get the glass on it, then it's stiffer than ply.

    Everyone has their preference for building, if it was me I would build a simple mold that is U shaped and infuse both hulls. I would line it with prefinished materials such as formica laminate, making sure to leave gaps between the joints and then fill that with thickened epoxy to make it vacuum proof.

    If you wanted to do a bit of research, you could check intelligent infusion on the Harry Proa web site. Basically they leave out the core where your bulkheads will be located, then simply glue the bulkheads into that void. It's about a hundred times faster than doing it the stitch and glue way because you don't need to fair the pontoons. You can even use in-mold primer so they come out already primed.

    Using that system you could have both pontoons done in a couple of weeks max. Of course you would have to learn how to infuse but it's not difficult if you start with a few small pieces and then you would probably want to use it on other parts of the boat. Flat panels are much lighter than construction lumber and much better suited, you might find that the pontoons can be smaller and save some material.

    I think first step though would be to get some plans
     
  5. IATGC
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    IATGC Junior Member

    Thanks again. You seem very knowledgeable.

    I don't really have much experience with vacuum formed fiberglass, or fiberglass on PVC foam. I'd prefer to stick to stuff that I'm familiar with. I can learn quickly but I think that method would also get expensive quickly.

    If this aluminum pontoon company makes pontoons as large as I need them for less than $12,000 for the pair (doubt it) I will most likely go that route. In the end that just might be cheaper.

    If they don't, then I'll probably just go with ply/glass.

    You mentioned getting plans, where would I be able to get a good set of plans for a houseboat around this size?

    Also, I've heard a lot of negative things about using steel for houseboats. Some people seem to avoid even newer steel houseboats like the plague. It's a very cheap and strong material that is easy to work with, so it appeals to my wallet among other things. Does anyone still use it for houseboats or is it just a waste of time and money in the long run?
     
  6. Barry
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    Barry Senior Member

    While aluminum pontoons might have an initial higher cost than say wood, glass etc, over 10 or more years, the savings of aluminum will come back with less maintenance, higher resale value, easy modifications to the structure, ease of building, ( you say you are a carpenter/welder). You could easily purchase the aluminum from any one of several aluminum suppliers with rolling equipment to roll the pontoons or use a rectangular cross section, ie flat panels and build frames, bulkheads and weld it yourself. Not sure on your aluminum welding ability, then do all the fitting with carpenter skills and tools, tack weld the pontoons together, and get a certified welder to finish it off

    Not sure where you are located but the other option is to find a houseboat rental company that has a retired hull, ie pontoons etc, pull off the top and do a total renovation.
    This will provide engine mounting structure, probably a CG certified hull, a HIN, hull identification number, to make it easy to get insurance and away you go.

    You can provide the living configuration to your tastes. Check Yachtworld, select house boats and see if a semi retired hull exists.

    A quick look at Yachtworld lists quite a few low priced houseboats in your size range.

    If you have never built a boat, you should run a Bill of Materials and estimate the cost of a build. Often the inexperienced in marine equipment pricing will be surprised at the much higher cost. I noticed that some of these houseboats had gensets etc.
     
  7. jorgepease
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    jorgepease Senior Member

    Not sure about where to get plans for that big a boat, I've seen them on GlenL up to 45 and you can stretch that to about 50. For a little extra change I am sure the designer can redraw it to 60'.

    I only have one boat under my belt but I experimented a lot as I went along and learned a lot. Sadly it took me 1.5 years to build a boat that today I could do in one month so there is def a learning curve.

    These guys say they will build up to 60' x 4' dia. pontoons - Pontoon Size and Pricing http://www.usapontoon.com/pontoon-size-and-pricing.html ... tell them you only have 12 K see what they say

    ... but for sure, the cheapest way to do it, as mentioned, is to find an old one and renovate it. Check them out on Youtube.
     
  8. IATGC
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    IATGC Junior Member

    Thank you all for your advice. It is all very useful information. I will definitely strongly consider all options presented before I decide on something specific.

    Andre Turcotte with Build a Boat Pontoons emailed me back regarding the 56' pontoons. They are rather expensive as I had guessed. I am unable to upload images with my mobile device (screenshot of email) but here is what Andre said:

    Micheal, (it's actually ae not ea)

    Yes we can make those pontoons.

    Pair of pontoon 36’’ x 56’ is 18,306.00$

    Pair of pontoon 39’’ x 56’ is 19,832.00$

    Regards

    Andre

    Build A Boat/Technikal

    819-533-3205




    So I'm curious. Let's do a little math involving a 58' x 12'6" plywood/glass barge style monohull. I know I was thinking of pontoons, but monohulls require more material and money to build. Really this is an unfair comparison.

    For the sake of this experiment, let's calculate costs for the bare hull with nothing else. Let's also pretend that everything is overpriced. Also, I'm overestimating material requirements.

    Plywoood requirements:

    38 sheets 3/4" ply at $90 a sheet (can get 3/4 MDO for roughly $60 a sheet)

    $3420 for plywood

    Framing lumber requirements:

    30x. 2"x 12" x 16' at $40 apiece (can get these for less than $30)

    $1200

    75x. 2"x 4" x 12' at $8.00 apiece (can get quality 2x4 for less than half that)

    $600

    60x. 2"x 6" x 12' at $15.00 apiece (can get these for about $12.00 apiece)

    $900

    So let's round up to $3000 for framing lumber.

    Fiberglass requirements:

    About 130 square yards to cover the entire hull. Let's use 17 oz glass cloth. Let's also say that it's $15 a yard (even though I can get it for $9.00 a yard)

    Roughly $2000 for glass cloth.

    Epoxy/resin requirements:
    About 20 gallons at $80 a gallon (I can get it for less than $70 a gallon)
    $1600

    Paint/Coating requirements:

    20 gallons homemade creosote for coating framing lumber and inside of hull, at $25 a gallon
    $500

    20 gallons of bottom paint at $50 a gallon (can get decent bottom paint for $25 a gallon)
    $1000

    $1500 for coatings

    So for a complete bare hull that can float I'm looking at $11,520 using overpriced materials and overestimating material needs. That's still about $7000 cheaper than aluminum pontoons..
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2017
  9. jorgepease
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    jorgepease Senior Member

    I think you should look at the Value before making your decision

    ... Taken from AllAboutHouseBoats.com

    Well Larry, congratulations on your decision to buy a used houseboat. As you probably have seen, prices of used houseboats can vary greatly depending on the construction material.

    If you were to look at the current market, you will see that aluminum construction is becoming the norm for houseboat materials. Second place has to go to fiberglass hulls. In third place is steel houseboats, follow by wood which is basically extinct.

    As to the drawbacks or disadvantages of each houseboat hull material, this article on our site will really give you all the information to make an educated buying decision.

    If I was going to purchase a used houseboat, I would be looking at buying an aluminum or fiberglass boat.

    A steel houseboat would not really be on my radar unless I had the time, money, an acceptable marine survey, an insurance policy, and lastly a marina willing to accept the boat.


    Lastly, hopefully some of our readers and visitors will share and post comments about the various houseboat material experiences and tips.

    Feel free to use the "Click here to post comments." link found near the bottom of this page.

    Thanks again for sharing, IAN from all-about-houseboats
     
  10. IATGC
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    IATGC Junior Member

    I'm curious, why do plywood/fiberglass houseboats have such a bad reputation?

    Are people just lazy and they don't take proper care of their vessels?

    Are these vessels designed poorly without proper ventilation?

    Do they not treat the wood with rot prevention chemicals?

    Resale value aside, even if I used common framing lumber and MDO I feel like it would be pretty low maintenance, am I wrong?

    Like I mentioned, I would treat the framing lumber and hull/s interior with creosote and ethylene glycol and I would be using 17 oz glass cloth which is insanely tough I would imagine.

    There probably wouldn't be much of a chance for rot or much of anything to live in the wood without getting terminal brain cancer from all the nasty chemicals I applied. That wood would be like Chernobyl to any insect or fungus.

    Also, I would make sure it is well ventilated. There would be many access points to inspect the compartments in the hull.

    Would this not last for decades with regular maintenance?
     
  11. jorgepease
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    jorgepease Senior Member

    I'm sure with care a wood glass boat would last a long time but that isn't going to change the perception. If you build it from wood, be prepared to basically give it away when your done with it.
     
  12. IATGC
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    IATGC Junior Member

    Again, thanks for all your help. You have given very good advice and you make some very good points. I would surely go with aluminum if I wasn't trying to build on such a low budget. I'm only 21 years old so my pockets aren't very deep yet.

    When I finally end up with an aluminum boat I will probably give the plywood one to my older brother in Miami, or I might just refit it to transport my pickup truck and my girlfriend's car.
     
  13. jorgepease
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    jorgepease Senior Member

    Good idea, build it well and pass it along in the family :)
     
  14. SamSam
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    SamSam Senior Member

    If you make 4x4' pontoons with a 12' beam, you have l_l l_l or 6 sheets ply and framing. If you make a monohull, you would have l____l which would use 5 sheets of ply and less framing. And better stability than a pontoon.

    I don't think that's what's in creosote. If you soak the wood with diesel, you will smell it for as long as the boat lasts and it also makes it pretty flammable. Plus you can't glue to it. I've used good condition railroad ties for various things and they don't last all that long, ants and bugs don't seem to mind it much.

    A 58' long boat, besides being very expensive, or not, needs a lot of engineering to counteract the various ways it can be stressed and broken apart.
     
    Barry likes this.

  15. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    Framing with creosote coated lumber will make your boat stink. It is also banned by the EPA because it is a carcinogen.
     
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