Perhaps a tad unusual… USUAL means expensive to build, maintain, heat or cool.
I won’t lie and tell you being green never crossed my mind. A stronger motivation was to create a home that served me instead of making me an indentured servant.
I negotiated a 25 year lease on one acre of empty land. I bought a keg of beer, a case of hot dogs, set up the BB-Q and invited my friends. Do not attempt to erect a Tipi alone. It was a large tipi (22 foot diameter).
The first winter I picked up a helper every Saturday and we dug inside the Tipi with pick, shovel and wheelbarrow. Such projects take time when you have a job. We dug down 5 feet.
I shaved the hard clay wall smooth, pinned chicken wire and cement plastered. I laid plastic sheeting on the floor (moisture barrier) covered it with thick styrofoam insulation, ran radiant heat tubing and covered it with 8 inches of sand and gravel as a “heat bank”. A herring bone brick floor went over that which also holds heat.
I learned a lot. Like I had a choice? I had worked construction (yes, a fairy hard hat…), but many tasks were new to me. I can read. I can usually tell knowledgeable advice from all (cowboy) hat, no cattle.
I hired a backhoe to dig a utility trench and ran phone line, water and electricity from my “landlords house 350 feet away. Yes, I can plumb too on top of it all.
It took a year from ground breaking to”move in”. It was still a construction zone but who can afford rent (in town) and construction supplies?
I had an apartment sized refrigerator and a bed. No bathroom or running water yet (still capped except for the “frost free” in the yard) but the electric was on. I climbed in and out with a ladder and a friend loaned me a card table as a “kitchen”.
I made it work and got (my behind) to my job on time and presentable. I built a tiled kitchenette with a sink and invested in an all electric kitchen… hot plate, electric skillet, crock pot, toaster oven… The hot water heater was an under counter Italian super insulated 3 gallon job. Hot water is real nice for a sponge bath in the winter.
One job at a time I built what I needed. Like steps (on locking wheels for storage) to come in and out.
Being below ground gave me the advantage of ambient earth temperature. It also made the entire Tipi usable. (No head banging on slanted walls). The tipi and it’s insulated liner was my roof. I hung a parachute from the top of my tent and threw it over the liner walls. It got more and more livable.
I traded labor for used solar heat collector panels and hooked them in as floor heat.
Four years later the Tipi canvas had rotted from UV damage and it ripped top to bottom in a spring wind slam. I wrapped my home with a giant bungied tarp and bought a truck load of straw bales. I hired a crew, took the Tipi down, planted post and beams, filled the walls with straw bales, spanned the top with particle board I-beams and slammed down plywood, tarpaper and rolled asphalt roofing.
I hired a guy to stucco the damn thing inside and out for $600.00 bucks.
My little dog (THE Little Bear, Mr Huffle Puff, the Baby Anubis) and I lived in the open air pit during construction.
I put most everything in the storage shed I had built in my free time…. covered the bed with a tarp and the phone with an old cake dome. (Mostly we ate carry out, my dog loves a good burger, hold the pickle).
Dog story alert: While we went roofless Mr. Little would come on the bed with me for a bit and then jump from the bed to the cement ground level ledge that surrounded our circular pit. He would slowly pace around the circle. Very slowly, his head wagging left and then right as he emitted a very low, barely audible throat growl of warning. He covered miles that way every night. Have I told you how much I love my dog? …
Eight Posts and eight beams, two parallel railroad ties on the dirt between the uprights to keep the straw off the ground (covered with plastic moisture barrier)…. Bales stack quickly. I made 12″ x 2″ frames for the windows and door which we inserted into the bales. You can cut a bale and “sew” it tight again using a wayyyy oversized needle and every straw course you pound a few rebar in with a sledge hammer for more stability…
I popped big bucks for double pane R-27 windows, splurged on celling insulation (heat rises people) and finally had a door tall enough to stand erect while entering…. I installed Grandma’s antique purple glass door knobs on a charming antique lock set I found at the flea market. I spray painted the front door blinding metallic gold just to see if I could down a few airplanes for salvage rights. (No luck so far).
My walls are R-57. My four windows are R-27. My skylight is double paned. My winter heat is virtually free. My electric bill, in spite of rising rates is less than a dollar a day average in spite of the AC cranking all summer. I trade out the electric bill feeding my landlord’s horses.
When I wasn’t building a kitchen cabinet or Indoor dog house for Mr. Thunder Pussy, I was landscaping. My hillside compound had to be quickly terraced and dammed to prevent the remarkable infrequent desert deluge from flooding my pit. I needed an outhouse, a storage shed, a shade pavilion and flowers.
Mostly I needed flowers.
I scrounged every road side piece of trash I found. My outhouse door was in a road side ditch and is a 15 panel antique. It was in rough shape and required pipe clamps, glue, spackle, paint and a hell of a lot of labor but it was free.
I needed paving. When it gets muddy here the clay gets top of the shoe suck your boot off. Friends brought a few pavers they found or were given. I’d had a few bricks left over from my floor. The flagstone yards all have scrap piles of smaller bits and even larger reject pieces. Reject pieces… like the 3 slabs with fossilized animal tracks in them not perfect enough to be valuable as fossils but not smooth enough to be acceptable to the rich. When my dog moved in 6 months after I did we started hiking everyday and I took a back pack and brought home flat rocks. My patios are crazy quilts of everything but the kitchen sink. Money won’t buy you genuine charm.
I often need to explain that the tombstone remnants in my garden floor are pieces broken and discarded during manufacture and that Anastasia the cat did indeed get buried with full honors.
My head and back created a home built for my needs, inexpensive to be comfortable in BY DESIGN.
For many years it was the local Winchester Mystery house. It was always under construction. I put a parapet wall around the roof to capture the rain water and a bridge from the roof to the hillside behind the house. It had two levels. One for walking and the second a sluice to channel the water to a 15 hundred gallon tank. The roof has a great view and I leave some folded lawn chairs up there.
I finally got around to gussy-ing up the outhouse. It has track lighting and art…
My last project was to complete the Buddha Garden and it’s small shallow pond and water fall. I’m glad I did. It sounds soothing, attracts birds and my dog likes to lay in the water when it’s hot. He may have one more summer left in him.
Most of my outdoor hardscaping is natural collected rock with clay mud mortar and the boncos (against the house benches) berms and ramps are empty aluminum cans laid up with mortar to create a hollow form you fill with sand. When plastered and stuccoed they are sculptural, functional and handsome.
Not everyone can (or wants to) build a house. I understand that. I am telling you that traditional housing is not particularly cost effective and that I am comfortable for far less money.
It’s not perfect, I made some mistakes, and for cripes sake wear rubber gloves when you do cement work and when working with anything caustic wash your hand BEFORE you pee.
Any questions? 🙂
Updated for Susan by request. Behold the Taj Mahal of outhouses…