If you are intrigued by off-the-grid living but are put off by the expense of building your own self-sufficient house, you need to take a look at a couple’s home in Bisbee, Ariz. They built their 600-square-foot abode for only about $30,000.
Today, they are debt free and pay no bills for water, heat, trash pick-up or electricity, and they are gaining expertise as gardeners. Their only regular bills are for Internet service and property taxes.
Karen and Bill, who were both in their 50s when they began building their home in the fall of 2010 and moved in about 18 months later, did all the work themselves. They were profiled on the YouTube “Life Inside A Box” channel.
“We are loving it every day,” Karen says. “It was a lot of hard work, but we chose to do it.”
A video tour begins outside the front door where Karen and Bob explain that the home is made of cob and straw. They have experimented with different forms of plaster over the straw to help defend the home against Arizona’s unrelenting sunshine.
“We used the basic principles of solar design,” says Bob, “with south- and southeast-facing windows.”
As they enter the home, Karen is quick to mention that everything in their home — except for the new energy-efficient refrigerator they purchased to fit in with their solar system — is either used, gifted or repurposed in some way.
“We made a real effort to recycle as much as we could,” says Karen, pointing out salvaged tin, wood, sinks and furniture pieces in the colorful, inviting home.
The open floor plan and the home’s high slanted roof offer a feeling of spaciousness. The bathroom is the only separate room, with the bedroom partitioned from the main room. A small curtained area is the storage room. “We are minimalists,” Bob says. “We don’t have a lot of stuff.”
Outside, the couple displays their solar system, which, along with their septic system, comprised the major costs for the home. Six main solar panels are nearby. Another four smaller ones power the well. The slanted roof off the back of the house captures rainwater to help irrigate garden beds, trees and plants.
Also on the property are two trailer homes that friends gave to the couple and that Bob later refurbished for their use. One is a warm weather guesthouse, and the other serves as Bob’s workshop. He built a structure to connect to that trailer, which he calls his “man cave” and which also serves as a cold weather guest room.
In the workshop, Bob says he tries out other alternative home concepts, such as crushed paper walls, that he did not get to incorporate into his home.
Raised garden beds, many of which have shades to protect plants from the Arizona sun, are also on the property. Bob and Karen admit they are still learning about gardening, but they are eager to add more homegrown food to their lifestyle.
When asked for advice for others who are considering building an off-the-grid home, Karen and Bob both are quick to stress simplicity.
“Don’t overreach,” Karen emphasizes. “Make a simple plan and then stick with the plan.”
Bob says that he and his wife were motivated by the idea of having a debt-free lifestyle. “We did everything out of money saved, and then we sold half of our 60 acres when we needed more money. … Many people aim too high, and end up getting divorced or having a house that is simply too big to maintain.”
Both Bob and Karen stress that you can always add on another room or another building later if you have the need.
“You will find that you can live in a small space very nicely,” Karen adds.
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