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Building a Cabin on Stilts

Our cabin, into which we hope to move in the near future, is roughly 700 square feet, which isn’t very tiny by tiny standards, but is still pretty small, given that it is meant as a home for five people. It is made of wood and has a rectangular shape which is efficiently divided into a central kitchen/living area, two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a smaller storage room.

It also has a large wraparound deck and is built on stilts — a construction method which enabled us to utilize uneven, rocky, hilly terrain without demolishing it in order to build our little home. I consider this kind of building both more efficient and more affordable – and more environmentally friendly. We were able to preserve the natural beauty of the terrain, sparing some trees which we would otherwise have to cut down in order to build.


Our cabin in process of building

Of course, dispensing with ground leveling also means that we now have an uneven terrain to work with. We have had to put in steps in order to enable access to our deck and house, which can be a disadvantage under some circumstances (for example, when living with small children).

Gardening will also be a challenge, which we intend to meet by intensively cultivated raised beds put either over the rock or in small pockets of earth throughout our property. Livestock housing and fencing will also have to take the peculiarities of the terrain into account. In some places, I expect we will have to drill right into the rock.

Benefits of Building a Stilt House

1. We have a neat roomy space under our house and deck which can be used for storage and even, potentially, for housing small livestock.

2. We enjoy a wide, gorgeous view.

3. The elevation offers some protection against vermin.

4. Less damp during the rainy season; in areas where it is an issue, protection against floods.

Potential Problems with Building on Stilts

Building on stilts provides ventilation under the house, which is a big advantage in many respects, but during hot summers like ours it has one drawback: the warm air rises and heats the downside of the house. We had lived in a house on stilts before, and during the hottest days the floors were actually warm to the touch.

The house we had lived in before had stilts located too far apart, which made the entire structure unstable. The house would move during strong winds, and shake and rattle when I turned on the washing machine. I didn’t have much apprehension of the house actually toppling down, but this caused damage to the window frames, the furniture and the floor tiles, which cracked in places. It is actually quite lucky that we had that experience of living in a house on stilts before attempting to build our own – this has helped us avoid many potential pitfalls.

It is important to remember that the stilts are what keeps your house standing — they are one of the most crucial parts of the entire structure. Our cabin stands on wooden stilts, but thinking back, we realize that a steel construction might have been a better choice in terms of stability and endurance. In the future we will have to reinforce and, most probably, replace parts of the foundation to prevent the house from sagging.    

This post was an excerpt from my upcoming book, Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living. Get book updates and more by following my Facebook page

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Choosing Natural Building Materials for Improved Indoor Air Quality

Passive Home With Insulated Blocks

Photo by Michael Kolowich

There’s a good reason why everyone — not just people with allergies or chemical sensitivities — should live in a home with good indoor air quality. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, where the air can be two to five times more polluted than the air outdoors. Spending the vast majority of your day inhaling oxygen that’s full of germs and toxins can have a seriously negative impact on anyone’s health.

You might think building a green home automatically means you’re building one with good indoor air quality. That’s not necessarily the case. There’s no guarantee eco-friendly materials are also low in pollutants. And what you put in your home after construction can have an enormous impact on air quality. Here are three ways to ensure the air you’re breathing inside your home is as good as — or better than — the air you’re breathing outside.

How to Choose Green Building Materials

As you research green building materials, make sure you check their level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are chemicals that easily become gases and mix with the oxygen in your home. Among the top building products that contain VOCs: insulation, carpet, vinyl flooring, caulk, adhesives, paint and varnish.

The good news is that no- and low-VOC products are becoming much more common and they’re getting easier to find. Start your search by checking out Greenguard Certification and Green Seal, two websites that review and rate products based on their level of chemical emissions.

A desire to avoid VOCs can lead to some fantastic discoveries for your home. One of our customers searched high and low for no-VOC flooring and finally settled on porcelain floors that look just like wood. Not only are they toxin-free, but they’re extremely durable, don’t have to be refinished, and are much less susceptible to water damage.

Get Fresh Air In and Stale Air Out

Air has many places to enter a home, but few places to escape. Over time, that air becomes moist, heavy and laden with dust mites, bacteria, pollen, smoke and other particles. Homes with poor ventilation often have an unappealing smell, or are more likely to develop mold and other problems that can lead to extensive remodeling.

The best way to keep fresh air continually moving in and out of an existing home – while not worrying about heat and moisture fluctuations – is to install energy recovery ventilator (ERV) and heat-recovery ventilator (HRV) systems. These extremely energy-efficient devices cycle air in and out of the house every three hours. Most come with filters that remove fine particulate matter from the air.

One of the great things about ERV and HRV systems is that they ensure heat doesn’t escape or enter the house, and they keep humidity levels consistent. That means the house is more comfortable as well as healthier. If you’re interested in learning more about ERVs and HRVs, talk to your local HVAC installer.

If you’re building new, a very green way to get a home with a consistent temperature, appropriate humidity levels and good indoor air quality is to construct the house with wood fiber-cement bonded composite materials. This unique product balances relative humidity inside buildings naturally and without the aid of mechanical ventilation. The added benefit is that because moisture can’t build up in the walls, mold and bacteria can’t grow. Dupont has a great article that explains the many benefits of building with vapor permeable materials such as wood fiber-cement bonded composites.

Look at Furnishings

What you put in your new or remodeled green home can also impact indoor air quality. Upholstered furniture and anything that contains foam (including mattresses and dining room chairs) can off-gas toxic chemicals. So can composite wood products such as bookshelves, entertainment centers and children’s furniture.

Look for furnishings that are entirely or primarily manufactured with organic and natural materials. A post on the blog Debra’s List has a list of furniture manufacturers that use wool, cotton, real wood, soy-based finishes and other low-VOC materials. You can find others by doing a Google search or visiting your local eco-minded furniture store.

Another possibility for buying “healthy” furniture is to pick up secondhand pieces. Even the most chemical-laden piece of furniture won’t off-gas forever — if you can get items that are a few years old, most of the chemicals will be gone already.

The downside to buying used furniture is that you don’t know what happened in the home it came out of (for example, its possible that dogs slept on that perfect-looking sofa and some of their dander lingers beneath the cushions). But if you don’t have specific allergies or health problems, buying used can be a great option. It’s good for your wallet and the planet, too.

What ideas have you implemented to improve indoor air quality in your home, office, school or other building? We’d love to hear from you.

Paul Wood is has more than 30 years experience in the construction industry. He spent over a decade with Habitat for Humanity International, building homes across Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. For the past 10 years, Paul has been the co-owner of ShelterWorks, maker of Faswall blocks, an insulated concrete form (ICF) that can be used to build extremely green homes. Connect with Paul on Facebook and Twitter.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Two Stories About Building Resilient Communities and Bio-Regions

It's been a while since my last blog. It was a productive summer in the garden with tons of tomatoes, figs and peaches. Here are two very recent green and resilient experiences. One on my street, the other a large gathering of permaculture enthusiasts.

The second North American Permaculture Convergence 

The second North American Permaculture Convergence took place the third week in September near Ukiah, California. It was hosted by and companion to, the Building Resilient Communities Convergence, formerly known as the Northern California Permaculture Convergence.

For five days, more than 400 people engaged in networking, presentations, plenaries, panels and culture. The event took place at the Real Goods Solar Living Institute, located on thirteen acres of transformed road side waste land ten miles south of Ukiah. Rubble, scrub and weeds have been turned into beautiful gardens, edible landscaping, ponds, shady niches, solar design and educational displays for living more eco friendly. A great location for a permaculture event!

Fountain and trellis area of the Solar Living Institute

Most attendees were from California but I met people from Texas, Indiana, Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado and even Germany, Italy, India and Bulgaria. I also reconnected, after 25 years, with my own permaculture teacher from Austin and re acquainted with the person I knew in Houston over 25 years ago, who had the first suburban permaculture project I had ever seen. Its amazing now.

The event had a good deal of California flair, like a high energy drumming session one morning at 9am. There were fancy laser light effects up in the trees after dark that reminded me of the movie Avatar - the night time scenes in the jungle with the bio luminescence.

Still, the core convergence content remained intact — the application of permaculture ideals and principles to every imaginable realm such as home, media, food production, technology, urban design, economics, diversity and culture.

Over two dozen organizations had information spaces while close permaculture cousin and ally Transition Towns, had a strong presence as well. There were several domes, large solar cooking apparati, a kid zone, tini recycled house and community kitchen. The entire event was outdoors.

The program included scheduling for working groups and bio regional groups. Working Groups met to discuss particular niches of permaculture. The Resilient Homes and Neighborhoods group I was involved with was a great chance to talk with others about how they were greening their homes and neighborhoods.

Working Group Introductions 

One woman in our group from Melbourne, Florida, was surprised, through our discussions, to discover, she had more allies and assets to work with for greening her community than she realized — a church, school, extension service.

There were working groups for economics, media, women, education, the upcoming international convergence to be held in India next year, earth repair and "permaculture meets politics."

Bio Regional groups met as well. The idea was for people to network, mix and mingle based on geographical location. Dozens of regional groups met. Both the bio regional groups and working groups reported the highlights of their discussions to the entire gathering on Friday afternoon.

Diversity was another very important part of the event. There were many people from a variety of ethnic, generational, First Nations and economic backgrounds. It was great to find out more how all kinds of people — from rural to suburban to urban - are making use of what they have available where they live for creating green transformations.

One plenary panel was about greywater issues in California. Panel members explained how grey water practitioners went from illegal, underground and discrete to sought after consultants when using grey water became legal in California. I spoke with a man from San Jose who employed twelve people in his grey water and rain water catchment business.

Grey water panel

Another important outcome of the gathering was the unveiling of xPollinators – as in “cross” Pollinators. This is a new web platform that can host a near unlimited number of working group discussions. Search xPollinators and check it out. You can join the discussion.

Each group that met at the Convergence can continue their conversations and others who were not at the convergence can register and join in. A tech savvy participant created this a great platform to compare notes, connect and learn from each other

The Convergence was a great experience. Greening our homes, communities, economy and culture is a growing movement and permaculture has a great deal to contribute

I met energetic and motivated people from all over the country and beyond who are dedicated to a more green and peaceful planet. Permaculture is becoming a global language with a set of values, principles and way of looking at the world that serves as a fast forward for making common cause with others to bring about a culture and economy that can live within its economic and ecological means.

The site and date for the next North American Permaculture Convergence is yet to be determined. Stay tuned!

Neighborhood Watch Groups

Just a couple days ago, neighbors on my street had their first Neighborhood Watch meeting. Fifteen of us, including a Neighborhood Watch professional from the Sheriff's Department, came together. We live in a relatively low crime area but still, its a very good idea for neighbors to meet.

Everyone made new friends. Several people I had never met before at all. Most attending were baby boomers, several retired.

We heard about how to set up a watch group, dos and don't and we went around the circle so everyone could share a bit about themselves.

Simple invite to the Neighborhood Watch meeting

I pointed out that our host, who recently moved in to the corner property, was planning to build raised bed gardens in the front yard. I suggested her project should be popular with those nearby because she would be out in front in the garden but also with eyes on the street and nearby homes. That makes for a safer neighborhood.

We also identified emergency preparedness as another topic of interest. I handed out brochures about “Green Preparedness.” The brochures explain how taking care of more basic needs closer to home such as food, water and energy and making common cause with our neighbors can bring about a wide variety of benefits such as improved safety, resilience and a greener environment.

I also pointed out I had been working on green preparedness for 15 years on my own quarter acre property and we could use my place as an educational resource to see what edible landscaping, water catchment and passive solar retro fits look like.

Permaculture house on the street is an educational asset 

An important take home message from this second story is, even a middle of the road, mainstream program like Neighborhood Watch, can be used as an ice breaker for neighbors to meet, find common cause and work together for creating safer, more green and resilient neighborhoods.

Jan Spencer has been transforming his quarter-acre suburban property for 15 years. The project shows what home economics and suburbia can look like — taking care of more needs closer to home, including food, energy, water, and culture. Read a draft preface for his forthcoming book, Notes from the Suburban Frontier at www.SuburbanPermaculture.orgHe is available for making presentations about transforming suburbia, economy and culture. Find his contact info, CV and more topics he can address on his website, and click here to read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Adventures in Composting Human Waste into 'Humanure' Fertilizer

One of the most remarkable agricultural practices adopted by any civilized people is the centuries-long and well nigh universal conservation and utilization of all human waste in China, Korea and Japan, turning it to marvelous account in the maintenance of soil fertility and in the production of food. — Farmers of Forty Centuries by F.H. King, published in 1926

Recently I came across a spate of comments about “humanure,” or the composting of human waste. I thought I would share the experiences of our friend, Gus, in California who has been creating humanure compost for over 5 years.

But first, we have to recommend Joe Jenkins’ classic, The Humanure Handbook for anyone looking to pursue this wise practice. It is the seminal resource on the topic and available for free online (also available in print for purchase in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store).

Why Make ‘Humanure’?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already on board with humanure. But here are a few obvious reasons: clean water savings, infrastructure savings, and the transformation of waste into a resource. If you’d like more details on benefits of creating humanure, check out Joe’s book.

The house Gus bought 5 years ago was a super fixer-upper. Plumbing and toilet issues were one of the things he had to tackle right away. He decided early on that he wanted to make humanure, so in a sense, this streamlined his remodeling process.

How to Make a Humanure Toilet

Instead of new pipes and toilet in one of his bathrooms, he built an open-bottomed box with a plywood lid with a hole in it that just fits around a 5-gallon bucket.

On top of the lid, he mounted a toilet bowl lid with hinges. A little paint and voila! This is simple carpentry that just about anyone can do.

 So, the toilet is in the same spot as the original but is just a box and bucket now. He did keep a functioning toilet in his other bathroom, because it already worked and it’s nice to have the option for guests.

It takes his family of four about 3 to 4 days to fill the bucket. After each use, he adds a scoop (16 ounces) or two of “duff” — a mixture of about 16 parts sawdust and 1 part ashes. He’s learned that the ashes do a great job at mitigating any smells, of which there is surprisingly little.

When considering composting and the ratios of browns (carbon-rich materials) to greens (nitrogen-rich), the mix of human waste and duff is at a good ratio. And, he added, he also tends to pee outside and his kids are happy to do the same, so there is generally less urine in the mix.  He thinks this also keeps odors to a minimum.

How to Compost Human Waste into Humanure Fertilizer

When it comes time to empty the bucket, he brings it out to one of his compost bins specially reserved for humanure. His bins are about 4 by 4 by 4 feet in size, and he has five of them. He digs a small hole in the existing pile (and rotates where that hole is) and dumps the contents in. He covers with straw, any weeds nearby that can be easily pulled, and a shovelful of earth. He rinses the bucket, pours that liquid into the same pile and sets that bucket aside to dry and disinfect in the sun. It takes him about 6 months to fill a bin up to height.

He has just two buckets for the one toilet that he trades out each time. So, with five bins in rotation, the humanure composts for about two-and-a-half years — more than enough time to transform into amazing compost.

How to Fertilize Plants with Humanure

Gus uses the finished product — which is black and rich and has that wonderful earthy smell that tells you that you have a bit of gold in your hand — on his perennial crops, including trees, berry bushes, grapes, and so on with great success.

Permaculture Principle Number 6 is: “Produce No Waste.” With a bit of effort and a change in habit, he has transformed his waste into a valuable resource just like the Chinese who did the same for 1,000 generations.

A final note: Gus recently had his garden soil analyzed and assessed by a local professional composter and the compost master wondered whether Gus had even been using humanure, because the results were so comparable to gardens he manages.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen is a tinkerer, natural builder, and community organizer in Reno, Nevada. He and his family run the Be the Change Project, a fossil fuel-, car-, and electricity-free urban homestead and learning space dedicated to service and simplicity and inspired by the principles of Gandhian Integral Nonviolence. They were honored as one of MOTHER’s Homesteaders of the Year in 2013. Read all of Kyle’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Green Clean Your Kitchen After a Remodel (with Natural Dish Soap Recipe)

Green Kitchen 1

After we remodeled our kitchen, everything was a dusty mess. While the countertops and appliances looked amazing, it was overwhelming to see the new kitchen dirty, dusty and covered in plastic. From the floors to the ceiling, I had a lot of work to do to transform the newly renovated kitchen of my dreams into a kitchen I could actually cook in—a place where I could serve my family healthy meals.

If you have just remodeled or you’re about to start a big kitchen renovation, here are some pointers for green cleaning your kitchen afterwards to save you time and money. There’s no need to hire someone to come in and clean up the contractor’s dust — you’ve got this!

Clean methodically. Work top to bottom, inside toward the center or from the right in a clockwise motion. The idea is to avoid spreading the dirt and dust around.

Use a natural cleaner. Have your sponges, rags and homemade green cleaning dish soap handy, because all you need is natural soap and some water for the basic cleaning of nearly every kitchen surface. See my favorite green cleaning recipe below.

Sweep first. Do not bother wiping down the kitchen, the sink or any appliances until you’ve done all of the sweeping and vacuuming. Dust will fly around as you sweep and vacuum, so you will just end up having to clean your kitchen twice if you don’t do those first.

A new use for tennis balls. Put a tennis ball on the handle end of your broom and use it to erase any scuff marks on your floor from equipment or moving furniture.

Clean your sink last. After you’re done cleaning everything else, you’ll want to make your new sink nice and shiny. Just sprinkle baking soda in your sink. Cut a lemon, lime or orange in half. Using your half-cut citrus fruit, scrub your sink well. Rinse with hot water and your sink will be clean and shiny. For step-by-step directions, including how to clean other stainless steel appliances, read this article.

Expect some lingering dust. Be prepared to see dust for weeks. Even after you think you’ve cleaned it all, you’ll notice that dust will appear where you may have missed it. Expect this for a few weeks and before you know it, it will be gone. Just keep sweeping, vacuuming and wiping!

Green Kitchen 2

My Favorite Green Cleaning Dish Soap Recipe


• 1 ½ cups of hot water
• 1 Tbsp (or up to ½ cup, depending on preference) of Castile soap, grated
• 1 Tbsp white vinegar
• 1 Tbsp washing soda
• 2-3 drops of tea tree oil


Mix all of the ingredients together in a small pan. When you add in the Castile soap, keep in mind how thick you want your homemade dish soap to be. The less Castile you add, the thicker the dish soap will be.

Add hot water and slowly cook on low until the soap is completely dissolved, stirring continually. Let cool before use. I favor this recipe because it cleans well, smells great and does not have too many suds.

With a good attitude, a great vacuum, and a few rags soaked in your homemade dish soap, you’ll have a clean kitchen in no time at all. The best part of our kitchen remodel is that my home value increased and I now love spending time in my kitchen. It was a huge investment, but every time I see my shiny sink, I know it was worth it.

If you’re thinking about a renovation and not sure where to start, Home Depot and Coldwell Banker’s Ultimate Guide to Planning a Kitchen Remodel can help. For more remodeling inspiration, you can check out this infographic from Home Depot and The Daily Meal.

Sommer Poquette is the Green and Clean Mom who enjoys providing eco-friendly tips for cleanup activities around the home. Sommer’s advice for post-renovation projects will make your kitchen area shine while also reducing your environmental impact. Sommer writes online for The Home Depot, where you can review a wide range of kitchen renovation ideas here. Read all of Sommer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Ways Hiring an HVAC Professional Can Save You Money

HVAC Technician Testing Heating

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) projects may not seem all that difficult. However, many homeowners opt to hire a professional to ensure quality results on their HVAC system maintenance and upgrades.

Have you wandered the aisles of your local home improvement store trying to determine what you need for your home’s air conditioning or furnace? If you are unsure about what is wrong with your equipment, get a professional’s opinion or you could be spending money unnecessarily.

Even if you have considered replacing the system yourself, talk to some HVAC professionals before you go down the DIY road. HVAC professionals are the experts for all things HVAC. It is the job of the HVAC professional to know what to do and how to work with your HVAC system. Here are 5 ways hiring an HVAC professional save you money.

1. Before you make that first call to an HVAC professional, write down all of your questions and concerns. If you want to know if you should replace or upgrade your system, be sure to note your questions on the list. If you want to see if your system can handle central air conditioning, write it down so you remember to ask.

Having your questions written out allows you to take notes when discussing your potential HVAC project with the company. Some companies may not do what you need or want done. It is best to know before hiring a company that they can only do a portion of the needed work for your job. Having to hire an additional company can increase the overall cost of the job and prolong the completion of the project.

2. Select three HVAC installation companies in your area. Check their websites to make sure they are licensed, bonded, and insured (regulations and licenses vary by state). By making sure they are properly licensed, bonded, and insured, it protects you, the homeowner, from injuries or mistakes made by the contractor while on your property.

Read the reviews for all of the companies on the Better Business Bureau’s website to see what previous customers’ experiences have been with each company.

3. Ask for a written quote from each HVAC installation company you contact. This allows you to know exactly what costs for parts and labor will be before the job is started. When comparing the three price quotes, look at how much each is charging for parts and labor.

Jay Ellis of Halo Heating and Cooling said “The most common way customers overspend on HVAC installations is by not getting a fair fixed rate price.”

Is it a fixed price for the project or is it by the hour? Per project rates mean the clock is not being watched. Per hour rates mean a 2-hour job could turn into a 6-hour job, sometimes due to unethical business practices. When in doubt, call the company back and ask for a more detailed quote and explanation of their charges.

4. HVAC professionals work with HVAC and electrical systems daily. It is what they are trained to do. While DIY techniques may work for some areas of the home, let the experts repair and replace the HVAC in your home or business.

5. Hiring an HVAC professional and having a professional installation of your HVAC equipment usually gives you a warranty on the equipment along with labor, depending upon your contract. Be sure to ask the questions before agreeing to the installation or repair work.

HVAC repairs and installation are not without some cost. The cost comes from the equipment being installed, the labor to have it installed or repaired, and the warranty for the equipment and possibly labor to have it replaced.

If you are in the market for an HVAC equipment upgrade or you know yours will need repairs, make the calls today for repair or installation quotes. This allows you to save if needed and to add the costs to your household or business budget.

Photos by

Adrienne Z. Milligan is a Certified Square-Foot Gardening Instructor and is known for taking too many photos of her own garden. As mother to a gluten-free family, Adrienne loves to try new recipes and find new products to share. Growing up near Mt. St. Helen's (and remembering when it erupted in 1980) has been part of the motivation for Adrienne and her family to become more prepared for emergencies. Find Adrienne on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her bio page for more places to connect with her on the web.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Building with Physical Limitations

Even in our modernized age when almost everything is done at the click of a keyboard, being able-bodied is still an essential part of building your own house, starting a homestead, and keeping it going. But what do you do if certain health problems interfere with your homesteading goals? Should you accept that some things just aren’t meant to be – like building with your own hands, for example?

It is my belief that there is an alternative way to do pretty much anything, and even to profit from the seemingly untoward circumstances that might seem as a death certificate to your dream.

When my husband and I began working on building our cabin, there were certain setbacks which threatened the whole project. My husband has spinal disc herniation, and is unable lift anything heavy. I was pregnant at the time, which obviously meant I needed to be extra careful about what I attempted to do.

Our work-in-progress cabin

The interior of our cabin - work in progress

Living with back injury is a constant struggle for everyone, especially someone aiming to homestead. Even a simple thing such as getting a sack of chicken feed out of the car can be a problem, and we often ask a neighbor for help with that. We have a gas heater rather than a wood stove because chopping wood just isn’t something my husband is up to. So building?

Still, we plunged in and made it, and our cabin is now nearly completed. Here is how we did it – and how you can, too.

Build small

Our cabin is about 700 square feet – a compact, efficiently utilized space which is going to serve as a cozy home to five people. Building small means you need little to no special equipment or heavy machinery.

Almost all the work can be done manually, with simple tools that can be easily operated by anyone, even with no prior building experience.

Build Slow

I realize sometimes things need to be done fast – for example, a structure raised before winter – but for us, building slow and tackling one thing at a time meant being able to do more ourselves, rather than hiring workers for everything from start to finish.

After the main structure and the roof were completed, we could take our time for anything that needed to be done on the inside.

Appreciate your Community

We had plenty of opportunities to do that, as our friends and neighbors stepped up to the task with the generous gift of their time, skill and sweat. Many work days were completed with now one friend, then another, lending a hand. It was a hot summer, and several times a day I cruised between our rented home to the building site across, bringing bottles of cold drinks and platters of chilled watermelon.

It wasn’t just work – it was a time of getting together and strengthening community ties. We were all in it together, and had lots of fun along the way, too.

Hire More Hands

In our case, there was no getting around the need of hiring workers. Most of them are people who live nearby and whom we know and appreciate, so this means our money went towards supporting local economy. Some workers, especially during the summer, were high school kids looking for a few days’ or weeks of work. For the most part, they were thrilled to be actually doing something meaningful – building a real house for a real family. Much better than working for a fast food chain!

Of course, we took every possibly safety precaution and paid everyone fairly. The teenage boys had lunch with us every day (and let me tell you, it gave me some practice at cooking large batches), which created a personal connection and plenty of interesting conversation around the table.

Our house is no less our own because we didn’t actually do everything ourselves. We still poured our efforts into planning, supervising, selecting and ordering the materials (or looking for recycled ones) and whatever work we were physically able to do.

An important thing to remember is, even if you begin your homesteading journey as young, physically capable people, it’s a long haul and a lot of things can happen along the way. A neighbor of ours, a young man in his twenties, severely injured his arm during a work accident. People from the neighborhood stepped up with any help that was needed, from chopping firewood to bringing meals for the family.

Back injuries are a common plight with people who do hard physical work; and, of course, people age and have to re-evaluate their abilities as the years go by. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on living the life you love – just that you do things a little differently than you might have done otherwise.

With realistic evaluation of your possibilities, some thinking outside the box, and a network of caring, supportive friends, homesteading and building a sustainable, economical home are still possible, even if you can’t actually do everything with your own hands.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook, find her as SmallFlocksMom on Earthineer, and read more about her current projects on her blog. 

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