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Looking for Reader Reports on Debt-Free Homes

1/10/2014 3:30:00 PM

Tags: Green Homes, Debt-Free Homes

Debt Free HomeWe're looking for readers' stories about how they built their homes with little or no debt. Tell us your story by sending an email to We're looking for reports with accompanying photos, so send along any images you have, too!

Here are some of the things we'd like to know.

1. What tactics did you use to avoid a big mortgage? For example, did you build it slowly over a long period of time while living somewhere else, or did you build it largely by hand out of free, reclaimed or natural materials?

2. What kind of home did you build?

3. Can you estimate about how much the materials you used cost?

4. How many square feet is your home? 

5. How much of the labor did you do yourself?

6. Did you encounter any obstacles when working with building codes or inspectors?

7. Would you do it again?

8. Do you have any advice for others who want to do the same?

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1/23/2014 6:24:26 PM
My wife and I built a debt-free, earth sheltered, off-grid home in the Missouri Ozarks from 2009 to the present. My biggest advice for anyone wanting to build debt free is to build a small structure first that you can move into and live in while you finish it. Think about your most basic needs for your home and build that into your original structure. I would advise on building a modern bathroom right away. I grew up on a farm with a composting toilet that my dad had to empty on a regular basis. It seemed to always fill up during my parents' parties with their "back-to-the-land" friends. I still carry on their "back-to the-land" traditions but while it took my parents 7 years to install a flush toilet, it took me just 7 days to put one in our home. I fully believing in composting outside of the home, but I don't want any parties crashed by an overflowing bowl. Even though rural Missouri has no building code, it still takes some detailed planning to build a home, one piece at a time, while living in the same space; especially an earth-sheltered home. Ours started at 550sf when we moved in. We then added 300sf of bedrooms and are now finishing other activity areas for a total of 1400 sf. A garage will probably come next. Over 4 years of construction, I would estimate that we saved $50,000 in rent payments, which is almost exactly what it cost to build the home. We did this entirely with our own labor. Our key to success was to build the inner masonry shell of the home first. After we moved in and finished the interior, we installed solar electricity and a barn with a rainwater catchment system. We then waterproofed the inner shell, built and water-proofed the outer shell, then waterproofed the timber roof, poured the concrete diaphragm over the roof, and installed more waterproofing, drainage, and fill. We learned many lessons along the way including the value and ease of rainwater collection. There is no good reason to go to great lengths to drill a well or divert surface water if you get at least 30 inches of rainfall each year. Also, spend the money to get a great woodstove right up front and it will be your best friend. Ours is extremely efficient, cooks our food in winter, and sends hot water to our tank via an electricity-free thermo-siphon. Most of all, don't be intimidated by the task of building your own home. As long as you do your research, buy plenty of "how-to" books, and put a workable plan on paper, then you can do it! After all, no one will care about the quality of your home like you will. Our Home and farm is at

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