For a Debt-Free Home, Take Your Time

Cheryl and Don Ficker’s two-story, passive solar house rose slowly, as the Fickers had time and money to work on it. This allowed them to dodge building debt.

| June/July 2014

Outside of the Ficker Household

To keep costs down, the author, Cheryl Ficker, and her husband built their home slowly, living in the downstairs while working on the upstairs.

Photo by Cheryl Ficker

We started our house in 1987 with a loan of $3,000. We had carefully figured the price of building materials, and that amount was enough to build the shell.

Both of us worked full time and still managed to move into the house in early 1989. Before we moved into our new home, we lived in the "little house," previously built by my husband on the property — his only building experience.

The land we built on was already paid for ($8,700 for more than 30 acres). After the initial $3,000 loan was paid off, we obtained a home equity line of credit. We probably had about $5,000 in loans altogether. We have paid for the rest of the house with paychecks and savings as we went along.

Our plan, which worked well for us, was to figure out the minimum number of square feet we required to live in, and then double it. Thus, we lived comfortably in the downstairs while we finished the upstairs at our leisure. 

The house is a little less than1,500 square feet. It is passive solar with big windows on the southwest side and no windows on the north side. It has a solar roof that heats our hot water in summer (a woodstove in the cellar heats our hot water in winter).

We did most of the labor ourselves, including all of the wiring, although we hired out the sheetrock installation and the downstairs plumbing. We also benefited from a couple of work parties our friends organized. As plumbing materials became easier to work with, we took on that job, too, putting in our upstairs bathroom by ourselves.

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