Debt-Free Living in Your Dream Home

Achieve debt-free living by following these readers’ advice on acquiring or building a home without a mortgage. Your dream home is within your reach if you pair patience with resourcefulness.

| June/July 2014

  • South Africa Log Home
    Roy Trembath’s log home in South Africa is built out of eucalyptus trees, an invasive species.
    Photo by Roy Trembath
  • Log Home Balcony
    The sun sets behind Roy Trembath's debt-free home in South Africa.
    Photo by Roy Trembath
  • Spiral Staircase
    Roy Trembath built this spiral staircase for just $50 out of recycled I-beam off-cuts that he sourced from nearby scrap yards.
    Photo by Roy Trembath
  • Straw Bale House Construction
    Though drought made straw scarce in Texas, the Poupores sourced enough to build their straw bale home. Reclaimed telephone poles support the roof.
    Photo by Priscilla Poupore
  • Straw Bale House
    The Poupores worked on their house for a decade; performing labor slowly helped keep costs low.
    Photo by Priscilla Poupore
  • Tiny Cabin With Solar Panels
    LaMar Alexander’s tiny Utah cabin has a loft inside to free up valuable floor space. He also harvests rain and rescues greywater for his garden.
    Photo by LaMar Alexander
  • Log Cabin In Snow
    Betsy and Larry Mehaffey built this off-grid log cabin in Idaho over the course of several years to spread out the expense and effort.
    Photo by Betsy Mehaffey
  • Man Standing On Foundation
    After laying their foundation, the Burggraf family hosted a barn-raising-style gathering to erect their Tennessee home.
    Photo by Tyler Burggraf
  • House On Stilts
    Six families helped the Burggrafs get their house under a roof after five sessions.
    Photo by Tyler Burggraf
  • Dome Kit Home Skeleton
    The Rigoni-Escobar family traded their million-dollar home and mortgage for a small dome kit home in California that they could construct together.
    Photo by Jacki Rigoni
  • Dome Kit Home Construction
    Jacki Rigoni and Mauricio Escobar wanted to model self-sufficiency for their children by building a dome home with them.
    Photo by Jacki Rigoni
  • Finished Dome Kit Home
    The Rigoni-Escobar dome kit home is located in San Jose, Calif. This 400-square-foot structure cost about $11,000.
    Photo by Jacki Rigoni

  • South Africa Log Home
  • Log Home Balcony
  • Spiral Staircase
  • Straw Bale House Construction
  • Straw Bale House
  • Tiny Cabin With Solar Panels
  • Log Cabin In Snow
  • Man Standing On Foundation
  • House On Stilts
  • Dome Kit Home Skeleton
  • Dome Kit Home Construction
  • Finished Dome Kit Home

To read more about the debt-free homes in this article, and to peruse many other reports about mortgage-free living, go to Debt Free Home Reports

Many of us hope to someday own a home that’s perfectly suited to our penchants, but are wary of falling into debt for decades. The reports that follow illustrate the crafty and creative ways that MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers have acquired or built their own homes while avoiding a mortgage. These debt-free homes are diverse — from a geodesic kit home in California to a spacious log cabin in South Africa — but their owners’ counsel is consistent: With innovation, patience and a willingness to learn, you can do it, too.

Plan Your Plot

Do you intend to construct a house by yourself, or hire out some of the labor? Will you build your shelter from scratch, or find a fixer-upper? Decide how large you want your home to be — the smaller you build, the less you’ll pay out of pocket. Also consider whether you’ll need to set up temporary housing, such as an RV or a trailer, as you build. After you’ve moved in, you can sell your temporary housing and invest that money into your home. Starting with a clean slate may feel overwhelming, but by adhering to the following advice from readers, as well as studying the recommended resources later in this article for guidance and inspiration, you’ll embark on your course to a debt-free dwelling with confidence.

Learn the law of your land. After you’ve decided where to build, check with your county or city to find out whether you’ll have to comply with any building codes or inspection requirements. If you’re in a rural area, you may need only an electrical or sewage inspection. Other areas may demand a wide range of inspections and permits. See Essential Advice for Owner-Builders for information you’ll need to know about building codes before you raise your roof.



Revive a residence. Refurbishing an abandoned structure is one route to substantial savings. Julie Pfister and her husband, Tom, were living with their son in Sidney, Neb., near a 400-square-foot, WWII-era kit home that had succumbed to a fire and been condemned. Julie and Tom were able to see beyond its blackened walls, however, and purchased it from the owner for $5,000. They soon learned they would need a city engineer to sign off on their construction plan, and would have to undergo city inspections after each renovation step. They also needed insurance before they could work and live in the unfinished home. Undeterred, they hauled out the structure’s damaged innards bucket by bucket, and the bungalow gradually morphed into a small, energy-efficient home. After a little less than a year, they had moved in. The Pfisters did all the labor themselves, and say they’d do it all again. “You don’t have to start new. You can start with what’s available and make it perfect with a little work and some common sense,” Julie says.

Do it yourself. Before you lament a lack of know-how to undertake such a project, ask yourself whether you’re willing to learn. A readiness to study new skills will be the most important tool you can wield — along with plenty of patience. Roy Trembath is a do-it-yourselfer in South Africa, and his advice is to do your homework. Roy studied every action he took while building his house, and discovered that his DIY mindset frequently led to frugality. Roy harvested the timber he used, bought a secondhand saw to cut his own floorboards, and built his own furniture. His 3,600-square-foot home cost about $25,000 — less than the down payment he would have dished out for a conventional mortgage on a home of the same size.

gb215
5/11/2014 5:32:36 AM

Another option is to downsize and sell most of your "stuff" and buy an RV. You get a debt free home and you get to see the world. I just read several great posts by recent retirees on the site Retirement And Good Living about their adventures RVing in the US and in New Zealand.







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