MOTHER's Self-Sufficient Homestead

A varied, productive self-sufficient homestead is rapidly evolving around our $10-per-square-foot house.

| March/April 1985

Just about two years ago, MOTHER EARTH NEWS' EcoVillage researchers took on a pretty ambitious project: to develop an acre of land into a largely food and energy self-sufficient homestead, and to do so for as little money as possible. In the early articles about the project, we spoke fleetingly about the permaculture concepts we had in mind and described the lowcost earth shelter we built as a residence.

A lot has happened to the project in the last two years. The $10-per-square-foot home has now been finished and occupied for two winters, and quite a bit of food was grown during the 1984 season. But, as anyone who has a homestead knows, dreamed-of goals and everyday progress are often two very different things.

Though it's sometimes frustrating to be limited by the number of daylight hours available (and by having to sleep through some of the dark ones), a project of this sort can suffer from too much haste. When restoring a moonscape (as we called the denuded site before work started), you've got to pause to see how things are working. Any attempt to establish a cooperative natural system of various plants and animals that isn't accompanied by continual revamping is destined to fail. Permaculture practice is largely a matter of arranging fortuitous and felicitous interactions, many of which you just can't anticipate. The trick is to notice the successes and capitalize on them.

Consequently, despite all we've accomplished, this is in no way a final report. There's a long way to go; in fact, some of our steps will have to be taken over again. But as we approach the second full growing season on the property, we've found it necessary to review what we've done and to refine our concept of where we're going. This article is a summation of those musings and a report on the latest piece of construction: the greenhouse.

The Household Today

Our first project, of course, was to build a comfortable, efficient, economical home on the property. The residence contains 1,000 square feet, cost a little less than $10 per square foot (in materials) to build, was fairly labor-intensive to put up — both because of its shape and because of construction techniques we used to minimize material used — and meets Southern Building Code Congress requirements. The structure's space heating demand is quite low (less than 10 million auxiliary Btu per year) because of the home's shape, earth sheltering, heavy insulation, and passive solar gain. The occupants used between 1/2 and 3/4 cord of hardwood last winter.

The house isn't hooked up to the utility grid. Instead, it's wired for 12 volts and is served by a small hydroelectric generator, which, in turn, is backed up by an AC/DC motor-driven generator. Power use is about one kilowatt hour per day at 12 volts: The occupants run the backup generator to boost the battery bank and to power the vacuum cleaner and other major appliances. We've been working on a 12-volt refrigerator, but there won't be enough power to serve even its meager needs until photovoltaic panels are installed to augment the hydropower. The range and water heater are run on LP gas at this point. We'd love to have a wood cookstove, but time and funds haven't allowed that yet. A passive solar water heater is the next item on our construction agenda.

7/17/2013 5:42:14 PM


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Darshir Brewington 
Twofour America 


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