Reflections from a Debt-Free Homestead

Reader Contribution by Lloyd Kahn and Shelter Publications
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What we’ve learned in 40-50 years building a house, gardening, raising chickens, and installing solar power? I’ve learned that self-sufficiency is not attainable. It’s like perfection — you never get there.

But you do what you can. If you live in NYC, you can grow chives and parsley in a window box. We’ve refined things, made mistakes, made adjustments. By the time I built my 5th chicken coop, I got it right.

Cool tools. Not the obvious ones, but unique tools we’ve discovered. For kitchen, garden, shop, building, and crafts. Like this cats’ paw Lew showed me last week. It’s 11 inches long (pictured below). Anyone who’s done any wrecking will see how cool this is and costs about $35, and I found a titanium one on Amazon for $80.

Life lessons from natural home building. I’m gonna design a home, the way I’d do it now (after building three homes): kitchen facing south, opening out onto outdoor cooking area with a roof, cob oven, sink, dining table, and garden. You can do a lot of living outside in nice weather, just a roof overhead. Central core of wood stove with coil for hot water in winter, solar panel on roof for hot water in summer, kitchen/bathroom back-to-back, with hot water centralized. Greenhouse with double-wall polycarbonate roof. Deck with roof for sleeping outside. Photovoltaic solar panels feeding back into grid.

Debt-free home building. Does it make any sense to think of building your own house these days? It’s sure not as easy as it was in the 1970s, but the principles are the same. You save about 50 percent of the cost of a house if you do your own labor. And you may be able to get by without a mortgage. Can you make a living and build your own house? I built most of a house when I was an insurance broker, building after work every night and on weekends. I’ve never had a mortgage or paid rent.

Finally, whereas everyone wanted to find 10 acres in the country in the 1960s, what may make more sense these days is fixing up a rundown small home in city or town. (See about 75 photos of such places in our latest book, Small Homes The Right Size.)

Photo from the book Small Homes, The Right Size (Shelter Publications)

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Home WorkTiny HomesTiny Homes on the MoveShelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (All available in the Mother Earth News Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitter, and Facebook, and read all of his Mother Earth News posts here.

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