Alternative Lifestyle Experiment

A Place of Our Own

I used to write more about my own family, and the things we do or have done, but lately I’ve been all over the map with my postings here. This piece is a bit of a return to that, and it’s about our next big project, our homestead.

Because we want a place of our own.

Growing up, we lived in several different states and two other continents, and my parents only ‘owned’ one house during that time, so I don’t have a hometown or ‘the house I grew up in’. After leaving home, I’ve lived in a number of different places, from cheap apartments and sublet basements to a beautiful restored 100 year old home, and I’ve rented every single time.

When I try to calculate how much money I’ve spent on rent in my life so far, it boggles my mind. How could I pay out so much dough every month for something that I have absolutely no financial interest in, simply for a roof and walls? Add in all of the other costs for heating, power, water, etc., and it consumes a huge part of my income every month, without considering anything above and beyond the bare necessities.

That was part of the reason for our tiny house experiment, which lasted almost 6 years, and during which time we paid the same amount of rent for a whole year as it later cost us for one month in a nice house. It just seemed silly to continue to pay someone else the market price for rent, so we began to define our dream of living in a house that we built, on our terms, without incurring a mortgage.

Thanks to my parents, we were able to buy a piece of land in the country about five years ago, with the goal of developing part of it into a working homestead. The cost was far below what even a city lot would sell for, and it’s in a wild and scenic place – a place we could see raising our kids in. So far, we’re still trying to figure out how we’ll repay them for that, and we’re thankful that they were able to loan it to us.

I’ve explored many alternative building methods over the years, looking at ways that an owner-builder could construct a house that would not only feel good to live in, but one that would also have a small environmental footprint for its materials and have minimal energy input for heating/cooling/lighting. I was enamored of straw bale houses, and adobe and cob construction looked very cool, but in the end, I decided that building with the earthbag method would meet all of those requirements.

Building an earth bag house is a labor intensive affair – what you save in money, you spend in time – and our family isn’t in the place yet where we can devote a summer to building our house, so we’re looking at what smaller steps are needed in order to keep moving toward that goal.

One of the steps we’re planning is building a mini house – a tiny house, built out of conventional building materials, that will serve as a combination ‘base camp’ and storage unit while we’re not on the property. Having a space that is out of the weather and lockable will let us be able to leave a cache of food and water, building materials, and tools on the land, and not having to set up a tent each time we camp there will make it easier for us to spend time there.

Right now, I’m drawing up plans for tiny house that can be built with the least amount of materials and a minimum number of saw cuts – with the size determined by the common dimensions of available lumber, with a base of 4 feet, the width of a sheet of plywood.

We hope to be able to get that mini house built this fall, but we’ve still got to work out the logistics of getting all of us plus the building materials to the site, which is four wheel drive access only, and not accessible by a truck pulling a trailer. Making that more difficult is the fact that there isn’t a building supply store nearer than several hours away, and that I don’t have a pickup truck (my Suburban holds a lot, but it isn’t like having an open bed). And after experiencing building at a remote site with hand tools only, I’ve realized that it sure would be nice to have some power tools onsite, so I’m looking into a small generator for driving screws and running a saw.

I’m looking forward to posting pictures and plans for this mini house once it’s framed and roofed, to hopefully inspire more people to pursue DIY tiny houses. Once that is built, we can move on to the next phase of the homestead: drilling a well.

With a tiny dwelling and a water source, we’ll then be able to fully plan out our earthbag house – somehow it’s hard to imagine it built if there’s absolutely nothing on the land, but by having our first building project completed, that ought make us feel like we’re making progress, not just spinning our wheels.

Someday we’ll have a place of our own, and the view out the front window will be the picture you see at the top of this post.

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

One thought on “A Place of Our Own

  • Nice one Derek. Just left you a friend request on facebook. Hope you are the right guy. I am a self taught (still learning) natural builder myself. My Fiance and I plus our little daughter have made a similar move ourselves away from wage slavery and towards communal living in harmony with nature on our own land. See website above.
    Please do get in touch.


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