Thursday, November 6, 2014

If Family & Friends Were Our Houseplants, They'd be Dead!

I realize I've been slacking or just outright ignoring our blog lately but so much of what has been swirling about in our lives lately seems to be "life stuff."  We found out 14 weeks ago that we are pregnant with our second child and are due to meet him or her in April 2015!  While we had tossed around the idea of having another child, this one still came as a surprise to us both.  Needless to say, this pregnancy has been vastly different thus far than my pregnancy with Elliot.  I've been battling with exhaustion and depression but both began to lift as I entered the second trimester... which would be why I haven't written much in the past 2 months.

Note: Actually, I'm writing this post before 7 AM which is nothing short of a miracle.  I used to wake up with Zac each morning a little after 5 AM but the second the pregnancy symptoms set in, I've been sleeping until the last possible moment each day

As with becoming pregnant, life doesn't stop when you're building an earthship home, either.  Zac has been given more responsibility at work which he has really enjoyed but which has taken him a bit further away from the build than we would have anticipated for this stage in our build.  Additionally, he has been putting out fires in several other areas of our lives too; fixing anything and everything that needs repaired.  Our tractor and Zac's car both went out of commission in the same (beautiful) weekend so the earthship went without a second look so that both issues could be resolved before the work week began again.  Zac's constant "fire-fighting" has played a role in Zac being away from us more than we would like.  However, with all the rainy, dreary weather we've been having lately, he hasn't been able to work much outside.  This has afforded us time together when he gets off work which was something we used to take for granted.  These moments all together when we are all able to give one another our full attention have been MUCH needed and I feel that this ugly weather has granted us some gorgeous time together.

We aren't too proud to say that the past year or so has been utterly exhausting and we are looking forward to the much needed downtime this winter will provide.  Our plans are to spend  the winter laying out the systems of our home, submit our updated sealed plans from our architect to the county (YAY!!!), organize the vast areas of our life that have been largely ignored since April 2014 and dust off the cobwebs of friendships and family relationships that have been sadly neglected during the build.... oh, and prepare mentally and physically for the birth of our next little one all in the midst of living in transition!

We assume this next little one on the way will provide us with a much needed kick in the hind parts to get our gears turning so that we can get under roof as soon as possible next year; living in transition for as short a time as possible in 2015.  Thus, please forgive us as we won't be shy come later winter 2015 in asking for new volunteers.  In fact, we may get downright pesky about it!  We always welcome new volunteers to learn the skills of building an earthship home and in the process, help us get in our dream home built.  So if you are interested in helping out (as little or as much as possible), please email us to be included on the list for the spring.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How Much Does it Cost to Build an Earthship?!

Surprisingly enough, a home built from recycled materials and dirt is still expensive to build!  As we quickly learned, the vast majority of the cost of building an earth rammed tire home comes within the first several months of the build as items integral to the systems of the home are purchased during this time.  For example, one of first purchases we made were the three 1,700 gallon cisterns which cost us around $7,000.  Below we have a fairly general cost list of everything we've purchased thus far as well as what we anticipate needing prior to getting "under roof"; hopefully now by next Summer!

Costs Incurred Thus Far in Our Build

  • Cisterns (Three 1,700 gallon cisterns from PlasticMart.com- $7,000)
  • Land (5 acres purchased with land loan- $40,000)
  • Architect and building consultant fees ($4,500)
  • Permit application fees ($1,000)
  • Suitable dirt for build (I know, I know, we have 5 acres of dirt... read this post for further information- $3,500)
  • Initial excavating costs to prep site ($600)
  • Equipment rental (Bobcat and Air Compressor- $3,300)
  • Tools and equipment purchased for build (Tractor with Loader, Pneumatic Tamper, Walk-Behind Compactor- $8,600)
  • Waterproofing and drain tile (2 rolls of 8 mil plastic for a vapor barrier, drain tile, and gravel- $600)
  • Framing the structure (fabricated trusses and truss drawings sealed by an engineer- $5,000)
Anticipated Costs to Come to Get us Under-Roof (estimated)
  • Concrete foundation and concrete cap on top of tire wall ($5,000??)
  • Roofing (we are planning on opting for the "rainbow" selection of metal roof rejects- Several thousand dollars??)
  • Windows (many we are using have been donated and are used though we anticipate it will cost less than $3,000 to purchase the rest of the windows for our home)
  • Electrical Supplies (Unknown)
  • Plumbing Supplies (Unknown)
  • Solar Panels (without the batteries as we will be tied into the grid at first- $10,000 or less)
And these items give you a basic shell of an earthship home for around $90,000 (including land).  Now, our choices have affected our budget along the way. If we could wave a magic wand and go back in time, we would have purchased the tractor with the loader right off the bat to save us the costs of renting a Bobcat.  Of course, one could move all the dirt needed by hand with buckets and wheel-barrows but we wanted to get into our home ASAP as we have a young son to think about and want to live in transition for as little a time as possible.  We would have also purchased the pneumatic tamper sooner and if we had, we would likely be done with the tire wall at this point.  We could have paid for labor but chose to pass on valuable skills to those interested instead which afforded us a greater sense of community but likely cost us some time if looking at our process objectively.

We expect the finished home to cost around $120,000 but the upside is that unlike a traditional home, we will no longer be paying for water, heat, A/C, will be paying very little if any for electric, and won't have the utility costs and upkeep costs that come with living in a traditional home.  Earthship homes are super-efficient and take care of those living within its walls.  Outside of the land loan and some money loaned to us by family, we will essentially be mortgage and bill-free when our home is completed (outside of insurance, cell phone bills, etc.)!  This low cost of living affords us the opportunity to be more mindful and take a more active role in creating our future as a family.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Glen Helen Presentation in T-Minus 4 Days!!!

We are so honored to have been asked to share our story at Glen Helen and will be doing so this Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 3:00 PM.  We plan on discussing why we ditched the house with the white picket fence (literally... it was adorable) and chose to build a home ourselves out of dirt and junk instead!  We'll discuss the ins and outs of an earthship and what makes this lifestyle so appealing to so many.  We'll finish up with an overview of our build thus far and will be sharing our most updated house plans.  We hope this presentation will push other people who are teetering on the edge as we were to make more sustainable day-to-day choices because we are truly the typical American family with a limited income.  If we can make this happen, anyone can!

Please join us at Glen Helen Auditorium (405 Corry St., Yellow Springs, OH 45387) at 3:00 PM.  $5 donation, $3 with donation of a clean wine bottle.  Donated wine bottles will be used in construction of our earthship home.  We so hope to see you there!

From well-manicured lawn with white picket fence to tires and junk...
we couldn't be happier with our choice!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bipolar Build

Our earthship build has been comprised of 68% pleasurable, uplifting, inspiring, memorable times and 32% exhuasting, dysphoric times.  The past couple weeks have been mostly the latter type with some much-needed sprinklings of happy times.  I tend to error on the side of positivity at least where people outside of my close family and friends are concerned and will sugar-coat the glum times.  I feel it is important, however, to let it be known that building an earthship or any other sustainable home yourself is filled with its' fair share of difficult, depressing times.

Having so very little within our control regarding time frame is maddening.  One week it is raining, the next week, the weather is perfect but the dirt is still too soggy from rain earlier in the week. The following week, a piece of equipment imperative to our build breaks down and Zac must halt everything else and work to fix it.  Last Saturday, after having spent every evening after work prepping our old home for the new tenants (who moved in last Saturday), Zac was nearly immobilized in bed and said that he needed to take a day off everything for his physical well-being and for sanity's sake.  And so, he rested a bit and then we took the rest of the day as a family and had the BEST DAY in recent memory.  The next day, he was able to work through some tires with Anthony, our new friend and volunteer.  However, work has been sporadic due to things outside our control and in the past several weeks, only about 40-50 tires have been completed and I feel as though we haven't made much progress.  

Weather is already starting to turn and the Farmer's Almanac is predicting an early and harsh winter ahead.  So today, with no extra hands to help, he felt it would be best to focus his time on beginning to winterize our cistern.  His plan is to build a wooden frame around it and then put slip straw walls around it to ensure that it doesn't freeze when frosty weather hits.  This project will be helpful for our earthship build too as we have (yet again) changed our plans for our bedroom walls and they are now going to be slip straw walls covered with adobe plaster.

He plans on working on this project here and there but was pleased to have gotten a head start on it today.  Zac is going to take off work this Tuesday (September 16th) through Friday (September 17th) to hopefully make some serious headway with our home.  As you may remember, our goal was to complete the tire wall by October 1st and we are still pushing to make this a reality.  If you'd like to come on out to help this week, we would SO appreciate it and will provide meals for you!!!  

And so, we have been struggling as a family the past few weeks to remain positive with Old Man Winter appearing closer than we had imagined so early on in the year.  This sort of thing really has been wearing at both Zac and I and we have found ourselves having to take more time outs than our son to gather our emotions and get ourselves in check.  

I want to be sure that we remain transparent and truly share our experience throughout our build and want everyone to know that should you decide to build such a home yourself, you are in for both the best and worst of times.  We are lucky to have our health as a family but truly, the past couple of weeks have been rough on us.  I know we aren't alone as I've heard other families' similar struggles toward living a more sustainable lifestyle and I know that there is a silver lining to our story.

How we're choosing to look at the cooler weather now is that it will allow Zac some serious rest and recooperation as well as some time to research the plumbing, electrical and radiant floor heating systems that need to be in place before our concrete pad is poured this upcoming Spring.  Perhaps we will feel more prepared for next year's progress and less like the kid in class who is constantly forgetting his homework.  

The ups throughout our build this past year have put us higher than ever before; as I imagine it would feel to be manic.  The lows this past year have sent us into some periods of depression.  And yet, I can say, without a doubt, that we would do it all over times ten if it meant living a life we're proud of and can put our stamp of approval on!

Sky and land shot last weekend while tire pounding was underway
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In other news, we will be speaking at Glen Helen this upcoming Sunday (September 21, 2014) at 3:00 PM and invite anyone and everyone out to hear about our "Pathway to a Secondhand Home."  We will share our story about why we chose to jump ship on the American Dream, an overview of what an earthship is and what earthship living is all about and we'll close with some information about our build thus far with a sneak peak of our most updated house plans.  For more information, visit Glen Helen's Facebook Page.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Giving Up Your First-Born, Dirt is for the Rich & Other Matters...

In one of my pre-earthship build posts, I know I mentioned that our goal was to be under-roof by winter 2014 so that we could work on the interiors during the cold months.  However, we are looking more short-term at this point, as we realize long-term deadlines have no place in the realm of earthship construction!  Our new short-term goal is to be DONE with the tire wall by the beginning of this October (2014).  We are on the 5th course and will have four more courses after this one to complete it.

Tire pounding goes much more quickly these days as long as all the components used to make it happen are in working order.  The past few weeks have been spent preparing for "the next big push."  Zac repaired our tractor which we use to move dirt and then had to repair it again when it broke down recently.  Then, his truck broke down and that needed to be fixed as we use it every time we make a run to get materials for the build.  After putting out those fires, Zac was able to focus his energy on using the remaining dirt on our property to build up the berm level with the 4th course so that we could start on the 5th course whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Fortunately, that very weekend, we had a volunteer stop by (Thanks, Anthony!!!) who worked tremendously well with Zac and the two of them were able to go through the rest of the fill dirt on our property and build up the berm in basically one day's time!



Anthony- the awesome volunteer who helped us bring the berm up!

Speaking of dirt, we had NO IDEA just how expensive sourcing suitable dirt can be!  We assumed people would just want to get rid of fill dirt and that we'd have no problems finding some for free.  Boy, were we wrong!  Dirt apparently is gold these days and no one wants to get rid of it unless you promise them your first born child.  We have purchased 120 tons of dirt thus far and have paid nearly $2,500 for it.  Our original plan had been to dig a giant hole on our property and use that dirt for our build but that would mean renting the equipment to dig said hole and then hope that the dirt was suitable for our building purposes.

All dirt is not equal for earthship building purposes, my friends... another lesson we've learned.  When working with local geotechnical engineers to test the soil we had on-site and were planning to use for the beginning the build we were told immediately by sight alone, "It won't work!"  It still had too much organic matter in it and not enough clay; which is found deeper down.  Thus, we went to plan B which was to buy dirt as we didn't have enough time to keep digging on our land in search of something more suitable.  Truthfully, I imagine that we could get the dirt we need for our build on our property but both time and money come into play there and to be honest, it is so much easier to call someone up on a Monday, order dirt, and have it dropped off Tuesday!  Pick your battles...

In the spring, I called TONS of local excavators, concrete companies, etc. in search of free dirt and came up empty-handed.  In the past couple of months, I've been so burnt out, I haven't thought of doing it again despite our moaning about the cost of dirt.  I tried my hand again at calling around Monday with no luck.  However, I think we may have found a cheaper source and will try to get the rest of the dirt we'll need for the build delivered next week sometime unless the dirt fairy shows up with a GIANT dump truck to save us.

I wasn't lying... he's certifiably insane!
Now, while I'm so over lofty goal-setting, Zac is still super pumped up and says that he would STILL like to attempt to get our home under-roof by Winter... the insanity is one thing I very much love about that guy!

Anyhow, we are planning a HUGE work weekend coming up (this weekend; August 30th, 31st & September 1st) and have a small handful of people who have sold us their souls for various parts of the weekend.  With that said, if you'd like to come on out and share the beautiful work weekend with us, we'd love to have you out!  We plan on working all day each day (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) and on Saturday, we're ending the day at the Clifton Art and Music Festival (literally across the street from the land).  We will be renting the ginormous air compressor I've spoken of in past posts and in assembly-line style, plan to work through the rest of the 4th and 5th courses of tires; if not begin the 6th!

If you've come out to help in the past, I assure you, work is much less physically demanding than it was in the when you helped out (unless you are Zac wielding the Ergo-Tamp, of course) and goes much more quickly!  So please join us a day or two this weekend if you have the time.

We will be working from 9:00 AM- 5:00 PM each day and the address is 2687 S. River Rd. Cedarville, OH 45314.  Online directions are a bit off, but we are essentially on the corner of S. River Rd. and State Route 72.  We have the first gravel drive on your right once you've turned onto S. River and you can see our shipping container from the road.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lesson #85 in Building an Earthship: Always Expect the Unexpected!

It's been quite some time since I've provided an update on our progress in building our earthship home as we are feeling, more than ever, the weight of all the different hats we wear in life.  As I mentioned in July 23rd's blog post, we were dealing with the threat of losing our beneficial use of tire permit granted by the EPA if we didn't make the extra tires on our land disappear in a matter of about a week's time.  On top of that, Zac had come down with a mystery illness and was down and out for about a week though he had to continue to work as he doesn't get sick leave or paid time off.  As an aside, we later realized we purchased some organic peaches that were part of the recall due to listeriosis and his symptoms matched up with those perfectly.

Fortunately, once the "EPA push weekend" rolled around on July 26th and 27th, he was feeling much better.  With many new and old friends' support, we were able to put many of those tires to use and move the rest in time for the inspection on July 30th!  I just received the letter Monday from the EPA restoring us to compliance.  As much of a rebel as I'd like to seem to be, I must admit, it is good to be in the "powers that be" good graces once more!
Another dragon slayed!!! 
But, that weekend unfortunately didn't progress without incident.  No, that would be too easy!  On July 26th, after we had just began to pick up steam on the 4th course, the tractor's axle knee literally broke off; rendering the tractor useless as it couldn't run without this part.  Fortunately no one was injured and we were so grateful for that.  We had to laugh because "expect the unexpected" has become a saying we've been living by these days.  In order to remain sane while building an earthship, one must roll with the punches.  And so we did.  With the tractor lying idly by, we fortunately had enough hands to help and used buckets, wheelbarrows and shovels to do our dirty work.  We carted dirt to the tires to be Ergo-Tamped and then a team of people followed up the Ergo-Tamp by leveling and marking them as "good to go"!
Thank you SO much to all the lovely people who came out the July 26th and 27th
weekend and helped us steer clear of troubles with the EPA!
Once the weekend was over, Zac took a look at the damage on the tractor and found that an entirely new axle knee was needed.  After scouring local farm junk yards with no luck, we were able to find the part online... all the way in Alabama.  Due to having a tractor out of commission for two straight weeks, were unable to make serious earthship progress but still made use of the time!

Zac was able to install the first piece of plumbing that will eventually connect the three 1,700 gallon cisterns to our indoor plumbing.  We are going to be harvesting rainwater from our roof.  That rainwater will be filtered and then deposited into our cisterns at which point, it will be utilized in a normal manner delivered by the traditional plumbing inside the home.  So while this was a necessary step in our build, it was about as far as we could get without having a large earth-mover working for us.  We could have plodded ahead with shovels, wheel-barrows and buckets as we had to the rest of the "EPA push weekend", but it didn't make much sense as we'd be killing ourselves and wouldn't have gotten very far with just two people.  This is where modern advances such as machinery come in handy!
The scene from our build the big EPA push weekend.  That large orange thing is the GINORMOUS air
 compressor we have to rent to power the Ergo-Tamp.  We are almost done with course 4 and have
begun laying out the 5th course and filling the tires with dirt!
Last week was all about our chickens.  Our gals are nearing egg-laying age and so it was time to give them a proper place to lay their eggs.  Utilizing scrap materials Zac had salvaged from construction dumpsters and that had been donated to us by people we've met along the way, he was able to fashion 8 lovely nesting boxes for our girls to choose from!  Then, he installed a rainwater harvesting system hooked up to their coop's roof so that we never have to dip from our own water supply again to quench their thirst.  The rainwater harvesting system was also completed using all secondhand materials (aside from screws) and according to Zac, that made the experience even richer!
The fold-up-top nesting boxes
Rainwater harvesting system for lucky chickens
Happy chickens roosting on a fallen log on our land.
Mendez the head rooster is looking over his ladies!
The tractor parts finally arrived Monday only for us to find out that one of the parts sent was incorrect.  The correct part was sent out yesterday so we're expecting it to arrive tomorrow or Friday.  Our hope for this weekend is to work on building the berm up again so that it is level with the 4th course and then fully finish out the 4th course of tires.  We are diligent about building up the berm at this point as it adds to the structural integrity of our home.  From the 4th course up, each course of tires is set back into the berm 2 inches to offset the pressure the North wall would otherwise receive if it were completely upright.  By stepping the courses back, the wall then shares the load with the berm.  So, we have to ensure that the berm is compacted as we build up each course of tires from here on out to ensure we are building a structurally sound home.  This isn't a feature of a traditional (if that word can even be used) earthship home, but we chose to eliminate the u-structure from our earthship in place of a larger U that had additional supports.  This saves us a great deal of time and energy as that means far fewer hundred tires that need pounded!  The picture below from MiddleEarthHome.com shows how many earthship homes have been built so far with the U-shape tire walls.

LOTS more work!!!
In the midst of all this, regular life must also continue and so I've been neglectful of social media sites and this blog because I've been holding down the Craig Family Fort.  I've been spending my time trying to potty-train our sweet little guy, manage our household, run two Etsy businesses and maintain some sanity along the way... though, I think sanity is overrated.

Our original plan to be under-roof by Winter is looking unlikely, but no matter.  We're just pleased that we're moving forward with our dream of living more sustainably as a family and are proud to feel like we're really living life for the first time!

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The next blog I'm looking to post will be about pounding the perfect earthship tire with step-by-step pictures!

Also, if you're interested in getting some hands-on experience in building an earthship home, we welcome you to come out and help us some weekend soon!  We work Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 AM- 5:00 PM.  Please email me at SecondhandHomeProject@gmail.com for more details.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Threats to Our Family Dream

Last week, we received a call from the EPA stating that they performed a site visit and noticed that we still had loose tires stored on our land and as a result, were in violation of the Beneficial Use of Tires permit granted to us in April.  We just emerged from the rainiest June in 120 years but are also limited by the fact that we can only make real progress on the weekends because Zac has to continue working a full-time job throughout our build.  They are willing to work with us, but we have to have this issue resolved by next week as they will be doing another site visit and if we are not in compliance, we could lose our permit and thus, will not be able to build our home.

We are doing our best to remain positive as we firmly believe in the saying "if there is a will, there is a way."  However, since last Wednesday, Zac has been pretty ill and has continued to do his best to continue going to work (he doesn't get sick leave with his union) and work on getting us prepped and ready to go for this upcoming work weekend & potluck.  He thought he was feeling better Sunday, but he began feeling badly once more yesterday and finally surrendered to going to the doctor.  They were concerned and said that if in two days he isn't feeling better, he needs to go to the emergency room or have a battery of tests performed by a gastroenterologist as soon as possible.

I so admire my husband's strength throughout all of this but I'm finding myself maddened that he can't just take off work and cease building our home for a week to rest and take care of himself.  We have this EPA deadline that threatens our ability to live our dream out as a family and I have to admit I'm feeling beaten down and fired up at the same time.  Despite the fact that there is 40% chance of rain this entire weekend, we still plan on pushing ahead as we have no choice... absolutely no choice in the matter.  We have to make sure we are in compliance and will stop at nothing until we are.  If it rains, we have a backup plan to deal with the tires on our land and could certainly use any and all help in reaching our goal.

We welcome anyone and everyone to come out this weekend to lend a helping hand, learn the skills to build an earthship home for FREE and share in a potluck meal with us at the end of both work days!  If you are coming from out of town, you are more than welcome to camp out on our land.  Or, if you're local and just like to camp, we welcome you as well!  Just please let me know ahead of time so we can ensure you have a space set aside (you can email me here).

We'll be working from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM both Saturday and Sunday (July 26th and 27th) and the address is 2687 S. River Rd., Cedarville, OH 45314.  Online directions are off the mark so to clarify, we are essentially on the corner of S. River Rd. and SR 72.  We have a long gravel driveway off of S. River Rd. and have a shipping container visible from S. River.  There is a cornfield on the corner of S. River Rd. and SR 72 that partially blocks the view of our land from that corner.

We invite anyone coming out to stay for the potluck dinner at the end of the day.  We will provide a main dish for everyone (vegetarian friendly) and ask everyone coming to bring a side dish, salad or dessert to share.

We are incredibly fortunate to be able to be making this life change right now and appreciate all the love and support that has been shared with us along our journey so far.  We know that we will make this work somehow.