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Building a Home for under $50K

Sustainable homes are expensive to build.


That's what a lot of folks tell us. With topics about sustainable living moving more and more into mainstream conversations, I see a lot of companies advertising sustainable homes for top dollar.

But, they really don't have to cost an arm and a leg.

In fact, sustainable homes built with healthier materials such as earth blocks, rammed-earth, and hemp, and strawbales, just to name a few, can be about the same or less to build than conventional construction.  Especially if you can lend a hand with the labor.

With skilled labor and the price of conventional materials such as plywood and 2x framing materials reaching all-time highs, more sustainable materials are becoming more price competitive. 

The best materials to build with are the ones you are or could become comfortable working with.

If you are a killed framer or carpenter, then a modified stick-framed home like the one in this blog may work for you. 

Matt and I attended the Crestone Energy Fair here in Colorado, and I'm excited to share some photos and information about one of the houses that we visited.

As part of an energy fair dedicated to sustainable and renewable energy, the fair also hosts a tour of sustainable homes. No matter how long I've studied sustainable building, nothing takes the place of experiencing innovative homes in person. 

Joined by many likeminded folks, open to learning about innovative building techniques, we felt like we were in sustainable-home heaven.

Crestone, Colorado is a community that inspires innovative home builders to explore building sustainably. The building department there encourages creative ideas and exploration of new and old building techniques. 

Within a few square miles, we experienced many types of construction: strawbale, rammed-earth tire (Earthships), formed rammed-earth, homes with climate batteries, earthbag domes, and many others. 

Nearly every home incorporates passive solar heating and cooling as well as solar PV. Many homes are off the grid, but many remain tied to the power grid. 

The following home demonstrates that sustainable homes need not be expensive.

This charming home, built for less than $50K, is simple, elegant, and could secure a building permit just about anywhere.

The homeowner/builder has some carpentry skills, so he used his talents to create double, 2x4 walls that are 12 inches thick. He then filled that space with cellulose insulation (shredded paper). These walls provided a super-insulated building envelope, containing the heat that is generated using passive and active solar techniques.

He achieved his goal of a non-toxic home by plastering with earth plasters, painting with zero-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints and installing a brick floor, and insulating with paper. 

The most innovative feature is how he heats his house. He uses solar-thermal panels to heat water that runs through tubes embedded in the two-foot thick thermal mass floor. The floor, constructed of bricks over a thick layer of sand, stores the heat from the water during the day. Then, radiates the warmth to the home throughout the evening.

He also heats using passive solar techniques by placing large windows on the south side of the house. These windows open to also ventilate the house. He installed a small back-up woodstove to get through stormy days.

It was a hot summer day when we visited, and the house was very comfortable because of the thick insulated walls and the thermal mass floor. 

He kept his cost reasonable by:

 ~ designing a small and efficient space
 ~ choosing building materials based on his skills
 ~ utilizing passive solar heating and cooling
 ~ using natural plasters
 ~ using shredded paper insulation

If you are interested in attending next year's Crestone Energy Fair - Tour of Homes, check out their website and plan on participating in 2020.

Maybe I'll see you there!

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