How to find affordable land when you’re broke

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One of the most asked questions I see about going off-grid on a low budget has to do with land.  Land is expensive.  I have seen people tell me they plan on building their tiny house or their tiny earthship, and they’re going to build it out of completely recycled materials, and it’ll cost them a few hundred bucks total, or whatever low cost they manage to work out.  But the problem is that they don’t have land they can put it on, and land is far out of their price range.

I’m here to tell you that you can afford it, but it takes a bit of work.

The first thing you need to do is decide what you need.  Maybe not exactly what you want, but what you need.  Now, if you’re a couple with no kids, as we’ll make the assumption at the moment, you should be able to live quite comfortably on one acre, growing your own food.  If you have kids, or if you have a non-traditional family, or are building an intentional community, then scale up accordingly.

Once you have an idea of what you need for land, you can head over to one of my favourite sites, Landwatch.com.  (I’m not affiliated with them in any way, just think they’re really useful. There, you enter your search terms.  That you’d like land, narrow down to the acreage you need, and sort by pricing and maybe even where you’d like to live.

Here’s where the fun begins.  You’re going to find a lot of land there.  Find the ones that meet your needs, and read up on everything.  And the most important thing to look for when you’re doing this, are the words “owner financing”.  The listing should show what the financing options are.  They may tell you that the land will cost whatever it costs, and the owner will finance over 24, 36, or 48 months, usually with no interest.  The important thing here is that the cost is incredibly low.  It’s affordable, and you’ll be able to build your home on it right away.  You can do away with rent.  If you have to, live in a tent for a few months while you’re building your tiny house.  If you can do that, and work a job of some sort at the same time, the cost of living will be minimal.  The best part about owner financing is that you can do it even if you have a bad credit rating.  As long as you can prove to the owner that you can make your monthly payments (in other words, you have a job), then they’ll usually work with you.  If they don’t, find another landowner.

It will definitely be a hardship while you build your home.  I won’t lie to you and say it won’t.  But, it will give you the chance to get your land, get a house set up, and you’ll have a good start on paying off your land by the time you move in.

The best part about all of this, is that with owner financing, they want you to pay it off quickly.  There are no penalties for paying it off sooner.  You can always pay it off on the schedule that was set when you purchased it, but you can also make extra payments.  If you’ve picked the right property, your monthly payment should be less than a couple of hundred dollars a month, and even a minimum wage job will cover that with a comfortable amount left over.  Make your payments and use the extra in your pay to cover setting up your house properly, and then pay off the rest as fast as possible on your land.  You are now a landowner.

Head over to Landwatch.com.  I promise, land like that is out there, and it’s easier to find than you think.

Foxhole Homes Builds Earthships at Low Cost

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The other day, I ran across the YouTube channel of Foxhole Homes.  They’re doing something fantastic, and I thought I’d like to share it with my readers.

Foxhole Homes is a non-profit that is working on building a low-cost earthship-style home for homeless veterans.  With their first build, they kept the price for building materials at around the $6000 mark, and in speaking with the owner, Ted Brinegar, I learned that he is attempting to get the price of materials down considerably, without sacrificing liveability, of course.  I found myself severely impressed with the simple design, but even more with Foxhole Homes’ commitment to helping homeless vets.  The design they use, of course, can work for more than just vets, as all of us that live on the pitiful minimum wage could benefit from a simple home like this, with no utility bills and a warm place to put a bed.

As you can see from the video, Foxhole Homes makes a home that uses many of the design elements of a traditional earthship, but is scaled down to the absolute necessities.  It is truly a tiny house, at under 120 square feet, but because the greenhouse isn’t a permanent structure, it doesn’t count towards the square footage, so it’s really larger than it seems.

I had the chance to ask questions of Ted via email, and was rewarded with many answers.  Below you will find the questions I asked, along with the answers that Ted provided.

LBOG: Hi there. We spoke the other day on Facebook. I have the Low-Budget Off-Grid blog, and what you’re doing with low-cost earthship designs is fantastic. I am especially happy to see that what you’re doing is for veterans.

Ted: We have so much to thank them for, and aren’t doing nearly enough for them. I am passionate about taking care of our veterans, but they are also an important ally in getting more reasonable laws passed. It is very hard for legislators to look a vet in the face and tell them they don’t have the freedom to build a simple home for themselves. In the local version of the Sustainable Development Testing Site Act we just got passed in Otero County, it specifically references that one of its primary purposes is to facilitate taking care of veterans in need, but we all get to reap the benefits of the legislation.

LBOG: I have a similar goal to help people with housing, though I’m personally looking to help all of those that live on the pitiful incomes that get paid in America in general. Costs get higher, and minimum wage stays the same, and people are struggling between deciding whether to eat or pay the power bill. These are decisions that shouldn’t need to be made, and I hope that my blog can help in some small way.

So, having run across the videos that show what Foxhole Homes is doing, I had many questions that I thought I’d ask.

During our conversation, you mentioned that the cost of materials was around the $6000 mark, which, for an Earthship, is an unheard-of low cost.

Ted: Quick disclaimer there is a huge hidden cost in that our friend and supporter Bill Boylan provided backhoe work free of charge.
LBOG: You mentioned to me that the metal roofing was one of the largest material costs. What were some of the other costs you ran into that you couldn’t mitigate with recycled materials?

Ted: Cement, lots of cement. Mostly in bags. We did have to bring in a few truckloads of sand and gravel as well.

LBOG: I do recall seeing in the video about solar systems that you’d put together a 200 watt solar power system for about $500. What about the water system?

Ted: (The) largest expenses were the EPDM for the planter beds (around 100) and our 1000 liter cistern ($150)

LBOG: Filters, pumps, etc?

Ted: it is all gravity fed, and we use a Berkey filter ( but with food grade buckets instead of stainless) for drinking water

LBOG: You had mentioned in one of the videos that your water heater system used solar, but was going to use a backup instant water heater system. Can you explain the solar water heater system you use?

Ted: there is no Hot water on this simple system. We will be working on a gravity fed thermo-siphon system this spring. We have kind of a research partnership with NMSU and many of their students are starting to do their Sr. Projects for us. That will be one of them. We have the basic prototype worked out using an old cooler as the storage tank. Our main question now is can we use a straight thermo-siphon with the water or will it freeze, at that point we would have to use glycol and a small pump.

LBOG: Also, I’d noticed in one of your videos what looked to be a solar heater made out of pop cans. May I ask how that was used?

Ted: We used it during construction to help charge up the thermal mass of the walls because we built in winter. it will be totally unnecessary now. (My video editor did not realize it was not a solar panel. Oops.)

LBOG: Now that you’ve built a home using your model, is there anything you’d do differently?

Ted: Yes I never intend to pound another tire unless it is in a rubble trench footing. We will be using tire bales primarily, but will also be working with geo-mesh reinforced adobe.

LBOG: Finally, I suppose my readers might be curious about where you had the best luck finding recycled materials, and what new materials you used that you’d like to find a way to get recycled in future builds.

Ted: Our best source was our county recycling center, they were glad to give us bottles and directed us to an illegal tire dump that we helped clean up. Construction companies and the shipping department from our local hospital provided the pallets. Glass can be tricky although we had great luck on this build. Focus on collecting that early on as it can determine how you have to frame the front face of the building. In the future we hope to use locally sourced lumber whenever possible and we are looking for less expensive (both labor and dollar) ways to do the roof. Some ideas include using pumicecrete, and the plastic off of old bill boards.

LBOG: Thank you again for agreeing to answer my questions, and thank you for showing that building a home doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

Ted: Thank you! Keep following us on Facebook and youtube. Hopefully early 2018 we will start doing clinics as we break ground on the full subdivision. Stay tuned.

Make it a great day

So there you have it.  If you want to take a look at the Foxhole Homes YouTube channel, I highly recommend it.  Ted shows off many of the features of the home he designed, and how they are made.

It just goes to show that, with some work and ingenuity, we can build a home that provides for our needs without sacrificing decades of our lives to paying it off.

Update on the Flow Hive

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Hey there everyone!

This is just a quick update to let you know about the Flow Hive.  If you remember, about 18 months ago, they started looking for funding on IndieGoGo, and raised a ton of money.  Since then, they’ve sold 35,000 Flow Hives, and are now back on IndieGoGo, selling their beehives at a reduced cost.  It’s only for a few days though, so if you want yours, you need to go there now and place your order.

I love these hives, and I think they are much more cost effective than a traditional hive.  They may seem more expensive to start, but require much less work and other equipment, saving you time as well as money.

Head on over with this link —>> Flow Hives on IndieGoGo <<—

Getting in Shape While Off-Grid

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When you live an off-grid lifestyle, there should be a lot of things you’re doing in a healthier manner.  Being off-grid usually means a lot of physical labor.  Whether you’re working with animals, doing gardening for food, or building yet another wind turbine, you’re probably fairly active.

However, sometimes this isn’t enough, or you want to step up your game, and maybe get into better shape than you are now.  That’s what I wanted for myself, and I looked at a lot of ways to get healthier and work out in a way that was interesting, fun, and didn’t cost me a lot.  I also wanted something where I knew I would see results, but that wasn’t something that would burn me out on my first day.

I found DDP Yoga.  Now, before I say anything else about this, I’m not being paid to write a review, nor am I receiving any kind of compensation for this article.  I have just seen a number of videos on Youtube, which I’ll show you below, and then I started using the workouts myself.  Diamond Dallas Page created a program that you can start out simply with, that you can work at your own pace, and step up as you’re able.  It pushes your body without straining you to the point of collapse, and is a no-impact workout that you can do even if you have joint problems.

Here’s a video to show you one of their success stories:

 

This is another of the amazing transformations from this program:

 

And another:

 

Alright, so now that you’ve watched those really amazing, heart-rending videos, you’re going to go and buy the DVDs so that you can get started, right?  Or, you’re going to ask “Hey, wait a minute, those DVDs cost money!  Why is he suggesting we buy them when this is supposed to be a low-budget blog?”  That’s a really good question.

Yes, you could ignore these, and try to find videos on Youtube that teach you how to work out.  And they’re going to be disjointed, nothing is going to be one specific workout program, and eventually, you’ll lose hope because all the disjointed information will contradict all the other information, and you’ll probably give up.  These DVDs, while they cost a little bit, are a lot cheaper than other workout programs.  Those other programs are harder, much more expensive, and in my own experience, not as motivating.  DDP Yoga actually works to keep you going, because they also build a community on their website so you can talk to other people in the program as well.  The other thing is that if you get the DVDs, the only other things you really need for equipment are a decent yoga mat, and possibly a heart rate monitor.  The DVDs are a much lower cost than other programs out there, and I think you get a great deal for your money.

So, here is a link to the DDP Yoga webpage where you can order the DVDs.  It’s not an affiliate link, and I’m not making a penny if you buy from this website.

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If you do buy the DVDs, and you’d like to get a decent yoga mat and heart rate monitor, here are links to some decently priced products on Amazon for you to buy that are a lot cheaper than other places. I do earn a small affiliate commission if you follow my links to buy them.

 

So, if you give these a shot, or have tried in the past, let me know.

An Air Conditioner That Doesn’t Use Electricity

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A man in Bangladesh has apparently invented a cheap air conditioner that works without electricity.  It is intended for the many places in the world where electricity is expensive or too scarce to waste on cooling, but would work amazingly well in any of your off-grid projects.

It’s a simple system too.  It works on the principle that when you take air and force it to compress, it loses a great deal of heat.  This principle can be shown by your mouth.  When you just open your mouth and breathe out, the air is hot.  However, when you purse your lips and blow, the air is cooler.  This system works the same way.

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Here’s how it works:

Take a board and cut it to the same size as the window you’re going to place it in.  Drill holes in a grid pattern across the entire board, and make them just large enough to fit the necks of bottles through.  Cut the body of the bottles, so you have a funnel shape, and discard the remainder of the bottles.  Fit the necks of those bottles into the holes on the board, and put the board up in your window.

What happens at this point is that when wind blows towards those funnels, it is compressed and forced through the necks of the bottles into the house, and the resulting air is as much as 5 degrees Celcius cooler than it was outside.  This could make a huge difference on those sweltering days.

The actual plans for this will be available, for free, on Eco-Cooler.com in the near future.

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How to Keep your Chickens Cool

Chicken Pool

If you live pretty much anywhere in the US, you’ve probably noticed that summer is here.  It’s brain-meltingly hot here right now, and temperatures are in the 90s and 100s over the foreseeable future.

This can be dangerous for your chickens.  Overheating can cause your chickens to have heatstroke and die, just like people.  In the video below, I’ve shown you what I’ve done to keep my chickens cool in the summer, and as always, we tried to keep things low-budget.  None of these things cost much at all.

Upgrading the Chicken Coop

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Yesterday, I decided to get out to the coop and do the upgrades it needs.  The chicks aren’t really chicks anymore, and they’re getting close to old enough that they’ll need some nesting boxes.  The roosts I had in there aren’t supporting their weight anymore.

I created 4 nesting boxes out of old plastic crates I got from a grocery store for free, and the roosts are old branches I screwed together.  The total cost of the upgrade project was… well….  I guess whatever the cost of a half a dozen screws was.  Under a dollar.  And a punctured finger.  And the headache I got from doing the work in 90 degree heat.  But other than that, it was free…

Here’s a little video I put together to show the results.

Reasons for Creating Low-Budget Off-Grid

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The other day, I was going through the many off-grid blogs out there, and realized that Low-Budget Off-Grid was fairly unique.

I’ve found that there are a few different kinds of off-grid blogs out there.

  1. There are the off-grid blogs of those that wanted to just live an easier, more self-sufficient lifestyle, so they sold their house and emptied their savings account, and bought a bunch of land, threw up some solar panels, and spent only $50k or so setting up their sustainable life, or
  2. They are off-grid sites that teach you how to prepare for living sustainably because the government will be declaring martial law any day now, or there will be some sort of natural disaster that will cause the complete breakdown of society.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not knocking either of these types of sites.  The first type of site is great for those that can afford to go that route, and if you have the money to spend to bring your off-grid utilities up to the same standard as you had before going off-grid, go for it.  The second type of site is important if you do believe that there’s a chance of society ending, and they will certainly help you prepare.

The thing is though, that I know a lot of people that don’t have that hefty savings account.  They don’t have a job that will allow them to put together significant amounts of money that they can use to buy a large amount of land, and a bunch of solar panels, and a contractor to build their off-grid home for them.  The people I know that want to go off-grid aren’t interested in doing it because they think society’s collapse will happen any minute.

Instead, they’re just people that are struggling with bills, struggling with debt, struggling with putting food on the table for their kids.  They’re people that want to go off-grid as cheaply as possible, because they don’t have any other way.  They’re people that are willing to put up with a bit of hardship for a while, and build systems slowly, so they can work while they build and live within their means.

I’m not a prepper.  Most prepper sites I’ve seen come at the idea from a right-wing viewpoint.  The viewpoint seems to be that godlessness is causing a breakdown of society, and will end with anarchy and war or something along those lines.  Now, I’m not knocking people for having a different viewpoint, as they’re entitled to believe as they do.  I do tend to agree with them that there is a growing breakdown in the way people treat each other, but my view is colored by my much more liberal viewpoint.  I believe that going off-grid and living sustainably is important because of issues with climate change, and with the increasing disparity in income that the working class are subjected to.  I believe that off-grid life can help ease the pain of those issues and try to bring things back on track.

I’ve seen information all over the internet on how to create certain systems cheaply, but the information is spread out everywhere, and there’s no easy place to track that information down.  I decided I wanted to compile all that information into one place.  I know I’m not the only one that needs this information, and I know that my friends aren’t the only ones I could share it with.  I know there are literally millions of people all over the US and the world that are struggling to make ends meet, and dreaming of going off-grid, and all I want to do is help make it easier for them.

This *is* possible.  Finding that piece of land to build on, and putting up a simple home, and powering it, and providing water, and feeding yourself and your family, and staying warm in the winter, and….  well, you get the idea.  Those things are all possible, and *anybody* can do them with the right mindset and determination.  Yes, it may require a major change in lifestyle to achieve, but it is attainable.

Together, we can all do this.

3 Cheap and Easy Ways To Build A Chicken Coop

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When I first looked at the possibility of raising chickens, one of my main concerns was the cost of a coop.  I wanted to have something that didn’t cost a lot, but when I checked out the farm supply stores, I found coops that were anywhere between $200 and $500.  Those were way out of my price range, and I got discouraged.

With some research though, I found that there are ways to make your own coop that cost very little, or nothing at all.  I’ll explain the pros and cons of each option below.

Old Shed

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Do you have an old gardening shed in your backyard?  They make a great chicken coop with very little work, and a decently sized shed can easily house a dozen chickens.  You can convert the entire shed, or wall off a portion of the shed, and turn it into a perfect coop.  Remember to add roosts and nesting boxes, and your chickens will be living the high life.

If you don’t have a shed, check Craigslist or your local Buy and Sell pages on Facebook.  There are people giving away their old sheds all the time in my area.  All you need to do is drop by with a truck, load it up, and bring it home (safely).

The downside to a shed is that in the winter, your shed will need to be heated to keep your chickens happy, and the bigger the space, the more expensive it is to heat.

Doghouses

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Another great option, if you have only 3 or 4 chickens, is to use a dog house.  You can get some hinges, and make a door in the side of the dog house for easy access to the interior so you can clean it and collect eggs.  Again, nesting boxes and roosts are a necessity.I see old dog houses being

I see old dog houses being given away on Craigslist and Facebook constantly.  Most people just want to get rid of them or sell them for a few bucks, so scour your local buy and sells and pick up a good deal.

The downside to a doghouse is that they are small, so only house a few chickens, and require that you get down on your knees for cleaning.

Pallets

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If you want to get completely creative, you can always find pallets and build your own design.  You can get pallets for free from a lot of places.  Just drive around and you’ll find piles of them at many hardware stores, giant box stores, and even liquor stores.  Always go in and ask the manager if you can take some.

The cool part about pallets is that there are many designs and tutorials available online that show how to make a chicken coop out of spare pallets.  You can build as fancy or as plain as you’d like, and make it just about any size you need.

The cons of this are more varied than the other options, however.  First, you need to make sure the pallets you get are safe to use.  Check out this article to find out how to tell if you have safe pallets.  Secondly, this is the most time-consuming option, so if you’re in a hurry, this may not be the option for you.  Finally, while the pallets may be free, you’re going to need nails and screws, hinges, and other hardware, and that does add up in cost.

Conclusion

Take a look at your yard, and decide what will work best for the space you have.  Are you good with tools, or still new (and that’s okay)?  How many chickens do you plan on having?  These all come into consideration when you build your coop.  Regardless of what you choose to do, also remember that your chickens will need outdoor space, called a run, to live in as well, so take that into consideration.  Have fun, whatever you do!

Beekeeping the easier way

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Beekeeping is, in my opinion, one of the most important things you can do as an off-gridder.  With the decline in bee populations, every new beekeeper is a necessity.  Without bees, humanity’s ability to produce food collapses.

So, on that cheery note, we’re going to take a quick look at beekeeping, and how to do it easily.  You’re going to notice that in this case, I haven’t said we’re going to do it “cheaply”.  This is because today, we’re not going to look at the cheapest, DIY option, but rather one that will save you time and money in the long run, as well as something that is easier on your bees.

First of all, you’re going to need a hive super, which the colony will live in and the queen will lay eggs in.  I recommend the following because it is cheap, well-made, and will work well for you.  It’s recommended you start with two of them, to give the colony enough room to grow.

Now, here is where things get interesting.  You *could* buy more of these, and build a perfectly good beehive, and the hive itself will be relatively low-cost, only a few hundred bucks.  However, then you have to take into account the cost of the tools you’re going to need to harvest the honey.  You’ll need a beekeeper suit, a comb knife, a hive tool, a frame grip, and a smoker.  You’ll need a centrifuge to get the honey out of the comb.  And you’ll need several hours worth of time and a lot of effort to get the honey out, killing many bees in the process.

This is where I suggest the more expensive option.  A hive has been developed that doesn’t require that you pull the honeycomb frames out, doesn’t require that you cut the comb open to get the honey out, doesn’t require that you spend hours and hours with lots of backbreaking labor to get the honey out.

The Flow Hive is a more expensive option, yes.  However, it requires basically turning a tap, and letting the honey pour out of the hive into a jar or bucket.  It takes minutes instead of hours, and doesn’t disrupt your bees.

Here is a video showing how the Flow Hive works.  It’s absolutely fantastic, and I think every beekeeper should invest in them.

Now, where a complete traditional hive costs somewhere around $200 to $300, and all the accessories are another $200 or so, the Flow Hive is priced higher, in the $700 range for a complete hive.  As you can see though, the ease of use makes this entirely worth it.

I have provided a link to their website, which is the only place you can currently purchase them.  I don’t have any business connection to them at this time.  I just really think they offer the best product for beekeepers.

Flow Hive website

Finally, I want to mention that when you keep bees, you’re doing a few things that are important.  First, you’re helping maintain a healthy bee population, which this world desperately needs.  Second, honey is something that everyone can use in their home, saving themselves the cost of sugar, and keeping things like high fructose corn syrup out of the house.  And finally, you can bottle that honey and sell it, making a very tidy profit.

The possibilities are amazing.