Build your own Hot Tub for Almost Nothing

When you go off-grid, you have to remember that life is about enjoying the moment, and not just about survival.    Your plot of land is hopefully going to be out in a location where you can lay back, look up at the stars, and actually see those stars in their glory, instead of having them all washed out by city lights.

What better way to enjoy that evening than in your own hot tub?  Now, you could go and spend thousands of dollars on buying a premade hot tub, and run the power to keep it running and the water hot, but that’s just not the Low-Budget way.

The video below shows what can be done with cob building.  This simple mixture of clay, sand and straw is used to build houses, ovens, and in this case, a hot tub, and is incredibly simple.  It can be time-consuming, but fun.

There are a lot of ways you could create a hot tub like this.  You could get an old bathtub and build cob around it, or you can do as the creator of this video did, and create the entire thing out of cob, and seal it with linseed oil.  You can shape the hot tub however you want, and make it as large as you want.  Your creativity is all that’s required.

In the case of the video, he uses a pump to circulate the water through the oven in order to heat the water.  My suggestion, if you want to go even lower cost, is to run a copper pipe from the bottom of the tub, coiled through the oven area, and out just below the water line at the top of the tub.  Convection will circulate the water naturally without needing electricity.

If you’re not familiar with cob, I recommend the Cob Builder’s Handbook, by Becky Bee.  In it, she details how to build with cob in detail, from the theory behind the technique, to the completion and sealing of cob to ensure it lasts for decades or centuries.  Below is a link to the book on Amazon if you want to learn more.

A Cheap and Simple Water Filter for your Off-grid Home

Today, we’re going to look at how to filter the rainwater you’re capturing.  A sand filter is a simple and low-budget method of creating clean, safe drinking water for your home.

Please note that these sand filters will filter out viruses and bacteria easily, but will not filter out heavy metals or other ground contaminants.  It is intended for use with a rainwater catchment system.

The following video explains how to make a sand filter, and gives you the knowledge as to how and why it works as well.  It is yet another piece of the puzzle you need to completely remove yourself from the grid without sacrificing your health to do it.

 

That’s all for today.

Interview: Creators of the $10,000 Earthship

house exterior 4A few weeks ago, I learned about Taylor and Steph, who built an Earthship in the mountains in Santa Cruz, California.  What made it unique was that they managed to do this for a cost of only $10,000.

I found the original article over on ApartmentTherapy.com (read it here), and learned that they used a lot of found materials to cut the costs of their build.  Doors and windows were found on Craigslist, tires were free, and they built it themselves to lower the cost of their home.  I highly recommend reading the article, but when I read it, I admit I had a lot of follow-up questions that I wanted to see if I could get answers to.

I managed to track down Taylor and Steph, and emailed them some questions that I believed were important for my readers to know the answers to.

1. How long did you spend researching and learning about earthships before you got involved in building them?

house exterior 4Roughly one afternoon. I watched the documentary Garbage Warrior while living in Taiwan
and made arrangements to move to Taos almost the next day. Earthships seemed to address all of the ideals I cared deeply about: environmentalism, social justice, low-cost simple living, empowerment through self-sufficiency, and architectural innovation. My mind was blown and I was compelled to get involved as soon as possible.

2. Did you take the Earthship Biotecture course to get started on building with them?

house interior 17I did. I attended the second-ever Earthship Biotecture Academy session in the spring of 2012. I spent the rest of that year volunteering on EB projects and ultimately working on the Earthship crew on several builds across the country.

3. The articles I’ve seen about your $10,000 Earthship mention that most of your build was done using free or found materials. Where did the costs arise?

Primarily framing lumber, sheathing, roofing materials, and cement. But there are a lot of hidden costs that add up like fasteners, plumbing, tools, and transportation up and down the mountain. I hired an arborist to sustainably harvest and mill two redwoods, and the solar power system took up a decent chunk of that $10k as well. As you mentioned, we were able to successfully scavenge for free windows, doors, some lumber, all furniture, a wood stove, sink, and barn wood siding. The 500 tires were also free, as were the thousands of glass bottles that we collected and used as bottle-bricks. 

4. What were the biggest challenges you had in building your earthship?

house interior 7The first half of our building process was blissful. After a while, however, we ran out of money and started using credit cards. The biggest challenge was definitely managing debt and hustling for income without abandoning our commitment to the house. We were unwilling to back-burner the house in order to save enough money to continue. We’ve seen too many projects go unfinished that way, and have heard from too many older folks who had dreams of building a cabin in the woods but regretfully never took the leap because of lack of funds. We were determined, and using credit cards was a calculated risk we were willing to take to see our project through. We thought about it like a small, high-interest, short-term construction loan. Stressful, but worth it in the end.

5. After living in your earthship for a number of years, is there anything about earthship living that you didn’t expect, or that required a major shift in lifestyle?

house interior 4‘Earthship living’ can be as luxurious or primitive as an owner wants (or can afford). Our experience has been on the roughing it end of the spectrum, and may not be indicative of ‘Earthship living’ in a house built by Mike Reynolds and crew, for example. We had very minimal power for the first year and a half, sometimes with only a couple hours of light in the winter. We didn’t want to run a generator so we just lit candles and went to bed super early. We had no refrigeration and took a lot of cold, outdoor showers. In this sense, the simple life is not an easy life. Our place is inexpensive and funky, but it required a very real adjustment to living without some of the amenities we tended to take for granted growing up in the suburbs (such as TV, wifi, seemingly unlimited power, and water that’s always hot). Above all else, living remotely presented the greatest shift in lifestyle for us. Town was about a 30 minute drive away on winding, mountains roads, and in order to make a living we found ourselves spending more time in our cars than we ever had before. The intense automobile dependency was frustrating. This is a reality for rural living in general, however, and is not unique to Earthships. 

The greatest benefit that we experienced with the Earthship lifestyle is the direct connection to nature. When living in a house that functions in harmony with the environment, you can’t help but see yourself as part of nature, rather than as something separate from it.  

6. Is there anything you’d change about the way you built your earthship, knowing what you know now?

house interior 8I really wouldn’t. The house is perfectly imperfect. I think of it like writing a novel or a poem…you write it, finish it, put it out there, let it be; to go back and change it after the fact would take away from the magic of the original expression. Certainly I could write a long list of mistakes made along the way and say I’d try not to repeat them, but each blunder was part of the journey. As Steph and I would regularly remind ourselves throughout the build, this is our first house, not our last. 

One of the reasons I’m so curious is that another article I have posted details the building of a one-room cob house built in Great Britain, which was built for a total of $250.  There’s quite the gap between his $250 build, and your $10,000 build.  I’m trying to understand, and show my readers, what the differences are between his build and yours.  While I can make assumptions about things like the expense of the various earthship systems, I’d like to be certain.

house interior 6I’m not familiar with that particular cob house, but I do know it’s possible to build for next to nothing if that’s the priority. I love buildings like that for an art studio, office, music room, guest bedroom, etc. But a $250 ‘house’ likely offers little more than a shell. More of a shelter than a home. Presumably very little square footage, probably a composting toilet, little to no electricity, minimal water catchment and plumbing, and likely some kind of wood-burning rocket stove for warmth. One can live this way, but it’s a matter of preference and, in my opinion, not a realistic long-term dwelling solution for 2 or more people. Earthships are designed for passive solar/thermal mass performance and have guidelines beyond just four walls and a roof. 

Furthermore, basic in-home comforts tend to add up. If building on raw land with no services, to have access to water you will need to either drill a well, catch and store water, or pump from a water source. Each of these methods costs money. A composting toilet or outhouse is viable and very low-cost, but if you want a flush toilet you will need a septic tank and leech field, which also comes at a price. Without a septic tank, managing grey water from the kitchen sink can turn into a filthy and unhealthy process over time, so that will need to be considered as well. Solar electricity is becoming increasingly affordable, but even a tiny system will exceed the $250 price point you mention with the cob house. Otherwise if you want power you will need a generator, wind turbine or hydro set-up which again, takes money. Each property will have a different set of circumstances and limitations, and each occupant will need to decide what level of comfort they require within their budget. I’m all about simple and low-budget, but it’s important to have realistic expectations. 

house exterior 3We tried hard at every juncture to limit our expenses, but in order to stay true to Earthship design principles enough to maintain comfort for Steph and I (and our two dogs), the cost wound up being around $10k. This may sound like a lot compared to a $250 cob house, but recognize that the average home in Santa Cruz County sells for $700,000. It’s all relative. I suppose I could have saved money by holding out for more free materials, but keep in mind that hunting for reclaimed materials takes a lot of time. There’s a cost-benefit analysis that must be  done to determine the best course of action. In our case, on several occasions we chose to bite the bullet and pay up. As a friend of mine once told me, “There are three ways to build: fast, cheap, and good. You can do two at a time, but not all three.” 

I will elaborate in greater detail on both our building process and the off-grid lifestyle in our upcoming book titled, Nomadic Roots. Your readers can follow me on Instagram @nomadic.roots and you can encourage them to email me directly at tbraytonb@gmail.com.

I was absolutely thrilled to receive these answers, and completely agree with them on the issue of cost and value.  There are options that will allow you to build your own earthship for a cost even lower than $10,000.  It will, of course, be up to my readers to decide whether the cost savings are worth the trouble.

house interior 17My family and I will be building our own Earthship home here in Kansas in the future.  We do plan on using some of those measures ourselves, such as using a series of low-cost wind turbines instead of solar, and the cladding on our roof will be free other than the time it takes to harvest the metal.  However, whatever costs we do incur will be worth the comfort they bring.

Thanks again to Taylor and Steph for answering my questions.

How to Build a Water Storage Tank for $200

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned low-budget methods of building a house, and of powering a house.  Today, we’re going to talk about water storage.

For any kind of permanent home, you’re going to need a source of water.  Wells can be incredibly expensive.  If you have a stream on the property you’ve found, then you’re doing well.  The final option, and one that I recommend for most people, is water catchment.

We have water fall out of the sky all the time, and all we need to do is catch it and store it.  Now, the easy way to deal with water storage is to buy a plastic tank, place it on your property, and fill it however you choose.  These water tanks will cost $600 – $1000 depending on their size, and are made of plastic, which I try to avoid if I can.

The low-budget method requires a little more work, but allows you to create a tank sized as you need it, using sustainable materials, and you can always build another if you need more storage.

I’ve provided a link to an instructable on how to build a water storage tank out of earthbags.  The total cost, according to them, is only $200.  Obviously, if you decide you need more than 1000 gallons, your cost will go up, but you can always start with one this size, and build another next to it, as many times as you need, until you have the storage capacity you want.

This post has been about storage.  In future posts, I’ll explain cheap ideas for filtration so your water is clean and drinkable, and simple systems for catchment.  Finally, we’ll need to do something with the water once you’ve used it.

Links:

$200 Earthbag Water Storage Tank Instructable