Foxhole Homes Builds Earthships at Low Cost

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.

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