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Red Hen, Green House
Red Hen, Green House
I'm building a earthbag house. Follow my journey as I list the materials I use and explain the steps I take. Lets see what we can build together.
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Red Hen, Green House

How to make Gravel Bags

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Red Hen, Green House

Gravel Prices

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Yes, you need gravel for an earthbag house

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Red Hen, Green House

EarthBag Price Comparison

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Where to buy Earthbags

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Red Hen, Green House

Full Floor Plans of the Solar Pit House

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Red Hen, Green House

How to choose Blueprints for a Earthbag house

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Red Hen, Green House
Public post
You can build a wall with tires by filling them with dirt and stacking them. In addition to recycling it creates woven appearance that some may find attractive.
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Red Hen, Green House

Resource links for Building Materials Analysis part 2

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The rest of my Building Material Analysis

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Red Hen, Green House

Shipping Container Price Comparison

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Price Comparison for Dome Kits

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Red Hen, Green House

Supplier Links for Building Materials part 1

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Red Hen, Green House
Public post

What is 'affordable housing' & can I build one?


So. Affordable housing. I’m sure there’s an actual legal definition of it. From my limited knowledge of taxes and real estates investing ‘affordable housing’ is a building that caters to people who have ‘low income’ (another legal word). The IRS has a number and if you earn less than that number yearly you live in poverty by their standards. The poverty line is used in calculations to determine other things like food stamps, medicare, taxes etc. If someone who lives around the poverty line lives in ‘Affordable (I think the legal term is ‘section 8’) housing’ then I think the government helps pay for a portion of their rent. Additionally, the building owner gets a tax break because he’s providing the housing that the government apparently doesn’t want to. There’s often grants at the city, county, state, and federal level that can be awarded to the the affordable housing owner &/or builder.
Now you can forget about everything I just said because none of that applies to me and what I’m doing. The definition I just described are for commercial enterprises; say one person renting it to another. That’s not what’s happening here. I’m using a more literal definition. It’s housing that I can afford. Notice that my definition is also much more subjective than a arbitrary number the IRS uses to establish a poverty line. What I can afford to build will be different that what you can afford to build. So my forthcoming evaluations of various building methods will be judged subjectively. Keep in mind too that I’m married. I like him most of the time too so I want to live with him. He gets a say in the matter because I want him to continue living with me and cooking me breakfast.
Remember back in blog 1 when I described my tumultuous life. A lot of the tumult was caused by housing problems and it lasted years. So I had years to research this shit. I’ve researched most various forms of housing from the high tech, recently developed to literally how native Americans built huts. I’ve basically been the big bad wolf conducting a logical litmus test on not only the three little pigs but their entire extended family and lineage. Also, I live in a forest so my building will be exposed to numerous opportunities to deteriorate and degrade. If I’m going to take my time to build this thing with my own two fucking hands then it had better last for a really really long time. Here is my compilation of various building materials, resources & thought processes regarding viability in both financial and practical senses:

Wood: Traditional housing uses ‘stick framing’ on the inside and often times has wood on the outside that sometimes have a plastic siding to protect it. The problem is that wood sucks. It’s susceptible to everything going wrong with it. It can grow mold. I don’t even know how many species of mold and mushrooms are growing in my forest at any given moment. Fire. Wood burns. While a forest fire isn’t highly likely, it is within the realm of possibility. Termites. I know for a fact our woods have termites. 
Straw: Yes, people can (& have) built houses out of actual straw bales. I’m guessing this is the real life basis for the ‘dumb’ little pig. From what I’ve read, it’s a cheap, fast, and fairly easy means of construction. However it doesn’t pass my litmus test because it can burn and grow mold. I’m sure they probably put some waterproofing around it but still 2/3 isn’t good enough for me. I’m not a dumb pig.
Steel: I like steel. It’s strong and durable. Won’t burn and bugs can’t eat it. It’s got no insulation though and technically it can rust. The problem is that you have to pay to install it, which can cost as much as the building itself.
Still I liked it enough to buy a shipping container (that will have to be another blog post) to use for storage. The cool thing about shipping containers is that they’re modular. You can basically buy them in different lengths & put them together to be different rooms. They’re strong enough that you can stack them too. Damn near indestructible. I’m not sure an 18 wheeler with an shipping container on it could make it up our road & I don’t want to even price out air delivery via helicopter, though my husband likes the idea. A regular shipping container isn’t too expensive but modifying it is. Finished home prices from construction companies are also out of budget.
You can also buy modular ‘kit’s with steel beams that you assemble yourself. When delivery was included they were too expensive too. I even searched alibaba. A search of ‘modular house’ renders a sea of options. Kit prices from asian manufacturers seem to be cheaper than US companies & they use higher quality products (steel vs. wood) but the cost of delivery is as much as the kit itself. It’s also hard to judge square footage considering most of the planet uses metric (& we’re the silly ones using our own system) so it’s hard to understand the description & really know the cost. The business model of Alibaba isn’t convenient either. On most e-commerce sites they have one listing for one specific product. Each of these listings appear to be for multiple sizes and options. To be 100% certain of the price quote you need to contact the manufacture; which makes sense. I tried to make it super easy. I had drawn up a floor plan and included it with my quote request. Very quickly my message box became inundated with questions from every comapny I had contacted. It’s a hassle if you’re trying to compare prices. There’s so much back and forth just to get a single quote. 
Adobe & Cob: This is basically just building with mud/clay. For Cob you mix in some straw & maybe a little sand so it forms it’s own concrete. I’ve seen it them stuffed inside wooden pallets. Where we are building is primarily red clay so this initially is a very attractive option. Clay is fire proof, termite proof, and it shouldn’t grow mold. However it can rain a lot here. For several days in a row & I don’t want to take the risk of my walls melting so I’ve nixed it. Adobe is more common than cob. You can find Adobe construction companies much easier than cob. There’s also something called ‘super adobe’, which is really more of a building technique than another material. It’s basically cob but they pour it into long net mesh tubes. The material is similar to the plastic mesh bags produce comes in. Just image a roll of 300 ft. of that stuff & you get the idea. So they pour cob into the tube and move the tube as they go to shape the walls. So basically all of the walls are totally connected & you build it from the bottom up. It’s fundamentally & conceptually very similar to a 3d printer. Except here, you’re the printer. The mesh of the tubes is wide & I don’t want my walls to melt, so again this is out.
There's too many to go in a single post so I'll continue my litmus test of building materials and methods in next weeks post.
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Red Hen, Green House
Public post

How to apply gamification to reach your goals


It wasn’t a new years resolution. I just woke up one morning & decided to build a house.  Now, I know thats not a ground breaking revelation. A lot of people build houses but here’s the kicker I decided that I was going to build a house. With my own two fucking hands. To understand how I came to this decision, you need to understand my mindset. The American economy seems to value a few things: 
1.) Cash/currency  
2.) Knowledge 
3.) Time
4.) Energy

Most transactions seem to boil down to exchanging one or two of those things for another. For instance: Work is trading time and knowledge for cash. College is trading cash for knowledge.

So after college a guy I dated (not my husband) introduced me to boardgames. Not standard boardgames like scrabble and monopoly but EUROPEAN boardgames. ooooooh exotic! These boardgames are totally different. The rules are more complex, they have more ‘moving pieces’ literally and figuratively in the strategy. There are abstract concepts, more variables, and multi step planning. For instance, you will win if you get the most Z. Y will convert to Z, but the exchange rate varies each round. X will convert to Z at a constant rate but you also need to spend X to prevent A from happening. Four V’s = 1 Y. There’s also M & if you manage to collect L,M,N, & O it will multiply your Z’s. 

Like I said, WAY more complicated than Uno. I enjoyed them. I played. I learned. I discovered I was good at them. Once I understood the rules, I could conceptualize how different things ‘flowed’ to the end goal. Then it hit me. If I could be good at a boardgame then I could be good at life. I mean life is often times called a ‘game’ anyways, right? So how can I win the game of life? Figurative life, not the literal game with the fake cars and little pink & blue pegs. To win a game you have to know the goal, the end game, the winning conditions. It’s true, alot of people want alot of different things but a house is pretty high up there on most people’s list and definitly a common goal. So I had a goal, now I needed a strategy to reach it. I’m good at strategy. The example of a European boardgame I made above with the letters would be categorized as a resource management game. You acquire and manage different resources of varying worth. Im good at managing resources because I can be efficient. Efficiency means less time is spent. Time on my value list above. Hey! Doesn’t my value list above look alot like a list of resources? Ding! Ding! Ding!

So I’ve identified the resources & I know my win condition. Now, I have to come up with a strategy. Most people get a mortgage. They then have to work to be able to afford that mortgage. For THIRTY  YEARS! They don’t actually OWN the house until the mortgage is paid off and most mortgages are thirty years! That’s not efficient that’s not even logical in my book. Thirty years is almost half of someone’s entire life! So they are going to spend THIRTY years, while they’re young enough to enjoy life mind you, working to pay for a house. By the time they have the house paid off their older & don’t have much time (or energy) left to enjoy either their house or the rest of their life. The entire American life and economy are built around this one idea or principal. Yes, I know I’m describing the American education, work, banking, retirement, and housing systems. They’re all broken and they’re all fucked. Like I said inefficient and I can come up with something better than that. I refuse to wait to enjoy life.

I’ve identified my win condition, resources, and one strategy that won’t work. Since strategies are built around resources like go back to our resource list. A mortgage represents: 30 years of time and knowledge to acquire money to pay for it. You don’t need a mortgage if you can afford it in the first place. So I was looking to reduce the cost of building a house. A large part of the cost of building a house is labor. By building it myself I’m using the resources of my time & my energy to reduce the cost (cash resource). Another way to reduce the cost? By building it completely different with different materials than most. Is it possible to get some building materials for free? Is it possible for ‘affordable housing’ to not be shitty? Can someone with no building experience build an ‘affordable house’? & what the hell is an ‘affordable house’ anyways? 

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Red Hen, Green House
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Tumultuous. Thats how I would describe the first seven years of my marriage. Not because of the marriage itself, but mainly, our home situation. Literally our housing. We married in Houston as I’m a native being born and raised there. My family has a very long and proud history in Texas. Imagine my dismay when shortly after we married my husband got a job offer in Mississippi. What’s a girl to do? 

So we packed everything up and moved to Missi-fuckin-ssippi. My father in law in Houston begged us to move back to Texas. I hated it in Mississippi and (secretly) rejoiced when a year later his contract was not renewed. By then, my father in law had taken his inheritance and resigned to be a hermit, buying a horse farm in Florida. I stepped up to the plate and got a job in Arlington and happily moved us back to Texas. 

When we moved back to the state, my husband used the retirement he had accumulated to buy a small piece of land in a suburb outside of Fort Worth. A year into my job, we decided to try to move on to the land. It was a vacant quarter acre and was an awkward shape to try to build on. 

In what eventually became an utter disaster deserving of its own blog series, we put a tiny home on the land. The “city” hated it. We tried to work with them but they were not having it. Three years and two lawsuits later resulted in a court order from a judge stating that if we slept on our land (that we owned!!) we would be arrested. Yeah, not kidding. We are literally political refugees from DFW. 

Like I said, tumultuous. So without having any idea of what to do or where to go next (by now my job had ended) we moved our stuff into storage and stayed with my parents in Houston to strategize through the winter. Imagine our surprise when my husband got a call a few days before Christmas that his father was in jail. A quick search on the county website showed that my father in law was behind in his property taxes! Worse yet, Florida is a tax certificate state and the certificate had been sold. If the back property taxes weren’t paid, then the holder of the certificate could foreclose!

*Horns blast, banners unfurl* Here we come to the rescue! We couldn’t let my father in law get foreclosed on (& become homeless). Also, my husband is an only child, meaning eventually he could be inheriting that horse farm one day.  Foreclosure meant my father in law loosing his retirement home and my husbands inheritance in one fail swoop! Especially since the property taxes were so cheap. $2,000 for 27 acres, I mean c’mon!
We needed a place to live and his father clearly needed help so we once again packed a moving truck and moved across (multiple) state lines. We knew the house needed some renovation, we figured we could help pay to renovate it and make it more to our liking since he would be inheriting it one day. 

We sat him down and tried to have a serious conversation with him. We told him how much his back property taxes were (with interest) and told him his due date for when he could be foreclosed on. We told him it was going to be ok. We had his back. We could pay his back property taxes. He said he didn’t want us too, that he would have sold it by then. Thats when he told us that he never intended for this to be his retirement home. Apparently he intended to rehab this house and then sell it for a profit, ‘flipping’ it, and then use the proceeds to buy another fixer-upper. This is what I wish he would have told us before we moved across four states.

The problem with his plan is that he’s terrible at it. His fatal flaw is that he put all of his cash into buying the property and didn’t leave himself any money to pay for the renovation or to live off of. When we had last seen him he was living without electricity (not even solar) and all he ate was eggs because that was all he could afford. He would buy a dozen, boil them, and eat them for every meal. He was skinny. To say he needed help is an understatement. He had lived in this house for three years and had done almost no renovations. It needed a lot of work too. There were almost no finished floors, half of the drywall is missing throughout the ENTIRE house, and the electrical had been eaten by mice and rats he had never gotten rid of.

Another crucial piece of information emerged that we didn’t know before moving in with him. He’s crazy. Not just a little quirky. As in totally paranoid, potentially hallucinating, with hoarding tendencies and a gambling addiction. He had very little human contact for three years and spent his time binge watching Alex Jones, you tube conspiracy series, and videos detailing every horrific act committed by ISIS in gruesome detail. And he was armed.

Apparently all of my husbands aunts and uncles knew. It was a well known family secret that no one had bothered to tell us. They had all tried to help him and ultimately had given up. They had reached a point where it was too painful to watch, they couldn’t let him take them down with him. The point that my husband and I reached. 

My husband has a line of products and we traveled to fairs (sometimes in other states) to sell them. We were driving through upstate New York when my husband received a series of frantic texts. His father was in jail again. 

Remember when I said his father was too broke to pay for electricity? His fathers solution was a ‘horse renter’.  This chick, who I have no idea how he found, paid for the electricity and in exchange she got to keep her horses on his land for free. We immediately didn’t trust her. We asked if he had a written contract with her and he said he didn’t need one. He said that he trusted her more than my husband. We recommended that he make a contract immediately. He responded something about how it wouldn’t work in Florida.

He apparently had asked her to move her horses out and they scheduled it for during the time we were at the fair. We weren’t there personally, which we are very glad of. My father in law has three stallions and one mare. His ‘horse renter’ had nothing but mares, and a bunch of them. What my father in law claims is that the horse renter was trying to steal the ‘hot box’ which kept the fences electrified. Without the electric fences the stallions could burst through the fences and trample people trying to get to the mares. So to prevent her from ‘stealing’ the hotbox, he shot the ground in front of her. Of course its currently up for debate how close he was yada yada. Like any normal person, she called the sheriff. He shot at her and he was arrested.

My husband says his father pulled a ‘Yosemite sam’ referencing the looney tunes character. Its making light of a serious situation. Florida has something called ‘stand your ground’ laws & hearings. The result is a wide range of sentencing. The judge could say that he was trying to protect people from the stallions and make all of the charges disappear. Or he could sentence him for up to 10 years in prison. The worst part is that he’s too broke to afford a attorney so he has a court appointed one.

We could pay the back property taxes and save the farm but we can’t afford both the taxes and a unknown amount of legal fees. Previously, my father in laws words and actions weren’t congruent. He would hire a realtor to sell the house and then talk about getting cows. Now there were no options left. He has to sell the ranch to pay an attorney or risk prison. He got beyond our help.

It had now become painfully obvious that this horse ranch was not a long term solution for us. By then we didn’t want it anymore because it had been tainted with too many bad memories. Where were we to go? My parents are trying to move themselves so that wouldn’t give us the stability we so desperately wanted.

I have a great husband. All he wants is for me to be happy and he works very hard to try to keep me happy 100% of the time, even going so far as to cook me breakfast every morning. He does’t care where we live, as long as Im happy. I’m the deciding factor. Both my husband & I own businesses, we can do them anywhere. That doesn’t help us decide where we should move to though. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go? 

After moving five times in seven years I want to settle down. Im tired of moving. I want to get in a place and stay there for twenty years, maybe more. I first decided to stay in the US because I didn’t want to overcome a language barrier for the fun of it and our companies are US based. I love the environment and am very sad for its ever increasing destruction. I believe in global warming. I believe the seas will rise in my lifetime. That eliminated staying in Florida. I wanted to be in a place with as few natural disasters as possible. That eliminated California, which has all of them. I dislike the desert, so that took out the entire southwest. I don’t do winter, so I crossed out every northern state. I was basically left with the southeast.

Texas had left a bad taste in our mouths after our tiny home lawsuits. Louisiana has its own weird system of government called “Napoleonic Law”. We did not go through all the trouble of attaining a decent understanding of the legal system with the *ahem* aforementioned tiny home lawsuits only to have it rendered useless. I hated Mississippi. Seriously HATED. The choice would really come down to entertainment options. Which one had active social scenes revolving around my unique hobbies?

After our tiny home lawsuits with the ‘city’ we had vowed to never live inside city limits ever again. If we want to really settle, we want as little government interference as possible. Having narrowed it down to a single county, I showed Ben a listing on Craigslist that I had previously seen and shrugged off. The listing said it was on the side of a mountain and steep so I didn’t think anything of it. The price was good so he wanted to check it out anyways. We went and hiked all around and he fell in love with it. It had boulders galore and several spots we could put little cabin rentals. We consulted with an attorney about the best way to own the land. We wrote up the offer and he accepted. We gave him his asking price, which was already really low, so we requested terms. We gave him $4,000 down and he agreed to carry a note for two years for the remaining $6,000. The total is only 10k for a whopping 22 acres! We got a great deal.

It’s raw vacant land and its going to be hard converting it into not only a home for us but also a cash flowing eco-resort as we are calling it but we are up for the challenge. Follow along with us as we share our building plans, schematics for rain barrels, and talk watts for solar panels. Not everyone wants to live off grid with sustainable aquaponics and wind turbines. It’s not the American Dream. It’s our dream. 


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