It’s been a long time since I thought about posting here, or even bothered to check in. That’s because we officially finished our experiment a while back. We built the house, proving to ourselves that yes- we could do it. We’ve been living in the house. We’ve been eating loads of our own produce, now frozen for the winter. We’ve been burning wood that we either cut down or scavenged from local sources and staying nice and warm. We’ve been drinking and cooking with rain water that we collected and filtered. Shane put up a clothesline for me and hanging laundry has become my new favourite chore. Our energy needs are being met nicely with solar power. Our electricity is more reliable than our grid-tied neighbours. There are no mice in the new home, making us probably the only people in the area who don’t have to deal with pest control. Our experiment has proved successful on a great many fronts, especially considering when we began we did so with the intention of just trying it out to “see if we could do it”.
Having said that, there have also been things we’d have done differently. Personally, I find the humidity in here unbearable in the summer. We bermed the north side of the house completely and partially bermed both the east and west sides. We didn’t put any windows (or other ventilation) on the north side, as per recommendations for our climate. Given how thick the walls are- I don’t know that was necessary. But ventilation- that might have been nice. I have extremely sensitive skin and find it difficult to tolerate humidity once the temperature gets over a certain point. Lesson learned but not of much practical value. The thing with walls this thick and solid- you’re not easily adding a window at a later date.
Also, this whole “sharing space” thing… Much more romantic in theory than in practice. We were going to use the main “living area” as a proper living room as well as to house office space for each of us. In retrospect I can hardly believe we were sober when we made that decision. It strikes me as very hippy-like and totally unmatched to our personalities. I require complete silence and no distractions when I’m working, Shane paces, talks with clients on the phone, needs music when he’s going hard… Add to which we never actually “leave” our work space. Shane sits next to the same computers he’s been working at all day (and sometimes into the night) when he’s done and supposed to be unwinding. I’ve completely abandoned writing at my desk and now work elsewhere on the property.
And on the subject of space- there isn’t enough and it isn’t well planned. Our largest “free space” happens to be in the same area as our wood stove (which is lovely- I am still in love with our stove). That’s great if you’re not planning on working out in the area but I’ve developed a bit of an obsession. It is impossible to work out as hard as I like to go next to a roaring wood fire. So again, I’ve had to go elsewhere to do that. And guests? Not a chance. We literally don’t have the room.
Shane still likes the round rooms and would do that again but a larger round room. I wouldn’t. Architecturally it is beautiful. But practically? I think there’s too much wasted space and it’s difficult to plan around. Personally, I would go with the far less aesthetically pleasing rectangle. Much easier for appliance and furniture placement.
Which brings me to our news. We’re building another house come spring. I know, I know. My initial reaction (upon realizing that we don’t have a lot of choice) was, “You’ve got to be f*cking kidding me.” I don’t have a particularly long attention span. I’m generally lucky to follow-through on a project to completion. I never finish a project and say, “let’s do this again.” But there are enough little issues and a few bigger ones that we can’t comfortably conclude that this is our retirement home. And ultimately that’s what we want. We love the area and can easily picture living here forever. The only thing that we need is a home that suits our needs and will last us.
The next house we’ll build will be made of rock. Yes, we know that’s not the fastest build and no, that’s not a knock against earthbags. But if we’re going to build another house we might as well try something we haven’t yet. And we still want to keep the advantages of a heavy house, namely that it will hold up well over time and require minimal repair and that we will not have mice. (Not having mice in HUGE in my books, in case you missed that in previous articles.)
It’s going to take some time. We don’t expect to move into it next year. Luckily, this house isn’t that bad. We’ll live here in the meantime. My goal is to have the shell of the house built by next winter and I expect that’ll be pushing it to the limit. I’m not sure how that’ll fit with my goal of achieving a little more work-life balance. Not well I suspect. I’m still adjusting to the amount of time that just living off-grid and away from basic amenities consumes. I could easily make “keeping house” a full-time job, if I were so inclined, but I’d rather just about drive myself into the ground attempting more. And so be it- we’re about to experience just what “more” feels like.
We did some prep this past summer in addition to regular homesteading work. The pad we’ll be building on is pretty near prepared (Shane tore down a house that was standing on the spot we chose) and we’ve several pretty sizable piles of rocks, sorted by size. We’ve done a good amount of research and decided on how we plan to build as well as house design. Ultimately, perhaps most importantly, we’ve spent a good deal of time discussing what we want and need and what’s practical for us over the long-term. And that’s key because this is our retirement plan. It has to be practical now and thirty years from now. We’re no longer in the experimentation phase. Well, apart from the fact that we’ve never built a rock house. But how hard can that be? ;)