Green Design simondalehome500

Published on December 1st, 2008 | by Susan Kraemer

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Hand-Build an Earth Sheltered House For $5,000

Cash, that most basic element of our economy, can be in abysmally short supply for new young families scraping by on marginal jobs.

Sustainable housebuilding may not be foremost in their minds.

But one young couple in Wales managing on an annual income of just $10,000 went ahead and built their own cheap home anyway, sustainably, mostly out of materials from “a rubbish pile somewhere.”

They had wanted to spend as much time as possible at home while their two children were young. Their nearby woodlands ecological management work would have been impractical if they were paying a mortgage.

So they enlisted some help from family, and sometimes just from people passing by, and from any of their friends who stopped by to visit:


The result was their very low impact homemade house. A hand built unique setting for a charmed life for their two young toddlers. I’ll bet they’ll remember this first home for the rest of their lives.


Four months of hard work and they were all 4 moved in and cozy.

Total expenditure? $5,000. Tools? A chisel, a chainsaw and a hammer. Building expertise? Simon Dale says:

“My experience is only having a go at one similar house 2yrs before and a bit of mucking around in-between. This kind of building is accessible to anyone. My main relevant skills were being able bodied, having self belief and perseverance and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.”


Sustainable design and construction:

  1. Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
  2. Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
  3. Frame constructed of fallen trees from surrounding woodland
  4. Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally very easy to do
  5. Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
  6. Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
  7. Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture compared to cement
  8. Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
  9. Other items were reclaimed from “a rubbish pile somewhere”: windows, wiring, plumbing

(Maybe there should be a new LEED rating just for building so inexpensively: Sustainable Financing. This is one mortgage bill that’s not going to be haunting their mum and dad for years.) Inside there’s a wood-burner for heating – waste wood in the old-growth forest is locally plentiful.To get the most of the heat, the flue goes through a big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly releases the warmth.


There are just a couple of solar panels – just enough for for lighting, music and computing. It’s a simple life. A skylight in the roof lets in enough natural feeling light, and water is fed by gravity downhill from a nearby spring. There’s a compost toilet. Roof water collects in a pond for gardening

Says Simon: “Our house is unusual but the aesthetic appeals to lots of people and perhaps touches something innate in us that evolved in forests.

Want to try making one too? Simon will show you how or check out other green homes for more ideas and inspiration like this post on building a cob house.

Images: www.SimonDale.net

Related stories:
Berkeley’s Homeless Build Paleolithic Barbecue Pit
Earthsheltered Home Construction Work Exchange
Wildfire-Proof Prefab Camp Closes Up When You’re Gone
Hard Lessons in Sustainable Living




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