Lessons learned thus far:
1. Less Labor, more equipment. Labor intensive systems do not work when one man is doing all the building. While these earthbuilding/alternative systems are inexpensive, they are near impossible to do without a small village of workers. I am 33 and in decent shape, and I started building this house 15 years too late. I think it should be done in ones prime. A lot of older gentlemen contact me and tell me of their plans to do this or that out here. Now that Ive had some experience I can see that for them it is important to come up with less labor intensive methods. For ramming one really needs the equipment. Expect to pay $6000 for a large air compressor and hammers, this is what I’m going to do from now on. We are shopping for tools that will allow me to do all this work and not injure my body in the process.
2. Cover Bags as you go. For earthbags, its important to cover the bags with some sort of UV protection, i.e. papercrete, stucco, etc as you go. I thought I could build the dome fast enough to put a stucco coat over all of it when I was done. But things come up unexpected and to preserve what is there it is important to have the bags covered. So I would alternate every couple days from wall building to wall covering so that there is no stress or pressure if you have to take a few days or weeks off. This will allow one to build at the pace they want.
3. Storage Shed First. If I could go back and do things all over again knowing what I know now the first thing I would have build before anything else would be a large storage shed that can store all my tools, and equipment and keep it safe from the elements and people. This shelter would provide a shaded place in the summer to work in, and a place out of the cold wind in the winter. Even if its just a small pole shed type structure to keep snow off of things and provide shade.
4. You really can expect it to take twice as long and cost twice as much as you originally estimate.
5. Start Small. Have someone who knows what they are talking about check your plans and burst your bubble. I’m saying be sure your not biting off more that you can chew, if it feels heavy, its too much.
6. Listen to your feelings, if things are not fun, or light it is an indicator that you wont last long doing things the way your doing them. Be ready to change tactics, methods, plans, to accomplish your overall goal. Be patient, and allow things to work themselves out when it seems most opportune to do so, don’t force a job, but find other ways to be productive. Take time to have fun, recoup, recreate, rest, etc. It is very important to celebrate your milestones of accomplishment. With labor intensive projects like this your body will rebel in the form of emotions and thoughts that cause you to loose motivation.
7. Ideas vs Reality. What is on paper is not necessarily what is real. Owners manuals, Operators Manuals, often do not provide you with all the information you need. The input of people who have actually built an off grid house should always trump those who have only academic experience. I recommend copying people who have been building off grid houses for 20 years and not the engineer who has a great new idea for how to do it. There are so many little details especially in electricity and plumbing that can go wrong, that its better to do what we know already works.
9. The importance of having a local social support group, people who know you, respect you, like you, know what you are doing, and can provide love and support. Without our friends from church, we would not still be here. They have been like a family to us in good times and bad. We couldn’t imagine life here without them.
8. The Power of a Blog: When my wife and I first moved out here there was nothing online about the area. There was hardly any Internet profile at all, or a place to find accurate information. We have found that our blog has been a source of encouragement from others and a source of inspiration for others. It has been a document for ourselves when we need to see how far we have come. Now we can enjoy a handful of blogs with people who have bought land here and want to pursue similar goals. Some of those people have already made it out here and have contributed greatly to the growing community. A few have said they decided to buy land or move here after reading our blog.