cob courtyardMany people strive for the American dream. A great job, maybe a family and a home they can be proud of. Sadly tightened credit markets have made it nearly impossible to get a slice of the American pie. If you want a piece of the dream, without the huge mortgage, and 30 years of slavery at a job, you must start thinking outside of the box.

Book's have been around for years detailing true accounts of folks who scratched their living from the land. These people built homes, and raised families without a huge bank mortgage, and in some cases without a job. I'm not talking about pioneers that settled America, I am talking about people who wanted their piece of the American dream so badly they were willing to sweat for it.

cobNo matter your background or your mechanical skill level you to can achieve what these people did. It's never to late to learn a skill and most of the skills you will use you learned during childhood. Building your own home will not be easy; things' in life rarely are. But the dream of home ownership is closer than many people believe if you approach it from an owner builder standpoint.

Sweat Equity

Cob BuildingSweat equity is very simply the manual labor that you, as a home owner, put into building the home. Since labor costs can drive up the price of new construction you are saving money by doing as much of the work as possible yourself. The work is often hard but the reward is great when you consider that you won't need a 30 year mortgage to build your home. There are many resources to help owner builders across the internet. Books and video resources can be found on Amazon or even checked out from your local library. It is important to remember that, even though you are doing the work yourself, you are allowed to consult with those that have gone before you.

Natural Building

StrawbaleNatural building incorporates all aspects of an owners land. Typically on site material, or locally obtained material are used to lower construction costs. When you use these materials you eliminate transportation costs that can play a huge role in traditional material prices. Many land owners will incorporate bamboo, rock, and timber in the building of their home, as well as, earth from the site to mix earthen plasters and renders. Natural building relies on human labor more so than the use of machines. Particular attention is paid to the use of renewable or recycled materials.

Cob Building

EarthHavenCob is an ancient building technique that has been used since man has been on this earth. The techniques to build with cob were described in detail as early as the 11th century and those same techniques are used to build beautiful homes today. Cob Building is the only truly free form of home ownership. Cob is forgiving and can be formed into beautiful structures that will last for generations. You can use on site materials to build a cob home and salvage any commercial materials you may need.

If you are going to build a cob home there are many books and workshops across the country that will walk you through the process. The mudpies you made as a child will certainly help you in your journey to building a cob home. Cob is similar to Adobe and other earthen materials in that it is composed of straw, clay, sand and water. Cob after being mixed is formed into loaves that are stacked like bricks. Key holes are formed into the wall so that the next course of cob will have staying power. The process is very similar to building toy homes with Lego's.

StudioIn 1994 Kevin McCabe built a 2 story home in England. His home was the first cob building to have been built in England in 70 years although many were still standing. It is common for a cob home to last 500 to 700 years. Many homes have followed and a resurgence in cob building has happened around the world. Many people are turning toward cob building because of its function and cost effectiveness. The building process known as 'Oregon Cob' was refined by the architect Ianto Evans in the 1980's and he has written many books on the subject. Cob building really is a dirt cheap option for home ownership.


WorkshopCordwood construction also known as stack wall construction is a method of construction in many parts of the world. Cordwood construction gets its name because the wood used in this building method is cordwood also known as firewood. While building a home from firewood might sound crazy it has been done for many years. Not only are the homes beautiful but they are owner builder friendly. Crodwood homes are easy to build unlike traditional log homes that often require heavy equipment to move the logs. Two people could complete a modest sized home in a few months using cordwood as their building method.

buildng cordwoodThe drawback to using cordwood is that you must plan ahead. Trees must be cut and debarked in the spring and then allowed to dry for, 2 years, before they are cut into lengths. The logs are allowed to dry to prevent cracking and checking, although, there are chemical methods that can be used to prevent these problems. Cordwood homes do not have the same insulation value as straw bale or cob homes. A double wall or trough wall technique is used to bring up the R-value in the walls. The walls are typically built with space in the middle where a wall can then be filled with insulation.

Cordwood would make a beautiful addition to a cob or straw bale home and would allow an owner builder to commence building upon moving to their land. The skills needed to construct a cordwood home are minimal, one only needs to know how to stack the logs and point mortar. Like any natural building method cordwood should start and end with a good foundation and a roof that sheds water away from the foundation. Always remember the good hat and good boots rule.

stone foundationAny owner builder should consider the strengths of their land. If your land has rocks then you should use rocks in your construction. If you have standing dead timber incorporate it into your home design plans. Using what you have available is a great way to minimize costs, and create a home that is aesthetically pleasing. Build on high ground when possible to eliminate the risk of floods. Incorporate passive solar design techniques into your home to help heat and cool during the seasons. Plan for any future additions upfront so that you can put a door in place for future use.

Many times free building material can be found on Craigslist or in your local newspaper. Freecycle is another resource for people to locate free or discount building material. Often times someone may need a house or barn torn down and you can offer to do the work and collect the material. Old windows and doors can be found for pennies of what they would cost new. You can incorporate recycled glass walls in any form of natural building that you choose. Plumbing and lighting fixtures can be found at Habitat for Humanity Stores across the country. Sometimes materials are used but they are a clean and free from debris. Using recycled, free, or natural construction materials can lower the cost of your home by as mush as 75%.

Many owner builders have been able to build truly green homes for less than $5,000.00. These homes are energy efficient, and heated or cooled by design. Natural construction relies on site conditions, the changing of seasons, and the path of the wind and the sun. Knowing the lay of your land and how the elements effect it is crucial to building a mortgage free home.

If you are in the planning stages of a mortgage free life you may enjoy reading Develop a Plan For Self Sufficient Living, and Living Within Your Means