An Inexpensive, Earth-Sheltered, Passive Solar House

The Kalmers’ earth-sheltered, passive solar house is made out of many free and inexpensive materials, and cost less than $10 per square foot.

Kalmer-Household jpgReading MOTHER EARTH NEWS for years gave me ideas on energy-efficient home building. I used a few of these ideas on a 100-year-old run-down home I bought and remodeled. This enabled me to acquire tools and skills, learn about solar, and build equity.

I sold the home in 1982 for a profit after spending five years fixing it up, and bought rural land to build my dream home — an earth-sheltered, passive solar house I built using several techniques MOTHER EARTH NEWS had taught me about. The land had an old trailer on it that we lived in during the house-building process, and then we sold it when we moved into the house. We used locally available, free or inexpensive materials whenever possible. My wife and I gathered local stones to slipform walls, borrowed an old concrete mixer, built forms, and used the forms to build our east, west and north walls. We then externally insulated them before backfilling. I cut logs from my newly acquired 31 acres to make a post and beam frame, infilled with cedar cordwood. I traded some of my time with friends in exchange for them helping us when we needed it, such as when pouring concrete. Because of the sale of our remodeled home, we had enough money to support ourselves while we built, which took about 18 months. We did all the carpentry, cabinet making, electrical and plumbing, only hiring out the excavation for our recessed earth-sheltered home. We added an attached greenhouse, and later solar hot water and solar electricity, all without any sort of loan.

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