Wednesday, February 03, 2010


The feasibility study is pretty much done. The only real outstanding question I have is whether the county will allow us to build the kind of house we want. I won't be able to get a solid answer until I actually apply for a building permit, but I'm hoping to get a hint now, before we actually pay for the land. I do know that there are straw-bale houses in the area, as well as an underground / fully bermed / living roof house, so that establishes a precedent for alternative construction.

With the time available before closing, I'm going to try to draw up a budget. There will be a lot of hand-waving, but it'd be good to get the sticker shock out of the way. If it's outrageous, we can still walk away.

Here's some numbers I have to compare to:

Tom Elpel built his first house in the early 90s, using foraged rocks, trees from a forest fire, and his own labor for $10/sq. ft.

Over the last 5 years he built another house, using many reclaimed materials and his own & volunteer labor for $15/sq. ft.  He was very ... resourceful.

I talked to a log-house builder in the next county. He said they build the house at his facility, then disassemble, ship, and reassemble. (When I was visiting, a guy was using a drawknife, which is awesome.) He said that a log house shell is typically $30/sq. ft., while a finished ("turnkey") house would be $150/sq. ft.

There are a couple companies that do upscale, compact, eco-friendly manufactured homes.  One of them is Greenpod ( Another is ideasbox ( They both work from a single-wide design, and will add on modules for a little extra room. They're low-energy / clean air / sustainable materials, so we thought about using one instead of building our own. Two problems: they're too small for a family of 5, even if we like each other a lot, and they're expensive. ideasbox fortino is $150k for $1250 sq ft. (that's $120 / sq. ft.).  Greenpods:
Pods start at less than $160.00 per square foot. This includes module fabrication, but not the cost of your land, site preparation, transportation and setting of Pod, or site improvements.
That's a lot of additional costs. Our water hookup fees (not actually running the water pipe) will be $9000, for example.

There's something troubling about theses prices. For one thing, a $150,000 is inherently not "green". If you're planning on buying one, where are you going to get $150,000? Talk to any eco-nut, and they'll tell you there's not much money to be made doing sustainable work. All that money's gotta come from somewhere. We are quickly converting all natural capital in to money, and that's tough on the ecosystem. Similarly, the money you spend on the house will be used to direct more of the same behavior. The economy is inherently eco-unfriendly. Just look at how much waste we create here in the most affluent country in the world. The poor parts of the world that are making a lot of waste are doing it in a desperate attempt to copy us!

This is why the "eco-mansion" feels so wrong to me. That kind of luxury is always wasteful.

That doesn't mean that we have to be miserable to "save the planet". Quite the contrary! The eco-mansion is a substitute for our true desires; when we meet those true desires we find the most fulfillment possible.

What a delicious tangent.

Anyway, there are some points to measure against. It's spreadsheet time.
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