Remember how infinitely inviting Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit hole looked, in the Lord of the Rings movies? You probably thought they looked pretty cool, if a little on the short side, but you probably didn’t think you could build a fully functioning one yourself. With natural spring water. Heated by a wood-burning stove. Powered by a solar panel. Using nothing more powerful than a chainsaw. With only one other person to help.
Not only did Simon Dale in Wales do exactly that, but he did it with a budget of only $4,200, in only a few months. His home is low-impact, eco-friendly, and as close to carbon-neutral as a human dwelling can possibly be. He and his family have no mortgage or rental lease payments, and they have the joy of living in a home they built themselves.
The reasons they did this were many, ranging from their career interest in forest management, to their urgently small budget, to their unhappiness with the chemicals/elements often found in older paints and materials that would have accompanied any rental lease they signed on an older home.
To build their dream real estate, Simon and his father-in-law first dug out a large section of hillside (which provided natural cooling in the summer), and constructed a retaining wall with naturally-occurring stones from the immediate vicinity. Next he framed out a dome using several small native trees, reinforced the dome framing with split logs, laid down some bales of hay and palettes to create a foundation, and were well on their way.
By layering plastic and cotton sheets along with hay bales, the roof went up, largely supported by the adjoining hillside and the hay and stone-reinforced walls that went up quickly. They fit in windows, filled in any remaining holes with straw, plastered to reinforce the hay and stone-constructed walls, laid down floor panels over the hay flooring, and sodded the roof to perfectly blend it with the hillside and to prevent erosion and water damage. Finally, they installed the most expensive piece of the whole house, the solar panels.
Considering that many people pay as much for just a month or two’s rental lease in a wooded valley retreat such as this, Simon’s investment was pretty phenomenal. He literally could have put the entire cost of the home on his credit card, and paid it off in a few quick months. Oh, and one other thing: Simon has no construction experience and no special building knowledge, which means that literally anyone could do this.
The world would probably be a better place if all of us built our own homes, out of local, sustainable materials, using spring water and solar power. We may not all want to live in a hobbit hole, but we probably all do wish we didn’t have such high mortgage and rental lease payments, and that we didn’t impact the environment quite so much, and in that sense, we could all stand to learn a thing or two from Simon Dale.