Connect the Dots

Look at the larger picture in life with all the pieces together in order to make more informed decisions.
Look at the larger picture in life with all the pieces together in order to make more informed decisions.

Let’s compare aspects of building a sustainable home with children’s connect the dot (dot to dot) coloring books. If you look at just part of the picture, the full image is not apparent. Take for example the recent blog post about It Can’t Possibly be Worth It. A reader left a comment on the original blog post at I Need More Life that challenged the basic concept of living in the country and building your own home as impractical, and gave a list of reasons why it was easier and better to live in a big city. That got me thinking about the larger picture. The decision to build your own sustainable home goes way beyond just saving money on a mortgage (although that’s a huge part of the equation). Step back a moment and connect the dots.

Other considerations include:
– low impact lifestyle: We all know the world’s environment is getting wrecked right and left. It seems nearly impossible to live lightly on the land if you’re in a big city.
– healthy living: It’s more difficult to be healthy when you’re breathing polluted air, living in buildings that offgas toxic fumes, surrounded by unhealthy people who are spreading disease, loud noises, high stress, long commutes, sedate jobs, etc. Healthy living is a huge part of the back-to-the-land movement. This type of lifestyle is much more in line with how humans were meant to live in my opinion.
– peace of mind: You can’t put a price tag on good health or peace of mind, and I argue it’s much easier to have a peaceful life in a natural setting where things are quiet, calm and relatively free of pollution. 99% of big city crime is mostly unheard of in rural, remote areas. The story of the Country Mouse visiting the City Mouse comes to mind. And let’s not forget the risk of losing everything if you have a problem meeting your mortgage payment. Having a home free and clear of the banks certainly adds peace of mind.
– self sufficiency: What happens when the power goes out after a big storm or other natural disaster? Lights go out. Toilets won’t flush at some point. Cash registers and gas pumps won’t work, and on and on. You’re much more at risk in a big city in these situations than someone in the countryside who has planned for such emergencies.
– greatly reduced energy costs: In addition to not blowing money on a mortgage, you can also save a small fortune on energy expenses. Suggestions include: build an energy efficient home, get a wood stove and low cost wood supply, install at least one solar panel, solar water heater, LED lighting, superinsulation, weatherization package, cool pantry, root cellar and other features according to your climate.
– greatly reduced maintenance: Asphalt shingles, pressed board siding, sheetrock, synthetic carpeting and many other modern materials quickly fail, while stone, timberframe, rammed earth, earthbag, straw/clay can last for centuries.
– quality of life: Life is short. How do you want to spend your time? Stuck in a traffic jam or working in a garden and spending quality time with your family and friends? And keep in mind it’s not a black/white issue. You could always visit a nearby city for concerts, community activities and shopping.

Image source: Teacher Vision

6 thoughts on “Connect the Dots”

  1. “The point is many people can’t afford houses that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

    I don’t disagree. But the answer is not advising everyone to move to rural areas. That is only a short term solution. At current rates the US population could increase to over 400 million in 35 years. As those areas fill up because of displaced people, not only is the quality of life for all going to change, but with more people will come more restriction. In the past 50 years look at any area of the US that has had sizable population growth. Because of that growth, most areas loose much of what attracted people there in the first place. More regulation is the norm, not the exception.

    If one looks at the US as a whole, increased numbers of people have dramatically changed (for the worse) the quality of life in many areas of the country. California is the canary in the coal mine as to what large influxes of people do to rural areas. Most people don’t realize it, but agriculture is still the state’s biggest asset. California agricultural land is disappearing to development. Soil that can feed this country is now covered in houses and malls.

    Regulation always seems to increase with growth. Partially because of money and partially of the need to control. Conflicts arise when older residents don’t like what the new comers have built. Under the auspices of $afety even more regulations are imposed.

    Safe design and quality builds are important. Earthquake country, tornado ally or the hurricane belt all have building design considerations. While those considerations are not universal, there could be some sort of universal quality/design standards. Owner/builders and even experienced contractors have and will take shortcuts. If the structure fails, who picks up the tab? Does society pay for the medical and other financial costs associated with structural failure? Not having building codes could present more problems not only for the inexperienced owner/builder, but to society in the long run.

    While it would be great to allow owner builders to construct what ever habitation they would so devise, I don’t believe the system at this point could ever be changed. For one there is liability issues and second there is too much money to be made. Of course the liability issue could be resolved by allowing owner builders to construct what ever shelter they desire, but with the stipulation that the structure could never be sold. Perhaps passed from parents to children, but never leaving the family. Of course the nanny state people would fight like hell to “protect” people from their own homes. I don’t know if the revenue factor involved in building permits will ever be able to be eliminated.

    What really needs to be done is to have the uniform building code changed so as to encompass the so called alternative building methods/owner builder. Rather then have specific codes written for each little thing, a more general overall approach would be better. Inspectors rather then looking at alternative building with the mindset/education geared to conventional construction methods, would look at the quality and design with regard to safety.

    Some believe that engineering would solve a lot of the problems encountered with building departments. While in some cases that maybe, but it is no guarantee. I have seen engineered plans rejected by building departments and have to have additions submitted.

    • You missed the part about “Not everyone is going to do this, so that’s not a main concern.” We’re not telling everyone to move to the country. We know only a tiny percent of the population read this blog and among those only a small percent will actually move to rural areas based on what I say. I’m merely pointing out one option, not offering a blanket solution to the world’s problems.

      You can try to change the codes. Good luck. Tell us how it goes.

  2. If only life was so simple! I suspect that there are many people who live in urban areas, that would love to live the rural lifestyle. But often choices are not all that easy to make and sometimes those choices are made for you.

    Work, trying to earn an income, finding the resources your family needs often dictates where a person lives. Medical needs, family closeness, education and work availability are all deciding factors.

    Just suppose many of the 39 million people in California decided to go for the rural life and abandoned the major metropolitan areas. How would it effect all of those rural areas that alternative builders like? Suppose the Taos area got an influx of even 100,000 people? Would that area still be rural and alternative building friendly?

    Currently the number of alternative builders including even DIYers is small and they tend to be building in out of the way areas. If those areas became more populated, most likely the affordability of property would go down and the restrictions on building would increase. If everyone made the choice to live in a rural area because of it’s slower pace, natural surroundings and tranquility, it would no longer have those features!

    I remember a few years ago visiting Yosemite and Sequoia parks. You can no longer walk up close to the largest of the big trees. The reason is soil compaction. Everyone was loving those trees to death. So many people were visiting, they were damaging the root systems.
    The same is true for those areas that today seem to be ideal for those looking outside the box. Increased population would more then likely destroy what they came to the area for.

    I was raised in a rural agricultural area. Because the climate was nice and the area had great mountain views, the town now has a population of near 200,000. The climate today is still the same, but the views are gone due to smog. Congestion and urban sprawl have replaced citrus and grapes.

    • The point is many people can’t afford houses that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not everyone is going to do this, so that’s not a main concern. There are lots of ways to build low cost houses if you don’t have to meet codes. Many of these alternative building methods are reminiscent of how people built their own homes for countless thousands of years. People have always had the right to build their own home up until this past century or so. The current code system is making it impossible to afford their own home. What are your suggestions?

  3. Are there advantages living in a big city?
    Depends on what your priorities are I suppose. I lived in Memphis Tn for almost 2 years, and I did not like much about it. I did like the fact that there were some good choices of restaurants and options for fresh produce, but overall that is about it. Traffic was horrible, crime terrible, rent or mortgage was high for most, but I had a good friend who lived there and it was not so bad on rent for me but I am glad I do not live there anymore. As of now I am renting in a rural community with my wife, but we have plans on building an earthbag structure in the next couple of years, I have land which is owned by me free and clear, so that is a plus!! I had originally planned on a log house but timber prices here though depressed were still to expensive. And I personally have grown to love the earthbag structures. As a matter of fact I love any of the earth building styles, and It should be dirt cheap!

    • I guess it’s not just me then. I’ve never liked big cities. My preference has always been living in a rural area near a medium small town of around 100,000 or less. A town this size has pretty much everything you need without all the gridlock, pollution, crime and other drawbacks. I also love remote areas, but then I start missing high speed Internet and other conveniences.


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