Financing Our Earthbag House

Getting the money together to build a house can be an enormous challenge. The possibilities include saving up enough money over time, paying for it with earnings while doing the construction, or borrowing from friends, family or a bank, and then paying back the debt over time. All of these options have their pros and cons. Saving money is a good way, but it means postponing the pleasure of living in your dream home, and it can take a long time to save enough money. Paying as you build with income can be a lengthy project because not only are you limited by available resources, but you must work while trying to oversee the building. Borrowing money is likely the fastest way to be able to move in, but then you are committed to a lengthy (and costly) payback period.

When we started to build our unusual earthbag/papercrete house in 1997, we planned to do so without incurring debt, hoping to pay for materials as we needed them. We were comfortable living in our bus conversion motorhome, so aside from the Property Owners Association deadlines, we were in no hurry to finish the building project. For the first year we managed to buy the materials we needed and our plan was intact.

Then in 1999 we learned about Y2K. There was considerable uncertainty about what the future would bring, and we realized that we might be much better off if we had the house completed. Not having much in savings, we faced the challenge of how to pay for everything necessary to make the incomplete structure a home, along with other supplies to give us some sense of security about the future. It took some real soul searching to come to the conclusion that our best course was to take on some debt to accomplish our goals.

So out came the credit cards; it’s so easy to turn plastic into wood, glass, pipes, electrical fixtures, etc. And of course the other end of the deal are all those little envelopes that emerge from the P.O. box wanting their pounds of flesh. To be honest, we managed the credit card debt pretty well. I became quite adept at playing a shell game of accepting the continual offers of 2.9% to 4.9% interest for a short period of time, then switching the balance to another card when the time expired. I made a spreadsheet on the computer to keep track of it all. We never missed a payment and kept our good credit record.

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