If you know me, you know I google EVERYTHING that’s on my mind. So a couple months ago I googled “Earthships in Lake of the Ozarks” and thank god I did because I stumbled upon THE COOLEST blog written by husband/wife team, Neal & Elisha, that moved out here from Houston in search of a more sustainable and financially free future. I was so excited! Besides our common goal of self sufficiency, they have a lot in common with Bobby and me – Neal is a software engineer like Bobby and Elisha works in marketing like me! It was like we were meant to find each other. 🙂
So I thought I would sit down and document some of their journey to get some tips and help anyone that is interested in building a more sustainable life. Their blog is super helpful and I know they have some big plans in the works so make sure to check out lakeoftheozarkspermaculture.com when you’re done!
GVG: What inspired you guys to live off grid? Were both of you on board from the get-go or did one of you have to persuade the other?
Elisha & Neal: In 2010 we purchased our first home. We were extremely excited and felt like we were taking a huge step toward our future! The excitement quickly wore off after realizing we’d signed up for a 30 year IOU with the banks. I shrugged it off as “everyone either has mortgage or rent, so may as well be a mortgage.” Neal, on the other hand, immediately began looking at other options to remove our dependency on the US dollar. At this point we weren’t familiar with “sustainable living” but knew we wanted to retire long before 65 years old.
Our house, the food production, it all derives from a desire to live a functionally sovereign life.
Neal started by gardening, but even if we grew 100% of our diet, we’d still have a mortgage and recurring bills. That’s when he started researching alternative building methods. He eventually stumbled upon Earthships which opened up our eyes to the potential. I’ll be perfectly honest…I thought Earthships looked really bizarre at first! Though they looked non-traditional, I loved the concept of having a self-built home without a mortgage. Since the homes were designed to provide water, waste management, and electricity autonomously, it met our requirements. Neal was definitely an advocate the moment he realized Earthships existed. I wouldn’t say he had to persuade me, but I did have a lot of questions that he had to research before I’d commit.
GVG: Why did you choose to build an Earthbag home?
Elisha & Neal: Beyond Earthships, we explored a diverse range of options both cutting-edge and ancient. There were many factors to consider and we felt like earthbag homes, combined with some Earthship techniques, addressed them all. It needed to be affordable, possible for 1 or 2 people to build, utilize simple building techniques, heat and cool itself passively, be easily maintained, and provide for our essential needs holistically. The Earthships were our first option because of their exceptional ability to provide off-the-grid functions. However, the total costs were still comparable to a traditional home and required a large manufacturing footprint. We also had concerns about pounding 1,000 tires full of dirt. Merging earthbag construction with Earthships provided the perfect medium and addressed our concerns about the financial costs, labor, and manufacturing footprint.
GVG: Where are you now in your build process? What’s a typical Tuesday like?
Elisha & Neal: We just finished the rough-in plumbing and foundation. Next step is setting the door frames, followed by laying earthbags! On a typical Tuesday Neal is out clearing land or constructing the house while I’m working from home at our apartment. I work Monday through Friday and help Neal build the house on the weekend. Neal is out at the land 6-7 days a week. Though now that it’s winter we haven’t been going out to the land as much! Our efforts indoors are focused on designing a long-term food production system, which we plan to implement after the house is complete.
GVG: You’re from Houston, TX, what made you move all the way to Lake of the Ozarks, MO? Why did you choose Lake of the Ozarks over Taos, NM?
Elisha & Neal: Texas was our first choice since that’s where most of our friends and family are. Land is expensive though! Avoiding debt was a priority for us and we couldn’t apply for a mortgage even if we wanted to; banks typically don’t offer mortgages for unconventional buildings or raw land without the collateral. To stay in Texas and pay cash meant we’d have to move to the desert – which we seriously considered. Before committing we decided to open our options and explore the rest of the United States.
Ultimately, there is nothing that cannot be learned; no skill that is unattainable. As we settle in and come to terms with our pace, we’ve steadily been able to remove fear from the equation.
There was one other important factor to consider. Building codes and restrictions are designed to conform to the traditional home. Many such laws do not apply towards our construction methods. In fact, our designs are fireproof, earthquake resistant, eco-friendly, and void of the tens-of-thousands of chemicals found in a normal home. Unfortunately, that didn’t matter to government regulators. In places like Taos, NM they are a little more accepting. But we still lose money paying regulatory bodies, inspectors, and the like. Instead of rolling the dice and trying to work with government officials, we decided to look in unrestricted areas. The great news is we’ll be able to continue experimenting and innovating on our home design without worrying about big brother shutting us down!
The Lake of the Ozarks features beautiful rolling hills, a massive recreational lake, lots of affordable land, and few (if any) building restrictions in certain areas. It was the perfect place to start our homestead.
GVG: What has been the biggest challenge so far with your build?
Elisha & Neal: Neither of us had any experience doing anything like this. There was so much to learn! We were constantly researching, reading, watching videos, experimenting, and planning. Every step of the way had been met with obstacles. Sometimes these obstacles came with financial or health risks too. If we messed up on our plumbing, it could be repaired. But if we messed up on the roof, it could result in serious injury! Taking our time to learn the skills while safely addressing those risks was a daunting undertaking. The biggest challenge has been to exercise patience and accept the process one step at a time.
Ultimately, there is nothing that cannot be learned; no skill that is unattainable. As we settle in and come to terms with our pace, we’ve steadily been able to remove fear from the equation. Also, seeing the fruits of our labor has been an empowering and encouraging motivator.
GVG: What advice do you have for someone wanting to build an Earthbag home or just wanting to live more sustainably in general?
Elisha & Neal: The hardest part about this entire process was making the move. After years of planning we finally put our foot down and said, “It’s time.” We weren’t 100% ready; I’m not sure if we would have ever been. Ultimately, if you want to start building your own house, don’t be afraid to start. Jump in feet first and you’ll learn how to swim eventually. No amount of planning will ever bring these dreams to reality, it requires action. You can do it! Just get started.
GVG: Were there some influential books and documentaries that motivated you to choose this lifestyle? What were they?
Elisha & Neal: Yes, definitely. Neal read a ton of books on economics, banking, and history which drove us to seek independence from the US dollar. Our house, the food production, it all derives from a desire to live a functionally sovereign life. When it comes to alternative architecture and sustainability, the following books were instrumental for us:
- Earthship volumes 1, 2 and 3 by Michael Reynolds
- Permaculture a Designers Manual by Bill Mollison
- Hacking the Earthship by Rachel Preston Prinz
- Aquaponic Gardening by Sylvia Bernstein
- The Art of Natural Building by Joseph K., Michael S, and Catherine W
- Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture by Sepp Holzer
- Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway
- Earthbag Building by Kaki H and Donald K
- Garbage Warrior Documentary
- Greening the Desert Documentary
- MyLittleHomestead Youtube Channel
- OGB (off-grid build) Youtube Channel
- Geoff Lawton’s extensive video libraries and online permaculture design course (PDC)
- Kirsten Dirksen Youtube Channel
- Living Big in a Tiny House Youtube Channel
To stay posted on Neal & Elisha’s journey, make sure to subscribe to their updates on lakeoftheozarkspermaculture.com!