Posted by: Diane | August 18, 2009

Get me out of this tin box!

As a young family in Austin, we searched for affordable housing.  This was at a time when you could purchase a small family home with 2-3 bedrooms in a decent neighborhood for about $80,000.  Looks cheap by today’s prices, doesn’t it?  But it wasn’t affordable enough for our little budget.  We ended up buying a mobile home and renting a space in a park.

Five years and four babies later, we saw the need to get out of the city.  Perhaps we could find an inexpensive piece of property to move our mobile home to where we could build later.  Again, we could find nothing to fit our budget.  Until we searched the internet.  We found the perfect piece of property and moved our mobile home to northeast Texas.

Fast forward 10 more years.  We really thought we would have built a house by now, but with career changes and inflation, it just hasn’t happened. 

We’ve also had some small changes in philosophy.  Whereas, at one time we wouldn’t have hesitated to seek financing to get a place to live, we now find ourselves irritated with the paperwork, posturing, fees, and trouble of getting the money to build a place to live in.  Not to mention the rules and regulations.

While I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – we have a roof that keeps us mostly dry, plumbing that works, a wood stove for heat, and AC to keep us cool – I don’t feel comfortable inviting people over to our house.  In spite of our efforts at maintenance, the walls are yellowing, the carpet is threadbare, there is mold on ceilings and walls, the cabinets are peeling and warped, doors and frames are broken and there just isn’t enough “room for our stuff.”  It’s a disposable house.  We knew that when we bought it.  And we were ready to dispose of it a long time ago!

I would really like a house with a large kitchen and  a large living area.  We would love to invite friends over to eat and visit.  We would also like for our house to be energy efficient.  The less we can spend on heating, cooling and water, the more we have for other things.  We don’t want to go into debt for the rest of our lives to build a house and we are more than happy to do most of the work ourselves to reduce costs.   To this end, I have been researching alternative building methods for several years now.

I have looked at standard building with energy efficient options.  I’ve checked out log homes (horizontal, vertical and cordwood), post and beam, pole, strawbale, cob, dry-stacked concrete blocks, earthships, and finally earthbag construction.   They all have their advantages and disadvantages.  However, earthbag construction has one clear advantage over all of the others:  it doesn’t require a standard foundation.  In addition, the materials are cheap, the labor can be unskilled, and it makes for a sturdy, quiet, energy efficient home.  Eureka!



  1. Have you thought about building an outbuilding with lodging aka pole building with a loft– and moving into that temporarily while you use the shell of the mobile home for building a new, larger home? I don’t know the logistics of it but I’ve seen the results of such projects and they are nice.

    I used to live in a mobile, too, and know how they resist even basic maintenance. You can paint over the paper stuff that is used on mobile “drywall”. Have you tried bleaching the mold spots and then painting KilZ on them

    The cabinets can be replaced. Do you know of anyone doing a remodel? They would probably appreciate someone taking the older cabinets on their hands.

    I’m sure that you don’t want to put much money into the existing building, but it would help you feel better about your home, they are low cost projects and make it a healthier environment.

    • We have considered adding on to the mobile in the past–we could put a second roof over the entire trailer and then add on a couple of bedrooms and more living space on the front. But we’d still be stuck with non-standard everything and poor energy efficiency in the trailer. I can’t tell you how many broken doorknobs we have. I think we’ve replace the bathroom doorknob at least 3 or 4 times and had to break the door at least once to get someone out!
      I have painted the bedrooms and the living room and that was a great improvement. I figured out a way to do it without moving all of the furniture (I’m a very neat painter). We also recently had to replace a bathtub that had cracked in the bottom. As for the cabinets, we really hadn’t thought of replacing them, though the kitchen countertop is coming de-laminated. We have thought of tearing out the wall between the kitchen and laundry room (which we don’t need) to make the kitchen/dining area bigger. And yes, little improvements like this do make me feel better about the appearance of my home. I would just rather put my money, energy and efforts into something more lasting!

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