solar, environment, cabin

This couple live in a fully self-sufficient eco cabin they built for only US$10k

Words: Josh Rakic
Photos: Courtesy of Taylor & Stephanie Bode

An expert guide to building your dream eco cabin in the woods with everything from some old car tyres, a load of beer bottles and a bit of horse manure

Like any other wilderness lovers, Taylor and Stephanie Bode had long dreamed of escaping to their own little cabin in the woods, living off the land and going off the grid. Unlike most of us, however, they followed through on their goal and have spent the best part of the past four years living in the cabin that their own hands built with some rubbish, recycled goods and horse manure.

In fact, with no more than US$10,000, a penchant for scavenging and some good old-fashioned manual labour, the 20-something Californians built their own modified Earthship in Santa Cruz. Check it out and learn how they built it below. 

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It’s mostly heated and powered by the sun and they get their water from the earth and the clouds, using any runoff to sustain their vegetable garden. But it didn’t come without effort, as the couple joined the famous Earthship crew of New Mexico, where they helped build sustainable homes for others before becoming confident enough in their abilities to go out on their own and make their budget dream home in the Santa Cruz mountains a reality.

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THE RED BULLETIN: Is it true you were teaching abroad in Taiwan when you made the decision to go eco?

TAYLOR BODE: We saw a documentary called Garbage Warrior, which was the first time I’d ever heard of Earthships and that just blew me away that you could live so sustainably for so little money. We moved to Taos and I started studying Earthships, and Steph and I spent a year travelling around building them for other people. Once we got the hang of it and saved some money, we decided it was time to try it on our own.

How exactly do you make a cabin for only 10,000 dollars?

It’s minimalist. But it involves a lot of labour that doesn’t factor into that cost. You save the money but you need to give up the time. It’s about how much you value your time and your lifestyle, and how you want to live. But it’s doable for not much money if you’re willing to sacrifice your spare time to do it.

What are Earthships?

It’s an autonomous, self-sufficient design making houses that are based on principles of building with reclaimed, recycled and re-used materials – specifically automobile tyres, beer cans and bottles. It’s what society throws away applied to architecture. It’s about what you can use to not just build a sustainable home, but something that cleans up the environment in the process. These buildings are designed to take care of us and the planet.

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What does $10,000 buy you?

The 10k was just materials. My wife and I did all the work together over about a year. We lived in a 14-foot yurt while we built it. If you go to there are tonnes of packaged designs you can buy to build a place yourself. The dollars only start adding up once you pay for someone else to construct it. The cement plaster to cover the tyres is one of the main expenses, and solar panels for power. We found someone’s property that needed some clearing so we harvested two redwood trees and they made for our posts and beams.

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What are the tyres used for and where do you get them?

If you look at the interior pics – all the white walls you see, those are automobile tyres behind cement plaster, and they’re all free. You can go to any mechanic or tyre shop and get them. They have to pay to have tyres taken away, so if I walk in and ask for some of their junk tyres, they’re stoked. They get rid of them and save money. Go back the next week and they’ll have more again.

So it all comes down to scavenging?

That’s the key, scavenging. We spent every night and day looking on Craigslist and driving around towns looking for stuff people wanted to get rid of. There’s a site called which is great. All the furniture was free. We found tonnes of barnwood for siding and scrap lumber we could repurpose. After that it’s glass bottles, beer cans and whatever else we could find. It’s a fun game of seeking out free materials to build a house. It’s all out there if you know where to find it. People doing remodels are throwing perfectly good windows and materials every day. The amount of good finds on construction sites is nuts. One thing we found was a solar hot water system that just needed some fixing.

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You use a grey water system to feed your garden.

We have the roughing-it version of the Earthship, so we didn’t go for the fully integrated grey water system – ours is more of a makeshift manual system.  You can make them as nice and comfortable as you want, but this is on the simple end. Our shower was outside, so we’d catch the excess shower water in a five-gallon bucket and then use that to water our plants. We grow all the food outside. 

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Did you really use horse manure for flooring?

We did an earthen slab, which is just sand, straw, clay and water.We got the straw from pulled horse manure, but it’s all about getting the right mix – it’s like a softer, more earthy, cement slab. Then it’s sealed with a hemp oil. It costs nothing other than transportation costs of the materials and the hemp oil, which can be expensive.

What about heating in the winter?

That’s the beauty of Earthships – they work anywhere in the world off the grid, just using sun, passive solar and thermal mass. The sun penetrates the south face, so it hits the tyres – which is the thermal mass wall – and they retain that heat. The tyres and the floor work like a battery. They hold the warmth and as the temperature cools, they emit that warmth back into the space. We do have a wood-burning stove as well, but it’s mostly for aesthetics.

Check out their hand-made eco cabin on Instagram or head to Kickstarter, where Taylor is raising funds to put a book together of the build.

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