solar, environment, cabin

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

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

An expert guide to building your dream eco cabin in the woods with little more than old car tires, beer bottles and 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 the land and going off the grid. Unlike most of us however, they followed through and have spent the best part of the past four years living in the cabin that their own hands built - with garbage, recycled goods and horse manure no less (yeah, we’ll get to that).

In fact, with no more than $10,000 in their pockets, a penchant for scavenging and some good old fashioned manual labor, the 20-something Californians built their own modified Earthship - those obscure partly submerged abodes of outsider art in New Mexico.

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It’s heated by the sun, powered by solar, and they get their water from the both the earth and above, using any runoff to sustain their vegetable garden - a picture of minimalism and sustainability at its very best. But it didn’t come without effort, the couple joining the Earthship crew in New Mexico and helping 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: You guys 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. So we moved to Taos and I started studying Earthships with the company, 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?

It’s minimalist. But it’s a helluva lot of labor that doesn’t factor into that cost. You save the money but you need to give up the time. So it’s the value you give to your time. And how much you value 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.

In a nutshell, what are Earthships?

They’re probably the most radically sustainable designs in the world. They’re 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. It’s an autonomous, self sufficient home design. Buildings 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 say 1 year. And we lived in a 14-foot yurt while we built it. If you go to there are tons 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 tires is one of the main expenses. 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 tires used for and where do you get them?

If you look at the interior pics, all the white walls you see, those are automobile tires behind cement plaster. And all the tires are free. You can go to any mechanic or tire shop around the country and get tires for free. They have to pay to have tires taken away so if I walk in and ask for some of their junk tires, they’re stoked. They get rid of them and save money. And come back the next week and they’ll have more again. So they were all for free. And they’re rammed with dirt, so that’s just labor.

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. And then 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. And it’s all out there if you know where to find it. People doing remodels are throwing perfectly good windows and materials everyday. 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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And you use a grey water system to feed your garden?

We didn’t go for the fully integrated grey water system. Ours is more of a makeshift manual system. We have the roughin it version of the Earthship. 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. And we grew all the food outside. 

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You really used horse manure for flooring?

[laughs]. We did an eartenslab, which are installed by MuddBums (a natural building team) in Santa Cruz. It’s just sand, straw, clay and water. And you just get the right mix and it’s like a softer, more earthy cement slab. But yeah the straw, we actually pulled that from horse manure. And it’s all about getting the right mix. And 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?

There’s none. That’s the beauty. Earthships work anywhere in the world completely off the grid. Just using sun, passive solar and thermal mass (car tires that hold heat) and some ventilation techniques you can keep these buildings warm without any external heat source year-round. Because the sun penetrates the south face, it hits the tires (thermal mass wall) and they retain that heat. The tires and the floor work like a battery. They hold the warmth and as the temp cools, they emits that warmth back into the space. We have a wood stove, but it’s mostly for aesthetics.

Check out their hand-made eco cabin on Instagram or head to Kickstarter, where Taylor is raising fund to put a book together of the build, for more information on eco building with a budget.

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