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We're finally doing it! Bermed Oehler style hobbit house.

 
Bethany Dutch
Posts: 164
Location: Colville, WA Zone 5b
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About 3 years ahead of schedule, too.

We've been planning an Oehler/Wofati style home but this initial phase 1 will start out to be a standard stickbuilt 20x24 cabin with a full loft. My dad is a builder (retired) and so we're going to just use and benefit from his expertise in most of this since we're going to end up starting this year instead of next. We still had a lot of things on the list to "figure out" but now we're going to be starting next month - and neither of us has any experience in construction or building much of anything, so we figured this was the safest route. The nice thing is, once we have the cabin done, we can take things at our own pace.

Building this "phase 1" will give us a place to live and we will build it with one wall framed in a way that we can easily knock it out and add on, and have a nice archway to the rest of the home when we're done. Ultimately we'll end up with a house that has approx. 2000 square feet (unless I can convince my husband to make it smaller, I'm hoping we can just do one addition) and looks very similar to the Simon Dale hobbit house.

What we'll probably do is have the hillside excavated with enough space for the greenhouse/sunspace, and then just build our cabin where it is supposed to go, accounting for the buffer space needed for the greenhouse. It won't have siding this year, and we won't finish the greenhouse this year either, but as we have time and finances we'll add on the rest of the house and bedrooms (we're a family of 5) and finish the greenhouse area in true Oehler style. We may have to add on windows in the back at a later time to get our wall-o-windows unless we find a really awesome deal, but our budget is extremely tight (like, 10 grand tight) so that may not happen right away.

So - this will be fun! Living in a 28 foot camper with 3 kids 6 and under during the summer = not so much fun... but free and convenient As I speak we are living in a 20x30 cabin with a half loft, so this won't be much of a change. Actually it will be an improvement in many ways, since we'll actually put in WALLS and DOORS in the loft which we do not have now. Privacy will be so nice

Anyway I'm thinking that really the main thing we need to maybe do differently than traditional modern construction would be the roof - we do still want an earthen roof, so we'll build with that in mind. Any other ideas or things we should look out for?

Oh - PS - located north of Spokane, for the record.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Posts: 3658
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Looking forward to hearing more as this goes along and pictures if you have them please.
 
Bethany Dutch
Posts: 164
Location: Colville, WA Zone 5b
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OKAY

Here's some photos to start with.

We've been making some changes which are going to change a little about the house. While it still is going to be mostly bermed, our hill runs east>west and we have decided to build still facing south for passive solar.

The end result is that the west end of the house will be mostly NOT in the hill and the east end of the house will be almost completely in the hill. This actually works out well because we'll build our little stickbuilt cabin on the west end, and then when we're able to add on, we'll dig out the rest of the hill and berm in the house. I'll post our layouts/plans/sketches when I'm able to get them scanned.

But - in words, here's what we're planning:
Phase 1 will be a stickbuilt 20x24 cabin with a nearly full loft. It will be built at the low part of the slope, so initially won't be dug in or bermed at all. I'll put in a small kitchenette and it will have a decent size mud/laundry/bathroom. We'll live there while we build the remainder, and then when the rest of the house is finished it will become my full kitchen and dining rooms.

Phase 2
will find us attaching another unit directly onto the east facing wall of the house (we'll build it with a beam in it so we can knock out the wall almost completely) main "great room" area for our living/family space, and it will be about 24x30 or so. It will have a sunken living room with a rocket mass heater integrated into the back (north) wall, as well as a couple designated office/desk areas for my husband and I.

On the other end of the great room we'll put another 24x30ish area with three or four bedrooms and a homeschooling area. Somewhere in there we'll add another bathroom and the master bedroom will have its own bathroom as well. This unit will be mostly built into the hill on the east side, although our hill isn't terribly steep so we'll still end up berming it quite a bit.

We also plan on integrating a 10-foot wide greenhouse "row" behind the entire house (on the north side) and wrapping around the west side of the house which is the stickbuilt portion (kitchen). This will give us a good area that has SE exposure for starting seeds on that side. The part of greenhouse in the back of the home will probably be bermed in as well, so it will be similar to the uphill patio. The reason for this is because I want to design one of those narrow "secret" gardens with lots of shade plants and tropicals, so I didn't want glass back walls on the greenhouse. We'll build some kind of retaining wall in the greenhouse, which I will then plant a gazillion things into.

The top will be glass, but given the way we've situated the house means it will still get a lot of sunlight because it runs East/West in the same direction as the sun. We might also place some mirrors or something in the winter to make sure we catch more winter sun, but that's yet to be determined.

We're also going to take advantage of passive annual heat storage as we build, since we'll be doing a lot of our own berming and not so much digging out of a steeper hillside.

Home until we build the starter cabin section (Phase 1) Did I mention we have three kids? lol...


This is facing north, so looking directly at the homesite. We'll be removing most of the little trees you see to the side to maximize our passive solar effect as well as opening up more of the mountain view. You can see how the hill slopes up towards the right (east) which is ultimately going to be where we'll put the bedrooms but as you can see isn't really steep enough to "dig in" the hill without spending an arm and a leg on excavation.


Here we are standing at the top of the hill (where the bedrooms will be) looking down the hill towards the West. To the right you can see part of a brushpile that was left over from some clearing we did a few years back, and beyond it (out of the photo) is a beautiful south-west sloping acre or so for a garden.


And here is the opposite - standing at the bottom of the slope looking upwards (east). My husband is standing right about at the top of the slope where the house will begin. Behind the top of the slope there's a pretty decent dropoff with a sort of shelf down below (about 2 acres or so) - might be a great spot for fruit trees or nut trees or some kind of longterm crop. It has great east and south exposure, but is kind of a pain to get to, so I think trees or some kind of permaculture-esque would be the best plan for that area.

 
                              
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Hi, If that flat backed mountain in your southern view is the one I think it is, we're in the same neighborhood. Not far from Diamond Lake??
I started out in Camden about 30 years ago in a 16'X24' tool shed, on a piece of land with the same basic orientation as yours. Back then, when I mentioned Permaculture, people thought I was talking about hair salons, and the only book I had ever seen was from Austrailia.

P.O. County is much friendlier to owner-builders than Spokane, but less so than it was when I started out. Back then they had a policy of "If you can draw it, we'll probably let you build it." It's still a very good area though, with lots of like minded folks.

If you are in the area and interested, I'll invite you to our local garden club in Camden. You'll find a bunch of good people and some of the county's Master Gardeners, with lots of local information.

Good building to you, Tim
 
Bethany Dutch
Posts: 164
Location: Colville, WA Zone 5b
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carver166 McCoy wrote:Hi, If that flat backed mountain in your southern view is the one I think it is, we're in the same neighborhood. Not far from Diamond Lake??
I started out in Camden about 30 years ago in a 16'X24' tool shed, on a piece of land with the same basic orientation as yours. Back then, when I mentioned Permaculture, people thought I was talking about hair salons, and the only book I had ever seen was from Austrailia.

P.O. County is much friendlier to owner-builders than Spokane, but less so than it was when I started out. Back then they had a policy of "If you can draw it, we'll probably let you build it." It's still a very good area though, with lots of like minded folks.

If you are in the area and interested, I'll invite you to our local garden club in Camden. You'll find a bunch of good people and some of the county's Master Gardeners, with lots of local information.

Good building to you, Tim


Well, sorta! We're relatively close - up towards Colville. We're in Stevens County but I think they have similar ideals as P.O. since we have no building codes I love that we won't have to deal with bureaucracy and I agree there are tons of likeminded folks out here. Sounds like you started very similar to what we're going to start with! My parents live on the same property and they are both master gardeners although admittedly I am really, extremely interested in the Master Composter program down in spokane. My dad's also a retired (conventional) builder which will really come in handy, though he does shake his head sometimes at the wild ideas I have.
 
Vicky Barton
Posts: 24
Location: Chattaroy, north of Spokane, WA
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After reading so many threads, finally see folks from my community. *waves* to the Camden and Colville areas from east Chattaroy, just off the Elk/Chattaroy hiway.

Would love to see progress Bethany, pics of how much you managed to get done this summer.
 
Bethany Dutch
Posts: 164
Location: Colville, WA Zone 5b
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Hi Vicki! Thanks for the greeting and hello! I realized I haven't updated much here, so I'm going to kind of give an update.

We're finishing up the house this weekend, doing the wiring, insulation, and putting on the metal roof. THis place is going to be very rustic to start with - we won't have siding, or insulation/drywall on the interior walls. We won't be able to put in a running water system until the spring, our toilet will be a bucket/sawdust deal, and we're going to use a battery storage system/generator combo for power but we won't have the $$ to get it set up for another month or two.

So - for the next couple months, we'll be living like Little House on the Prairie. Which is totally fine by me! We're just thrilled to be able to actually get out of the camper. We'll all be glad to have our own beds back and a little room to stretch out. It's kinda funny how downsizing into a camper for 8 months can make a 720 sq foot house seem big!

So the end result is that instead of a cabin with a loft we decided to just extend the end a bit and build in two small bedrooms. It wasn't much more and much easier to build... and what with my husband's time being a premium (weekends only) we figured that would be the way to go.

We bought as much used as we could - secondhand windows, woodstove, bathtub, etc. So far we're at about $11000, and I'm expecting to maybe have paid around $12-$13k out of pocket for the place once we're done (not including land). We also got a screaming awesome deal on the insulation through my husband's job, so that was a huge benefit.

It's really exciting because when we wanted to make this transition, we kept hearing that we'd need at least $50k for a house, even a small place, even if we built it ourselves, etc. But this cabin project is really reaffirming to us that we need to NOT listen when people tell us it can't be done, because I can't tell you how many people are just mind-boggled that we'd even consider living in a tiny unfinished cabin without a regular toilet and have to haul water (the spigot isn't far!) and all those inconveniences.

But you know what? When you want something desperately enough, you will do pretty much ANYTHING to achieve it. And that's where we are at.

I don't have pics on this computer to post but here's a link to the album on my blog's Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.589570121093809.1073741825.239136009470557&type=3
The pics aren't up to date, but pretty close! I'll take more photos this weekend when we finish up.

Funny... now that I think about it, that blog was begun back in '08 and the intention was to sort of chronicle our move from urban/suburban family to homesteading family. And here we are! It's awesome

Next up - chickens and a milk cow, and then we'll start working on the new addition part which will be the Wofati/earthbag style. We want to take the next couple years and do some workshops and learn a lot about the techniques. First we'll build our living room type addition, and then we'll build on some bedrooms. Ultimately, the cabin we have now will be just kind of a kitchen and guest area - the girls' bedroom will become my big pantry with a door out into a root cellar (which will be bermed in once we berm the house) which will be awesome. We'll probably stick with an uphill greenhouse behind the house but I will also do one in front, so our house will have lots of green things growing
 
Vicky Barton
Posts: 24
Location: Chattaroy, north of Spokane, WA
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*waves northward* ... hiya Bethany! ... Thanks for the update on your situation. I was thinking about you the other day when our KREM2 weather forecast a big change coming with highs in the 40's! This past week of relatively warm weather with afternoon Sunshine has felt great down here in east Chattaroy! What a blessing for you folks especially to be able to finish up enough in your cabin to stay in it instead of the camper.

Hubby and I got our chicken coop painted. Our 20 chickens have been wonderful and it's time to 'harvest' a few of them. I've enjoyed reading through all the helpful tips in Permies chicken forum. Wanting to do the best possible job without freaking either them or me. We did 3 roosters in the summer, shortly after they started crowing as solid proof of their identity. They tasted soooo good!!! We're going to roast chicken for our Thanksgiving meal this year. Just two of us, don't need a huge bird. Been a great year for building as opposed to the past 2 years of mostly cleaning up other peoples messes on this land. We're far from done, but wow it looks different here.

Looking forward to seeing pics of your family all nested in your new cabin. Congrats to you all!
 
Aletha Brennan
Posts: 1
Location: Cheney WA
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Hello!

I'm curious to know where you started with your research on this project? I have roughly 10 years to convince my husband that we could build a home like this so I have to learn as much as I can but I have no idea where the best starting place is! Help!

Thanks!
 
Len Ovens
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Location: Vancouver Island
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Bethany Dutch wrote:Hi Vicki! Thanks for the greeting and hello! I realized I haven't updated much here, so I'm going to kind of give an update.

We're finishing up the house this weekend, doing the wiring, insulation, and putting on the metal roof. THis place is going to be very rustic to start with - we won't have siding, or insulation/drywall on the interior walls. We won't be able to put in a running water system until the spring, our toilet will be a bucket/sawdust deal, and we're going to use a battery storage system/generator combo for power but we won't have the $$ to get it set up for another month or two.


Looks pretty nice to call "rustic"


I don't have pics on this computer to post but here's a link to the album on my blog's Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.589570121093809.1073741825.239136009470557&type=3
The pics aren't up to date, but pretty close! I'll take more photos this weekend when we finish up.


Fantastic pictures. The part you have built looks like it could have been a permitted build. Might be a way to go in less open minded neighbourhoods, build a small permitted home while off to the side doing any groundwork for a berm style addition that can be finished without the noise of machinery after the permit has been signed off. Anyway, great job so far, I wish I had started a project when I was younger. I am realizing I will have to do something now that will require more machine work and less brawn in my 50s.

BTW, thank you for posting your FB page open for those of us who will never have a FB account.
 
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