What was wrong with this story?
How To Build A Solar Cabin With Loft For Under $2000
April 15, 2017
Situated near the Rocky Mountains, this 14-foot by 14-foot solar cabin (approximately 4 meters by 4 meters) with a full loft was built for just under $2,000. It is powered completely by solar and wind and has around 400 square feet of usable living space. SF Globe had the opportunity to interview LaMar Alexander, architect and long-time homesteader of the property.
When asked what inspired him to build his own home from scratch, LaMar points to his childhood and past. He recalls spending time on his granddad's old homestead cabin as well as with his carpenter father, who first showed him how to build. By the time he was 15, LaMar had already remodeled a cabin by himself. In college, he studied architectural drafting. What made LaMar take the final plunge to his own eco-friendly small home? He told SF Globe, "After a divorce and sudden illness at age 38, I found myself homeless and broke, so I moved back to the small piece of property I inherited from my granddad. I was determined to build an affordable and sustainable homestead."
Where is he today? LaMar runs Simple Solar Homesteading, teaching his craft to all those eager to learn. He says, "Having no house payments and no utility bills allows me to spend my time doing what I enjoy, and I started a local business, and now I focus on designing cabins and teaching sustainable living to anyone that will listen."
Below is the full interview SF Globe did with LaMar about his solar cabin.
Q: Your website says you live in a 14 by 14 solar cabin. Do you still reside there? When did you start this project, and how long did it take for you to complete? Did you do this alone?
The cabin is 14 by 14 with a full loft, so close to 400 square feet of living space, and it is powered by solar and wind. There is a large master bedroom and office upstairs and a kitchen, dining area, living area and bathroom downstairs. At one time there were two people living with me, and it was still comfortable and never felt cramped. I started working on my homestead about 15 years ago, and I lived in a camp trailer at first. The cabin was built a few years later and is my permanent home. I built the cabin in two weeks by myself, but it is an ongoing project, and I have made many improvements as I had the money. Eventually I would like to build a small bedroom addition off the back. I used reclaimed materials and rough-sawn planks and logs to give it a rustic feel, but the shell of the cabin is new materials, and it is well-insulated for cold climates. It cost me just under $2,000 to build the cabin at that time, but material costs are higher now.
Q: Looking back, what were the greatest challenges that arose when doing this project? How did you resolve them?
The biggest challenge at first was designing a cabin that would meet codes for my area. I studied and asked a lot of questions and found out I could build a dry cabin not hooked to utilities under 200 square feet without permits, so that is what I built. The second problem was how to have power and water, so I studied solar and wind power and designed a small system with battery storage, and I use very efficient appliances. I studied water well drilling, and I was able to hand-drill a water well, and later I traded my brother some help in exchange for half-ownership of a water well on property adjacent to mine. It took some creative ingenuity, and I had to learn a lot of new stuff, but I enjoyed the challenge, and I put my experience to use helping other people with their homesteads.
Q: What surprised you about the house after it was complete? Can you share a specific story or experience?
What surprised me is how efficient the cabin is. People assume a small cabin will be very hot or cold, but I put in lots of insulation, and I do not require air conditioning, and I can heat with a small wood stove or propane furnace inexpensively. The other thing that surprised me is how many people like my little cabin, and I have people from all over the world contact me for design ideas. My cabin gets more attention than most big mansions you would see. I am very proud of the fact my little cabin has inspired many other people to design and build their own sustainable housing and go off-grid.
Q: What's your favorite feature of the house that you can't live without? Why?
I would have to say the front porch is my favorite feature. I made it big at 7 by 14, and I have my rocking chair and tools on the porch. In winter I enclose the porch with plastic to make a solarium to help heat the cabin for free, and in good weather that is where I sit and enjoy my homestead with friends and my animals.
Q: What advice would you give to others trying to build their own cabin?
I would suggest people rent or stay in a cabin first and see how they like it and how much space they really need. Focus on building a sustainable house or cabin regardless of the size, and with solar and wind power very cheap, you should try to break from the slavery of the grid and produce your own energy.
Q: If you were to do this again, what would you do differently?
Water is a real concern, and without it you can't live or run a homestead. I should have invested more in developing my water system to make it sustainable right from the start instead of trying things that didn't work well. I also probably should have got some help with the construction, as putting on roofing and working on ladders is hard for just one guy.