Just over three years ago, Lorraine and I were discussing what type of house we wanted to build on the farm. We knew we needed a large kitchen/living space but what type of house? Straw bale would have been an obvious choice, but Lorraine suggested that we consider an earth-covered house. We got right onto the computer and “Googled” it.
In February 2008 we took a long weekend to visit two companies in Durango, Colorado, specializing in earth-covered homes. We decided to go with Formworks Building (www.formworksbuilding.com), as we could have more flexibility in the design.
One of the main benefits of this type of house is that soil from the farm insulates the house, keeping it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Also, the house is very strong and has a design life of 200+ years with very little maintenance (there is great deal of steel and concrete being used to construct the house). It is also considered a green home, as the energy saved by the design will completely compensate for the energy imbedded in its construction in fifteen years.
Once we figured out a design, we had to raise the money to pay for it. I went to Farm Credit, where I got the loan to buy the farm. They were very lukewarm, insisting that it be built by a contractor and valuing the house once completed at much less than it cost to build. They did not like the design, and the new loan officer could not get her head around the kind of farming operation that we run here. In the end they declined to participate. With their refusal in hand, I approached the Farm Service Agency of the USDA. There are loans available to help farmers who have been refused help from regular banks. I eventually got through to Sue Gribben in an office in Stockton. The phone call started well: she knew what a CSA farm is, she asked all types of questions, mostly financial, and I could hear her punching numbers into her calculator. After 30 minute she said I think I can help you; come and see me. The long and short is that we have a low, fixed-interest loan for 30 years from Uncle Sam.
The house is now 90% finished. We still have work to do inside and to stucco the outside walls. As expected it is taking longer and costing more than we budgeted for. It is better than I ever dreamed of but I am ready for it to be finished. Lorraine is very happy with her huge farmhouse kitchen.