Off-the-grid couple creates a life without bills, builds home for $30,000
03/25/2017 / By Amy Goodrich / Comments
Off-the-grid couple creates a life without bills, builds home for $30,000

What if you could build an inexpensive, energy efficient, self-sufficient home for as little as $30,000 and kiss monthly bills and mortgage payments goodbye? Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, one couple from Bisbee, Arizona, made this little fantasy come true. Karen and Bill, both in their fifties, started building their 600-square-foot house in 2010 and moved in 18 months later.

While Karen said that it was a lot of hard work, they enjoy their house and lifestyle every day. And who can blame them? Except for Internet service costs and property taxes, this off-the-grid couple doesn’t pay a single dollar for water, heat, trash pick-up, or electricity. Furthermore, they are debt free and are becoming gardening experts to provide for their own food needs.

When dreams come true

In a 20-minute video tour, Karen and Bob proudly present their beautiful, tiny, home made of cob, straw, and an outer coating of plaster to protect their house against Arizona’s excoriating sun. In the video, Bob explains that they used the basic principles of solar design with south- and southeast-facing windows.

While pointing out a few items in their colorful home, Karen says that they made a real effort to recycle as much as they could. Except for an energy-efficient refrigerator, everything in their home is either secondhand, gifted, repurposed, or comes from the dump. The bathroom walls, for instance, are made from tin sheets that were laying around in someone’s backyard while the windows were gathering dust in a pasture shed.

For the design of the house, they opted for an open floor plan for the kitchen and living area. For privacy, they separated the bedroom and bathroom areas from the main living space. To create a feeling of spaciousness, the couple installed a high slanted roof from which they collect rainwater to water their plants.


Since they got most of their building materials and furniture for free or bought on the cheap from Craigslist, the couple explains that their biggest costs were the solar and septic systems. They installed six solar panels to power the house and another four smaller ones to power the well.

Next to their gorgeous self-made home, the property also includes two donated trailer homes. Bob and his wife turned one of the trailers into a warm weather guesthouse. The other one serves as a cold weather guesthouse and Bob’s workshop where he experiments with new techniques and building materials.

While the couple is still trying to master their gardening skills, they say they are keen to add more fresh, homegrown vegetables and fruits to their lifestyle in the near future. Currently, they are experimenting with a few raised garden beds, well protected from Arizona’s burning sun.

Simplicity rules

When the couple was asked what advice they would give to others who are considering building an off-the-grid home, they were both quick to stress the importance of simplicity. Unless you are a professional builder, creating a house from scratch is not easy.

Karen recommends to make a simple plan and stick to it. If you feel the need, you can always expand and build more rooms later. Next to simplicity, motivation is also a key factor to make such a dream become reality. For them, it was the thought of living a debt-free lifestyle that kept them motivated to push through and finish the project. (RELATED: Find more information about off-the-grid living at

“We did everything out of money saved, and then we sold half of our 60 acres when we needed more money. … Many people aim too high, and end up getting divorced or having a house that is simply too big to maintain,” Bob said.

Did their story tickle your fancy? Watch the full house tour below to learn more.



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