1. Work out a budget
You might say you’re “on a budget,” but have you really sat down and worked through the details of what you will need and how much you have to spend? Take some time to work out a realistic budget that takes as many details into account as you can think of.
Examples include building materials, architectural services, construction, contractors, and so forth. Be honest about how much you can do yourself and when you’ll need a professional. Make sure you explore all your options and get estimates before settling on projected costs.
2. Don’t be afraid of pre-fabricated homes
There are actually modular homes available that are “green” these days. This is a feasible option for a tight budget, and modular eco homes can be built relatively quickly.
3. Building materials
Here is where it can get really fun to save money. Look for used materials wherever you can, from countertops to flooring. Salvage lumber or windows from demolished buildings; shop at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore; make sinks from old cabinets; create tables, light fixtures, and shelves from unusual materials. An old door can become a room divider, and cast-off chairs can be re-painted to fit your decor.
For the actual structure of your home, look into rammed earth or straw bale construction for an economical, energy-efficient, earth-friendly building material. Some eco-builders have used the earth itself to make a home. This is a variation on the old-fashioned dug-out dwelling. With a bit of ingenuity, you basically dig into a hillside and set up wooden beams and supports to form the basic house frame.
4. Finding an architect
If your budget includes an architect, you will need to make sure you find the right one for your project. Check with sustainable builders in your area for recommendations, and insist on seeing a portfolio of the architect’s work before you hire him or her. When you discuss your eco-home with a potential architect, make sure your ideas of “green” and affordability line up with his or hers.
The real estate mantra “location, location, location” holds true for eco-homes as well. In fact, it’s particularly important if you plan to offset some of your building expenditures by utilizing green energy.
A sunny location is essential for solar power, of course, but remember that it’s not just how sunny the area is. You also need to consider how many hours of sunlight the property gets in a day, what angle the sunlight hits, and how many trees are in the area. If you are looking at a property in the winter, remember that the sunlight available will greatly decrease when the trees leaf out.
If you are looking for wind or water power, check the potential location for these things as well. How often and how strongly does the wind blow? Is there a nearby water source that could accommodate a water wheel?
These are just some of the things to consider as you embark on building your eco-home on a budget.