Building Hippie Earth Lodges, by Valerie

Now I might be just a mild mannered, right-leaning, Christian grandma, but in my former life I was a hardcore, back-to-the-land, Rainbow Family hippie. There’s a bunch of us (once young people) who learned survival and community building skills in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and we suspected that someday we might need to be teaching these skills.

The Rainbow Family name came from different native American visions of white people who would adopt Native American styles of life. (This was decades before the LBGTQ+++ crowd appropriated the “rainbow” and half of the English Alphabet.) For example the Hopi Eight Sign says: You will see many youth, who wear their hair long like my people, come and join the tribal nations, to learn their ways and wisdom….”[1]

We Learned From Native Americans

We were Indian wannabees in a white hippie sort of way. We would go to annual gatherings in remote parts of national forests, put up tepees and tents, have huge drum circles, smoke dope, dance, and commune with nature. When we weren’t “gathering” some lived on communes or bought homesteads to build on – many in the Northwest.

One of the first shelters alternative folks tried was tipis. Tipis are a magical place to live in for half of the year. Their diffused light and the ability to move the flaps according to which way the wind was blowing is unique and grounding to nature. Tipis are livable in the cold half of the year. I spend a winter at 9,500 feet in the Sangre De Cristo mountains (of Colorado) in a tipi and was comfortable. However it is hardly energy efficient. We used a very large wood stove, a lot of wood, and hay bales around the perimeter to keep warm. Many of us at that time lived a semi-nomadic life. Some had converted school buses, some tipis, and some yurts. But for people in the mountain West who were looking for a place to live for a few years and perhaps did not have the money or time to build a cabin or house the best option was to build earth lodges.

Earth Lodges

Earth lodges are semi-subterranean buildings “covered partially or completely with earth, best known from the Native American cultures of the Great Plains and Eastern Woodlands.”[2] They were built by tribes like the Mandan who were not nomadic. Because these shelters are partially underground, they are both cool in summer and warm in winter.

I first came to Washington State and Okanogan County in 1977 after the New Mexico Rainbow Gathering. We came up in a Volkswagen van to work in the apple orchards and ran into other Rainbow family doing the same thing. We made a little bit of money. (Our Mexican co-workers made three times as much as the best of us.) Then at the end of harvest in October there was a gathering of local alternative people (with some ranchers and orchardists thrown into the mix) called the Barter Faire. The early years of the Barter Faires were like mini Rainbow Family gathering, but with winter preparation in mind instead of summer celebrations. The idea was to trade our extra goods like bags of homegrown potatoes, onions, winter squash, horses, sheep, chickens, animal skins, blankets, and tools instead of using money. At the fair I met some Rainbow folks who were living in the area on a commune called Flowering Tree (named for a Chief Black Elk vision). This was the first place where I saw an earth lodge.

Semi-subterranean houses are not rare today, but nobody else was building like this at that time. I have helped to build three different earth lodges that cost anywhere from $70 to $1,200 (in 1980 dollars). Yes, from the outside they look like mud huts, but they are inexpensive to build, and surprisingly comfortable.

Earth lodges are usually eight sided dwellings dug partially into the ground–usually down four feet. (To go deeper than four feet requires more engineering.) The walls are peeled logs and the ceilings can be scrap wood or even metal. The floors in a primitive earth lodge are just hard packed earth with perhaps a third part dug out less for a raised area for beds or sitting. We put large carpets on the floor and used pine needles and animal skins for matresses under our bedding and seating in the raised area. Earth lodges can be anywhere from 12 to 24 feet in diameter. A decently-built one can survive intact for many years.

Strong Backs

We dug all our home sites by hand with only strong backs and good shovels. We got the logs in the National Forest. We often used un-aged logs, so shrinkage was expected. We put a water barrier like tarp material or even plastic between the logs and the dirt and used a variety of material to stuff between the logs. Uncombed primitive sheep wool was my favorite: it’s inexpensive, natural, and the lanolin in the wool is also a good moisture barrier. Much of the framing wood and ceiling wood or metal could be found inexpensively – we got a lot of material from dumps. Tarps can be used to cover the earth lodge if folks are in a hurry or for short term living, but traditional asphalt shingles or cedar shingles are used for long term. Because the earth lodges are dug into the earth, they are much more energy efficient than a log cabin.

The first earth lodge that I stayed in, was as a guest. The builder, Heinz, was a tough as nails German immigrant who was experienced in the building trade. I don’t know how much money he and his wife Songbird spent to build their home, but it wasn’t much.

One small wood stove is plenty to provide all the heat, hot water, and cooking surface that a family needs. It’s best to have a stove with a removable metal plate so one can cook on the open heat/flame which is quicker because getting too hot is always more of a problem in a earth lodge than being too cold. When we weren’t cooking we had a large canning kettle on the stove, so hot water was always available. [3]

The pictured earth lodge belonged to Buffalo and Moonstone Mazzetti. About twenty five years after these photographs were taken, Buffalo (the man in the middle wearing hand tanned buckskins and dreadlocks) ran for Washington’s 7th Legislative District which had been Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ seat. He didn’t win but came in a respectable third place.

Hippie Earth LodgeA few years after the aforementioned earth lodges were built, Stony, my then-partner, and father of my two daughters and I built a more roomy, comfortable, and permanent earth lodge. Stony was a carpenter by trade and did most of the building himself, but we also got help from our friends. We had a log peeling party where our friends came and peeled logs in competition for prizes. This saved us a couple of weeks work. We had dug four feet into the ground with a 30 foot diameter. In order to support the larger structure, Stony put a large log [center post] in the middle of the structure. Then he used 8 logs that met in the middle – sort of like a tipi. So our house was  really half earth lodge and half tipi. We used wood, insulation, tar paper (as I recall), and shakes for the roof.

Friends called it a tipi house or the mushroom house because it also bore similarity to a shaggy mane mushroom with the shake roof. We put unspun lambs wool between the logs as insulation. We bought some boards, windows, and roofing underlayment but only spent $1,200 total (1980 dollars). Stony hand split all of the shakes for the roof. The house had wood floors and a large loft. I thought it was beautiful.[4]

No Permits Were Required

Of course “back in the day” there weren’t government house inspectors everywhere requiring permits. I know this building stood for at least 30 years. The last time I visited it, it was leaning a little, but we didn’t even use any cement to bolster the foundation. Washington state has become very strict with building codes and sending out building inspectors, even in rural areas. I doubt that people could get away with building these kind of shelters today. And the permits alone now cost a lot of money. No wonder there are so many homeless people. Even if somebody wanted to donate 100 acres of land for people to live on[5], poor people could probably not even afford the permits to build– much less afford to build the houses that the permits required.

Hippie Earth LodgeWe lived without electricity or running water (except for a small creek nearby). I had my first child there and carried water from the creek, heated it on an outdoor woodstove, and washed diapers by hand. [6] By the time I was pregnant with our second baby, I had had enough and we moved to a hundred year old cabin on a large cattle ranch that had running water, electricity, and a washer and dryer. This experience and being an organic gardener and wild food forager have left me confident that I could survive any type of emergency situation. If SHTF happens, anybody with property is probably going to be visited by family and friends. Knowing how to build emergency structures could come in handy. Then as now a lot of decent building material is hauled off to dumps. However, it wouldn’t hurt to have a supply of logs on hand, tarp paper, and windows. Not to mention wood stoves.

The folks I knew who built earth lodges went in different directions. Some bought property and became very successful organic farmers. A couple became leading environmentalists. A few went into businesses. The best part of those years was how people shared with one another. Nobody ever went without food, blankets, or a place to sleep. I found that communities without electricity become more bonded. When we got together we played music and had pot luck dinners. It is amazing how a world without televisions, phones, radios, (and now computers) builds relationships between people. Electronic entertainment is isolating.

I doubt there will ever be a disaster that requires mass building of short term emergency shelters. In fact, the housing markets should become more affordable in the future with the growth of factory made modular homes and 3D homes built by computers. 3D homes can be built for as little as $4,000 and as quickly as 24 hours. That’s pretty impressive. Modular homes are not inexpensive, and they are 25-50% less expensive than traditionally “stick” built. However, no home is as inexpensive or as warm as a hand-built earth lodge. Options are good when it comes to housing – especially considering the homeless crisis in many cities on the West Coast.

Disclaimer: These are the three Rainbow Gatherings that I attended, the last one in 1981. They were plenty crazy in the 1970s, but I have no idea what they are doing nowadays.

  • 1977 – New Mexico
    By Burnt Corral Canyon, in Gila National Forest. It’s on the Burnt Corral Canyon quadrangle.
  • 1979 – Arizona
    In Apache National Forest. It’s rumored to be on one of these quadrangles. Escudilla Mountain, Kuna Lake, Maness Peak, Blue, Alma Mesa.
  • 1981 – Washington
    Near Usk, in Kanisku National Forest. It’s rumored to be on the Goddards Peak quadrangle.
About The Author:

Valerie is semi-retired and lives in Eastern Washington. She is currently a writer and artist and formerly a school teacher.

[2] Wikipedia Earth lodge
[3] These photographs and the story on the Flowering Tree earth lodges appeared in a 1978 issue of The Mother Earth News.
[4] The outside and inside of what people called our “tipi” or “mushroom” house.
[5] In Okanogan County, someone donated 500 acres of land for alternative people to build shelters on, back in the 1980s.
[6] My mom and my sister both came to visit us at our tipi house. Both thought I was pretty nuts.


  1. Those earth lodges or earth ships are very good homes. They are easy and cheap to make and have excellent hide-ability. The dug in portion allows for some most excellent ballistics protection.

    Even in the Mojave \ Sonoran desert they would stay on the cool side in the summer temperature of 115 or more (not cold but definitely cooler)

    Funny thing is if you build them out of concrete they become labeled bunkers.

    As kids in the desert we used to make them … We would ride our bikes out and take shovels with us. We would dig and mix and tamp our new forts into existence. We would the go make our bike tracks and race each other. Our hide-ie hole would be stocked with 5 gallons of drinking water and canned food. So that we could rest up a bit before and after our runs. These spots would usually last us a year… But then it would inevitably be found by a homeless crazy or illegals and we would start over.

  2. Thank you for the post. The people who traveled across the West and stayed in the plains built sod shelters from native materials found on their property. If they can do it – so can we. Of course, HOAs weren’t created yet, lol.

    We’ve been toying with the idea of a sandbag ‘igloo’ via CalEarth web site. Round makes more sense than linear lines, as from air, the round shapes and shadows are more natural and don’t gain attention. Low cost but high labor.

  3. Speaking of building permits – my dad lives in Paradise [,California — which recently had a huge fire]. His house made it. Last time I visited I was appalled to find out Butte County charges $12-15 thousand dollars for a building permit! IMO that’s criminal. Butte County is one of the poorest counties in that God forsaken state. These homes were burnt to the ground and people have to fork over thousands of dollars for a piece of paper that says they can rebuild on their own property.

    We built a small house in our Idaho county four years ago and the permit was $1,200. The powers that be want to raise that to nearly $3,000. Again – criminal. For what? To have some yokel come by and sign a piece of paper saying they think the work is done right?

    After our house was finished and the fancy occupancy certificate was awarded we found out the bathtub wasn’t connected to the sewer pipe. For six months the darn thing drained under the house – thank goodness it was the second bathroom and wasn’t used daily. My husband went under the house after a particularly hard freeze to check the pipes and saw the unfinished plumbing. That’s what you get when your build is inspected. The lazy so and so doesn’t look at anything.

    Thanks for the article. It was a good read.

    1. Thankfully, the majority of counties in Idaho still have no building permits required–even for primary residences. It is usually just inside of city limits that you’d be required to get a city building permit. I’ve heard that on the coasts, in most counties they are now demanding permit fees to construct a garage, barn, or shed more than 64 square feet!

  4. You sound like a few old Hippie’s that I new. My association with them was during the ferro cement boat building craze. A few of them did finish there boats and sailed away. Like the author states most did go on the a much different life style but still did their own thing. I found most to be quite talented in craft’s and gardening etc. These people had the will to live a life style that other’s looked down on. They learned how to do and were not apposed to asking the older people how to use old time equipment. My friends dad had a lot of old horse drawn farming equipment parked in the back field. A group of young men and women came by and ask if he would sell it. His answer was “NO” but if they were going to us it the old way they could have it. They went away a happy group. What these young people learned was how to get by as best they could. I wish all of you that are old like me all the best.
    The Gman

  5. Very Interesting. I remember hippies in the 60’s. The latter generation hippies that the author describes sounded more mature and better grounded.

    So you think you are free? Try doing what the author did. Don’t knock anarchy until you try it.

  6. Loved your article. So much wisdom in both the Native American culture and other cultures seems to be lost. I’m curious how someone keeps the water out, especially during a wet spring with snow melt.

    1. Tarps. Simple easy and reliable. Or if your going more permanent a roof like a real proper roof with rafters and lath.

      In the supplied picture and description in the article they used a tipi for their roof. The high slope on the tipi wouldn’t allow much through.

    1. I attended and enjoyed the Rainbow Family GAthering in 1976 (Montana) and 2019 (Wisconsin).

      Last summer, when I arrived, a young man came over and threw my backpack on his back. I noted that I was planning to carry it in search of a campsite. He replied, “We in the Rainbow Family don’t expect our elders to do heavy carrying. You have already done your part.” He then carried my gear for several hours as we wandered the grounds seeking the “perfect” site to pitch my tent. I reckon I will remember his kindness and patience to my dying breath.

      For the most part, the other folks walked their talk. They fit well with the prepping lifestyle.

      Carry on

  7. “I doubt there will ever be a disaster that will require mass building of short term emergency shelters “.

    Well Valerie, don’t tell that to Hurricane Katrina’s survivors. Or to the survivors of the fire in Paradise in Northern California.

    Still a very informative and well written article.

    . I have spoken to Rainbow People ( hippies) & a fellow from Maryland , Harvey Silver, told me that lately the Rainbow People have been having there drum circles in National Forests down in Florida during the winter. My experiences with MOST of the Rainbow People I’ve met lately have been that they have morphed into gypsy like scammers

    1. Ditto the sentiments, Kevin. When the Rainbow Family had a gathering in Wyoming about 10 years back they made a ridiculous mess when they appropriated a national forest for their gathering – impromptu pipes running water from streams, open human waste pits. Real families couldn’t use the campgrounds because of “adults”-only behavior. Also inundating regional ERs with made-up complaints to get narcotics or long-term ailments from living as scavengers.
      Not a fan. Things are definitely not what they were 40+ years ago.

  8. I was hitch hiking Bach from Alaska in 1976 and ended up passing through Choate Montana at the same time the Rainbow tribe gathering was going on in the National Forest -very enlightening experience-felt a little guilty about traveling around Alaska and western British Columbia instead of going to college but I got over it-lol

  9. In 1976 I was hitch hiking back from Alaska and ended up passing thru Choate Montana when the Rainbow tribe gathering was going on in the local national forest-very enlightening-always felt a little guilty for traveling around Alaska and western British Columbia instead of going to college but I got over it lol! Never felt so free as then-living by your wits-eating peanut butter for days on end-built many a myler shelter for myself and others-now I wouldn’t take a million bucks for it!

  10. Interesting article. Do such structures requires any perimeter drainage to avoid leaks at the surface level? Or is this accomplished solely by strategic placement?

    1. If you were to use long eaves and tactical planters together with an exterior like stucco or brick or even logs no the rain would never touch it. This is my favorite structure building style and I’d happily pontificate \ write a novel about it… It’s a passion of mine (as of right now in my life I have finally narrowed down my forever state and am currently saving for my forever land)

  11. A side comment on materials for earth homes.

    You can compact moist soil (some times you need to mix in sand or clay) (adding clay by purchase is a bit more price prohibitive and you might benefit from ordering concrete slurry to add to your mix or straight Portland) by using water and a boot jacket (upright rammer)

    Doing this will \ can create a material that scores in the high 90s (personal best 97) on the radio active measurements (100 is classified as solid rock). All you’d need is plywood and 2×4 to make forms and some time. Outer coatings to water proof could be any thing you want but stucco would be recommended about 1 ½ inch thick although you could use e.f.i.s. if you opted for thinner walls.

    Same thing with your roof. If you make an earthen roof and properly support it you could in essence make a rammed earth roof with high clay or slurry content it would no leak or sag. And could be used to either grow food or let go wild to hide your location (remember that “standard room height is 8 foot. If you got 4 foot below grade and 4 foot above your house would only be seen as a 4 foot hill of pasture)

    This style of building would very much benefit from having larger “eaves” from your roof rafters or trusses. It also lends it’s self to making a radius-ed line on your rafter beamed witch is a very strong set up for your structure.

    Not to mention that you would with very little effort be able to capture any and all run off to add to your water supply. All while adding inches to feet of ballistic and thermal protection to your home of structure.

    This is my prefered building style.

    1. The block machine sounds a lot like the old CINVA RAM block machine. A steel box on legs with a lever that pressed soil and cement together to form large bricks, which were then used to build structures – walls. There were even insertt for forming lintel block, and floor tile. I forget the actual dimensions, but I think the units were about 12″ long x 3″ high x 6″ deep. Here is a link for more information about them:

  12. I remember the 60s and 70s communes well and I lived in one for six years. Most were founded with utopian ideals based on socialism, free love sex, a common garden, etc. Most failed fairly quickly. I was fortunate to be part of a Christian evangelical commune that had a biblical morality but with one major fault; it also embraced a socialist economic model. This worked well for years as so many new Christian individuals embraced serving God and were willing to labor for room and board for the benefit of the gospel. The ministry as we called it did a lot of good and at one point had outreach houses in every major city and a lot of small towns across the country where many runaway young people found a safe place to stay off the streets where they could hear the gospel. Many accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and stayed to further the cause. We never begged but instead labored in jobs that a bunch of fresh off the streets hippies could do such as plant trees, pick mushrooms, and many other kinds of agricultural work. With the money we built a bible study center in the woods of Oregon where folks from the houses in the cities would come and learn scripture. Quite frankly, serving Jesus together and having wonderful fellowship with a sense of community was great!. We had a charismatic pastor who ran everything It seemed to work quite well until two major things happened:

    First, over time our young single people grew up got married and started having families. The families tried communal living and it was a disaster. So the new families started leaving or living in private homes with salaries if they were on staff or were elders. This created a two class system but the system still worked.

    Second, The ministry continued for years with a socialist system and grew to where the pastor set up a centralized office in town that received all the funds everyone made from working and then redistributed it back as needed to the ministry houses. It actually worked well but over time the office people and the pastor came to loggerheads on how to spend money. The pastor wanted to spend a bunch of money on evangelism while the office people saw the need to be more conservative and business like. The disagreement came to a head when the counsel of elders who ran the finances asked the pastor to step down and then sought to close the “unprofitable” houses. This created a cascading effect which caused the outreach houses to leave the ministry and become independent churches. With no cash flow the bible study center couldn’t operate and the IRS swooped in and seized it.

    The purpose of all this background is share what I learned from the experience which I will relate based on a Christian world view.

    First any preparedness community is bound to become tyrannical, utilitarian or fail if it isn’t based on a Christian moral order, economic system and isn’t family oriented.

    Second, private property, the free exchange of goods and services must be maintained. Christian charity is also critical.. But for the community not only survive it must thrive by having family based economics that produce goods and services people inside (and outside) the community need and can use. For this you will need to find an already existing very conservative highly Christian small town with good logistics and resources and move there with a mind to build community. They can be found in the Redoubt.

    Third is worship and trust in Christ. The scripture teaches that is is folly to trust in our preps, weapons, strength, money and machinery instead of Christ. I would maintain that worship (establishing or joining a like-minded church) and ultimately trusting in Jesus Christ for the safety of the community is a firm foundation for everything else. Only God can bless our labors and preparations we make as individuals, families and as a community. The scriptures are filled with historical examples of this.

    Last, the people must learn how to govern themselves. I believe Jesus Christ rules from heaven (not to detract from His omnipresence) through three institutions wherein He has delegated authority to men. These three institutions are the family, church and civil realms. And herein is is where we have failed because we have left the civil realm out of our authority and given it over to people who ultimately are opposed to the lordship of Christ, hate Him and his people. This is the only explanation for the current moral and civil order that promotes the exact opposite morals and law from what God has given. This is also because God’s people have forsaken His law. In the days of our founders the common person believed there were three uses for the law of God in the life and community of the believer. Thse three uses are: 1) Condemnation. We all are condemned because we have broken the law and have been rejected by God. This teaches us that we need a savior and thus the first use. Once a person is convicted of their sin and finds saving grace in Jesus Christ, the moral law (not the ceremonial law which has passed away with the advent of Jesus Christ) finds its second use as a standard for our sanctification. It is the definition of sin that guides us to greater sanctification. We seek to keep it not to be saved but because we are saved. Then the third use comes into play. As believes form communities the law is that standard by which the civil realm determines what is good or is evil and therefore have discernment to make law and punish crime accordingly. When it comes to forming community, Jethro gave Moses great counsel that established a very decentralized system of judges wherein every ten (approximately) families would have a representative / elder who would represent them to the larger body and deal with small civil disagreements and who could muster the men for common defense when needed. There were also representatives of fifty and one hundreds and thousands. The beauty is this system is that it is decentralized and puts the power in the hands of the families while serving their best interests. You can know a man at that level and easily remove him from his position if he ceases to properly represent or lead. The colonial model our founders saw was much closer to this than the highly centralized all powerful state model we have today. We have made the same mistake that was made in the time of the Judges by wanting to be governed like the godless nations.

    Properly done, this is essentially how the doctrine of the lesser magistrate comes into play. This is how a community of Christians can legitimately resist state tyranny, deal with crime or muster a defense in a post apocalyptic situation.

    The only weakness to this is when the men who are called to govern themselves, their families and their “city gates” fail to do so. It is so easy to become distracted, lazy or neglectful of our duties. We must covenant together as a civil body politic for the purpose of furthering Christ’s kingdom, mutual encouragement, worship, commerce and community defense or be taken on at a time by rogue government or those who would plunder an isolated homestead that has no affiliations with others.

    1. You nailed it. I already live by faith. It will take God’s hand as I find so few real Christians out there. Lord willing, building a community is in my plans and this is how. Working with non Christians, in a limited way, will be necessary.

  13. A thought to consider when buying your “forever home \ t.e.o.t.w.a w.k.i. bunker”

    If you can find a property with an existing home on it. You can discretely build one of these homes \ compounds for very little money (provided you do the sweating yourself) and keep it hidden from the tax man with a simple field for cheap. Just make the house \ structure looking lived in to sell it.

    I’m from California (originally) where buildings sprawl rather than climb) and this type of construction lends well to a hidden nothing missing style home (in a world that is releasing documentaries about how to live in a 10 x 20 foot tiny home). It affords massive luxury with very little sacrifice and very little loss in “curb appeal” if you do it correctly.

  14. We very much enjoyed this as a story about life and living — in a different time, but with information and wisdom important for the present and the future too!

    The geothermal exchange of subterranean building placement works. Familiar with the earthships, we built our greenhouse partially into a slope, and keep our winter plants well above freezing even when the outdoor temperature is 14 degrees Fahrenheit. With the coming GSM, these kinds of systems (for living, for growing food) will become increasingly important.

    From the post: “It is amazing how a world without televisions, phones, radios, (and now computers) builds relationships between people.”

    As wonderful as the digital age is, it’s also important to “un-plug” and truly be in relationship with one another.

  15. A friend and her family lived in a ‘soddy’ that was partially built into a knoll. It had been in their family for 50 years and was comfortable. Enough, so that the kids would move back into it in the summer, after the family finally built a stick built ranch house in the 1950’s. The parents really liked the indoor plumbing of the new house, the kids, being kids, didn’t really care. If it’s old enough, it’s new again. Good article, comfort being where you find it.

  16. I had land in Montana. The next lot over had an earth lodge that was not dug deep enough – it was above the frost line. In the middle of the 24 foot diameter excavation was a “boil” of earth about 3 feet high. They abandoned the place.

    1. Please elaborate Chris … Adding information from across the country \ world is what makes this particular site so informative. What do you mean by boil and what was the site location etc.

      1. Frost heaving. We used to own a farm with big shop and concrete floor. It wasn’t built correctly. Water gets into soil and freezes, resulting expansion then pushes up on the flooring so broke our non-reinforced concrete floor (before we bought the place) in the unheated shop building.

        Know the average winter freezing depth of soil. In Montana we used 5 feet in Gallatin and Phillips counties, for example.

  17. There are building code requirements about worker safety, when digging holes and trenches in the ground. = Bad accidents and deaths are the occurrences behind the building codes.
    The information about code requirements are on the Internet. … Dirt doesn’t read the code-requirements. The walls of relatively shallow trenches and holes may collapse; dirt doesn’t read.

    afscme(dot)org/news/publications/workplace-health-and-safety/fact-sheets/pdf/Trenching-Excavation-AFSCME-fact-sheet.pdf = for cursory information about trenches and holes. [AFSCME a public employee union]

    1. I agree that “Dirt doesn’t read the code-requirements.” I know a lady that lost her husband in a construction accident. He was down in the bottom of a ten foot deep trench and someone on the construction site drove up alongside the trench and it collapsed on him. By the time the other workers were able to dig him out it was too late. I was on the construction site two days before it happened working on another project. Too close! This is not the first time this sort of accident happened, but it was preventable! The dirt doesn’t read.

  18. I still have the first 100 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, full of projects that people with low budges but high energy and work ethics could make a homestead a home. Probably still going to need a job for paying property taxes. Many states take a rather severe looking down at ‘communes’ or groups of people living on shared property. It doesn’t gain them any revenue if the property is being payed off by several at once you see.

    If it hasn’t already been suggested by the above comments, Mike Oehler’s book THE $50 AND UP UNDERGROUND HOME should be sought and read. As well as Ken Kern’s several books of DIY homes and homestead projects.

  19. Great article and informative! It is probably a good thing you no longer know what the Rainbow Family is up to now, you would be surely disappointed. A few years back they had their annual gathering in the Natuonal Forest near our home. The forest was left in shambles, garbage everywhere, many many EMS calls for over doses, the forest circus brought in federal LEO’s from all over the country to help with the thousands that convened on our poor forest and towns. Water was getting stolen from peoples outside faucets, hippie Van’s broke down all over town, one young fella urinated on the produce in the local grocery store. His friends waited out back and when the produce was tossed out they grabbed it! Many of these individuals decided to stay on in our area begging and stealing for months after the event, thankfully the winter chased out most of them once it hit, but we seem to have a few stragglers still to this day! At the time I worked in a bank that sits right on main street of our town and watched several hundred buses, Van’s, campers, pickups and other run down vehicles go by daily. Needless to say this left quite an impression on me of the Rainbow Family.
    Thank you again for your wonderful and informative article

    1. Huckleberry Mama, I am sad to read of your painful experience. The Rainbow Family people strive to maintain a good reputtion by returning the land to its former state, as much as possible. I know people who have done that work.

      However, these gatherings attract hangers-on who show up at free-food, clothing optional, no LEO events. They are often struggling human beings, likely homeless and spiritually lost. I think the stragglers you see are most likely of this sort and are probably guilty of making a mess of the forest. Perhaps your local LEOs were too overwhelmed to deal with them.

      The Rainbow “true believers” I have met are solid citizens who prefer for government to leave them alone and who show kindness to the stranger. They seem to be self-sufficient and inter-dependent.

      Carry on

    2. I’m sorry to hear that it was a bad experience. Generally speaking, most local towns people weren’t particularly thrilled when we came though. 🙂 One of our mandates used to be to leave the campsite looking untouched by people. We would spend weeks cleaning up. At the New Mexico gathering we were in a huge circle “Ohming” when lightening struck a dead standing pine on a hill on fire. We set up a line passing water to put it out. It could of turned into a forest fire.

    1. O.s.h.a guides require shoring at 4 foot depth of excavation.

      If you want to know how bad a 4 foot slide of earth is dig a hole at 4 foot deep and stand in it.
      And try to get out of it.

      Or go stand in 4 foot of rapid moving water.

      I was caught in a trench collapse the first thing that happens is you get knocked off your feet. Then as you breath the earth compacts around you. It is nerve-racking to be honest.

      Remember every o.s.h.a guide line come from multiple deaths.

      The shoring is the additional engineering that was spoken of.

    2. M M, information about soil stability is on the internet. A quick search should produce articles about the dangers to the workers. Here’s just one:

      “In an overall environment of physical danger where there is little margin for error, the specter of trench cave-ins looms particularly large. Federal reports show that working near unstable ground or in trenches, excavations, or other confined spaces that aren’t properly shored up may invite disaster.
      In one case, a 35-year-old man working in an unreinforced trench died when the walls of a manhole he was building in Medway, Massachusetts, collapsed in on him, burying him alive. In another case, a 68-year-old man was killed in Germantown, Pennsylvania, when the unshored walls of a 16-by-4-foot ditch fell in, covering him with hundreds of pounds”
      of dirt.”
      [From ~Trench Cave-Ins: How to Prevent Them~ 1/1/2020 consumer[[ . ]]healthday]


      Excavation Hazards [From murraystate[dot]edu
      There are many potential hazards when working in excavations and trenches. Probably the most common hazard at any work site is the threat of cave-in. A cave-in occurs when walls of an excavation collapse.

      Cave-ins can be deadly. Wall failures often occur suddenly, with little or no time for the worker to react. The weight of the soil crushes and twists the body, causing death or serious injury in a matter of minutes. Excavations need not be deep or large to create a life threatening hazard, so every excavation must be taken seriously.

      Why do cave-ins occur? Undisturbed soil is kept in place by natural horizontal and vertical forces of the nearby soil. When we dig in the earth, these natural forces are no longer able to hold back the soil left behind. With no support, eventually the laws of gravity take over, and the soil from the excavation walls move downward and inward into the excavation. The result is a cave-in.

      Cave-ins are more likely to occur in unprotected excavations where:

      The excavation is dug in unstable soil, or in soil that has been dug in before;
      There is excessive vibration from construction equipment or vehicle traffic around the excavation ;
      >>Too much weight near the sides of an excavation, most frequently from equipment or the excavated material (spoil pile) too near to the edge;<>2 feet back from the edge of the excavation;
      Pumping water out of the excavation before anyone enters it;
      Using protective systems when required.

      [I worked with members of a man’s family, after this event occurred: A 18″ to 30″ deep trench collapsed. The ‘piled up soil’ from the digging also collapsed into the trench. The man’s legs were trapped. The soil collapsing was deep enough to twist the man, to the point where his spine broke. … He lived to roll about in a wheelchair, when he got out of the hospital]

  20. What’s the resale value? I just sold a home I bought for $49 in 1988 for $255K. A great house to live in for 30 years and a great investment. Buying/building a marginal home that wouldn’t appeal to 99.99% of potential buyers doesn’t make sense.

    1. Saul what is the resale value of your canned food or the majority of your fire arms. Did you buy them to resell them?

      The benefits of these type of houses are for living in. That’s why you would make these homes. There is cost of manufacture, cost of upkeep, safety, environmental impacts etc.

      1. I don’t agree. They are poorly designed, do not last, require constant maintenance and you can’t give them away on that day you finally realize you could have had a nice conventional home. “They” build them because they are in love with the idea. They have read enough “Mother Earth News articles and convinced themselves that this “hippie” thing is fun and makes sense. It’s a kind of virtue signaling.

  21. If you want an interesting book on earth shelter houses find Mike Ohlers book from the 70’s called “The $50.00 Underground House” … very practical, and realistic in his data from experience. I have a copy and I know there must be others yet for sale.

  22. My long term dream is to buy rural land in PA and a small tractor with backhoe and a front loader. Then I’m going to play in the dirt. How to stay inconspicuous and cheap? I like the idea of pole barns. Everyone has one, they can be big, you can build whatever you want inside without others knowledge. I also like the idea of going underground (remember backhoe). Temperature control, fire survival, I know of a woman shot by a hunters bullet while sitting in her kitchen. I’m struggling with how to connect my pole barn to my underground shelter via a tunnel that can’t be found.

    As for digging holes, think about what you see in nature. How many sheer walls of dirt do you see? How stable are they? What is the soil composition? Most hills will have slopes, be made of rocks if steep, or collapsing. The shallower the slope the more stable the hills. I plan to dig a bigger hole than my underground structure. walls of the hole will be sloped. The walls I build for the shelter will be strong enough to push back on the fill dirt I use to cover the walls and the roof strong enough to support the dirt on the earth shelter. Digging can be done safely if one plans for the risks.

    1. We had an outhouse. We used wood ash to keep it sanitary and free from strong odors. They were still publishing Sears catalogues then which came in handy. But it was cold in winter.

  23. I already had plans and plenty of wood stoves piled up for this purpose. Even without modern materials, using logs only, these can be built. This is were old time and basic skills, or bushcraft come in. Those interested can find many good video on how.

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