Debt Free Dream Home Build Story

The Debt Free Dream Home Build Story is one of lofty ideas, impossible odds, tight deadlines, underdogs, not taking no for an answer and a beautiful, simple home built from a strong desire to be self sufficient and debt free.

This project and story demonstrates the power of the “I Can Do That!” builder, with help, to tackle VERY large projects.

This owner build project started in 2015, broke ground in 2017 and is currently under construction. They have a long way to go as this is a dream home with no mortgage and there’s no incentive to rush the process.

Pure Living for Life Build Story Video

Pure Living for Life Build Story Video

Quick Stats


Square Feet



3+ Loft





Cost Per Sq Ft to build

10 Months

Time To Dry In


Cost to heat


Cost to cool

10 Years

Estimated Time to Complete


Total Debt Incurred So far


Year Project Started



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Featured Partners

Bogs offers a quality, comfortable line up of waterproof and protected toe workwear for doers. Their boots have kept our feet dry and safe for over 7 years while sawmilling, plowing, building and working.

Warmboard is an aluminum clad subfloor panel based on 1 1/8″ plywood and uses a panel system to create the tubing layouts for your unique floor plan. Design services provide by Warmboard ensure optimal tubing run lengths, panel and zone layout, minimal custom routing and proper tubing run count.

RoomSketcher is a floor plan and design software that helps turn any floor plan into a stunning 2D and 3D rendering that allows a virtual walkthrough of a design. It’s extremely easy to use with a short learning curve. RoomSketcher was used to visualize the floor plan to ensure viability and identify potential conflicts.

Holstery is changing the way we work with an innovative tool carry system that adapts to how you work throughout the day. Where a framer who frames all day might prefer a set of traditional tool bags (they would love Holstery too….) someone whose work can vary through the day benefits from a lightweight modular tool carry system. Inspired by a builder who was trying to work better. The MagMaster, Joey Pouch, Modbelt and Modbelt Pro are innovative products that have supported our projects and helped us work better.

The Why Behind This Build

Jesse & Alyssa had the vision to leave their city lifestyle and purchase rural property in the Pacific Northwest with the goal of building their own home, learning to be self sufficient, and live a more traditional lifestyle. Their ultimate goal was to become debt free through hard work, sacrifice and being extremely resourceful.

Knowing such a transition is rich with learning, failures, and lessons they wanted to document their journey to help inspire others to make the leap. Their journey started off grid they lived in their 19′ RV for 3.5 years while designing their dream home.

Their goals for their home was to build something comfortable, efficient, relatively simple, and something that was a sound investment. As their original plans were to be off grid they also incorporated high efficiency materials, alternative energy sources, and modern building science techniques. While an unexpected opportunity presented itself to make a connection to the grid for power and the, majority of the build was completed while off grid.

Their build is far from over but they will chip away at building their dream. Things are mostly still going according to plan. Projects coming up include finishing the exterior including a wrap around deck, completing the interior, and doing lots of outside landscaping projects to tie it all together.

Design Priorities

Simple design that could be built by two amateurs.

High-efficiency materials to minimize energy consumption.

Utilization of building science techniques & high-efficiency materials to create a tight envelope, minimize thermal bridging and backside drying of cladding.

Maximize heat gain in winter through proper house positioning, window coatings and high mass slab.

Minimize solar heat gain in summer with a roof overhang and low E window coatings on South and West walls.

Capture maximum natural light without skylights which are prone to leaking.

Ease of snow shed and removal by having a steep, simple roof and thinking ahead of the snow shed zones.

Timber frame structure for aesthetics, reduce construction cost, increase investment value, provide flexibility in interior use.

Hydronic radiant floor heat to increase comfort, reduce airflow, facilitate exterior wood boiler as primary heat source with natural gas combination boiler as backup/redundancy.

Use on-site/locally manufacturable materials where possible to enable value-added sweat equity.

Metallic or cementitious siding and roofing materials to improve ability to withstand wildfire.

Generous mudroom to contain dirt and debris from rural living and clothing needs for a cold and rural climate.

Contain entire living and work space within a single structure to remove need to move between, heat and remove snow from multiple buildings in winter months.

Utilize walkout basement & earth cooling to assist in climate control without mechanical assistance to reduce need for demanding air conditioning equipment.

Navigation – Building Phases

This project has been documented from start to finish and it has been done in phases. We recommend starting with phase one to learn more about the backstory of how the build was born and developed, but you’re also welcome to skip ahead by looking to see where your area of interest is covered.

Overview Debt Free Dream Home Build Story
Debt Free Dream Home Build Phase One
Phase 1 – Septic, Deck, Hot Tub, Solar, Learning, Test Projects, First House Plan, Timber Frame Workshop, Better House Plans
Debt Free Dream Home Phase 2
Phase 2 – Estate Sale, Off Grid Water System, Backhoe & Sawmill Acquisition, Site and Material Planning, Apprenticeship
Debt Free Dream Home Build Phase Three
Phase 3 – Excavation, Foundation, Plumbing, Radiant, Slab, Steel Beam, Hydronic Radiant Subfloor Framing
Debt Free Dream House Phase Four
Phase 4 – Sawmill Timber Frame, Plane & Stage 115 Piece Timber Frame, Timber Frame Workshop, Timber Frame Raising

Build Features

Here are the high level overview features of this home and build. These are just the tip of the iceberg. To learn more we recommend exploring the different building phases in the section below where the build is covered in more detail.

South Facing Home Orientation with Large South Windows & 4′ Roof Overhang

The home has a south-facing orientation. This deliberate decision maximizes free solar gain (passive solar) in solar-minimum months and maximizes the amount of natural light available in the home. The roof has a 4′ overhang to reduce the sunlight entering the home in the summer months and shade the building at solar maximum. This home has no air conditioning and stays around 70F in the summer months with a simple whole house fan to bring cool night air in.

Winter months the sun angle allows the sun to reach the high density slab in the garage and tile (coming soon) floors in the living bringing in free heat making those cold winter months incredibly comfortable.

12″ ICF Block Frost Wall & Walk Out Basement / Garage

Turning the concrete industry on it’s head, and making building amazing strong and efficient formed concrete walls, insulated concrete forms (ICFs) were used to build the walkout basement into a very comfortable conditioned space for work and living in all four season. This foundation was built by 2 people in a few days with no prior experience at a price that simply cannot be beat. Concrete, wood, metal. It has no equal in value, ease and comfort.

The most common reaction when in the garage area is “Wow! I can’t believe a garage can be so comfortable!” It’s cozy, quiet and rock solid. Integrated studs mean no need for stud walls. Molded in plastic struture ties the entire wall together and creates an instantly insulated concrete wall with thermal breaks on both sides of the 8″ concrete wall.

Closed Loop Slab Hydronic Radiant Heat in Garage Area

Taking the comfort to the next level this walkout basement garage has hydronic radiant tubing installed to provide even heating and warm up feet while doing the many chores that rural living requires like food preservation (in winter months), animal processing, seed starting, woodworking projects and home brewing etc.

Pex tubing was installed in equal-ish lengths to create ‘zones’ which are controlled by a single thermostat. 2″ high compression sheet foam provides a thermal break to the earth below making this garage one of the most energy efficient and comfort designs possible.

Radiant Heat Subfloor

A big shift in hydronic heat happens on the living and loft levels. Installation of a low mass radiant subflooring system is used to allow for better comfort control room by room and more responsive heating/cooling. Think warm feet in morning, cool rooms at night! Things that are hard to achieve with pour in place or high mass systems.

This technology also saves energy by requiring a lower water temperature to achieve the same comfort. It’s an aluminum clad underlayment product with tubing channels that create the zone layout. Our panels have arrive and using the layout plan provided by the manufacturer we being installing the 4 panel configurations. Panel by panel our floor plan is coming to life!

115 Piece Douglas Fir Timber Frame

If ambitious describes the build up to this point the stakes have been raised even more. Under a tight deadline of just 3 weeks now 55 logs will be turned into the beams, posts and braces necessary to build the beautiful Douglas Fir (red fir) timber frame. This 36×36 2-story frame was designed following the post and beam workshop attended months prior. Using local logs and with no prior saw mill experience, beam after beam comes off the mill. It’s quite a sight to behold. Freshly sawn and planed beams as far as the eye can see!

A group of veteran timber framers and highly enthused volunteers descend on the build site to bring this timber frame to life in just 3 days through a workshop provided by an amazing family who does this exact thing at their campus in Maine. Smiles are on everyones faces as they work together to carve out the real wood joinery using traditional hand tools. The joinery fairies jump in with power tools to speed up the process because mother nature has a curve ball coming and this frame had to go up on Friday!

8″ Wall and 12″ Roof Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)

A wall and roof technology that has been around for decades but is avoided by many builders, the Structural Insulated Panel system offers numerous benefits for the building envelope. Offering rapid installation and unequalled energy efficiency, SIPs were chosen to provide superior energy efficiency through minimal thermal bridging.

Wall panels are 8″ thick and the only thermal bridging present are at window/door jambs and sill/header connections. The panels overlap the rim joist providing a completely insulated envelope. This system is shockingly comfortable and combined with other building science principles creates a superior wall system.

12″ roof panels complete the roof structure and are directly fastened to the timber frame providing an R54 equivalent. Combined with the cold roof the entire building envelope acts like the modern coolers which hold ice for a week!

Standing Seam Hidden Hardware Metal Roof with Ventilation (Cold Roof)

This roofing system is unique because it’s essentially a roof on a roof. With a small air gap created to provide ventilation between the roof structural panels and the decking which supports the roofing material. A vented drip edge allows air to move from the eave to the ridge using convection enhancing drying during the summer months protecting the SIP structure underneath from any mositure issues through vapor pressure from inside.

Also there are no panel end overlaps andno exposed hardware to rot, leak or pull out from snow shedding. There are also no penetrations!

Essentially indestructible with no vulnerabilities aside from age, a standing seam hidden hardware roof uses a locking rib design with a hemmed end seam to secure the full length 26 gauge roof panels.

To make things interesting we had to find some way to get these 27′ long sheets of metal onto a roof 45 feet in the air while not losing them to the wind.

Double Pane Argon Filled Triple Low E Windows

Another tool in our building science toolbox, these coated windows are aluminum clad wood windows that focus on energy savings through coatings which prevent heat gain or heat loss but also enhance light gained.

Window selection was careful to make it possible to clean all windows easily from the inside (with the exception of the peak windows) using removable saches or opposite opening configurations. They’re argon filled which provides even more energy efficiency.

Aluminum cladding was chosen for its sheer durability. Aside from aging paint the aluminum will survive as long as the home. A large investment, but seen as something we’d rather do now, do right and do once.

High Efficiency Insulated Garage and Man Doors

Custom fiberglass doors were selected for their energy efficiency properties which is not limited to insulation, although all of our exterior doors are fully insulated also.

The man doors were chosen with a jamb system that enables full adjustability including an adjustable threshold to help keep the door seals snug with the changing seasons and the building settling over time.

Fully adjustable hinge plates, cedar jambs, insulated fiberglass and adjustable jambs make these doors not just pretty but a huge part of our high efficiency home design.

Transom Windows in Master Bedroom, Closet & Stairs

Interior and exterior transom windows are used to bring in natural light reducing need to turn on a light when entering a room, creating a natural connection to the light cycles and keeping the connection to the outside beauty.

Interior transoms help distribute the copious light coming in from the south windows and help light interior spaces without the need for skylights and the roof penetrations that go with them.

Triple Redundant Heat & Hot Water sources

Not only is high efficiency a priority in the entire design of this home, but so is system redundancy. Rural living in the Inland Northwest means frequent power outages, freak arctic winter storms and a whole bunch of enthusiastic excavators in the summer months. The result is outages of every kind imaginable.

Heat and hot water are two things living without becomes very difficult very fast. The balance between convenience, independence and redundancy means this home is simple to operate, has a backup plan and should never be without heat and hot water.

The primary heat is through an outdoor wood fired boiler (not yet installed). Backup heat is provided by a natural gas combination boiler. An electric tanked water heater provides a third option for hot water should the other systems be unavailable. This tanked water heater is also able to be passively heated to 180F through a sidearm heat exchanger via the wood boiler.

A work of heat, simple, low energy heating panel makes this entire system work. It gets the right water at the right temperature to the right place using very low wattage meaning it’s perfect for off grid living. It also allows for the multiple heat sources to work together.

Large Mudroom for Cold Climates & Rural Living

We wanted a large, functional mudroom big enough for a family and guests. We want lots of space for people to come and go, hang coats and kick off muddy boots. We also will incorporate a laundry area as well as ample storage for laundry baskets and cleaning supplies.

Conditioned 3-Car Garage With Bathroom & Food Prep Area

We wanted a conditioned garage under the same roof and wanted it to be a multi-use space. For that reason we built a custom kitchenette and have a large area for food prep for canning and preserving. Giving us initialy a place to comfortably meet all of our basic needs and a chance to practice all the skills we need to build the rest of the house this condition, a VERY comfortable space, allows us to live well in the cold months without needing to go to a different building.

A full laundry, freestanding range, fridge with ice maker and a espresso machine make this “garage” a super comfortable place to life the rural lifestyle including putting away the garden harvest in the slower winter months, processing wild game during the blustry hunting season and working on other projects out of the weather. Spacious and open thanks to the large steel beam this space has so many uses it will never go out of style. Insulated doors, generous LED lighting, radiant heat in the slab and 8″ thick concrete walls make this a “bunker” of a garage/workshop.

2,200 Gallon Gravity-Fed Water System With Fire Suppression

With 70′ of elevation gain available on the property and the intention to live off grid a 2200 gallon cistern based water system was designed to provide fresh water and fire suppression. Located at the highest point of the property a master/slave cistern system is buried below frost depth. Using a compressed “air trenching” tool a 300′ long trench is carved while not disturbing the root systems of trees on the hillside.

2″ poly piping and sleeve are used to create a large main to feed numerous hydrants and a future house. To increase the system utility and aid in system purging a frost proof blow off hydrant terminates the main line and provides fire suppression. Branch piping is installed to the deck, garden and to allow for both a fill and outlet hydrant at the home site.

The use of gravity means power is only needed when filling the system meaning it could be filled on sunny days with solar power or via a generator. Gravity provides the water pressure. A municipal water source was initially used to collect, pump and fill this system which holds nearly an entire month of fresh water for domestic use. A wireless monitoring system makes managing the system a breeze. Once the home is connected to the well the system is integrated into the house to provide redundancy during power outages and extra fire suppression.

70′ Fresh Water Well With 12gpm flow

While a well seems like a ‘no brainer’ as many find out the hard way they really can be a gamble. As a backup plan a community water system connection was always available, but the priority is to be independent as much as possible and is practical. So a well was planned, but being off grid made pumping from a well difficult and with guaranteed water at $3/mo a well was low on the priority list.

Having successfully dried in the house and with enough funds set aside to take the risk of drilling with the hope of hitting water we got the call from our driller. Prepared for a very deep drill to find a small amount of water the actual well blew everyones minds. Just 70 feet deep, done by noon and flowing a very healthy rate for domestic use. Most wells in our neighborhood are 250 feet deep. The deepest dry hole in the county is less than 1/4 mile away. This fresh water well only enhances the gravity fed water system built earlier providing a reliable source of fresh water to keep the system filled.


Navigation – Building Phases

This project has been documented from start to finish and it has been done in phases. We recommend starting with phase one to learn more about the backstory of how the build was born and developed, but you’re also welcome to skip ahead by looking to see where your area of interest is covered.

Overview Debt Free Dream Home Build Story
Debt Free Dream Home Build Phase One
Phase 1 – Septic, Deck, Hot Tub, Solar, Learning, Test Projects, First House Plan, Timber Frame Workshop, Better House Plans
Debt Free Dream Home Phase 2
Phase 2 – Estate Sale, Off Grid Water System, Backhoe & Sawmill Acquisition, Site and Material Planning, Apprenticeship
Debt Free Dream Home Build Phase Three
Phase 3 – Excavation, Foundation, Plumbing, Radiant, Slab, Steel Beam, Hydronic Radiant Subfloor Framing
Debt Free Dream House Phase Four
Phase 4 – Sawmill Timber Frame, Plane & Stage 115 Piece Timber Frame, Timber Frame Workshop, Timber Frame Raising

Want to do a news story or interview on this build story?

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