Currently, the first floor will be a living room, bedroom and kitchen.

Maintaining personal liberty: this is the overarching goal for Neal and Elisha Gist in their quest to build a self-sustaining sandbag home in Gravois Mills. 

In the first six months of the process, Neal says he was focused on learning to become a lumberjack. The property they had acquired in Gravois Mills is a heavily forested area, meaning the couple had to fell many trees to produce enough useable land for building. At the time, they were living in Osage Beach and had to make a two-hour round trip commute to do work every day. For now, the couple lives in a roofed camper until building is complete on the main housing structure. 

The sandbag structure is called an earthbag earthship, and is designed with a few key elements in mind. First, self-sufficiency. This comes in the form of natural heating and cooling through outside elements. Each of the three main room areas are circular in design, with a square off backside to the structure which will serve as a greenroom. The house will have a second floor area accessible by a spiral staircase, which Neal says is still up for debate for its use. 

Currently, the first floor will be a living room, bedroom and kitchen. 

“When it’s done, it will be like an early retirement,” Elisha said.

The couple plans to continue their current use of filtered rain water for water needs in the kitchen and bathroom. Electricity is currently being provided to the land, but they hope to install solar panels in the future to become independent. As both Gists have at-home work, they also use Co-Mo internet for computer use. So, even though it may seem outside the norm to construct and live in a house in this design, the living opportunities are nothing short of modern.

Where the home stands out the most is in its construction. The walls of the home are built out of sandbags, layered with barbed wire between and plaster to maintain the strength. This is a natural insulator that both allows for heating and cooling in various times of the year. 

The couple have been working for three years, even though Neal says the original plan was naively set at three months. They say they have since learned how much work would actually be needed to complete the project, though aid was received through the couple’s church that brought members to help. Once the structure is complete, it will consist of 1,800 square feet of living space on the first level alone. 

“Since the church came onboard, it really expedited the whole thing,” Neal said. 

The gravel to fill sandbags is being sourced locally, while all other main components of the process are also being purchase from department stores and other locations. The couple hopes to have the structural work done on the house by the end of the year. Interior design will come next. 

Playing on this idea of personal liberty, Neal says that the home will afford the couple a number of benefits outside of self-sufficiency. The building costs overall sit at around $40,000 total. Once all is said and done, the couple will be living with few payments; no mortgage, no water bill and more. 

“It’s an experiment in liberty,” Neal said. “We want to see, with all the technology available to be off the grid and self sufficient, to see if the economy tanks or if there’s a food shortage or something out of our control how self-sufficient we could really be.” 

Furthering what can be done with the land available, the Gists have plans to raise livestock outside the home to partnership with the greenhouse with chicken eggs and so on for food. The couple says they have plans on raising a family in the area, and hope the liberties that are afforded by this lifestyle will be instilled into their kids. 

With this mindset, the couple understands that this choice is off putting to many. Neal says they had to go through checks of their own determination to put the entire idea together. He says that initially, many of their friends and family doubted their cause and laughed at the idea. Now, with plans firmly in place and a structure starting to form, Elisha confirms that many of those same people are starting to share encouragement and excitement for the final product. 

“When it was just an idea, we had a lot of naysayers,” Neal said. “There was a lot of negativity and doubt that we had to grow out of. Once it got to this point where, now, you can see it and it’s a real thing, the attitude shifted to excitement. I think there’s a general feeling of excitement to see what we can produce here.”