Mud, sweat and tears

| 30 Aug 2012 | 02:58

By Becca Tucker Idan Kuchman, 28, used to live in an apartment on the beach near Tel Aviv. He had no problem getting girls. Things have been a little trickier since he moved to a half-acre plot of land with no house on it in the middle of Israel, 10 minutes by car from the beach.

“It’s pretty hard right now, because I live in a tent. I don’t have electricity so far. You know, there’s a lot of people that the idea of using a composting toilet, or a toilet not including any use of water, makes them take a step back.” (For more on composting toilets, see page 18.) Since he started clearing the land last November, Kuchman has experienced bouts of loneliness and self doubt, but never for long. Building his own house now will make life easier later. “I’m sure that when I finish this house I will have tons of free time,” he said. “I was lucky, I built it on my family land. When I finish I’m going to have a really neat house, and I will not have to pay rent, water, electricity.” Water will come from harvested rain, and if he ever gets electricity, it will likely come from solar panels. The vision of a small, self-sustaining home made of mud and materials found or recycled keeps Kuchman up nights. “The first three months I couldn’t go to sleep because I was building and destroying my house [in my mind] like every 10 minutes.” The 40-square-meter house will accommodate three: Kuchman’s future family. The north wall will be constructed of hay bales, and the south wall, of mud. Two doors, one in the east and one in the west wall, will provide good airflow that will cool the house in the hot, dry Israeli summer. The roof will be wider than the house, so that in the summer, when the sun is high, the wall will be shaded. When the sun is low in the winter, it will hit and warm the mud wall. The pyramidal roof will collect rainwater for the garden, which is already producing tomatoes, eggplants, melons and chili peppers. Equipped with a wheelbarrow and shovel, Kuchman has cleared the land of vegetation, built a composting privy, dug a drainage trench around the house, and started to build the bottom of the walls out of stone. “I got stones from north of Israel and south of Israel, everywhere I went, driving side roads, whenever I see stones, I just pull over and put it in the back of the car.” Why? That’s what his relatives keep asking. “Why have you decided to go this direction?” his aunt and grandmother grilled him at a family get-together. “Why don’t you go to be a lawyer? Why don’t you go back to work as a website developer?” “I told them that every time I had difficulty when I was studying, I used to back up, say f*** it,” said Kuchman. “Here, every difficulty, I say all right, this is going to be a challenge, let’s see what funny way I’m going to solve it.” The seed was sown when Kuchman saw the movie Garbage Warrior, about a radical architect in New Mexico who built off-the-grid, self-sufficient houses out of beer cans, car tires and water bottles. “I wanted to see the whole self-sustain idea, if it’s possible,” he said. “He wanted to find out how we can build an unconventional house, how to make self-sustain lifestyle through your house.” The materials have turned up, almost magically. Kuchman estimates that 70 percent of the house so far is recycled. “I found out that if you have enough time and you’re encouraged enough, you practically can find anything to recycle. You can find stones, glass, a whole kitchen, floors, any kind you want. To tell the truth, usually it comes to you. I’m gonna use things I found on the beach where I used to live.” The day we Skyped, Kuchman had just finished building the foundation out of floor bricks from a neighboring house under demolition. All it took to secure the bricks was a little charm. “I asked the contractor if he can slow down the work and take out parts of the house one by one without damaging it so much, so I can use it. He agreed to that,” said Kuchman. “That gave me tons of wood, sand, windows, doors, almost everything.” Calluses protrude from Kuchman’s palms. The work is more physically demanding than anything he has done before, especially the digging. “When you go and start a project like this, one of the things you do before you start is to work on your mind. I decided to move to the site before my house is ready so I can be more intimate. You have to take into account that it will be hard, very physical, especially in the summer. The work itself, like mixing the mud and putting it onto the wall, is not that hard. It’s the things before you do it, preparing the land, excavating the earth, build the foundation, gather the materials. It’s like there are two processes: one I build a house physically, the other is how it affects on me, on my soul.”