LIVINGSTON, Mont. (AP) — What kind of structure is round and keeps the bears out better than a teepee?

A grain silo.

Park County resident and Gallatin College green building instructor Jeff Moore came to this realization about eight years ago while dreaming up a plan for his affordable, energy-efficient, mountain home on the Bozeman Pass.

His first "home" on his 25 acres of forest was a tent, where he slept with a .44 magnum revolver, he said.

Next, he put up a tepee, which he liked, but that didn't last long, because bears attacked it and shredded the walls, Moore said.

Wanting to continue living in a round space, Moore said he considered a yurt, but ruled it out because of the odor.

"It smells like wet canvas — it's like living in a canvas shoe," he said.

That's when grain silos popped into his mind, Moore said.

Not knowing where he could obtain one, he started asking around.

Fortunately, it wasn't long before "two blue-haired ladies" at the post office in Toston pointed him in the right direction, he said.

They gave him the phone number of a man in that area who had too many grain silos. Moore called the number and the man said he could buy one for $250, two for $150, or he could have three for free, but he had to do all the work to pick them up and take them away.

Moore decided to buy two, and now they are stacked on top of each other to form the core of his two-story, one bedroom, energy-efficient home.

Building his alternative mountain home, which he started five years ago, has been a long, piecemeal project, Moore said, and there is still a lot to do before it is finished.

Financing is not easily available for alternative building projects like his, Moore said, so he has had to buy all of his materials with cash, which motivated him to find most of his building supplies for free or at very low costs.

Nearly every part of the house — the exterior walls, the roof, windows, doors, and the wood — is re-purposed material, Moore said.

Many of the wooden rafters were salvaged from a parking garage that was torn down in Bozeman. Other wooden posts came from an old industrial building east of Livingston. Some gray wood came from a broken-down shed he found on his land.

The heavy-duty, German-engineered metal roof came from a damaged Yellowstone Club at Big Sky building that was being renovated. Super-insulated walls and windows came from construction companies that had mis-ordered.

Having worked in some form of construction for about 10 years, Moore said he had the right connections to acquire quality materials at low or no costs.

With all of his salvaging and re-purposing, the cost of building was about $40 per square foot, which is about one third of what it costs to build most standard homes, he said.

And this house is not a standard home — it's much more efficient, he noted.

The windows are primarily south-facing, capturing heat from the sun, and the house is so well insulated it uses very little wood heat to stay warm.

Even with no heat, the house doesn't freeze in the winter, Moore said.

While Moore's mountain home is far from luxurious, it doesn't lack any amenities.

Water is gravity-fed from a spring. A flushing toilet drains into a septic system. A refrigerator runs on propane. Most electrical needs are met by a solar panel he bought second hand. An insulated watering trough doubles as a wood-fired hot tub in the winter and a cold pool in the summer. There is even wireless Internet.

He is pleased with what he has been able to accomplish with limited resources, but his process hasn't been the most efficient or convenient way to build a home, Moore said.

"If time is irrelevant, this is a very cost-effective way to go," he said of his building style.

But, if he had had financing, he would have bought the supplies he needed at cost and worked faster, he said.

Moore, who has a bachelor's degree in Spanish, said he had no idea when he started designing and building his own energy-efficient home that it would lead him to a new career in green building.

After years of doing seasonal construction and other adventurous jobs like raft guiding and teaching high school in Chile, and leading educational kayak tours in Alaska, Moore said his life took a turn three years ago when he transitioned from being a seasonal contractor to teaching classes year-round.

At first he taught home weatherization for the Montana State University Extension Department of Housing and Environmental Health.

He now teaches green design building classes for the Residential Building Performance Program at Gallatin College.

This is a recently-developed year-long program that teaches future contractors how to get started in the business of building high-efficiency homes, he said.

Moore said he enjoys teaching green building and sharing his experience in energy-efficient design with students, but one thing he doesn't teach, at least not professionally, is how to scavenge for materials the way he had to five years ago when he started with just a grain silo dream and not a lot of money.


Information from: Livingston Enterprise,