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Dan Price’s underground home, art & philosophy on $5,000/year

When Dan Price returned to his home state of Oregon in 1990 he was determined to avoid mortgages or rent (he and his family had just finished caretaking a mansion with a heating bill of $500/month). He found an unused meadow in Joseph, Oregon and began renting it from his neighbors for $100/year (in exchange for cleaning downed trees and repairing fences).

He first erected a tipi on the property, but after awhile felt it was too big so he built himself a 9’ by 12’ red willow dome hut. Then he began traveling a lot so he made an even more temporary home from a 4-season mountain tent. Eventually he fell in love with a cedar shingle beach shack he’s seen in a tiny house book and built a 6-by-10-foot one for himself with an underground room as a bedroom.

He was never comfortable in a square home so when he was robbed (someone entered a skylight and took his photography equipment and computer), he tore down the home and left only the underground portion as his entire home. “That was what 15 years ago. That’s when I went into the little hobbit hole. Eventually, of course, I saw the Hobbit movies and made like the porch with the little curved porch on it and I’ve been in that ever since.”

His first underground structure was actually built to shelter his home/office, namely his copy machine, essential for publishing his zine Moonlight Chronicles which he started in 1992 (it was sponsored by Simple Shoes for a decade).

In his meadow paradise, Price also has a composting toilet, a propane-powered shower (using river water) and a pine wood propane sauna. He’s not hooked up to city water (he discovered a spring on the property), but he’s hooked up to the grid and it’s been approved by the county and city.

“Initially I had to go through the county and the city because there’s an electric line brought down. And they approved it. They also approved, the city council approved this composting toilet 25 years ago. So I’m kind of grandfathered in. And I don’t, as you can see there’s no junk cars or piles of trash around. I keep it really pristine so there isn’t anyone complaining. And if I had trashed the place and people were complaining they’d probably come and kick me out.”

Price’s monikers is “hobo artist” and he’s hopped trains and lived an itinerant life at times, but he also sees himself as very conventional.

“I’ve hopped trains. I really have done kind of a hobo’s life. Sort of like a neo hobo, a classy hobo maybe. I’m just totally normal, but I live this simple way. More like a surf bum, how about a surf bum.” Price spends every winter away from his underground home surfing.