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On building one’s own dream home as an 8-year desert odyssey

Fresh out of architecture school, Aaron D’Innocenzo wanted to test out his belief that with proper orientation and materials, he could build a home, even in the desert, without AC or heating. Land in Joshua Tree was inexpensive and relatively unencumbered by codes so after purchasing a lot, he was without the funds to construct his modern, passive solar design, so he began to build it all alone.

“When I got into it, I knew I was very particular, but I guess I didn’t realize how much my expectations differed from typical contractors so I ended up building the whole place myself from driving the dozer, to excavate, to setting up the formwork, pouring the concrete whatever, the cabinetry, the wiring, the everything.”

After eight years without contractors, sub-contractors or even daily helpers (except for 2 or 3 days “to life a heavy beam” or the like), D’Innocenzo now owned a modern glass, concrete and stone home that worked with nature and passive solar design principles to stay cool in summer and warm in winter.

Nearly all glass on the south side, and earth-bermed on the north, inside, the home is constructed with high thermal mass materials (concrete and stone) which trap the sun’s heat in winter and hold the night’s cool during summer days.