M a k e r
ECO ENGINEER: Baldwin in the studio, taking a
break from editing tracks recorded by Grand Canyon
Railroad singer Joe Pronto.
reconsidered his vocation during the first Gulf
War. “I became disenchanted by weapons people,”
he says, “when I saw them celebrating that their
system worked because it successfully targeted a
hospital door.” Aged 37, he abandoned his house,
put together his savings, bought a motor home,
and spent the next seven years on the road.
Finally an Arizona real estate agent showed him
slightly more than 40 acres for a mere $22,000.
“She made me walk up the hill with my eyes closed,”
he recalls. “When I opened my eyes I found I had a
60-mile view to the east, and 40 miles to the west.”
The location was right, and he liked the climate,
so he parked his RV and started a small business
installing solar power equipment for others like
himself who wanted to live off the grid. A couple
years later he decided to begin building.
Since Baldwin had never tried construction work,
he started by reading books to find out how to do
it. The one he liked best was Practical Pole Building
Construction by Leigh Seddon. “I wanted a method
that I could use completely and totally by myself,”
he recalls. “I looked into straw-bale, Rastra, many
options, but all of them were labor intensive and
needed a lot of people. In pole building, an entire
38 Make: Volume 15
There are no neighbors
and no law enforcement
to tell people to turn their
house can be supported on just 20 poles, and the
rest of the structure goes up one stick at a time.”
His initial studio space needed only six poles.
Baldwin rented a Bobcat with an auger attachment to drill the holes, each 1 foot in diameter and
4 feet deep. He poured hand-mixed concrete into
each hole and set a 4× 6 pressure-treated Douglas-fir post into the concrete. He attached joists
between these poles, laid plywood as a floor, then
put in rafters and added a roof.
Now he had protection from the weather as he
set about installing the walls. He used bolts to
attach all the structural members. The only time he
needed help was when he installed ceiling panels:
he couldn’t hold them up and screw them into place
at the same time.
Since there were no formal building inspections
at that time in his corner of the wilderness, he was
free to construct the studio as he wished. Still, he
says, it would meet or exceed all codes, including
factors such as winter snow loads on the roof.
He bought lumber from the usual sources, but
saved money on windows and doors by taking
advantage of a policy that he found at Lowe’s stores
in Phoenix. Anytime a customer returned something that was special-ordered, the store put it out
on the floor at a heavily reduced clearance price.
“There are 13 Lowe’s stores in Phoenix,” according
to Baldwin. “I went to every one of them.”
Construction took longer than he expected, but
he only worked on it part time (sometimes as little
as one weekend in a month). As he refined the
interior, he found himself getting into fine wood
finishing. The whole process took three years.
On the roof are seven solar panels yielding about
800 watts. The primary inverter, providing 120 volts
AC, is an Exeltech, which generates pure sine-wave
“They’re mil-spec,” Baldwin explains, “used in
every war room, submarine, and battleship, normally
$5,000 but I picked it up for $1,000. It arrived packed
in acoustical foam, which of course was very useful to
me.” There it was again: symbiotic catalysm at work.
The universe was giving him exactly what he needed.