By Michelle Beaver| May 26th, 2017
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Rafaela and Ben Gilmore had a dream of building a huge, energy efficient home and building it without a mortgage.

Their friends said they wouldn’t be able to do it.

Acquaintances said they wouldn’t be able to do it.

Banks were not supportive, either.

But they did it. The Gilmores built their dream home, and indeed, there is no mortgage. Energy efficient? Absolutely.

Their 5,000-square-foot home is at Estrella Parkway and the MC-85 in Goodyear. The house has four large bedrooms and five bathrooms.

Building it took two years, and the Gilmores moved in a year ago. They still have many projects to do, but the house is largely done and they’re happy with it.

“We spent more than we wanted to, but we saved a lot by doing so much of the work ourselves,” Ben said. “We never could have afforded this if we hadn’t done the work ourselves.”

Learning to build

There was no general contractor. Ben is not a builder by trade, but said he learned a great deal about construction from others and from the Internet. He’s retired from the army and now works in information technology. Rafaela is a homemaker.

Part of why they wanted such a large home is that they plan to move Ben’s parents and Rafaela’s parents into the home. The guest bathrooms are handicapped accessible for that purpose.

Rafaela is from Germany, and her parents will be moving from Slovenia. Ben and Rafaela met in 1999 when Ben was stationed in Germany.

The house is designed to be open in the communal spaces of the kitchen, dining areas, office and family room, but to be private in the bedroom areas. With that in mind, there are two separate bedroom wings.

“We wanted to be able to choose between privacy and being together,” Rafaela said. “We didn’t want small, separate rooms in the community areas. We wanted it more friendly than that. While one is watching TV, one can be reading, someone else can be cooking, and we’re all connected.”

The house has 16-foot ceilings, which do wonders for making the space seem even larger. The house also has many windows, and large ones at that, because the Gilmores wanted lots of light.

Even more important than the windows being large, the Gilmores wanted them to be energy efficient. The windows are top of the line, triple pane with a slight tint, and were purchased from a European company.

Making a 'smart home'

The owners are working on making the house a “smart home,” such as having an intercom system, the air conditioner and floor heaters running off Wi-Fi and the entertainment system being controlled through cell phones. The heating and cooling is separated in zones so the whole house doesn’t have to be heated or cooled all at once.

RELATED: 3 cool alternatives to big, loud, expensive air conditioners

“We don’t have a wood frame,” Ben said. “Our house is made of insulated concrete form, styrofoam on the outside, then concrete, styrofoam on the inside, and six inches of spray foam between trusses. We really built an efficient home.”

The house is solar powered, and the average monthly electric bill is $25.

Ben said that when he and his wife shared their dream of this home with people, they were told they were crazy. They couldn’t get a bank loan, so they used savings and had a little help from Rafaela’s parents.

Making sacrifices

Saving diligently and working hard on the house did have consequences, however.

“It was a sacrifice,” Rafaela said. “It was not easy. But we had a vision, and we made it. We spent 16 hours a day of intense planning before we even got the permit. There was no spending money — just house house house.”

Ben added that the work and planning took away from their social life as well.

“We didn’t have much time for friends and family, but for us it was worth it because the house is paid off and is efficient,” he said. “We still have projects to do, but we’re living here and we can do a little bit at a time as we go.”

Eventually they want to tackle the back yard and get an outdoor kitchen and a pool.

“It’s not a final picture of what we want to have, but we got this far and still love each other,” Ben said, laughing. “Step by step will get us there.”

More Cool Homes:

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