Athena, you may be able to incorporate natural building techniques into an older home, if it has a good strong foundation and frame. It would make code issues easier for you, also. We first began learning about "natural building" techniques about five years ago, after we had done a good portion of remodeling on our current home. If we had known what we know now, we would have done things differently, and I feel like we'd be much, much happier with the results!
One example: We tore out the old, central chimney in order to put more cupboards in our kitchen, and decided to use a newer flue that the former owner had done [cheaply, with concrete block, with most of the thermal mass outside the house] in the living room for a wood stove. [BIG MISTAKE!] I'm sure that central chimney was put there for good reason, the brick went all the way upstairs, so there was much more thermal mass, etc. We're convinced our home would be much warmer and easier to heat, if we had payed attention to some of those details! Now, I'd gladly give up the extra cupboard space in the kitchen for a warmer house, even though that old chimney would have needed a liner. It would've been worth it! Unfortunately, although we had some knowledge and experience with remodeling and building, it was mostly modern day, conventional wisdom. The wood stove makes a big difference in our energy costs, and we can cook on it, but we feed it a lot of wood! Thankfully for now, wood is cheap; we have plenty of dead trees here, but even now, we're considering redoing the chimney and building a more efficient rocket stove or masonry heater.......and then, there's always the ever-present insurance and code issues to consider with that, as well!:0
So, you definitely have an advantage, [probably more than you know!] Take advantage of this site, with all the wonderful info. available, learn all you can, and an older home just may be your answer!
Another note: We definitely survived ok, but it would have been much better for us to buy an older RV or trailer to live in temporarily, while this house was being worked on. I'm convinced the work would've gotten done in half the time! It's was often hard for my hubby, [who is naturally a night owl] to quit the noisy work just when we were gaining momentum, because "the baby needs to sleep!"......and yes, there's noisy work even when building/remodeling naturally, more than we think, not to mention dirt and dust! On the other hand, I'm glad we're not completely done with this place, because we've learned a lot in the meantime that can still be incorporated.
I can so relate to your juggling act with responsibilities to family, work, growing/putting up food, etc.! I am there as well! It's frustrating when gardening/canning season is also "building season" when most of the workshops are available, and yes, some of them seem a bit pricey. Our teenage son is also very interested in natural building, and some workshops offer family or group discounts. We recently got a copy of The Hand Sculpted House by Ianto Evans, and have been studying it like a textbook. Lots of neat inspiration in there, and it's a way we can read together for 15 or twenty minutes at night and brainstorm as well as "dream" a little! We find ourselves thinking more in terms of what our family needs and loves, finding more joy in simplicity. We also have Alex Summerall's Cob Building Step by step, Kikko Denzer's Build Your own Earth Oven, and have managed to build a cob pizza oven that we absolutely love. Our outdoor patio plans have changed a lot, all because of that oven! We never attended a class, but were able to build an oven after reading the books, and just getting in there and trying it once. our next "practice project" will be a small barn/chicken coop. If we mess up, at least there won't be much money lost!
If there's one thing I have learned so far, it's that building/planning a homestead needs to be enjoyable and fun, or we burn out eventually and make bad decisions. I'm learning to enjoy the process and learn all I can. You don't have to wait to "live the good life" until everything is "done". [We've been eating awesome food from our humble cob oven, which was just supposed to be a practice project!]
Sure wish you the best; keep us posted, and let us know if you plan a workday!