(The photo is mine - The Shack October 2019. The Slow/Caution sign is available on Amazon).
The tangible act of purchasing the land occurred in 2015. I go camping there as frequently as possible and dream about living there. And I continue to adjust my plans as I wait.
Maybe this writing is an attempt to make myself feel better about going so slowly. This is definitely NOT a jab at people who have the means and personality to make decisions and make the move immediately. I am learning, I think, that for me there are some important benefits to moving at a glacial pace and getting to know my land before building and living there.
I feel like yammering on about the planning in general. There may be future posts that include more detail but today I am sharing my thoughts that skim the surface of my planning.
Caution: this is likely to be a long and boring post for those who aren't in the midst of their own homestead dreaming.
Off-grid or On-grid
When I bought the land, even though the electricity is available, I had grand plans of living off-grid. No bills from public utilities. Woohoo, wouldn't that be wonderful?! As I camp up there I realize how much I miss air conditioning during the hot and humid days. And the ease of turning a faucet to produce hot, running water needed to comfortably wash off the stink after a day of work.
I also have dreams of raising my own meat. And for that, I imagine using a freezer. As I imagine a freezer, a fridge, and air conditioning I imagine myself being at least partially reliant on the grid.
As expensive as it is, I'm leaning heavily toward solar and wind systems that are tied to the grid. I have been watching videos of homesteaders who are tied to the grid but don't sell their power back to the utility company. They have a way of flipping their systems to public utilities on the days their solar/wind systems aren't producing sufficiently. I believe I have decided to use this system.
However, as you'll see if you read on, my plans often change.
From the "top" of my yard, you can just barely see
The Shack roof through the fog.
Many, Many Different House Plans
I believe my house plans is the thing that has morphed the most over time. It isn't easy (for me) to choose a dream home that will best meet my needs (and my finances). This is a sample of my indecisiveness over time:
- Rebuild and fortify the existing Shack. Nope. Too small at 20 x 24 (480 sq ft).
- Log cabin with a loft. Nope. Changed my mind.
- 2 story Monitor Barn. Nope.
- Hire Lancaster Cabins to build a cabin for me. As much as I love their work - nope. They no longer do site builds.
- Back to the Monitor Barn idea. I sure do love Monitor Barns!!! But Nope. I never ended up liking any floor plans that would fit in that footprint.
- A grandiose home with some sort of 2nd floor "turret" for second floor/outdoor access. Oh yes! If I had a viewing area tall enough, I'd have a 360 degree view. Back to reality - Nope. Can't afford that. I'll stick with carrying my lawn chair to the top of the yard for the that view.
- Back to rebuilding the existing Shack to save money. Big Ol' NOPE as it seems to be starting to settle and lean downhill a bit.
- 16' x 40' ft mobile home plan as a guid with some revisions. This equals 640 sq ft floor plan. And hopefully on a cinder block, walkout basement foundation. Yes! This is my future home plan.
I have finally decided on that floor plan that meets both my needs and the restrictions on my land (Basically, I have to have over 400 sq foot and it can't be on wheels). I have stuck with this floor plan for a long while now. So, I'll make some minor adjustments after getting advice from the builder (i.e the placement of the plumbing), but I have decided on this floor plan. This decision came only after having camped up there for so long. I now know which direction that natural light comes from. Which directions the breeze comes from. How close I want to remain to the tree line so that I can watch the birds and how far down the hill I want to remain to avoid the never-ending, choking dust from the dirt road.
Looking up at The Shack from the downhill side
and through the trees. Showing both why I want
to tear it down and build new as well as why
I think a walkout basement
would be great.
I have thought a lot about passive solar for warming in the winter time. The more I camp up there, the more I am convinced that this is a great idea. With ceramic or stone floors and a big old window facing the south view (which is where I want one of the two primary views anyway) I will have a wonderful source of heat every time the sun shines during cold weather.
Daisy and I soaking up the sun during our last camping trip.
The other side of The Shack registered a cool 40 degrees.
But we were warm and toasty laying in the sun. The sunlight
alone allowed me to let the fire burn out. Times like
this have made me confident that passive solar heat (in
combination with wood heat) will work out great!
I sure am getting a lot of practice with the wood stove. Cutting firewood and learning how to burn it so that it lasts longer. I LOVE the little woodstove that came with The Shack and will definitely be using wood heat in my future home.
Kindling in the woodstove. I'm getting better
at starting a fire quickly.
Due to the location of The Shack, high on the ridge, I cannot have a well dug. I'll have a water cistern and water delivered to that storage system. But I will also have a rain catchment system. A natural water source is a "must have" for many homesteaders. I hope that I don't later regret choosing land on top of a ridge that doesn't have any sort of spring or well. We'll see.
It often seems like the weather on top of the ridge is more dry than in the valley below (I often see that it is raining below me but then the rain clouds blow around and past my little piece of land). However, when it does rain it fills my camping rain catchment system (a blue kiddie pool) quickly.
I think because I've been so frugal with water during my camping trips - carrying my water from the apartment, using a local spring, and catching rain water - I think my awareness of water usage will help me be okay. Only time will tell.
The amount of rain caught during one brief downpour
one day in October. This makes me feel confident that
a good rain catchment system will help keep an adequate
water supply at all times.
Where to Put What: animals, trees, and garden Oh MY!
I am still changing my mind every few days about where to place the gardens and the small animal barns. I do know that I will refrain from planting trees just south of my home due to my plan to use passive solar. I'll need to avoid having shade and shadows on that side of the house.
Beyond that, I'm undecided where to plant things.
My thoughts about where to place the garden is ever-changing. I had initially planned to have the garden at the 'top' of my yard. But if I have rain catchment at the house, I'd have to carry water from down the hill to the top. No thanks. Some days I can barely carry myself up that hill!
I definitely think my idea of having a grandiose garden is changing. Since my soil is ridiculously rocky, I will plan on doing hugelkultur beds scattered here and there. And, I think my largest vegetable garden area will be butted up against the house and fenced in - an attempt to keep the deer from eating everything to the ground.
I also am undecided about where to place the small animal barn (I plan to have goats and rabbits at some point) and the chicken coop. There are so many things to consider.
Barn North of the House - On the bedroom side of the house, which means I'd hopefully be able to hear any night-time drama or predators. But it will also mean that the house would be downwind during those hot summer days when the wind blows from that direction. A possiblity of having a stinky breeze! Yuck.
Barn South of the House - On the livingroom side of the house. So that barn and animals would be in the view from that large, passive solar window side of the house. Good and bad. The barn and animals would be in my view.... and the barn and the animals would be in my view. I really like the idea of having a view of only yard and woods.
Barn toward the top of the yard from the house - This seems like the best placement. I could easily deliver hay and feed at the top of the hill. However, it also means walking up and down that steep, steep, STEEP yard to do chores 2+ times a day. At least I wouldn't need a gym membership!
Pests: Deer, Bear, Groundhogs, Raccoons, Squirrels.....
The game cams, slow progress in moving toward living there, and the camping trips have been very educational in the way of knowing how prevalent and damaging the wildlife is up there on that ridge.
I definitely am working hard to maintain a large portion of my land that is a welcoming and healthy habitat for the wildlife. But with that is coming the awareness that wildlife is damaging to plants and trees. The wildlife will wreak havoc on my future vegetable gardens if I don't plan carefully.
I've had to take down bird feeders due to the raccoons and bear. That makes me sad. The deer have killed MANY plants I've started up there (raspberries, blackberries, a Japaneese Maple, and several fig trees - just to name a few) which makes my checking account unhappy.
The raccoon emptying the bird feeder. He stole
the suet feeder. Somewhere I have photos of the bear
stealing my birdseed. And he/she destroyed my favorite
feeder. While I love the wildlife, my visitors are
More Pests: Invasive Plants (Stiltgrass, garlic mustard, massive poison ivy vines and a new vine still unidentified)
I am learning about invasive plants and the poor health of my woods. I have a long way to go in this area. But it is definitely a focus of mine. Succession planting, prescribed burns, and disturbed land are new but important phrases in my knowlege base.
I have learned that because my land (the yard portion) was previously an apple orchard, then left unattended, has created a perfect setting for the invasive plants to come and take over.
This is the one area that is not benefitting from my very slow move to living there. If I lived there, I could pull more garlic mustard out and cut down more poison ivy vines. If I had a water source, I'd feel comfortable burning out some of the stiltgrass on a windless day. I am hopeful that when I live there, these things will get done.
I think the best result of my dream taking years to evolve has been that I am thankful for the land and the experiences I've had thus far. I have new skills and new confidence in some areas. I am thankful for the time I've spent there and gifts Mother Nature has given me. And I will be even more thankful for the home that has taken so long to build.
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I've known I want to build a "small" house for a long while. This post explains 3 Reasons I Want to Build a Small Home.
I do have 2 solar panels from Renogy. I LOVE them. Unfortunately, I have to replace the worn out, new-to-me batteries with new batteries. But the time that I did use the Renogy panels was helpful and convinced me that at least some of my power will come from solar.
If you are looking for a THOW (tiny home on wheels) you MUST check out Lancaster Cabins (Keystone Kabins). If I could have a THOW on my land I would absolutely buy one of these. Check out my review. They are beautiful, quality cabins with a reasonable sticker price.