June 5, 2010

Saturday Part II


Yesterday I talked a little bit about saving money.  When you shop you have to look at things from the perspective of a want or a real need.  When planning your house you need to use the same reasoning.  People have been programed in the past twenty years that the American dream is an oversized house with rooms that are rarely used.  Remember that when you are living off grid a large house requires more solar power and that means more expense.

When we planned our house we wanted to keep things as simple as possible.  That includes the gas lines and water lines.  We built a single story house with all the plumbing lines on one side.  Meaning the kitchen and bathroom plumbing are on the same side of the house instead of opposing sides so that if we have a leak the repair should be simple.  You won’t have to slither all around the crawl space to find the right pipe.  We used well insulated 2×6 walls and metal roof and siding.  The metal should be low maintenance.  No painting required and it can easily be power washed.

We designed an open floor plan for the main part of the house.  Since it is only Sonny and I we don’t need closed in bedrooms.  The idea behind this is to keep air flow and light through out the house.  The mudroom has a window positoned so that it is in line with the door to the main house.  By opening that window and the door separating the two rooms air can flow from one end of house to the other.  I will post pictures tomorrow.  An open floor plan also makes a small house seem larger.

Our mud room is large and so a double bed fits in there nicely.  Originally it was not going to be used for a guest room but it has worked out pretty well.  We may just keep the bed in there.  If your guests need more than a place to lay their head maybe they need to go to a motel.  We all want our guests to be comfortable. Do you really want to spend your hard earned dough on building an extra bedroom and bathroom for guests who only visit a few times a year?

Our floor plan may not be for you, especially if you still have children at home, but that doesn’t nessasarily mean you need a huge house.  Do your kids hate each other so much that they can’t share a room and a bathroom?  It amazes me when I see home shows where each child regardless of age needs a room the size of my house and their own bathroom.  Again. Want or need.  It is up to you.

When building your home you can save a substantial amount of money doing things yourself and enlisting the help of friends or relatives that have a skill you need.  You can also do projects in increments as you save up for them.  I still don’t have flooring in the main house.  I opted to paint the subfloor with porch and floor paint until we can pay for floor coverings.  We do have vinyl flooring down in the mud room and bathroom. But for now we have bigger needs like the out buildings.

Being off grid means managing your power.  Our house is 1152 sq. feet and we have a 2.5 kw solar system.  Solar works well when the sun shines and even on partly cloudy days the PV array still absorbs energy and fuels the batteries. It is the cloudy rainy days of Spring that drag on into a week  and the dark short days of winter that need the most power management.  A back up generator is a must.  We haven’t stayed here full time through the winter yet, but have experienced the rainy days of Spring.  In those instances we run the generator for about an hour or hour and a half in both the morning and evening.  Keeping watch on the battery levels and the weather will let you know if an extra boost from the generator is needed.  It is not all that complicated and becomes old hat after a while.

We bought all energy star electrical appliances.  Our stove is propane and so is the heater.  We plan to put in a wood stove this fall.  I don’t care for the propane heat.  It seems to be dirtier than wood and puts too much moisture in the air.  I know wood heat is drying but it beats having moisture drip off my ceiling.

Managing power tips:

If you must use a hair dryer use it when you have full sun or when the generator is running.  Hair dryers use coils and suck up energy like a dehydrated man sucking down water.  Other energy alcoholics include, toasters, microwaves, dish washers, irons and multiple 24 hour televisions.  Laptop computers tend to use less energy than desk tops.

If you have a window in your bathroom you don’t need to turn on a light to use it, unless you are applying make-up.  Natural light is usually enough to do whatever tasks are needed in any room.  I think we sometimes take electricity for granted and turn on lights out of habit when we don’t really need them.

Planning wash day is important.  You want to run the clothes washer early in the day when the sun is shining.  We all know that wash day usually includes multiple loads.  You may even want to break up wash loads between days.

Sonny put a timer on the refrigerator.  It is set to go off at 9:00PM when it is in least use.  It is off for two hours then on for an hour until about 7:00AM when it is in constant use again. This works great.  Your refrigerator and freezer will stay cold just fine. We have a small chest freezer but have not put it in use yet, but when we do we will use the same system with it. These are just a few tips and I am sure there are a hundred more out there.  All these things are not an inconvenience at all.  It is just a routine that you get into the habit of doing.  And just think, you don’t have an electric bill lurking in your mailbox.


June 5, 2010

Friday, Part I


Like me, some of you have always dreamed of living a simpler life filled with independece and self sufficiency.  For others it is a small seed of thought, a curiosity if you will, that seems to be blooming in the back of their mind.  Some of you want to run to the hills and forget all the trappings of the world. Others just want a small taste.   I am here to tell you that you can achieve your dream, but it will involve  sacrafice, planning and compromise.  I’m not an expert but maybe you can take some of what I have to say and apply it to your situation.  These are lessons that we have learned from experience and from others.  That is not to say that we don’t have a lot more lessons to learn on this journey to self reliance and we will share them with you on this daily blog as we learn them.

First of all you have to look at the size and scope of your dream.  Pick it apart and figure out what you want as compared to what you really need or can afford. You may be thinking too big.

Land:  You don’t have to own half a state to be self suffient and have a garden and a few chickens.  If you already have an acre or two you can grow a garden and quite possibly have a couple of hens to supply you with eggs.  Of course you have to be careful of zoning when it comes to animals and if you live in a housing development I think the chickens are out along with the goats and sheep.  But my point is, if a couple of acres in the country is all your pocketbook can buy then you may want to plan around that.  If your house doesn’t take up all your property you would be surprized at what you can do with the land you have.

If your not planning on selling eggs two or three hens will supply your egg needs. A chicken lays an egg a day.  A small garden can produce a large amout of produce that can be canned or frozen. Rabbits take up very little space if you are into raising meat rabbits or even a few meat chickens.  I know that is not for everyone but for those of you who would like to raise some of your own meat it is an option.  If you like to hunt, like Sonny does, then you may want more property.  That is why we wanted more acerage that was wooded mountainside.

You need to think about how much work you want to do.  Keep this in mind when shopping for land.  Make sure your land is accessable unless you don’t mind building a road to it.  Some mountain land is sold cheap but you have to figure out how your going to get to it.  It may not be a problem if your family members are mountain goats.  Keep an open mind on where you would like to live and do a lot of research on the area.  Not only check realators but local newspapers with ads for land.  Check for land that is up for sale by county because of back taxes.

Money:  One of the ideas behind being self sufficient is being debt free.  Truth be told we are not debt free yet.  We still owe on the land, but all the buildings are paid for.  House, implement shed, chicken coop and wood shed. We plan to have the land paid for in the next two or three years.  This is where a lot of sacrifice and compromise come in.  For years we were drowning in the river of “got to have”.  Finally we woke up and realized how much money we wasted on simple junk we thought we couldn’t live without.  You have to look at things from a different perspective.  We tightened our belt and saved for each building project.  It became our main focus and in the end it has benifited us.  It was worth the sacrifice.

When you go to the store you need to think before you buy.  Do I really need a new pair of shoes?  I already have fifteen pair in the closet.  Instead of buying a new dress for the office Christmas party maybe I can wear last years.  Eat at home more and actually ask youself if every person in the house really needs their own TV and computer. When we moved out here we gave load after load of useless items such as knick knacks, clothes and shoes we never wore, and a plethera of other goods to the Good Will. Not one item has been missed.  I only kept the things that were most special and of most use.  I will admit that we still have more electronic gear than we probably need but Sonny is an electronic junkie and is having a problem with rehab.

Don’t be pulled into the ads for miracle creams and cosmetics, the diamond jewelry that will fix a marriage or home shows that suck you into believing that you must have a yard that looks like a Greek garden.   All those things won’t feed you or get you closer to your dream.  We have probably saved thousands of dollars just staying out of Walmart.  It’s all common sense. Be more frugal and don’t put yourself in more debt.  It’s the same old tune but it still rings true.

If you truly want to be self sufficient you need to look for items that will be of use.  If you are going to live totally off grid you might want to look for things that do not use power.  A stove top coffee percolator, a hand mixer (not electric) you know the old fashioned ones with the wheel crank on the side, battery or wind up clocks.  I have a high efficiency washing machine but no dryer. Dryers suck up a lot of juice.  For days that you must dry clothes inside you can use a wooden drying rack.  I believe not using a dryer saves wear and tear on your clothes….unless you actually like the curled up elastic on your underwear.

Since moving out here I am more at ease.  Most of the things I worried about were trivial and having less debt will make you sleep better at night.  A home with less clutter to deal with also declutters your mind.

Tomorrow I will talk about picking the right type of house and planning for your solar power.


June 3, 2010



The sun was shining early this morning when the Green Goblin turned into my driveway.  I wasn’t sure if Ronald would come by to build the wood shed since the weather man predicted rain and thunderstorms through out the day.  I guess he figured he might as well get something done between raindrops.

Blair didn’t come with Ronald and Vicki today.  He had to take his dog to the Veterinarian for it’s yearly checkup.  I tried to fill in as best as I could being a “tote”.  A “tote” is below a “go for”.  You help the “go for” carry boards, and ladders, of which you are always trailing on the back end.  You hold up boards to be nailed when the “go for” can’t handle it themselves.  When two ladders are in use you must control one making sure it is ready and in it’s proper position as the boss needs it.

Leveling the garage ramp

The first order of the day was to finish the foundation of the garage ramp.  A few weeks ago we had shoveled in the gravel.  Today Ronald put in the side foundations to hold in the concrete when it is poured in the garage and the ramp.  We had to make sure that the gravel was four inches below the the top of the foundation ascending up the ramp.  There was too much gravel so we had to shovel some out and then rake it until it was level.  Now the garage is ready to have the concrete poured.  That will happen a couple of weeks from now.

Thunder rumbled far off in the distance.  We moved to the wood shed project to get as much done as possible before the weather changed.  The sun was still shining but the air was thick with humidity and we were wet with sweat.

Wood Shed Frame

Ronald dug the four corner post holes.  He hit a few rocks but none that were so big they couldn’t be removed.  Then he put the 4x4x10 corner posts into the holes and poured in the sacrete. It needed to set up so we took a break and tried to cool off on the porch.

The thunder got closer and the rain came.  It lasted about a half hour and moved on.  The sun popped out and the air was more humid than before, but we trudged on.  Things seemed to move pretty quickly as we put on the side boards, fascia and rafters. It helps that Ronald has a nail gun and has probably built a hundred of these structures in his lifetime.  More than likely we will use this same pattern to build shelters for our goats when we get them.

The last thing Ronald did was to measure the coop and wood shed for the metal.  If he orders it tomorrow it should come in on Monday.  Hopefully by Tuesday afternoon our coop and wood shed will be ready for use.  All in all it was a productive day.  I am a little worried that Ronald may never be the same after working with two women who are opposed to being bossed all day.


June 2, 2010


Ronald, Vicki and Blair have worked hard today.  They showed up at 7:30 to start work on the chicken coop. The temperature was cool at that time of morning but by about 9:00 when the sun reached over the trees the sweat started to fly.

The coop is attached to the back of the implement shed.  This way we only had to buy materials for three walls.  The bones of the structure are finished.  It measures 10’x6′ and will have two chicken doors to allow them to either go free range or hang out in the fenced yard.  The choice will be theirs except in certain situations such as when we are gone for a few days and someone has to take care of them.  Then they will be relegated to the fenced yard for their safety.

Construction of the chicken Coop

We decided at the last minute to leave a 2 foot roof overhang on the front.  The overhang will help keep mud from splashing up on the building when it rains and also provide some shade for the chickens.  Since we already have guttering on the shed roof we opted not to put it on the coop.  I will also put a few low shelters in the fenced yard for them to take cover under in case a hawk comes around.  We do have hawks that like to hang around here and they will really be interested when the chickens show up.  There are plenty of hidy-holes for the hens to flee to when they are outside of the fenced yard if danger should come from overhead.  At night they will be tucked away safe and sound in their coop.  That is the plan anyway.  We have the usual array of predators, including coyotes and bobcats.  Since there are coyotes about we may have to use a heavier gage wire for the fencing instead of the traditional chicken wire.

The skin of the building will be the same green metal roof and white sides as the rest of our buildings.  Sonny and I are going to build the nesting boxes and roosts inside.  That should be interesting.  Hope the chickens aren’t squeemish.  All in all I think the chickens will have a great home and hopefully give us plenty of eggs.


June 1, 2010



Today was a hectic day.  I arrived at Ronald’s house right on time at 8:00 this morning.  He was already up and sitting in a lawn chair in his garage.  I almost thougt he must have been there on watch all night.  We wasted no time and immediately climbed into the Green Goblin (with rattling lifters) and headed to Lowes.  Ronald commanded the vehicle while his wife Vicki navigated and I was posted as lookout on the passenger side.  It takes almost an hour to get to town.

As soon as we arrived at Lowes Vicki and I commandeered two roll carts.  Of course mine was defective as usual.  It hobbled down the aisle with one wheel slightly raised with the flat spot spinning.  It made a pitiful thoomp thoomp sound as I drafted Vicki down the wood aisle.

Ronald was in charge of the master supply list.  We needed to get all the wood for the chicken coop and wood shed.  Vicki and I scouted out the bins looking for various board sizes as Ronald called them out. 2x4x10, 2x6x12, 1x6x10 and so on.  We muscled them off the racks and stacked them onto the carts.  Load after load.  Our work was not done yet.  We also needed eight 60lb. bags of sacrete.  I sprinted over to the last flat cart and tagged it before some burly contractor got there first.  Triumph.

I must be getting my muscles back with all my digging in the garden because I was able to handle those heavy sacrete bags.  We looked for a door for the chicken coop but Lowes didn’t have the size Ronald wanted.  I was glad when a young strapping Lowes employee helped Ronald load the truck.

It was another hour long ride back to my house.  Unfortunately there was no strapping young man there to help unload the truck.  Only us old folks. We pushed and pulled and grunted and groaned, but we got everything stacked nice and neat in the garage.

Round one finished.

We got right back into the Green Goblin and drove another hour back into town.  Actually it was longer than that because Central Supply was a little farther out of town.  We needed to go there to pick up the “form-a-drain” and couplers for the root cellar footers.  That will be the next project after the chicken coop and woodshed.  We didn’t have enough room in the truck the first time. It was so heavy already with the wood and sacrete that I hoped our tires would hold up on the gravel roads.

By this time it was already after 2:00 and the egg I had for breakfast was long gone.  So we stopped by a gas station and got a little snack for the road.  A little over an hour and we were pulling into our driveway.  More groaning as we unloaded another truck load.

Round two was done.  A hot meal and the couch were calling my name.  I didn’t fight it. Eight hours of travel, shopping and exercise have done me in.  That’s enough for today.  Tomorrow is another day.

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