I'm a newbie to this, but I'm wanting to build an off-grid homestead. It will take me 10-15 years to be able to afford to build my home, but I'd like ideas on everything from what I can start doing now to prepare, to what kind of cooking source I can use in the new home. I know it sounds crazy to be worrying about what to do now with the finish time being so far off, but I know that everything that I can get set up and established now, will only save me time and money by the finish. We are a low income family, and I will be approaching retirement age by the end. I won't have a home to sell to help finance my build. By that time, I will have a 40 year old mobile home that is already showing its age now. I'm not in the best health now, so I won't have the physical ability or stamina to take on a massive homestead building project later. I need to break it up into smaller, easier steps over time so that I will be able to handle it alone. My husband is disabled, so it will be a solo project for me. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I wish I'd done this when I was much younger and healthier.
What I have: I have 1 1/2 acres that is a long rectangle in shape that is about a half acre deep that starts on top of a hill with a low grade drop to the end of my property line that I currently live on in a mobile home, in the middle. I live in a Zone 8 climate with a high water table, at about 8-10 feet.(Higher in consecutive wet years.) We have almost 6 months of hot, humid summers and about 1-2 months of cold, wet winters. Temps are 15-30 degrees in the winter with a wind chill in the teens and 95-100 in the summer with a heat index of 110-115 degrees. I don't have a community that I can reach out to for help with labor. I live in a poor rural area where the majority of my neighbors are elderly. The few others are my age (mid 40's) and older. The kids grow up and move away. When the older people die, their land is sold, by their children, to one of the big localcattle farmers and the old houses are torn down to make room for more pasture land. I have the wisdom of the elders here. They've lived here all their lives. Most of them have gardened all their lives and raised a few animals. They know the weather and the land, and they know the animals and the crops you can grow here. They all live in modern homes now, but they were depression-era sharecroppers as children. They are the ones I've gotten my house plans from and the knowledge on how to care for the future gardens and animals that I plan.
What I would like: I plan to build a single story home with high ceilings, plenty of windows on all sides, and porches on the east, south, and west sides on top of the hill to take advantage of the breezes. It will have to be a wood frame house. Our climate is too wet and humid for any earthen houses, and I can't afford brick or blocks. The high water table doesn't allow us to build underground, either. We can't even build storm shelters or root cellars here. I plan to add a greenhouse. I like the permaculture idea for setting up a homestead, but I would need raised beds to plant in, and that doesn't really conform to the permacuture theme. I plan to have chickens, rabbits, and maybe a few goats. I'm going to attempt to add a small pond somewhere, but it will have to be fed by a rain catchment system, as there are no springs on my land. We get an average of 56 inches of rainfall a year, and I can supplement with well water, if it is necessary. I'd like to set up a hybrid solar/wind power system. Around here, if the sun isn't shining, then it is usually windy and vice versa. I plan to build a rocket mass heater, and I plan to get a wood cook stove. The only issue with the stove is the amount of heat that it produces in the summer. I plan to put it off the kitchen in a screened in room under the back porch. I have also looked into Biogas, but I'm not sure how feasible that would be for my situation.
What I KNOW I need to do: I will have to clear brush and overgrowth from all around the property. I know that's the first thing I need to do. After that, I plan to get a well dug. Unfortunately, my current house sits where I plan to put my garden and raised beds, so I can't get that project completed until we move. I can plant on the lower half acre and was planning to put a small orchard of fruittrees in that area. I can start those now. I will have to clear land before I can build the animal pens, but I'm under the impression that they need to be put next to the garden area, which is where my house is sitting now. I will need to start stockpiling building materials and resources now, but I'm not sure what. I know some things , like lumber, can't be stored for long periods.
What do I NEED to know: My question is, what am I missing? Do any of you have any ideas on how to proceed? What order do I need to prioritize things? What do I need to buy now that will still be good/usable in 10-15 years? What can be broken into smaller projects to make the build easier and cheaper? Any tips or ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thanks
I am new here as well. I am in garden zone 7b, in AR. Also living in a 40 year old mobile home centered on my property. Living on 3 acres in a very small rural town. Quite the difference from my hometown of Chicago. My 1980s box has a laundry list of repairs that I cannot and will not invest in. Almost all of which are above my skill set. I am not willing to become a wage slave at a job I hate to pour money into a very broken investment that would give no return. Fortunately I have a concrete slab on property that I intend to create my small off grid home upon. Yes, obstacles. Money, time, health, energy, skills, materials, tools, and weather do not line up perfectly like the stars to complete a project as desired. But that is ok. I have made up my mind to enjoy the process. Acceptance of what is.
Personally, I see no need to get too hung up on labels. If you need to have raised beds than so be it. I would not worry about thinking your particular needs not being "enough" of one label or another. I have read many wonderful posts on here where people have modified endeavors to meet their needs. Relax into what suits you, not stress about a dictionary definition.
We don't know what we don't know. A reoccurring life theme for me. I have notebooks of ideas/dreams/plans that are ever changing as I learn new methods, resources, etc. So being flexible is really important in my opinion. There is a wealth of info on here that you can find by topic or by search. I have been inspired by countless youtube videos. Books! I really enjoy books that I can refer to easily when I forget something. Books are pretty easy to come by second hand. Yard sales, thrift stores, online book sale pages and even book exchange groups. There are groups online that list free items as well.
Storing materials in a dry safe place can be a challenge. Somethings can be stored under an inexpensive tarp. Some things can be stored in totes. I plan to use glass bottles and tin can tops so those store easily in totes and baskets. I have read that as far as building you want good boots and hat. Boots are your foundation and your hat is your roof. I have read that you want to build your roof to protect your build and keep the rest dry. I have no experience yet with this matter, just what I have read repeatedly. So again, those tarps seem to be a useful investment.
Materials can often be obtained cheaply via online sources. You mentioned you cannot afford bricks. Check out Facebook marketplace, among other online sources. Perhaps you can barter with someone who has a trailer who can haul the bricks for you if you find them cheap or free. Restore is a source for more affordable materials. Each one is managed different, so prices vary according to management I have found. I have read of people obtaining salvaged materials, I do not know enough about this. Still looking into. All the dump places I know of do not allow people to take anything out from unfortunately. Bartering in general might work for materials.
So, notes help, either pen and paper and/or bookmarked and screenshots of ideas and info. It would be unreliable of myself to rely on my memory alone. Prioritizing projects comes easier to me if I can look at my notes and base my timeline on weather and resources. I will also be doing my permie off grid journey on my own as well since my hubby is not on the same page or even reading the same book as I.
All the best. I'm looking forward to following along.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. —Albert Einstein
To Pamela and Anne,
Thank you both for your encouragement and ideas. I will make note of all of it and start researching it tomorrow. I don't want to put any money into the mobile home, either. Every penny I spend on it is one I could use towards our new homestead. I long for a simpler life and could live the rest of my days without a television, as long as I have books to keep me company. My husband, unfortunately, has a pretty extreme addiction to the "boob tube". I'm worried it might harm him physically if I take it away, lol. I will try to incorporate it into our wattage calculations when designing the solar/wind system. We'll see. I continue to read, plan, and watch videos. I'm learning more every day. I'm really hoping that I can make this dream a reality. Only time will tell.
You are right a homestead entails so many things, so learning as much as possible right now will help alot, and there are quite a few things that you can start doing even now.
Soil -Carbon such as woodchip/compost/biochar/haybale/etc if added to your soil will allow you soil to hold onto it's fertility, minerals and water
-Nitrogen fixers like Dutch White Clover added to you soil will increase fertility
-Herbs like mint/thyme, celery/lovage, onion/garlic will help cut down on soil pest and leaf pest, while hosting beneficial bugs.
-Earthworks like high raised beds (tiny hugel-culture), will make it easy to harvest/plant vegeotables even from a motorized scooter.
-Microbes that can be found compost, will help activate/release the minerals in the soil for the plants, and outcompete/attach pest microbes
-Irrigation, you might have to create one for your raised beds
Vegetable/Herb Garden -Plant cultivars that survive at your location, with sheer utter neglect, if you have to keep them on an IV and baby them, don't bother with that cultivar
-Develop your own cultivar by resisting the urge to eat and not save the seeds from your most adapted, tastiest, biggest producers
-Have this close to your house. place it on the side of the house that you to visit the most. Easy Access is what we are aiming for.
-It's okay to explore but most of your garden should be dedicated to the few vegetables that you really love to eat, all spring/summer/winter long.
-Import fertility/compost/carbon to your plot every season. You can import it from your own compost/chop&drop/animal manure from your yard.
Orchard Don't have all of your 10,000lbs of fruits all ripen in the same 4 weeks in September. You can harvest from May,June,July,Aug,Sept,Oct,Nov.
One 20ft tree covers the same amount of space as Four 10ft tree. But with the Four dwarf tree you can have each cultivar ripen a different month.
Plant a lot of berry trees that you can easily harvest, even from a wheelchair.
Select your cultivars and species carefully: Dwarf, Natives, Exotics and lastly avoid failure prone trees from the prunus sub-family and apples too.
Plant form as many different tree family as possible, so that not everything will fail at the same time, and you are left with a year without any produce.
You can fit 200 fruit trees on one acres if they are planted in 10ftx10ft grid. (To help with air circulation, layer, have a 15ft tree, next to a 5ft berry)
When it is mature 20yrs later you want to have 25% nitrogen fixing tree. But 80% at establishment: I like extra legumes every 5ft, that I then cull as the fruit trees get bigger.
Add beneficial soil life, with mushroom slurries
Bee Hive Raw Comb Honey is very healthy for us, with enzymes, anti-oxidant and healthy microbes, in addition to suspended pollen.
Industrial honey that been fed syrup, pasteurized and other such maladies are not as healthy for humans.
I would recommend getting at least 3 hives because then you will be able to split the hive if one one of them dies.
You can also get a harvest of wax too
Poultry A Chicken tractor sounds like a good idea, you can probably spend 10 minutes per day and have fesh eggs and meat year round.
They can eat bugs and garden scraps
A critter proof coop/tractor is must.
A self watering setup and self feeding setup would allow you to go on vacation for a week
Dairy Given the size of your lot having meat animals esp cows might be too much.
But you could have two dwarf goats in a pen, that is fed hay, and garden scraps. Not free range but better than milk from the big box store
Electric fencing is very important.
Having 30 paddocks that you move the goat to daily is also good for pest management
They are not vacation friendly
Dog A farm dog is very important, critter control and a great alarm system.
Fish Pond I think this is one of the best animal to have on your site.
You can use this nutrient dense water for irrigating your garden
You can easily harvest 4-7 fishes per week indefinitely
Maybe some bluegill
Iterations are fine, we don't have to be perfect
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
I like the floorplan above for a nice 'compact' house. It sounds like you already have an idea for the shell of the house lets focus on the real expensive part.
Water, Sewage, Electrical, Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning, Shading, and the Kitchen/Cooking.
Water will you be using city water or well water or rain water
Will you pre-filter the water
Will you use a reverse osmosis filter
Will you sterilize the water (Reverse Osmosis/UV/Ozone/Chlorine)
If you use a RO system how will you use the 'waste water' from it? Fish Pond after adding de-chlorinator if it is city water. or Toilet And Laundry, Garden/Animal use
Well cost $4,000 and a Filter system cost $1,000. With yearly replacement going for $140 for a 7-stage unit (UV>Post>2xRO>3 pre-filter)
Sewage Is it tied to the city-grid or is it on-site?
Do you plan on having a separate greywater system?
Do you plan on using a low-flow or vaccum flush system?
Do you plan on using an advance 6-stage aerobic system that output water that is legally potable.
(I am only half-joking, but at the very least I would use it in my greenhouse garden.)
Electrical I know that you will be getting solar, but will you be paying the $10/month backup connection fee for the grid?
How much energy do currently use per month. The average folks use 30KWH per day, so they would need a 10KWH solar array.
Solar Array = 10KW for $8,000
Battery Bank = 10KWH for $8,000
Inverter/Controller = 10KWH for $8,000
Misc = $2,000
Backup Generator = 10KWH for $3,000
Backup Propane Tank = ?
For the house put each room on a different circuit, with an additional 3 in the kitchen, and one for every HVAC/Heater/Laundry/Shop Machine
Heating What type of Domestic Hot Water heater will you use? The usual fossil fuel or solar or pellet stove?
I recommend PEX pipe for radiant in floor heating ($400)
You can then use your domestic hot water tank to heat your house. But preferable, it's own hot water heater set to 80F-110F.
The heater can be a cheap $500 instant hot water heater.
You will then need a cheap $100 recirculating pump to distribute the heat.
Ventilation Humidity sources include showers/bathroom and boiling pots/kitchen, so venting those sound like a good idea
The stove/kitchen needs its own vent. But the Bathroom vent can also double as the whole house air intake.
An ERV with a really good filter would be great, to save on your AC/Humidity and Heating energy usage.
This will cost $1,000
Air-Conditioner A ductless mini-split Heat pump is the way to go, about $700 per ton.
You can also add a heat recovery unit to get domestic hot water and a sous-vide station in the outside kitchen.
You could also make a walk-in R-60 cold room/shed for fermenting/storing thing with one of the mini-split independent air handlers.
Shading Warp-Around porch
Warp-Around Trellis Tall Trees to shade the walls and most if not all the roof
Iterations are fine, we don't have to be perfect
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
There is so much to go in a kitchen, esp the outside kitchen
Food Preservation include: Dehydration, Fermentation (Acid/Alcohol), Cool Storage, Sugaring, Canning, Freezing, Hoophouse, Salting/Smoking/Nitrates/Sulfides/etc
Solar Dehydrator This is great for herbs/spices, mushroom, slice fruits, fruit leather. Bees also dehydrate nectar to honey. Grains, beans, nuts also do well with some dehydration. Not so much for leafy greens, or tubers.
Dehydration in Sept/October in more northern climates with low temperature is easy. And in the deserts with low humidity it is easy, but in the warm humid south/tropical region, we need a faster radiant vs a convective solar dehydrstor
Fermentation After dehydration this is the 2nd most popular way, that humans preserve food. We call fat/carbs empty calories and look for nutrient-dense food, well this is the level after that.
These microbes produce alot of vitamins, enzymes, hormones, mind/heart/liver/body altering compounds that help us in so many ways that we are just discovering them.
-Water Kefir = a soda replacement (24 different microbes species), if you keep it for long it will turn to vinegar, and you can
-Soda Kefir = if you bottle the above it will pressurize and turn into a tasty 100% fruit juice soda
-Kefir Cider = if you fed them excessive amount of sugar and slowly expose them to 2% alcohol water, they will make a 2%-3% alcohol drink once you add any juice or sugar water to it.
-Kefir Mead = same as above but honey is used instead of fruit juice. like above the higher the alcohol percentage the lower the species count.
-Milk Kefir = yogurt like (48 different microbes) that can be turned into kefir cheese.
-Cheese = all I know is that this is yummy
-Frozen Yogurt = ice-cream like, this can also be made with Milk Kefir or the Kefir grains can be added
-Vegetable = the whey or juice or grains from any of the above can be used as a starter, salt can be added too, just compact the vegetables and keep them submerged.
-Sauces = similar to above vegetable paste, salt and kefir starter is aged.
-Sourdough = you can use the same starters as above then adjust to your own flavor profile or buy a real sourdough starter
-Grains/Apples/Grape/etc can be fermented to make alcohol/beer/cider/wine
-Alcohol can be distilled but that is another topic
-Beans can be fermented to make miso/soy by KOJI, or beans can be turned into tempeh by Rhizopus
-Fish can be turned into fish sauce, (barley-koji or rice-amasake liquid kept at 60F or below with the fish parts, salt, kefir, for 2months)
-Meat, just like the fish sauce above any meat can be submerged in the enzyme rich barley-koji liquid and salt + kefir
-Sausages, ground meat, sugar and milk kefir is stuffed into a casing and fermented for a month in cold storage/60F then smoked/dried.
Cold Storage This can be done by adding a mini-split ductless air handler to an insulated 'shed'
Most fermenting foods/fermented food
Sugaring This is in some way similar to dehydration, in that we are reducing the moisture content by boiling.
Reverse Osmosis also sucks the water out of the bad microbes too, inactivating them.
Canning Not a big fan of canning, I prefer fermenting or dehydrating
Water: Pure, Acidic, Sugar Sweet, Salty is added in with the vegetable/fruit/grain/tube/meat that is to preserved, boiled then capped.
Freezer Esp good for storing meats and frozen treats.
Also good for killing bugs (bee frames)
Hoophouse Instead of harvesting your vegetables at the start of winter, just leave them in the ground, and give them a bit of protection, they will not grow like in a heated greenhouse but it is better that adding them to a basement/cold storage. Zone 8, winters will not kill them, but the ground might be too wet or the critters might try to eat them before you get to it.
Chemicals They are usually added in addition to dehydration/fermenting/etc
There are many things you can invest in now that will carry over to the new house. Wood stove, outdoor kitchen, off grid fridge or freezer, even a mini split can fairly easily be uninstalled and moved with minimal professional help.
If I were building in that kind of situation, the house would be on piers with an open crawlspace. Any basement or crawlspace walls just trap humidity and mold. The other advantage is those are the easiest diy. You can pour one pier at a time, mixing from bagged ready mix carried by hand (back) if you have to.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi.
"Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
I would start with building the soil.
I would map out where I want my fruit tree, garden, chicken coop, etc
Then start planting the nitrogen fixer, berries and shrubs. Some from seeds, others from cutting
You can, have the bee hive up and running now,
I would be on the lookout for someone with heavy equipment that can dig a pond.
I would price out everything I need to build the house.
I would also start cutting back on my energy usage, doing things manually.
I would learn as much fermenting skills, build a solar dehydrator now.
I would apply for all the permits to build the house, just to see what that entails, and how the county permit folks behave.
Get septic and water setup, if possible.
Can you share the house design that you already have?
Wow! S Bengi, You are absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for all of the great info! I will attempt to attach what I have, but I'm not the best at this.
I plan to drastically reduce our power consumption in the new home. Plenty of insulation, lots of windows, no A/C, rocket mass heater(or something like that), and limited appliances(fridge and freezer). A wood cook stove in a screened in room under the back porch. I plan to use low-flow faucets and plumbing throughout the house. I plan to use greywater for irrigation and a rain catchment system, too. The well will be for potable water and to supplement the other if absolutely necessary. We don't have city sewer here. I'm in the country. I don't plan to be connected to any company anything. I would like to be completely off grid, if at all possible. I will have to wait to see what I can work out with our power system and how much wattage consumption I can cut. The house will be built off the ground with a crawl space. It will have a gable roof with gutters all around that feed the rain catchment tanks. I plan to do canning, but I will definitely look into fermentation and the solar dehydrator. Again. Thank you for all of the information. I will start looking it all up immediately.
Thanks R Scott. I will start looking for those items. The crawl space is a definite. All of the old home places around here had them to help with air flow and keeping the house cool. I like the DIY factor as well.
Crystal, in your original post you said you'd need raised beds and thought that wasn't consistent with permaculture. In my opinion they can totally be developed with permaculture in mind. If you build them as raised hugelkultur beds they will reduce your watering requirement for starters. If it's easier for you to manage a more controlled planting space, you can build a tall raised bed and fill it with hugel materials and garden on the flat top. The first permaculture part is not the structure itself but thinking how you can use and recycle locally available materials like scrap wood, leaves, compost, etc to reduce your energy and water inputs and buils a system that works for you. The next permaculture part would be figuring out your plantings - what plants might go together to best use this new space. Grow things that will do well in your climate and that you like to eat. Perennial plants will reduce your workload. Mix up different kinds of plants so the pests have to work harder to find them, and the plants use the space most efficiently and in ways that benefit one another. Try to keep the soil covered at all times so you will have less weeding. You get the idea. This can most definitely be done in raised beds or even in pots or buckets or recycled bathtubs if you want to make a start now.
Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
I work with people with limited money in Australia who wish to build a house.
Terms like wage slave can be so detrimental to ones thinking.
Much the same in the manner that some folks dont see a difference between good and bad debt.
The plan I show people is to construct a room #1, say, 4M x 2m that has a removable toilet, a shower or bath. A place to cook and prepare food.
If you use square steel posts to hold any roof and ceiling structure up the benefits ase as follows;
- light to handle
- Posts can be set out as you get time and money
- Roof joists etc can be bolted as time allows into the future.
- create a veranda out the front of the first room, say 1.8M wide which will eventually connect to another room #2, 4M square.
- The veranda area #3 can be a cooking area for a while, separate from the bathroom # 1 scene now.
- That room #2, can be sleeping quarters / lounge and dining if wet until another room #3 is built to one side.
- The final sleeping area room #3 can be built and room #2 becomes a kitchen / dining lounge area.
And the process continues until you stop.
If planned and executed well, nothing needs to be dismantled as the house expands. A temporary doorway becomes a window, ceilings are added after a time to improve comfort.
Sometimes a small loan at the start that helps with the cash flow can work well.
If each area is built at intervals you have time to collect low cost / free materials or save money.
As things progress you maybe able to live there and save rent elsewhere.
It could be that rooms #1 and #2 take tweleve months and so the job progresses.
My own home has taken 38 years to date.
I am busy helping others and I build as needs are changing.
- I started with 1 bedroom 7 x 8 M with a front veranda.
- I added a 2m x 3m tool room adjacent to the bathroom to store things I did not want stolen. It had heavy doors, steel mesh in the walls and no windows.
- Then a veranda opposite the tool room, which 15 yeras later became a galley kitchen.
- A veranda 2.5M wide was added down the 8m side , east, which later became a bedroom for small children.
- 35 years after I started I added a 3m x 2m walk in wardrobe to the other side which was entered through a previous window space.
- 2 yeras later that area was lengthend along the west, wall and became a 3rd bedroom entered through the tool room.
- The tool room became a pantry with a small skylight.
- 1 year ago, I added a bedroom 4M x 4.5M to one end of the eastern veranda, which incorporated some of that veranda. I removed a 4M wall.
Each time I have used cash flow or obtained a no interest loan offered to people here.
The loan meant I did not have to wait too long to weather proof the new addition. I only got that loan when weather proofing was needed.
John Daley Bendigo, Australia
The Enemy of progress is the hope of a perfect plan
One thing I see missing in all this good advice is one or more solar cookers. There are many designs available and plans for making them yourself on the cheap. My two old "Sun Ovens" will easily hit 300F on a good sunny day and are excellent for just about anything besides frying or grilling. I've done bread in them numerous times, it just doesn't get really brown on top as it would in a conventional oven, and it takes twice as long. The benefits are in energy savings and keeping heat out the house in the warmer months. This is also a good reason to have an outdoor kitchen....many places I've lived had such a thing, usually with a small propane stove in addition to a campfire area (which can be used for cooking and grilling) and the solar ovens. Additionally, obtain a few heavy cast iron pots or dutch ovens. These are magnificent for cooking in solar ovens, over the campfire, or on the embers of your woodstove fire....be sure to find a stove you can easily get a full pot into and out of. Wherever energy is an issue, remember that those uses of energy that involve changing something's temperature are usually the major hogs in usage. So alternative ways to heat and cool, whether food or space or people, are good things to think about and make changes.