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Jeremy Franklin
Posts: 58
Location: Binghamton, NY
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Hi Permies, I wanted to sort of introduce myself and offer up our story of how we got to be here for your edification. We just closed on a 30 acre piece of property, completely wild and undeveloped, and I am moving my family of 6 onto the property this coming Monday with no savings worth speaking of, no credit worth having, no housing beyond a couple of tents we use for camping, and just what we're taking out of our suburban lifestyle two-story home.

I am a programmer by trade, and a gamer by hobby. Those are not typically the type of characteristics that would lead one to develop their own permaculturey lifestyle/homestead, I would think, but the interesting thing is that those facets of my personality are the largest contributors to my (and my wife's) decision to leave the safety net of "normal" and essentially start our life over after 20 years of trying to do it the way everyone says it should be done. For one thing, I was a coder (a web programmer to be specific, though I don't know that weighs into it) for the first 20 years of my career, starting as a hobbyist, working my way up and eventually becoming a manager of programmers as well as application-architect and strategist. And along the way, I picked up some of the habits/philosophies that have permeated into my thinking even in non-programming situations: A) Simpler is better. More moving parts means more opportunities to break. B) Self-correcting systems are the shit. Any system that requires regular maintenance is worth one tenth the price of a system that does the same thing, but that corrects its own problems automatically. C) Performing a service and getting paid for it is easy and quick money, but it has no longevity. As soon as you stop performing the service, the money stops coming in. Far better to create a product that you can sell a hundred times or a thousand times or a hundred thousand times, or a self-sustaining system that continues to produce income even when you're not working. It might take a lot more work upfront, but over the long run, the dollars per effort is way higher than a pay-me-to-do-this arrangement.

That's all pretty obviously supportive of the permaculture philosophy, and since our own Paul Wheaton came from a coding background, it might not be that surprising that other coders would arrive at a similar place, but it's the way my gaming habits weighed in that really shocked me once I realized it. There were many, but the most obvious and direct tie-in was in 2013 when I picked up a smaller game called Farming Simulator, which - just as it sounds - puts you in the role of a farmer who must choose which crops to grow based on market demand, plant them, fertilize them, harvest them and take them to market - all the while driving and operating and upgrading all the farm machinery. Now understand, I grew up in a very suburban area where farmers were always someone somewhere else who did their job and I was glad for it, but I didn't really want them around me. The one or two farmer's kids we had in school were always uncool, frequently dressed bad and smelled worse, and - let's be honest - usually had a bit of that inbred look about them. I say that not to insult any of you wonderful (I now realize) people, but to make sure you understand that I picked up this video game half as a lark, like "hey watch this! I'm a farmer! Hurr-de-durr-durr" and not because I had any leanings or interest in the industry in the slightest. (The other half was that it was actually a fun game with well-designed game-play).

After playing the game for about 5 or 6 hours, however, something started happening in my brain. I really started to recognize how much I needed something like this to be my real life. Now of course, it was a game, and the crops grew to maturity in 3 days (game-days, which is about 20 minutes real time), and of course, all you had to do to “sell” your product was drive over a yellow square and the money was instantly in your bank account to spend. So, not exactly a stickler for realism, but the point that really struck home to me was this concept of working without a boss, or really even customers in the sense that I knew them (which, in a service business are basically the same as your boss). I could “work” as long or as little as I wanted, and if I did it the smart way and got more done with less effort, I was rewarded instead of penalized. And more than than, I didn’t have to “sell” my work. People always want to eat corn or beef or broccoli. I don’t have to go up to people in the grocery store and have a conversation with them to convince them why I’m a better corn grower than my competitors or to convince them that I had, in fact delivered their corn to them in the manner that we previously agreed. I always joked that software would be a great industry to be in if you just didn’t have any customers, and while playing this game, while it obviously simplified a great deal and left out large inconvenient parts for gameplay reasons, I began to realize that it was possible to have a job where your product was the only thing that mattered and people would buy it based strictly on the quality or quantity of what you produced.

This began a subtle but profound shift in my thinking and goals for my life. My wife and I started looking for ways to create “farms” - not necessarily literal farms, but areas where we could produce and sell stuff for which there was always more demand than supply, and which would continue to run and produce even when we weren’t actively working. We started with a rather ambitious aquaponics setup in our basement. That had a lot of promise, but eventually failed because, although my wife has a green thumb and has what I lovingly refer to as a “chlorophyll fetish”, it turns out she likes her flora out in the open air and sunshine, and not so much in a damp, artificially lit basement. Go figure.

As all of this is happening however, you also need to understand something about my career path. I was genuinely amazing at what I do, but I was abysmally bad at social skills. I have a tendency to tell people the truth when they foolishly ask for it, even if it’s not what they want to hear. I’ve been fired 3 times by small-business owners when I told them, after having established myself as an expert - that their idea wouldn’t work. Who knows, maybe I’m not a nice guy, maybe it’s truly “not what I said, but the way I said it” that got me into trouble, or maybe I just have bad taste in men who can’t take criticism. Either way, it’s not really important, because I’ve spent years trying to find and correct the problem with apparently no success, and have finally accepted that I’m just not cut out to work for someone else. However, what this meant for our finances is that our income would skyrocket well into upper-class income brackets, and then plummet without warning to literally zero dollars per month. My wife was a stay-at-home mom, so my income was the family’s income, and these firings (as well as layoffs, company closings, etc) and subsequent income crashes all came without warning, The first one took me completely by surprise. I did not have enough savings in my young career to withstand several months of unemployment, and my young ideals (pride) didn’t allow me to take a government handout or unemployment check. That, plus the enormous blow to my self-confidence (good people don’t get fired!) meant that I ran out of money before I ran out of bills. This led first to credit card debt, then missed payments, then destroyed credit ratings. My wife and I actually became pretty good at stretching a dollar, and “borrowing” from Peter to pay Paul, but no matter how good you get, it’s still pretty hard to pay $1500 worth of bills with only $135 in the checking account. So, over time, it became harder and harder to get back on the right side of zero. Every time, I would finally get a new job, and we’d start taking all that excess cash and start paying off our debts. Then, just as we’re about to pay them all off, we’d get hit with another layoff, and the debts would pile right back up again.

Twenty years this went on, with multiple different jobs, different tactics and strategies, and the whole time raising four kids and trying to act like we were just your normal middle-class family. Until finally, this past September, I’d had enough. I decided I was going to get off this merry-go-round and start playing a game I had a chance of winning. I first tasted the waters of permaculture by accidentally discovering rocket-mass heaters, and the thought that I could keep my family warm on 2 cords of wood a year was something that tickled a deep, dormant part of me. I’d always understood on some level that our society was wasting like 80% of its effort on things that didn't matter, and the idea that I could tap into that and live on the 20% that did matter appealed to me on a deep, deep level. I then started learning about earthships, and from there, the WOFATI, then the magic of cob and earthen plasters. I started studying rain-water harvesting systems and composting toilets. I then started to gobble up passive solar (without the earthship, necessarily) and generating electricity through solar and wind and micro-hydro. I learned earthbag construction and wood gasifiers and vermicompost and methane digesters and food forests and biodiversity and stacking functions and hugelkultur and systems supporting systems. i drank it all up as fast as youtube could feed it to me.

And right around Christmas, my wife and I decided that this is what we wanted. We wanted a life where we knew, no matter what happened to our income, that we would never have our lights or our heat or our food or our home threatened ever again; where the good times would create excess money that we could use to permanently improve our standard of living, and in the bad times, we would just coast, living on what we had already built. I’ve seen too much to believe that any amount of money is a true security blanket, and besides, we’d been chasing that “American dream” for two decades and were no closer than when we started. So we decided that we would start looking for a piece of land that we could buy (somehow) and build our own permaculture home (somehow) with materials we harvested from the land itself (somehow).

I of course let my family and friends know what I was planning, especially because my Dad was the owner and landlord of the house I was renting, and every time our income took a hit, it indirectly ended up hurting his pocketbook as well. So, as I’m sure you can imagine, my family and friends were overwhelmingly supportive of my choices and offered to help in any way they could… No wait… the opposite of that, actually. They all looked at me like I was crazy. They didn’t understand, didn’t want to take the time to understand, and, just assumed I was off on some hair-brained scheme, and in my family’s most cherished tradition, offered “tough love” by patently ignoring the problem and hoping it went away.

I wasn’t ready to let it go away, however, so I kept looking, scouring Zillow daily or every other day for any piece of property that was in our price range (for what I thought we could afford with a simple short-term loan) that had everything we needed. After two months, I found something, and it was really great. It was 30 acres, completely wooded (so we would always have enough to heat with), all gently sloping southern-facing slope. On a dead-end road with only one other family on it and just rural enough that the code office was one guy with 4 office hours a week, while still being within 20 minutes of the mid-sized city where we currently live. And the cherry on top - a smallish stream that ran right down the middle of the property, spring-fed by multiple springs, also on the property, and big enough to support micro-hydro power, at least supplementarily. It was almost the perfect piece of property that we were looking for - the only checkmark left unticked was staying in our current school district for the kids. And, because the property is in upstate New York, i was able to get it for about half of what it’s worth by agreeing to give up the mineral and gas rights which most people don’t yet realize are never actually going to live up to the promises of riches untold.

I was ecstatic, and knowing that it was a good deal, I went to my Dad and his well-funded friends with a business plan and documentation showing how this small loan would be over-collateralized, paid off quickly and at a more than fair interest rate, while at the same time supporting their other interests (namely selling off the house I was currently renting, for a profit). Certainly they would help now that it was a good deal for them.

I got nothing.

No help, not even to serve their own best interests. I even offered to solve my Dad‘s biggest stressor in his life at that point - at great personal sacrifice - in exchange for “whatever he could do to help” on the property, but instead he took my idea and hired someone halfway across the country to do it at twice what I would have needed.

Please understand, I hope I don’t sound too “millennial” here. I don’t think my Dad or friends of the family owe me anything, or that I deserve to have them help me with what are undoubtedly my own responsibilities. I just get frustrated when every guide on how to start your own business, or how to start a farm or how to buy land on the cheap all start out with “get a small loan from family and friends,” but I just don’t seem to have the right kind of family or friends, and they seem to have forgotten that they started out with exactly the same type of help when they were in my shoes.

Anyway, I was pretty despondent at this point, and everything I could think of to further my goal was a bust. We definitely didn’t have enough money to pay for the land outright. No bank was ever going to touch us with our credit rating, even if they weren’t all avoiding undeveloped land like the plague. And what’s worse, our finances were in another slump, and the day when we weren’t going to be able to buy food anymore (even with all the government help I was no longer too proud to accept) was fast approaching. My wife had taken a full-time job for the first time in fifteen years, and was now the main bread-winner as I was (though a series of complicated circumstances) having an abysmal time finding any job that would pay half of what we needed to pay our bills. Our main goal was to buy a piece of land, move onto it and thusly reduce our expenses to the point where her entry-level salary could pay our bills while I worked full time on building and improving the homestead until it could support us completely. But it looked like I was going to have to go back to another cycle of working for a company that wouldn’t appreciate me and would eventually fire me at the worst possible moment and just perpetuate the cycle for the rest of our lives.

Luckily, however, there was something in my head that just couldn't accept my fate. That voice that had always told me that I was right and that what I wanted to do was not only possible, but the right path for my life, but which had always heretofore been drowned out by my circle of family and friends convincing me (through subtle remarks and eye-rolls) that my ideas were stupid. This time however, I ignored them and listened to that voice instead. i just couldn’t accept that it was over, no matter what the logic said, and began to try to to think of anyone else who would have reason to want me to buy this land. I landed on my last hope - the seller. It was a long shot, but he certainly wanted to get rid of the land, so maybe, in an extremely lucky scenario, he might agree to finance it for me, bad credit and all.

It turns out, he did. I had to make some sacrifices in terms and take some very calculated risks, and along the way, during the four months it has taken to put this deal together I have had to fight and eventually end-run around the real estate agent who actively tried to sour the deal; educate the seller on property law and financing options; and as a last resort, hire an attorney to write a clever work-around contract to counteract some bad advice given by the real estate agent (I believe) that almost sunk the deal a third time. But in the end, I now have the signed contract, and we will own the land free and clear in 5 years on a payment I know we can afford even in the worst of times.

So who knows? Maybe I am stupid. We are moving onto the property with nothing more than tents for bedrooms and 5-gallon buckets for toilets. I have a budget of about $500/month I can spend on equipment, supplies, and materials for building the homestead, and obviously, winter is coming. We have another couple that we met by chance, and who, though they have no reason to do so, have offered us a free mobile home if we’ll just pay them at cost to move it to the property. Worst case scenario, we ought to be able to survive the winter in that while we build. Of course, first I have to build a driveway so they can deliver it, but I know that I will find a way to make that happen too. In fact, there’s no doubt about it. It is stupid. It’s crazy risky to completely start over in my 40s with a bum knee and no “nest egg” to work with, but the alternative was just more of the same, and we already know where that road leads. I said all along that getting the land was the biggest hurdle. We can’t make this dream happen if we don’t have land. Everything else has multiple options and many different ways to skin the cat, but the land was the must-have and the most difficult part to acquire.

And we somehow managed to accomplish that. So I’m feeling good about our chances.

 
Rick English
pollinator
Posts: 267
Location: Central Pennsylvania, USA
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Jeremy,

Welcome to Permies and thanks for sharing this inspiring story! My wife and I are also considering this path, so we appreciate your story. Please keep the posts coming, and we will offer encouragement and ideas to help you with this endeavor.
 
Rebecca Price
Posts: 3
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WOW! Your story sounds so similar to mine! There are some differences of course, but you inspire me. I hope to one day have land or live in an eco village with my family of 3. We are renting from my mother, we have nothing. No assets, no credit, no way of ever getting a loan and my family thinks we are insane for even considering this kind of life, hell even my wife gives me funny looks sometimes. I won't give up though. I know what I want for life, I know what I want to teach my daughter. Eventually it will happen for us. I'm a stay at home mom who home schools the kiddo, and my wife works 16hr days. The extra money (when there is some) is being saved and one day we hope to have some land to really start out life. Away from small town suburbia and into perma culture living! Thank you for sharing this. I can't explain how much it helped me keep my eyes on my goal, I really needed it today.
 
Jeremy Franklin
Posts: 58
Location: Binghamton, NY
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Thanks Rebecca and Lazlo. It's definitely the type of thing that you could never recommend to someone else to follow this path, unless of course something deep inside of you is insisting on it - at which point you absolutely must follow it, and any other path is just a delay in your happiness. At least, that's what I'm assuming. Ask me again in 6 months.
 
Crt Jakhel
Posts: 173
Location: NE Slovenia, zone 6a
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Jeremy, I wish you best of luck in your new adventure. They say luck favors the prepared hand; looks like this could work here. Also, your professional path and reflections on life seems to be very similar to mine so I'm extra rooting for you

Over here we're only developing 2 acres. My back tends to complain, time tends to run short. I often say jeez, if only I had started out 10 years earlier (I was 40 at the time - some guys buy a sports car, some get a mistress, I bought land). However, it still beats doing it 10 years later. It's like with trees, the best time to plant was 10 years ago, the second best time is now.
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 122
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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Good for you!

I am in the same boat ... no income, no credit, but found 21 acres on a land contract and so I'm going for it. I'm a little older than you are, but a few of my adult kids are in on the dream and we are all going to work together.

One major bump that you may need to think about in your situation ... and I don't mean to be a doomsayer, but you have to be aware of this if you're not already ... involves the ages of your children. I assume they are still minors, and CPS tends to take a dim view of children living without basic things like running water, sanitary facilities, and heat. It doesn't sound like you will have nosy neighbors, but you need to think about how you set things up so that your kids couldn't inadvertently say something at school that would trigger an investigation. CPS can be nasty. If you've ever considered homeschooling, now might be the time, although NY homeschooling laws pretty much suck.

It will be interesting to compare notes as we both get going ... climate is in my favor here (I was smart enough to get out of the Great Lakes snowbelt LOL), but your soil may be better than my solid red clay.

Keep us posted!

 
Jeremy Franklin
Posts: 58
Location: Binghamton, NY
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Short update: we moved onto the property this past Monday. The first night we were there, we had just gotten the tents and the bedding set up and got everyone zipped in for the night when the sky opened up and it rained - hard - for two days. Everything was cold and wet, and it should have been just the most miserable experience ever, but I was grinning from ear to ear. I had never been more sure of our decision than I was at that moment listening to the rain hit the tent so hard that any conversation was impossible. Maybe it was just the fact that nature was throwing her worst at us and we were safe and warm under our blankets, or maybe it was just the thrill of finally making the move, but either way, I just felt so at peace and grateful to be there. Since then we've been making progress toward getting truly set up. It's been slower than I expected, but steady progress none-the-less, and every day it feels a little more like home. We've still got a long way to go before we're ready for winter, but we're on our way at least.
 
Jeremy Franklin
Posts: 58
Location: Binghamton, NY
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Ferne Reid wrote:Good for you!
One major bump that you may need to think about in your situation ... CPS tends to take a dim view of ...


Yes, I'm very keenly aware of that aspect. I've heard a lot of the same horror stories you have about CPS interfering with perfectly good and loving and capable parents, and have even seen one or two instances from a second- or third-hand account. Our kids are technically still minors, but they're old enough to fully grasp what's going on and what it means for them and were part of the discussion as to whether to move forward with it. I'm hoping that will give us some leeway if it does come up, but I'm also not interested in pushing my luck in that regard. Our kids have all been instructed on what types of things are ok to talk about and what types of things to keep private. That's still not a 100% foolproof defense, but I'm always of the mind that you can't refuse to move forward just because there are people out there that want to hurt you. I've always said there are two types of people out there: those that know for a fact that they are never safe, and those without imagination enough to know how much can hurt them. I choose to live my life the way it's meant to be lived and deal with the dangers as they pop up, rather than refrain from my best path because of a danger that may never come to pass. I'm not sure that's the best way to handle it, but I've got enough of an imagination and awareness of what could happen to me, that if I stopped moving forward any time there was a chance something bad could happen, I'd be completely paralyzed and could never accomplish anything. Especially living in New York, if someone wants to hurt you, they can find some regulation or legal way to do it. The only real way to be safe from that kind of person is to just try not to give anyone any reason to dislike you, or at least to feel like messing with you would be more trouble than it's worth.
 
Jeremy Franklin
Posts: 58
Location: Binghamton, NY
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Oh, one other thing to report. Since we officially made the move, friends and family have actually started to help out some. I'm not sure if it's just a factor of they didn't believe I was serious, or if they were trying "not to encourage" me before, but now they are doing what they can to rescue me from my own decision. We're still getting a lot of questions that start with "Why don't you just...?" as if it would obviously be my goal to get back to the suburban "normal" lifestyle and I must be doing this because I can't think of any other option. But I suppose it's a somewhat radical notion that a family would be self-sufficient and not reliant on an income to cover basic things like food and shelter and heat and electricity. Either way, though, they are helping, so maybe that can be encouragement to others that if you just make the leap, help might materialize after the fact.
 
John Wolfram
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Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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I'm not much of a gamer, but Farming Simulator sounds like an updated version of Sim Farm from the mid 90s so I had a look at the reviews for that game. GamesRadar had an interesting review where they made the following complaint about the game:
You're left lost as to what to do next and as cash is tight, you're discouraged from experimenting with expensive equipment, as it's easy to bankrupt yourself just from trial and error.

It's fantastic when people complain about a simulator being too realistic without even knowing it.
 
Lorenzo Costa
steward
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Location: Italy, Siena, Gaiole in Chianti zone 9
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Great story Jeremy, I'm not right there but nearly. And its strange we all end up on permies
I've decided to try and leave my job going part time for a start and then off for real, but it will take some time, maybe two years. But I've got the land and its close to where I live so I guess it will work well.
Anyway keep us up to speed with your achievements and never give up, I love this quote I saw on the door of a house, in some video found on youtube of a comunity somewhere in the states, the concept inspires me:

"dreamed it in a dream and waked to find it was true"

thats what I want my life to be, true!
 
Jeremy Franklin
Posts: 58
Location: Binghamton, NY
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Update:

Well, reality has started to settle in. Here's a note for all of you thinking of trying it our way: Rain sucks! I think that's something I didn't fully appreciate before I started this venture. I mean, I knew that some days it would rain, and everything would be damp and yucky, and we'd have to be slogging through the mud to get anywhere, and I was prepared for that. What I didn't fully think through is that the rain can really shut everything down in this scenario. We have tents set up until we can get a bead on a camper, and we've got good tents that don't leak and are nice and large. So we have full box springs and mattresses in there (we have upside-down carpets beneath to protect the tent floor) and with plenty of blankets, we are toasty warm and dry even through the most horrific of thunderstorms. The temperature has gotten down to 40s a couple of times, and although getting up to go to the bathroom was a little brisk, everybody slept soundly and comfortably in their beds. However, that's just sleeping. We bought a canopy tent (10x10 and no sides) for the table and chairs, but that turns out to be not waterproof in the slightest, so everything under that gets soaked, even with no wind, including the only chairs we have on the property. Also we picked up a liquid propane range/oven for cooking, and have that hooked up to a grill propane tank, which works nicely...when it's not raining. Bathing is also a problem as the bathing area is not roofed yet, which makes it uncomfortable in the rain to begin with, and our means of heating water right now is the propane stove, so rainy weather pretty much shuts that down unless you want to just bathe in the rain itself. That's not so much a problem for me, as I'm just slumming around the homesite, so I can stink for a few days without too much detriment, but the kids still have two weeks of school left, and my wife, having taken a week off of work to help with the transition, had to head back yesterday to a very white-collar job where personal appearance is pretty important. She and my daughter both got their hair cut short to make it easier to care for in the woods, but she still needs to shower every day.

So we're having fun with those challenges. When it's sunny out, it's really pleasant, and I think we enjoy it even more than we did living in our suburban house, electricity and all, but when it rains, it's pretty miserable. Don't underestimate how important it is to have someplace dry to sit down once in a while.

We did get a truck, however, so that's a plus. I said from the beginning that what we needed to get to make this succeed were the three Ts: Truck, Trailer, Tractor. We need a 4-wheel drive truck just to be able to get in and out of the "driveway" (really just an old logging road), and to go get things like 55 gallon drums and loads of gravel, etc. The trailer I'm referring to is something like a 5th wheel travel trailer that will just make living so much easier and just have that dry place to gather at the end of the day as well as someplace to work on smaller, indoorsy projects when it's raining. (As an aside, you know what else was a surprising challenge that I didn't think of? Hanging clothes. We got rid or stored easily 90% of our personal possessions, and pared our wardrobe down to just the essentials to live, packed them in tupperware bins and just store them in our tents. It woks just fine. But there's nowhere to hang clothes in a tent, and you can't hang them outside without some sort of waterproofing scenario. We're trying to rig up some arrangement of tarps that will work, but haven't figured it out yet). And the tractor (with a front loader) of course is just for the heavy work around the home site to speed up the manual labor aspects. I told my wife that if we had those three things, we'd be pretty sure to be able to get a winterable home ready by the time the snow flies (this was back in April, of course). If we had two of those three things, we' probably still be fine, but it might be a little more challenging. If we had only one of the three, well, that would be pretty tough, but we'd just have to figure it out. And if we had none, well, then I don't know how we could possibly do it, but we'd just have to fly by the seat of our pants and make it work "somehow." So we're pretty excited about getting item one on that list. It even came with a cap for the truck bed, so it will serve as a dry space to store tools etc, which had pretty much just been on the ground under dryish-looking trees.

It's hard though, to tell you the truth. There are a lot of competing goals that make it difficult to know how to approach a problem. For example, the "driveway" is getting pretty muddy, so when I brought the truck in for the first time, it created pretty deep ruts. I'm afraid if I keep doing that, i'll bottom out the truck and won't be able to get it out. We've been parking the car (not 4-wheel drive) up on the road and walking in, but I feel like parking a car and a truck out there will draw unwanted attention. Then again, right now the driveway is pretty narrow and choked with vegetation, so people driving by can't really see in. If I bring in a mini-excavator to scrape off that top soil and lay down a layer of road-base or gravel, I can bring both the vehicles into camp, but then I've opened up the driveway to further scrutiny. Similarly, I want to start clearing a space for the winter home - by which I mean the building we're trying to get built by winter that will be enough for us to heat and survive the coldest months, and then we'll start building our home proper starting next spring. I also want to start clearing some space for our solar panels. Right now the property is entirely wooded, and runs south from the road, so there's nowhere to even collect solar electricity until I clear a space for the sun to hit the floor. But this forest floor has just been so beautifully mulched for decades at least, that I kinda don't want to clear that land without taking the time to plant some productive trees or shrubs in there. Unfortunately, that would take time from an already short schedule, especially because that aspect is something I haven't studied as hard, and would take some research to even know what to plant, where to get them (on the very cheap) and how to lay it out, etc.) I feel bad about wasting that gorgeous soil (It's literally black and moist 24-7), but I need electricity as well, so I'm caught between competing goals.

I'm also starting to find myself compromising on quality, which is troublesome. In planning for this change, my philosophy was "Don't build anything that won't last at least a hundred years." My thinking being that any building style that requires regular maintenance is just as enslaving as those monthly bills I'm trying to get away from. So build something in such a way that it will either protect or correct itself automatically over time, and you won't have to ever think about it again unless some fluke repair needs to be made once in a while. But I'm finding myself doing a lot of "well, we'll just do this for now and move on to the next emergency" type of thinking, and it bothers me. I'm under such pressure to get us some place to live before winter, that I'm just doing the bare minimum to get by for now. Our "outhouse" is just a pallet propped up on flat stones with our composting toilet on it. I know that thing will rot out and need replacing before too long, and I had wanted to build it a proper roof and privacy rails, etc., but I also needed to get a basic cooking platform set up so we could eat before we spent our entire savings on McDonald's. I'm not really sure if I should be forcing the issue and do each job right the first time, or if I should stop feeling guilty about the fact that everything is just haphazard right now.

Then there's the social pressure. Family and friends are "supportive" but really don't think we should be doing this. (Maybe they're right) My wife's work-mates are similarly skeptical and creating an extra pressure that she doesn't need between already trying to balance this new lifestyle and her normal work-load. And I feel a lot of pressure to make my family comfortable and keep them from getting bored or miserable, but sometimes the things I can do to make them more comfortable now are not things that help us move forward toward our winter goal, and I'm afraid of spending the whole summer improving our standard of living and not make any progress toward our security for the winter. All-in-all, I'm feeling discouraged and starting to wonder what I've gotten myself into. Intellectually, I knew that this feeling would come, and that this first two weeks to a month would be the hardest, but somehow that head-knowledge doesn't seem to help with the fear and self-doubt. I try to tell myself that we're fine for now, and that's all you can ever truly control anyway, but that winter deadline is looming over me, and I hate it. That's the whole purpose of moving to this lifestyle - so that I could move my family's standard of living forward at my own pace and not have this time-pressure making every decision more difficult. I imagine this is the hour darkest before the dawn, but, to be honest, it's pretty tough.


Anyway that's it. Just thought I'd give you an update of where we were, as several of you had asked to be kept in the loop. That's where we are. I'm sure it will get better, and I'll be sure to let you know when it does.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 428
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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Jeremy, hey, you dove in the deep end! You sure did. Remember that exhilaration, you will find it again if you plan ahead and plan smart. Our ancestors did this already, you don't need to reinvent the wheel. I did what you did, but with about 20 years of camping experience and helping to develop/build my parents' retirement property. Maybe some of these basics will help.


You're right about compromising about quality, but you don't have to spend a fortune if you are willing to do some of the work yourself. If you buy cheap, you'll have to buy again, and when you add buying the second time you've just upped your expenses, and could have bought the original quality item 1 1/2 or 2 times.

You definitely want a great place to be dry inside, like a travel trailer with a shower, a place to be up and out of the mud, easy to cook in. Have a wooden shed near it to house all the muddy stuff, the hardware stuff, tools, extra propane and gas tanks, wood for projects, PVC pipe, bags of cement, shelving for all the hardware items you'll need, etc.

Try to put at least an 8x8 or larger deck (multiples of 4 so the wood math works out easy) right outside the trailer, to take off muddy or wet stuff, to be able to stand on a level, clean surface, to sit outside and enjoy the view, to BBQ, a zone that keeps the annoying stuff out of the trailer or house that gets tracked in.

Avoid metal sheds, they get condensation on the inside, and have gaps big enough to let in bees, ants, insects, rodents.

Wooden sheds on very good, sturdy foundations keep the contents dry, keep out critters, protect all of your expensive crucial equipment, like generator, tractor, mower, water pump, chainsaw, etc. Although one of the best foundations I did for a shed on clay soil was fist-sized chunks of broken cement filled in with 1.5 inch gravel. They packed together like a charm, nice and solid. But the shed was on a metal frame foundation and had lots of air passing under it. Deck piers and treated wood foundations work, too, piers every 4 feet. Spend almost as much time on the foundation as you do on the shed. Use as thick plywood as you can for the flooring. there is nothing worse than a bouncy floor of thin plywood. You'll never regret an over-built foundation.

One of the best things to invest in is a solid driveway. Stuck vehicles, hiking in stuff in storms, in the dark, groceries and heavy propane tanks, water, gas, trying to roll around a generator, it's all bad on a driveway that sucks. Use at least 1.5 inch gravel. Heavy rain and runoff can't send it down the hill. It will pack well. You will have to haul your own if it's that muddy, because gravel delivery trucks won't go over that kind of mud to bring it in. You'll need several layers over the first couple of years, but it will build up as time goes on. Always have a 8-10 ton pile of driveway gravel sitting somewhere to take from, for emergencies, for filling in low spots.

And don't lose your temper in the mud. Go nice and easy. You might get one pass, you probably won't get two. You're right about it digging in and sinking. Tow trucks are expensive, and they take forever to show up. You might want a winch on that truck if you have trees to connect it to. Check out YouTube for using a winch. Put some gravel on a parking pad closer to the road if you can't get all the way up your dwelling. At least you can get to the main road.

You'll want a utility trailer about the size of a piece of plywood to haul gravel around on the property, haul wood, lumber for building, heavy tanks, bags of cement, even if it doesn't go on the road. Something that the tractor can pull that you can load stuff on and take where the truck can't go.

If you plan to run a generator, have at least 20 gallons of gas on hand all the time, crucial to store this in a dry shed away from a running generator or anything with a spark. Also 20 gallons of water in 5 gallon jugs for easy hauling by hand. 2400 gallon water tanks are a good size and hold enough water to give some good pressure up a hill a bit from your dwelling, if all you need is some gravity flow into the trailer tank. Then the trailer will have its own pump. Always put a water tank on a level cement pad. Gophers can come up under a tank, especially one that drips out of the fixtures, and pull away a rock pad.

Check out composting toilets, but there are fly and gnat issues with those. It's not just use it a walk away. They take maintenance.

There are reed bed systems with bark chips for grey and even black water treatment. Check out YouTube.

Best of luck. And don't forget to just occasionally look up from all the hard work and remember where you are and how great the place is.

 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 122
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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Hey Jeremy, we're pretty much in the same boat. We moved into our TN property a week ago. We were blessed with a big barn that is currently living space for all creatures, 2 and 4 legged, but there's no heat so we also need to prep for winter. Thankfully we won't be dealing with your kind of winter, but having just left the shores of Lake Erie, I feel your pain.

Cristo has some great advice above, and it all sounds good, but face it ... when you don't have the money, then all of wisdom about doing things right so they'll last does you little good. You are going to have to compromise on quality for the first couple of years, or you will leave crucial projects undone.

Our approach is this ... look at the things that, right now, absolutely need to be done. Prioritize them, and then do them as well as the budget will allow. Yes, we will probably have to do some things over when we have more money, but the immediate goal is to get something that works, even if it's temporary.

Unless you're very well off, life is always a compromise between what you would like and what you can afford. Get over it.
 
allen lumley
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Jeremy : A late welcome from a fellow New Yorker ( we laugh because we have to get in our car and drive for two hrs to get to upstate medical center in Syracuse )

Never live in a town with a traffic light, never live in a house where you CANT pee off of your own back porch ! Here is one more vote for making your Road a
high priority right after improving your homes foundations

If you leave your tent consistently in one spot for very long you will compact the soil -creating a shallow bowl into which water running down the sides of the tent
WILL settle !

Best choice is to have TWO sites ahead cleared out cleaned up with sticks, large twigs. pinecones, acorns are all removed this saves tent bottoms and keeps you
drier.

A New site well groomed with a layer of hardwood leaves topped with collapsed/folded WAXED Corrugated cardboard boxes will spread the load reducing compaction
and help keep you above the wet cold ground!

Ditching around the perimeter of your tent is usually recommended, ideally you make a trench a bout 3'' wide and 4 inches deep draining away from your tent-

A good idea to reduce the mud and not track it in is to partly fill the bottom of the ditch with small pebbles up to the size of large grapes, a partial work around would
be to use pine cones that are open !

This is from 4- season campers tho mostly our winter camping is south of the Mason-Dixon line these days !

If you are living on a dead-end road and your neighbor is a native they will know who else is using your road! Offer to lend a hand anytime you are asked, and find
the time to help if asked !

A barbed wire gate that can be laid down and driven over will stop most explorers as will posting your land !

I have found that when locally available Habitat for Humanity's Re-Stores are always worth checking out, often the volunteers are handy-men contractors with
spare time see what is available in your area !

A potentially very valuable find is the fine people who run the Finger Lakes Re-Use Center(s) in Ithaca New York ! About an hour away from your location !

Good luck good hunting ! Big AL

 
sebastiaan roels
Posts: 15
Location: denmark
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hi Jeremy,

first of all congratulations with the step you took ! it takes great courage to break away from the shackles of society, so well done !!!
that said you are now in a position where you have to rely on your own ingenuity and resources.
in an ideal world you would indeed build things right from the first time but I guess that is not an option !
your main goal is to keep the spirit alive not only yours but also your families !
I have lived rough many times in my life and I find I can cope with a lot and live very basic but certain things you can t go without.
first priority in my opinion is get yourself and your family dry ! don t spend to much time or money on it, a tent is a good place to start from but not a place to stay in the winter months
some corrugated metal roofing is not hugely expensive but does the job ! ( with you intending to harvest the wood on your property for heating you really need a chainsaw !!! you can start by making a rudimentary construction with trees harvested from your property(building always takes more time and money then you had planned for !!!), and if I were you I d already fell some trees and cut them up for firewood in the coming winter !!! you need wood and preferably dry !! it takes time to dry out !!
that brings me to the second priority --> warmth, do not underestimate what it does to the spirit when you are cold !! or what warmth can do to lift up the spirit after a hard days labour in the rain !!
so prepare wood for winter months --> and some kind of wood oven, heat from wood makes the climate indoors dry a gas burner gives you heat but everything gets moist inside, moist clothes is a no go for comfortable living.
third priority is food. make sure the process of making food is not to cumbersome like it is now ie you can t cook when it s raining! you can sleep in a kitchen but you can t cook in a bedroom !
if the process of making food is to much of a hassle you ll tend to skip meals, further depleting the spirit !!!
fourth priority and especially with wife and children is toilet and personal hygiene, it can be very hard for woman to live like that so don t underestimate that "luxury "
you might want to check out some public pools or gyms where you can go and take a bath it really refreshes the souls to be able to take a nice long hot shower !!

so my overall advice would be make sure everybody stays in good spirit !!! that is very important
and accept to build things twice like that you ll make mistakes the first time and you ll know how to build it better the next time

take a very good care and I truly hope you ll succeed !!

sebastiaan

 
allen lumley
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Jeremy : I see a LOT of good advice here, especially in regards to keeping warm and dry and starting on collecting your winters fuel now and getting it
under some kind of cover to start the drying process .

A few thoughts on your road mostly DONTs, It will be very temping to fill in the ruts you have created with gravel in hopes that this will firm up the Roadbed
and promote drainage !

Before you do this you should carefully walk the length of your drive and find the areas that simple ditches draining surface water away will be your most
effective use of time and materials !

After that your next step is to locate those places where only a drainage pipe under the road will ever allow you to hope for a 4 season road !

NOT having to dig up compacted gravel packed down in your wheel ruts in order to drain water away from your road bed will be its own reward !

Pipe to lay under your road bed - Mostly you should be able to get by with 6'' -8'' pipe unless you have a water course then you should try ditching on the
uphill side to combine several 'water courses' and then provide larger piping 12'' in diameter !

Regardless of type of under road piping you need to plan now for ANY future dump truck loads of gravel and make sure that the pipe under the road has
at least 18'' inches of soil over the top of it to spread the weight of the delivery trucks tires, and this too should be gravel other wise you will only end up
with a collapsed pipe under your road to dig up and replace !

occasionally you can find irrigation piping in fairly large diameters in 20 foot lengths again think dump trucks/future deliveries as these trucks are wider
than your personal vehicle to protect the pipe ends from collapse they should be about 12' long

Geo textile - This is what is laid down prior to your layer of gravel and helps give you a firm road base that will not disappear in a year or two !

It is very similar tho much lighter in construction than House Wrap or the material that you see wrapped around stacks of lumber that you see on tractor
trailers being delivers to builders supply places like loses home depot

You simply lay this stuff on the ground and add your fill on top immediately 8'' of gravel with ANY of these materials under them firms up better than 12''
of gravel without them !

I am sure that a google search for ''Geo textile -pictures " will quickly help you see how to use it !

Where Ditching becomes rather elaborate or deep to drain a low spot you may wish to protect the slope of the ditches walls with Rip-rap ( Google Search )

When all else fails an adult sized Mountain bike to push and walk beside with various baskets and shopping bags hanging off of the handle bars will help
carry stuff from where you park your vehicle to your tent site ! This works Better than any other two two wheeled or for wheeled cart !

Several 100s of thousands of tons of supplies were delivered from North Viet Nam to South Vietnam via bikes on the 'ho chi min ' trail. keep your tires well
inflated !

Again lots of information to take in- Think like Fire ! Flo like a Gas ! Don't be a Marshmallow ! For the good of the crafts ! Big AL
 
Cristo Balete
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I hope Jeremy is just into his projects and not missing from this thread for any serious reason. But reading all the advice, for someone who hasn't been there before, might be enough reason to panic and stay away!!

The thing about buying quality equipment, if we are realistic about what we will actually use over the long haul, sometimes it's wiser to rent or borrow equipment first. We may use it for a few months, then not again for a couple of years. They take up precious storage space and require maintenance, gas, oil, filters, pull strings. It can't just sit there not being used, so starting it up and using it becomes a long list of chores, when there are plenty of other chores that need doing. I bought a real nice tiller, then after a couple of years stopped tilling. That money could have gone a lot farther on other things.


If I had bought the $2,000, 3500 W generator with the frame, handles and wheels on it by a well-known car company, I wouldn't have bought the previous $900 and $1200 generators that lasted 2 and 3 years. So I essentially paid $4100 for a generator. that is the sweetest piece of equipment I've ever owned and is going into its 7th year. If I had bought the expensive water pump for irrigation, instead of the previous two that slowly stopped pumping so I spent days trying to figure out why the water was only getting half way, I not only wasted money, but I wasted time. If I had bought the self-propelled commercial lawn mower, instead of the two cheaper ones beforehand....it adds up. And the frustration and extra work taking care of non-quality equipment adds up in hours, frustration and weariness.

I have had that driveway fabric slide downhill. Gravity is a cruel mistress on all things, wiring, pipes, rain runoff, she's relentless.

Makes me wonder if the real appeal for those who stay rural and independent must be that we like learning the hard way

 
Kurt Stailey
Posts: 36
Location: Indiana, zone 6
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Very cool Jeremy, just to offer some encouragement, our 5-year land contract ends this October when we will own free and clear our 15 acre homestead. We made the purchase with another like minded couple and my only regret is that I am 46 instead of 26 because I could probably get more manual labor done in a day were I younger. I should have started sooner and jumped out of the IT field decades ago

Don't worry about building to last 100 years, build to get it done in a manner that lets you re-use your materials. Our home has wood that was used in at least four different structures over the last 5 years. Hope things have gotten better for you.

Best of luck, 5 years goes by VERY VERY fast!

--Kurt

 
allen lumley
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Jeremy Franklin : Just a quick snapshot of a basic and much needed skill, you can find more information on the Mors Kochanski Flip/flop winch
on U-Tube This is definitely a practice before you need it skill -done right and you will not even break a sweat while moving mountains !

http://www.ravenlore.co.uk/html/kochanski_winch.html

For the good of the craft ! Big AL
 
Jeremy Franklin
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Location: Binghamton, NY
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UPDATE:

Well, it's been six months, and a lot has happened, though not nearly as much as we planned. (I know a lot of you veterans are smiling knowingly and nodding) We are not in the winter home we had planned yet, in fact, we're not really even comfortably heated at this point, but I believe now that we'll make it though the winter, and we're ok.

The truck I mentioned in a previous post ended up being a bit of a nightmare, having frame issues that I was "aware of" when I bought it, though I was ignorant of how much of a problem that was. It probably took me 3 and a half months and several hundred dollars to get that thing on the road legally. (For those of you in the more free states who don't know, New York feels justified in telling you what kind of car you can drive, and your vehicle must pass a state-issued inspection or you can be ticketed or lose your license.) But I eventually got the thing legal and that has been a god send for picking up and hauling things we need as well as just having a second vehicle for picking up the kids from soccer practice, etc. We were able to secure a lovely, if older, 35 ft camper, and moved that on to the property. It has sleeping spots for all six of us, and some convenient plumbing and an indoor range that works (though not the oven). I ripped out the standard toilet and put our bucket toilet in its place now, so we can use it while it's raining without getting wet. We are also able to "shower" inside as well. This involves heating up water on the stove, pouring it into a bucket and using a washcloth to sponge water over ourselves while we stand in the very cramped camper shower. It's a little humorous, as you have to be very careful how you bend over or you might end up falling out onto the floor, and when the steam condenses on the ceiling only to fall back down on you at a much colder temperature, it can be literally breath-taking, but it's a welcome improvement to doing the same thing outside when it's 40 F out. We are all taking showers regularly, and we've settled into the routine of it, so it's not miserable.

We've also had some partial success with the driveway. At first, we were pretty stymied. I spent most of the summer and autumn trying to get that damn driveway built. I rented a mini excavator, taught myself to use it, and got the driveway cleared about halfway down to the area where we want to build before the thing ran into a problem, and the rental company took it back (it's a little more complicated, but that's the gist). I then bartered with a local logger to finish cutting the driveway and clear a small space at the building site in exchange for some timber from the property. However, that too ran afoul and he strung me along for a month or more without ever coming through. Soon I was looking at the end of October and still couldn't even get down to where we were trying to build. So I finally decided to cut my losses and just try to heat the camper where it is up near the road. I met a neighbor that was offering "crick-gravel" at extremely cheap prices, and he even offered to lay it for me. So I rented another mini-excavator (from a different company, this time) and cut a foundation for a shed behind the camper, and a parking pad where we could get our cars off the side of the road. My neighbor then brought in the gravel, filled the foundation, and spread it out on the parking pad and enough down the driveway to get in and out of the parking pad. The crick gravel is pretty rough, but it's got a lot of clay in it, so it packed down to a super hard driveway, and I'm really pleased with it. At the very least we'll have our vehicles off the road and out of the way of the snow plows as they come this winter.

I had my dad and a family friend offer to help me with building the shed. It's an 8x16, typical stick-built structure and we got it mostly built in about two days. The walls are up and the roof is on, though its only covered with tar paper at this point, as we ran out of funds for materials. When we can get some more, I'm intending to complete it with a metal roof, insulation in the walls and ceiling, and line one corner of it with cinder blocks. A complete stranger (the guy who delivered the second excavator) offered us a wood stove that he "had lying around" and some chimney pipe to go with it. My plan is to put the stove in the shed and then pipe the warm air into the camper and the cold air back - hopefully moved by convection as we don't have electricity yet to power a fan.

Until the shed is complete, however, we're using a Mr. Heater Buddy propane heater, and while it's not what I would call comfortable - indoor temperature is typically between 50 and 60 degrees F, it's definitely survivable, and we can even have fun and play games and laugh with each other, which is good enough for me for now. The problem with propane of course is that it produces water vapor when it burns, so we have to keep airing out the camper to keep the moisture content down. This was a little counter intuitive at first, since the best way to do this was just to open up all the windows and doors, even when it's 20-30 degrees outside. But of course the camper retains heat so poorly, that if we're gone for more than a couple of hours, it's at the outside temperature anyway, so we just air out the camper whenever we're going to be gone for a while, and we're going to lose the heat anyway. Every time I do it, I hear decades of training telling me to "SHUT THE DOOR! WE'RE NOT HEATING THE OUTSIDE!" but I do it anyway, and it does a pretty good job of keeping the moisture content to acceptable levels.


So, that's where we are after about 6 months. I'm not sure we even qualify as "permaculture living" at this point as much as we do "trailer trash" but my first concern has always been to make it through the first winter, and while the weather been pretty mild so far, I am no longer worried that we won't make it, even if it turns really nasty. We've settled into our new community. We know all of our neighbors well, and get along with them. We even had the code inspector up before we built the shed. He seems to be a really great guy and mostly interested in letting people live their own lives unless what they're trying to do is truly dangerous, which is a welcome blessing. We've learned a lot about our property in the last six months, gained a lot of confidence, and have possibly even changed our minds about where on the property we want our "main campus" to be. Oh! We also have developed a spring so that come next year we can just run a pipe off it and down to the build site. It only produces about one to two gallons per minute, but if we store that in a tank, it should be more than we could reasonably use, so I'm excited about that.

Anyway, still a long ways to go. I've been spending my days designing the house in sketchup so we can get those plans to the code officer and figure out where he's going to raise a fuss before it's time to build, and simultaneously educating myself further on what kind of plants and trees we want to get started come spring. Right now, I'm trying to find a way to generate some additional income, as the $500/month I figured I'd have for materials, etc. has actually been absorbed in additional gas and other expenses, so I can't really get anything done unless I generate the cash first. I thought I would just pick up a part time job come winter, but those are apparently a lot more rare than I thought they would be, and the job market is just not cooperating with me. But we're still looking.

Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement. We're getting by, and while it's certainly not as comfortable as our suburban house, I'm still happy we made the move, and we're 10% of the way to paying off the land! Woo-hoo!
 
Cristo Balete
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Jeremy, wow, you are in it for real. Been there a long time ago, and it's not easy. Thanks for the update.

I hope you will get a carbon monoxide alarm for inside when you use the Buddy heater and/or the woodstove, to detect he odorless gas that comes off combustion of propane or wood that is lethal. It is crucial that the woodstove be sealed properly, and that it doesn't leak any carbon monoxide when burning wood. You can buy sealant for the cast iron part of the woodstove, and apply it o all joints. Be sure you get the special part that goes through the wall, it is separate from the double or single walled pipe.

There is something primally great about woodstove, however, because you can heat water on it, and it's dry and comfortable.

And put some extra fine mesh hardware "cloth", the 1/4" metal sheets around the top of the pipe so the sparks can't get out, and the birds cannot get in. After a couple of years whatever mine came with rusted, and the poor birds got in there and got stuck. Not fun getting them out.

http://www.homedepot.com/p/DuraVent-DuraPlus-6-in-Through-The-Wall-Chimney-Stove-Vent-Kit-6DP-KTTW/100180192

http://www.reddevil.com/index.php?l=product_detail&p=897

An easy shower, get an insulated picnic cooler that can hold 2.5 gallons of water, (they are about 15" by 12', heat 1 gallon until it's boiling, poor it into 1 gallon of cold water, and it will be about 100 degrees. Drill a 1/2" hole in it for a spout with a shower head that comes off of a solar plastic shower bag. They are usually red plastic. Seal it with aquarium sealer. The metal low flow shower heads do not work because they don't have enough pressure. Mount a shelf high enough on the wall of the shower (with moly bolts) so the shower head is about shoulder height. The cooler will keep the water hot, and 2 gallons lasts 4-5 mins per person. Drill a tiny hole for a small meat thermometer mounted near the bottom so you can be sure it's the right temperature so nobody gets burned. The cooler can keep the water the right temp for about 30 mins.

In the summer, if you fill large pop bottles with water and put them in a box painted black, they will heat up nicely, and you can empty these into the cooler and take showers before the bottles cool off, saving on propane.

 
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