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Living Offgrid Affordably: Breaking More Than Ground

10/25/2011 2:27:04 PM

Tags: living offgrid, alternative energy, homesteading, , Jeff Chaney

 Jeff with his one kilowatt arrayIn the last article Paying For It All, we discussed collecting materials, making payments, and waiting for lumber to dry. We wanted to enjoy this property since it is in the country and very secluded. I now chose to build a campsite to enjoy on weekends, starting with a screen house and fire pit. 

It was at this time that I began to understand the usefulness of having some quality tools. A solution had to be devised to address the problem of getting work done without having electricity. I purchased a cordless five and one quarter inch circular trim saw, with drill/driver and spare battery and charger as a set. This proved to be a wise decision, as I am still using these tools today.

I obtained a large tarp from a golf course that had been used to cover and protect tees against frost. At  24 feet x 48 feet, it was large enough to cover the entire site of the future storage building. We attached the tarp to four existing trees, with a cut tree trunk in the center a couple of feet taller than the edges, to aid in rain and snow melt run-off. A folded old rag was placed on top of the trunk to prevent water from soaking through. Under the tarp was placed a tent, chairs, coolers, firewood, and a small table. A fire pit was constructed just outside the tarp, from large rocks gathered on site. We constructed a “cooler box” 2 feet x 6 feet, using 2 x 4’s and plywood, with six inches of insulation on all sides. Now, we have the beginnings of a homestead. Home, sweet home!

We enjoyed this arrangement for two years, during which time I installed three driveway gates. The plan was to build the house on the left side of the road on the nine and a half acres. The storage building would be on the right side one and a half acres. If we got into financial trouble, we could sell the smaller parcel and keep the larger. We could also subdivide and mortgage the smaller parcel if need be, without risk to the remaining acreage. One must look ahead! Luckily, this did not become an issue. 

The storage building was designed to be a small scale test bed for the major systems we planned to use in the house. It also had to be disassembled in the future. This approach would allow us to identify deficiencies and engineer corrections before they became permanent.

Art 6 CampsiteThe storage building was designed identical to the future house, at one-half size, to be used until the house was one-half completed. At that time, we would disassemble the building and use the materials to finish the house.

The campsite tarp was erected directly above the storage building site, to protect from foul weather as long as possible. I highly recommend this strategy, when feasible. Unexpected weather patterns can cause lots of damage to a partially constructed building. Since I planned to be the entire crew, protection for the site was invaluable. Progress was expected to be slow.

The first reference purchased was Housebuilding - a do-it-yourself guide by R.J. De Cristoforo. This book became my "bible." A prime example of this guide’s value is the following story. I had never attempted to build a staircase. I followed the book’s instructions to the letter. The end result came out perfect, right on the money. My friend in the remodeling business, which I spoke of previously, could not believe that I had cut my own stair stringers. He admitted the fact that most professionals buy their stringers precut. It tickled me that my friend was highly impressed by my skills. I did, however, reveal to him where the knowledge came from! I highly recommend this invaluable resource.

My friend also cringed when he saw that I had pre-cut the rafters, before installation. He asked me what I would do if they didn’t fit. I replied that I would trim them to fit. Using directions from the “bible," all rafters fit perfectly! This was extremely important because at this stage, before installing the rafters, I would have to remove the tarp covering the site. Timing would be very important.

We now have in hand a clear plan of what we want to do, the tools ready to do it with, and the enthusiasm to get it done. While the stars were aligned in our favor, I decided to take time off from work to erect the storage building. To prevent theft and vandalism, I chose to pitch a tent in the driveway and live on site during this time. I have always enjoyed camping. The original campsite tent had to be dismantled because the building foundation would occupy that space.

I have a new residence, and the real work is just now ready to begin. It seems that at every turn, the hard part is about to commence. This continues for the duration of the project. Will it ever be finished? No, unless I get to work immediately! Please remember to recycle any and everything, when possible.

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