Green Homes
Building for the future, today – combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.


Are You Really Prepared To Buy A Property?

Every property comes with legal challenges

Every property comes with legal challenges.

Many of us are dreaming of owning our own piece of land, buying the first home or selling and relocating somewhere else to start over. It’s an exciting experience that is quite a task and usually, when we’re searching we’re looking for the right location, size and of course price and really can’t grasp our luck when we seem to have found “the One” that checks those boxes.

So we start making plans in our heads, seeing the big picture, not realizing that there’s a lot more to come! That we’re going to have to face things realistically and make sure the piece we’re chewing isn’t going to choke us in the end

Getting the dream home isn't easy

Getting the dream home isn't easy. Photo by Manuela Mueller

What I mean by that, well, let me give you a couple of examples from real-life experience where we’ve met people who thought they’d found themselves a nice home, but actually had no experience in building and wanted to save money, so they didn’t get an appraisal. They didn’t even think about asking if the house they were looking at:

  • Is it livable in or does it have to be renovated?
  • Does it meet building codes?
  • Are water, septic, power or off-grid systems intact and working?
  • In case it has to be demolished, can and what can I rebuild there?

Yes, I know, at first glance everybody says “No, that wouldn’t happen to me! I’d ask all of those questions." Well, believe me, if you just go off thinking you got this and that what you’re looking at is the deal you’ve been seeking for so long….some thoughts do get pushed to the back of your mind and you just hope things will go well.

Even if you really do have these things covered, what about:

  • Have you considered the annual costs of holding a property (i. e. taxes, mortgages, HOA’s, insurance, road maintenance)? And that these costs will rise considerably if you intend to build?
  • Can you get a mortgage?
  • Can you get a mortgage for an off-grid property? (Yes, banks and insurance companies have a completely different approach when it comes to off-grid!)
  • If you’re from outside the country you want to move to, what rules and regulations apply to you?

Does your budget include all of the extra costs that will apply before and on the day of purchase:

  • Deposit
  • Property appraisal (if applicable)
  • The purchase price minus the deposit
  • Legal fees
  • Title Insurance
  • Property Survey (if required)
  • Taxes
  • Property Insurance
  • And there might be more costs involved depending on which country, state or province you buy…so make sure you’re informed about these!

It’s especially the side costs that people usually don’t consider, therefore kill the deal at the last moment and shatter their dreams.

Since the pandemic, there’s also the big issue of building costs that have exploded and shut down many people's plans of pursuing their dream. So, in case you’re in that situation and still want to go on, make sure you have a plan B, such as maybe building a bit smaller for the moment, switching to other building materials that might be cheaper at the moment, doing some of the work yourself or going with reclaimed materials if possible. It’s definitely more effort you’ll have to put, but if you really want to pull through there are alternatives.

As we’ve been in that position ourselves, we created a 2-hour webinar about how to find the perfect piece of land in Nova Scotia which touches all of those topics and many more.

The result is worth the effort

The result is worth the effort. Photo by Manuela Mueller.

It really doesn’t matter if you’re looking to go into the urban areas, rural, on- or off-grid, you’re alone or want to do it as a family or community project…..take your time, do your homework, be open for changes, be honest to yourself and your situation and prepared for challenges!

It’s never easy to pursue your dream, but it’s worth it and don’t forget...

 “Life’s too short to waste a minute.”

Manuela and Frank Mueller live off the grid in Nova Scotia, where they built their own log home and furniture. Now, they’re ready to teach you in their webinar,Find Your Perfect Piece of Land in Nova Scotia & Live Your Dream. Connect with Manuela and Frank on their website, Restless Roots, and on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Find Your Dream Property with Lessons from Our Nova Scotian Homestead

 

Vintage Photo Man With Binoculars On Lake Photo by Manuela Mueller

We’ve lived in three different countries, renovated and built our own houses, and have started our latest project at the end of 2016 here in Nova Scotia, Canada.

We could have repeated the steps we have followed many times before: bought a piece of land and built or purchased a house. But that wasn’t what we wanted to do this time, despite the real estate market being full of properties. At the time, Nova Scotia was a secret little gem.

We decided to start from scratch, buying a property in the middle of the woods where we could clear the land and build our own log home on a nice little lake about 5 kilometers from the next neighbour. We’d be completely off-grid as getting power to the location wasn’t feasible.

Although our build is still a work in progress, everybody who visits sees the beauty of our surroundings and the log home and conclude that living like this would be a dream come true for them.


Cabin by lake with solar panels. Photo by Manuela Mueller

Real Estate Shifts in Nova Scotia

Especially during the pandemic, it seems people have been tired and frustrated, hoping that moving somewhere where things are “better” really will make their lives better. Here in Nova Scotia, it’s lead to a shift in the real estate market like never before!

Prices for properties have skyrocketed, and due to the travel restrictions, houses are bought sight unseen from outside our province — with buyers as far away as Europe.

We understand that people are looking for someplace where they hope to find some peace and quie,t and freedom for themselves and their families, but from our own vast experience moving and starting over so many times, we’ve learned that there are a lot of things to consider!

It’s not just about finding a beautiful spot, but rather that it’s about what you’re looking for, what you need and can handle. Have you asked yourself the right questions before you can sit down by the campfire?

Ask the Right Questions Before Buying a Rural Homestead Property

Let me give you a couple of examples from real-life experience where we’ve met people who haven’t done an honest evaluation of themselves. They just didn’t think about these things:

What kind of land are you looking for? Is it a retreat, a farm, a cabin?

Are you looking for yourself, your partner, or a full family?

Are you all on the same page in what you want? This is sometimes the biggest misunderstanding! A couple is looking for a “house on a lake” and both agree on it. But in his opinion that “house on the lake” is a rustic old cabin off the grid and in the middle of the woods, where he can hang out and fish. In her mind, they’re talking about a nice little house on a lake with power where they can spend time with the kids and her parents! (Yes, I’ve been to a viewing where exactly this happened, and the discussion between that couple wasn’t pleasant.)

Are you familiar with the area you’re searching in? If you’re allergic to insect bites you might not want to live in Nova Scotia during black fly season!

Are you going to be too far or maybe not far enough from neighbours? For instance, if you have dogs and your new neighbour doesn’t have a fence and his kids are scared of dogs, consider this.

Or considerations include:

  • How much of my land is actually usable? Is the waterfront more on the swampy side?
  • Is there access to water, hunting, fishing and hiking, snowmobile or ATV trails? (And will you need to cross other people’s property to have a right of way?)
  • How is the lay of the land — flat, sloped, rocky, flood zone?
  • Is the property accessible all year round, and would snow removal, road maintenance, private or public road building be required?
  • Would I be allowed to keep livestock on the property?
  • Or what about, if you want to build:
  • What kind of septic system and field will be required?
  • Can I get a building permit for the kind of dwelling I want?
  • Is the property accessible for heavy equipment and trucks?
  • How much will a driveway cost?
  • Power: on-grid or off-grid?
  • Water: Dug or drilled well, and how’s the quality? Will I need a filtration system?


Cutting Ice Blocks With A Chainsaw. Photo by Manuela Mueller

I could go on and on and these are only a few of things that we’ve seen “go south” when hopeful homesteaders are so caught up with the idea of finally trying to make their dream come true that they forget to ask the essential questions.

Because we’ve made a ton of these mistakes ourselves, we created a two-hour webinar about how to find the perfect piece of land in Nova Scotia. We can only encourage everybody who’s out there wanting to finally live their dream to do their due diligence!

And it really doesn’t matter if you’re looking to go into the urban areas, rural, on- or off-grid, or whether you’re alone or want to do it as a family or community project. In all cases, take your time, do your homework, be open for changes, be honest to yourself and situation and prepared for challenges.

It’s never easy to pursue your dream, but believe me, it’s worth it and don’t forget: Life’s too short to waste a minute.

Manuela and Frank Mueller live off the grid in Nova Scotia, where they built their own log home and furniture. Now, they’re ready to teach you in their webinar,Find Your Perfect Piece of Land in Nova Scotia & Live Your Dream. Connect with Manuela and Frank on their website, Restless Roots, and on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Planning Our Retirement Move to a Mountain Cabin

 

A-frame house
Photo by Bruce McElmurray

We started planning our move to our retirement cabin well in advance of the actual move. It took careful planning, because our finances were very limited and the cost to develop our property was beyond our financial ability. We knew we had to plan carefully and change our lifestyle habits if we wanted to accomplish our long-term goal.

When the dream is finally formulated, the planning starts. In our case ,it was years of planning, so we had plenty of time to put together a realistic plan. We made our plan by segments. Our first segment was to determine if we could even afford the move based upon our ability to earn money. We were aware that we would need a total and complete plan to make our move successful.

Determining Financial Ability to Make the Move

To determine if we could even make the move, we had to first determine if it was financially possible. We knew that we had years to go before we could make the move so we had plenty of time to make a plan. To start, we had to take inventory of our financial situation. We each took a small notebook and for one month, every time we made an expenditure outside our required living expenses, we wrote it down.

We were really surprised when we sat down to review the results. We found we were spending a large amount of money on things like eating out, unnecessary clothes, entertainment including movies or theater plays. Armed with this new information, we went about figuring out which of these expenses we could cut out and which we could reduce. The extra money we would set aside in an interest-bearing account that would go toward our dream.

Now we were amazed when we watched our savings grow. We could see how our dream could actually be a reality if we maintained our current direction. We still dined out on special occasions and indulged in entertainment rarely. While we were building a financial base to achieve our dream, we also decided to plan how and what we wanted as a home. Our main choice was to have a small cabin that would be easy to maintain and keep clean.

Starting the Cabin Construction

During that time we unexpectedly received a letter from a builder where our property was located. It had three sets of plans and the A-Frame seemed to fit our needs. We made plans to then take a trip to Colorado, where we met with the builder and established that he would build a shell house. We decided to finish the interior ourselves, do the electrical run and do the plumbing. We were several years away from making the move, so we could use vacation time to finish the cabin a piece at a time.

Electrical run was first on the list. I had never done any electrical work but fortunately, one of my co-workers guided me through it. His father was an electrician and he told me it was not as difficult as I imagined. He said I should go to the library and check out a how-to book on running electric throughout the house. As I learned about electricity, it became clear to me I could do this, but I wanted to hire a certified electrician to double check my work. It turned out I did a good job, as the electrical inspector passed us quickly.

Next up was plumbing. Another vacation and again my co-worker came to the rescue. He sent me to the library again for a book on doing my own plumbing. He told me I only needed to know two things: “Water runs downhill and payday is on Friday”. Since our cabin was small, we only needed our plumbing to service two areas: our kitchen and bathroom, which shared a common wall. That part went well and is working without problem to this day.

It was now time to have our well drilled. Another vacation, and we made plans to have our well drilled. We were again fortunate as we connected with a well driller who had graduated from Colorado School of Mines, and he told us an aquifer ran down the mountain. He situated our well precisely to take advantage of that aquifer. Our well is 215 feet deep, and our water is clear sparkling freshwater that requires no filters. It is the first time I have relished water that isn’t treated or filtered.

Finishing the Cabin Interior

Finally it was time to finish off the inside of the cabin. Two or three more vacations and we were able to finish the interior of our retirement cabin. Now all that was left to be done was make sure our remaining finances would support us until we could make the move permanent and settle into our new adventure. When we had saved enough to take us through a few years before we could draw social security we were well on our dream initiated years previous.

We still lacked major appliances and furnishings, so as we could afford them, we bought a refrigerator, stove, snow thrower and other items. We would store them until we could eventually make the move. The time lapse before the move also gave us an opportunity to dispose of items we no longer needed for our new lifestyle. When everything was in order, we rented a large truck, loaded up and made the move.

That was nearly a quarter of a century ago and we have not regretted making the life changing move. It has been a strenuous lifestyle, but we are both healthier and more fit due to the work required to maintain this lifestyle. We know that we will not be able to maintain this lifestyle forever, but until that time comes, we are enjoying ourselves. We will plan our next move as we did the initial one.


Bruce and Carol live in the mountains in S. Colorado with their canine family and take measures to protect them from the wild predators that are around. They lead a somewhat different lifestyle and for more on them and their canine family visit their blog site. You can read all of Bruce's Mother Earth News posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

How to Render Adobe on a Concrete Block Wall, with Video

 

Spreading adobe
Photo by Tom Keeling

Once you have done your tests, reviewed them and decided which ratio of sand to clay to use then you are going to be ready to apply them to your wall. Try to make enough mixture to at least finish a wall at a time as it is a bit difficult to merge a dry section from a previous day into a new section the following day.

Make sure to fully mix all your ingredients dry. It is much easier to put in the time now mixing than try to separate clumps of clay later on.

In this video, we didn't use a fiber but if you were going to you could now add thin straw, chopped into lengths no greater than your small finger. You could also use goat or other hair if you had access to that, or you could break up pieces of dry horse manure for an even finer fiber. Fibers reduce cracks and in the case of horse manure, when used as a final render it adds a beautiful mesh-like effect which you can only see if you look very closely.

Once you have a homogeneous mixture you can add water. Keep adding it slowly until you reach your desired consistency. You may notice that natural building guides usually dont show a quantity of water. This is because the ambient humidity and the humidity of you ingredients will dictate how much water you need to add. So it is always best just to keep adding water slowly whilst mixing well until you reach a workable consistency. For a render I would say a good consistency is one you can pick up in your hand but does still easily fall off, not holding its shape. If you can see water pooling on the surface it may be too wet in which case you will need to add more dry mixture.

Apply the Mixture to a Wall

Rendering adobe, photo by Tom Keeling

On very dry walls, wet them first with a mister, hose or wet brush. Wait ten minutes and then wet them again before application. If the wall is too dry then it will quickly try to suck all the moisture from the render and this can cause an air space between wall and render, causing the render to fail. Conversely, if the wall is too wet the mixture will just fall off and you will need to wait for that area to dry a bit first before trying again. 

Once the wall is moist you can apply your clay slip. Clay slip is very fine filtered clay, mixed with water till it is a cream/paste. You paint this on your moist wall and can apply render directly on top whilst it is still wet.

Tips for Smooth Application

In this video, we applied render by hand, making sure to push hard into the cracks to make sure the render has a strong key inside the wall. Apply render with a movement from down to up catching falling mixture with your other hand if you like. It is also good practice to place a mat on the floor to catch any mix that falls, you can then add this to your bucket and reuse when you like.

In the end, we used a hawk to smooth the walls to make the next finer render easier to apply. The aim of this layer was to create a smooth even surface to work on to for the final renders and paints. 

When working on to a clay wall I would follow these steps. When working on to other materials that are not as rough as the cement block wall make sure to do tests first which you can see in my previous video. When I posted about a clay paint I made a while ago all the questions I had were related to whether this could be done on different surfaces and my advice is always to do the tests first and then you will know for sure!


Tom Keelingis based in Portugal and has traveled throughout Brazil and Eastern Europe learning about natural building and farming. He’s working on a two-story stone barn renovation using clay and wood, and including a shower and toilet block built using rammed earth and adobe bricks. Connect with Tom at Fazenda Tomati and on Facebook and Instagram. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

How to Review Interior Wall Adobe Render Tests, with Video

 

 Applying adobe to a wall construction
Photo by Tom Keeling

In this short video I go through the different ways you can test your the adobe patches that we rendered in a previous post

You are really going to be trying your hardest to remove the patches from the wall and damage them. You want to know if they are going to be easily damaged by a falling cupboard or by water bring spilled on them. You want to know if there is so much sand in the mix that it easily brushes off and may make a mess on the floor in future. You will also need to know if there is too much clay in the mix which could have made it crack too much as it dried.

For final layers you will also be looking at finished color and smoothness perhaps.

To simulate a chair knocking against the wall I hit it hard with a hammer and it held up really well with very little impact marks. If the hammer created a lot of damage you may think about adding more sand as this is where the strength lies in this respect.

I also used the sharp side of the hammer to try to take chunks of the patch off the wall which I couldn't so that was a great result. If pieces of the render came off then you may look at the clay content, or the preparation you did to the wall beforehand...was it clean? was it too dry when you applied? or too wet? did you use enough clay slip before applying the render?

You can then pass your hand over the render to see how it feels to the touch. For a final render this will be important for aesthetic reasons but for this layer which was before the final thin layer the reason was to see if too much sand dusted off. A little is ok but too much may compromise the following layer.

To review the clay content you want to look for cracks. Earthen finishes often have small cracks and that isn't a problem. We were lucky in that only one mix had cracks so we discarded that mix. If they all had cracks then you may want to go for the one with the smallest. Very fine cracks can always be compressed and closed as the render dries.


Tom Keelingis based in Portugal and has traveled throughout Brazil and Eastern Europe learning about natural building and farming. He’s working on a two-story stone barn renovation using clay and wood, and including a shower and toilet block built using rammed earth and adobe bricks. Connect with Tom at Fazenda Tomati and on Facebook and Instagram. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Create Test Mixtures Before Rendering a Wall with Adobe Plaster, with Video

 

Sand and clay mixture tests by Tom Keeling. Fazenda Tomati Portugal Permaculture Design Certificate 2019

In the video below, I cover some basic tests you can do to analyse your earth for rendering. It is important to do as many tests as you can before applying an earthen finish. For me the main reason for doing this at every job is that the earth is always going to be a little bit different, even if in this case the earth was mined from the same site as a previous job.

Why We Do Render Tests for Earthen Walls

We knew from before that this particular mine gave earth with a very nice percentage of clay to sand (minute 25:75 in the video), which was ideal to work with, but even so we still carried out the basic tests to see how the mixtures fared in our particular conditions.

Another good reason for doing tests in this site in particular is that we were working on to cement block walls and even a modern paint in one of the spaces. For this reason it was very important to see whether the render would even stick, especially in the case of the smooth-rendered, modern white-painted walls.

So as with any job we made our tests, changing the quantity of sand to clay in each case. We had four different surfaces to work on to and we made four different mixtures. On past jobs I have done up to 12 tests and depending on the materials you are using and the parameters you want to test. In this case, we had two ingredients, sand and earth, so we didn't have to do quite so many tests. When testing a render on an exterior wall with four ingredients, where colour, texture as well as water resistance was important, this is where we did 12 tests.

How to Create Test Mixes for Earthen Walls

A quick run down of the process is as follows:

  • Check you earth for clay content using the jar and water test
  • Your ideal mixture is around 75% sand 25% clay so add sand or clay depending on your jar results.
  • If your mix is very close to ideal then try it without altering it as well.
  • Make a clay slip to use as a glue paint, this is made by fine filtering clay earth and adding water till it is a nice paste consistency
  • Wet your wall using a wet brush or hose ten minutes before application.
  • Make half a bucket of each mixture. Mix ingredients dry then add water till render is a workable consistency
  • If wall is dry when you are ready to start then apply water again.
  • Apply render by hand or tool.
  • Mark each mixture to show what the ratio of sand to earth is.
  • Wait a week or more for the mix to dry and then apply strength and aesthetic tests.
  • For internal walls tests will be checking for cracks, checking if render has come away from the wall, checking if the render dusts off the wall too much and finally whether the render is much damaged through impact (for that I use a hammer).

For any clarifications please get in touch via the comments here or through our website.


Tom Keelingis based in Portugal and has traveled throughout Brazil and Eastern Europe learning about natural building and farming. He’s working on a two-story stone barn renovation using clay and wood, and including a shower and toilet block built using rammed earth and adobe bricks. Connect with Tom at Fazenda Tomati and on Facebook and Instagram. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

We Started Building an Off-Grid Shipping Container Home with Zero Construction Experience

Forest Shipping Container House Building

Photo by Jessica at Pacific Pines Ranch

 

About two years ago, Pacific Pines Ranch was born from our idea to escape the city life and chase our dreams out in the Oregon forest. We decided to change our life and start from ground zero to develop an off-grid shipping container home, ourselves, with little to no construction experience.

 

The reasons why we decided to meander down this road in life vary. We think it's important for us to expand our abilities and learn valuable DIY construction skills such as welding, framing, electricity, plumbing, finishing work, mechanics, wood working, concrete setup/finishing, etc. There are so many aspects that go into building a house, and they all offer great experience in the different realms of construction. We wanted to challenge ourselves as individuals and teach ourselves how to build something not only unique, but also to build our dream house with our own hands. Our overall goal with this project is to change our lifestyle and become as self-sufficient as possible, and to learn to live off the grid.

Pros

Shipping containers, like any construction technique, come with many pros and cons. One of the biggest pros of containers are their strength. Each container can hold 55,000 to 72,000 pounds, depending on what size they are. They are made to store large amounts of cargo inside and shipped around the world, which also means that they are extremely durable. They go years enduring the toughest coastal and oceanic conditions and are made to survive the wear and tear of life between sea and port.

 

They are made with CorTen steel, which is a special kind of steel that is designed to resist against corrosion and have high-tensile strength. Because they are used for shipping around the world, they are usually easy to find near any coastal area or shipping port.

 

They are easy to transport due to their design and weight. They also offer great designs capabilities and can be setup in many different ways or configurations, essentially like life-size Legos.

 

Shipping containers are also fireproof, and can withstand intense weather situations such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods.

 

Two Home Builders With Shipping Containers

Photo by Jessica at Pacific Pines Ranch

 

Cons

 

One of the cons of shipping container builds is they can require quite a bit of work to make them livable. To create any openings, panels need to be cut out, which compromises the strength of the container and can require reinforcements.

 

They can also be hard to get if the building site is not near any shipping area, such as a port or railway hub. Depending on the location and design of the build, they can require cranes to place the containers onto the foundation which can be a costly expense.

 

Overall, they require a lot of ingenuity to make them work as structures, and can be labor-intensive depending on the size of the structure and the design.

 

Shipping Container Home Under Construction

Photo by Jessica at Pacific Pines Ranch

Specifications for Our Shipping Container Home

We put a lot of thought into the design of our shipping container house, and we designed our house to specifically fit our property. We used seven containers to create three levels, plus a rooftop deck.

 

Our land is sloped, so we designed the house to flow with the topography of the land. We took inspiration from how they are used for shipping cargo, and we stacked them the same way to take advantage of how they are made. We have two containers on the first level, three on the second level, two on the third level, a structure on the side to create stairs between the second and third level, and a garage parallel to the containers on the first level. The first two levels are 40-foot-high cube containers, and the third level is 45-foot-high cube containers, so it creates a small cantilever effect.

 

We converted all of the container doors into glass doors so the entire side of our house can be opened. Our goal was to feel outside, even when inside, and have as much windows and doors as possible. Luckily, the weather is very mild where we are building, so we didn't have to take extreme heat or cold into consideration.

 

One of the more important aspects of our design is simplicity. We wanted the design to be simple enough we could learn to build it ourselves.

 

Woman Welder Working

Photo by Jessica at Pacific Pines Ranch

The Joy is in the Journey

That's a little bit about why, what, and how we are doing our shipping container project on Pacific Pines Ranch. Currently, we have five containers on the foundation and we are working on Phase 2 of our build.

 

We have a long way to go for us to leave the diamond-in-the-rough stage, but eventually we will get there. We are constantly learning new techniques and improving our work day by day. As we like to say out on the ranch, the joy is in the journey.


Jessica is a hardcore DIYer who taught herself how to build, weld, and bring her ideas to fruition. She is developing a sustainable, off-grid property from the ground up in Oregon, where she is building a shipping container home herself. Follow the Journey of Pacific Pines Ranch on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Read all of Jessica’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.






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