Assessing (and Minimizing) the Environmental Impact of Your Homestead

Reader Contribution by Ryan Tollefsen
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If you’re a homesteader, there’s a good chance that one of the things that you love about homesteading is coexistence with nature. Whether you’re building your homestead from the ground up or are living on an existing homestead, there are many things you can do to ensure that your homestead has minimal impact on the property where you live. Taking steps to preserve the beauty of your property will help ensure that your property will thrive for decades to come.

Protecting Local Water Resources

Water drainage on your property can affect nearby bodies of water, including creeks, streams and even your well. If these water sources should become polluted, it could affect the safety of you, your family members and your animals. Potentially, you could even taint your crops. You can protect your local water resources by properly managing drain water and waste water, and taking care to avoid chemical runoff. 

Septic Tank & Wastewater

Your home’s septic tank has a leach field (also called a drain field) where waste water from the septic tank will be absorbed into the soil. Follow all local codes when installing your septic tank, paying close attention to its placement. Placing your septic tank in the wrong location could lead to waste water or sewage from your home contaminating your soil, which could lead to contaminated runoff entering local bodies of water. You can avoid this by following building codes.  

Pesticides and Fertilizers

If you’re using pesticides and fertilizers on your crops or lawn, improper drainage can cause runoff from your fields and grass to pollute your water systems. Read all instructions on chemical treatments, paying close attention to manufacturer’s recommendations for ensuring protection of local water systems. 

Control drainage to keep water runoff from affecting your water supply. For example:

  • Know your soil type and how easily it absorbs water.
  • Avoid over-watering crops using drip systems. 
  • Install a green roof to help control rain runoff. 
  • Know all nearby bodies of water and how drainage from your property impacts those bodies. 

Minimizing Damage to Trees and Wildlife

As you select a site for your home, pay careful attention to the placement of nearby trees. When selecting a location for your house, keep in mind that roots from nearby trees could penetrate your foundation. Building a home too close to a tree could require later removal of the tree. 

Although small trees can be planted as close as 15 feet from the foundation, large trees should be 20 feet away. As you’re considering the placement of the house, don’t forget the placement of out buildings like your barn and shed. Clear a space that is large enough for all of these buildings.

Consider placement of buildings as well as the size of the space. It won’t matter if the space is large enough if the placement will be inconvenient. If you haven’t yet purchased a property, take this into consideration as you view different plots of land with different placements of trees. 

Using Sustainable Construction Materials

The most sustainable construction materials are the ones already in existence. Using buildings that are already standing or reclaimed materials from recently torn down buildings is the best way to ensure that your homestead will have a small carbon footprint.

If you’re not able to use an existing building or reclaimed materials, look for locally sourced materials like stone from local quarries or wood from local forests. The closer the materials are to your home, the fewer non-renewable resources need be spent getting them to your property. 

Natural Comfort at Home

One of the most effective ways to reduce your homestead’s impact on the natural environment is to keep your home comfortable without running electrical systems.There are multiple ways this can be done. 


Many people control the temperature of their home by running their HVAC system extensively. However, careful placement of your home and installation of smart features can help keep the home a comfortable temperature without relying heavily on your HVAC system.  

  • Place the longest sides of the home facing north and south, to take advantage of prevailing breezes.
  • Position the house so the south side is shaded by mature trees.
  • Use short overhangs to shield the windows from the sun in summer.  


Good lighting is another way to keep your home comfortable. Although you’ll want to have electric lighting for nighttime, good window placement makes it possible to keep your home alight during the day.

Install windows to allow light into your home, but use low-e coatings, window tinting and other energy saving techniques to prevent your home’s windows from heating up your home during the daytime. Consider the natural shrubbery when trying to shield your windows from direct sunlight. 

Making smart decisions when you design your homestead is a good way to ensure that your property will meet its full potential. Designing your homestead to be environmentally friendly can also reduce your bills and make your property more attractive to future potential buyers. Best of all, designing an environmentally friendly homestead also helps protect the land you love. 

Ryan Tollefsen is the founder and team leader of Unity Home Group. As an avid supporter of sustainable living, he aims to help homesteaders navigate some of the lesser-known challenges of finding the right place to build roots for their homestead in his guide to assessing off-grid land. Read all of Ryan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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