Australia to Texas and Starting to Build the Homestead – But What to Build?

Reader Contribution by Jim Christie
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In previous blogs, I’ve talked about building out our homestead in Texas, developing some skills that will be needed while still here in

Australia and other activities. We bought the land in Texas several years ago, developed an overall plan and then have implemented the infrastructure slowly over the past year or two. We’ve gotten electricity pulled from the main road and had a well dug. We will implement solar power as part of the overall plan, but figured that we’d need to have power from the grid anyway, so rather than implement solar at the beginning, we decided to use the local electric cooperative (the only choice really) for power at least during the construction and early stages of occupation when our power usage will be mostly very small. The requirements for our house were really pretty simple:

  • Living area and large storage and workshop area
  • A structure that would be weather-tight and secure in a relatively short period of time.
  • Somewhere in which we could store our trailer for our living quarters until the house is built
  • A structure that would have solid elements of sustainability

My first thought was that we’d build a structure that would house the trailer, tractor, tools and other equipment while we were out of the country and build a second structure which would be our house. Still — it was hard to figure how we could get the house weather tight in a short period of time. I also wanted something where we could pay for the main structure and then pay for the rest as we could afford it.

I started my search for metal building contractors in our general area and found several I began some dialogue with — initially totally over the internet and email as I was doing the research in Australia. After a few weeks or months of this research and correspondence, one of the contractors asked, “Have you ever heard of a barndominium?” Part-barn and part-condominium, this type of structure has become much more popular today than when we first hit on the concept more than a year ago.

The barndominium concept fit all of our requirements. Depending on how we configured the inside and how large we designed the overall building, we could clearly have both living quarters and storage/workshops in one building. The building could be in “lock-up” fashion within weeks. If we built it large enough, we could store our trailer inside the building, protect it from the harsh Texas weather and even live in the trailer inside the “barn” while we were there. Finally, being primarily steel, this structure has a significant amount of sustainable and green benefits in our eyes. The majority of steel (especially that used for the exterior of metal buildings) is recycled. Any rock work we do on the exterior to compliment the steel will be quarried not far from our property.  And the wooden portions of the “house” would be kept to a minimum since the overall structure would be provided by the steel “barn” and the interior condominium would be the only place where we would make significant use of wood.

We also decided that the overall size of the “house” would be smaller than those we have lived in during the past 20-plus years. While I know there are a number of very small homes featured in this magazine and in other blogs, for us a good downsizing meant a two-bedroom home at about 2,000-square-feet. We will also insulate the home substantially to insure that we consume the lowest amount of energy possible and design in low voltage lighting and fixtures, primarily using some of the newer LED products we’ve seen. Given that we’ll implement solar panels sufficient to provide all the power for this property and then some, we have a goal that our homestead will be at least neutral in terms of its electricity usage and hopefully generate some power to put back on the grid.

The picture in this blog is a barndominium an hour or so from our property. It is the project that motivated us to go with the barndominium for our homestead. Whereas our design is different that this, there are more than a few similarities as hopefully you’ll be able to see as we chronicle the building of the barndominium over the next few months.

Photo by Jim Christie