Building any home is an ordeal. It becomes more difficult when you don’t have land or much money to spend. And then it becomes even more difficult when you do not live near the property and need to go there to build as much as possible and leave it in a state where things will be okay until you can come back in a few weeks to work on it again. The other option is to take the RV there but have it running on solar power already so we can live in that while we continue to work. We would also need a smaller vehicle to run to the store that is reliable and able to haul supplies as we need them.
Ideally, if we can get the RV to the location and live in it while we build, things would be fine. We’ve been living in it for almost a year and a half now, so another couple of months isn’t too hard to work with. We would need power and water though, as well as a way to get rid of waste, which might mean converting some things over in this one before we even leave so it is all in place when we do get there.
To deal with the power and water issue though, another idea is to find a campground in the area that one of us can workamp at for free rent and possibly pay, and then go work on the house a few times a week until it is able to be lived in. That would not be a bad idea actually and might give us more money to work with at the same time. I don’t want to move the RV if we don’t have to though, so if we can do this, sell the RV, and move up there, that is what I’d like to do.
To build a cabin, especially at one location I’m looking at, we need power, water, sanitation, and obviously a structure. While doing it out of all reclaimed materials would be nice, that would also add a lot to our time since we would have to find it all, make it work, and install it. Instead, for at the framing of the house, we’ll have to pay for some services and materials, but most the interior we can probably get away with reclaimed and recycled items.
Steps to Building Off Grid
- Purchasing Land: We cannot build anything until we have somewhere to buy it. This will probably be the most difficult part since we cannot rush out and visit every property we are interested in. We can get a lot information online, but there would still be things we’d never know without actually being there. We may have to find land and buy it without ever seeing it though. That may be dangerous, but unavoidable.
- Design Building: I’ve already started on this, trying to figure out how to configure it in the most efficient way possible. The more square it, the less would we need for the outside walls. One property I’m looking at has a minimum size, so I’m basing my ideas off of that. It is still larger than the space we current have, so it should not be impossible to live in. We may also include areas to add on later and make it easier to do that in the future.
- Clear Land: I hope we can find someone local who can help us out with this by clearing a path for the driveway, clearing a spot for the house, and also clearing an area for the solar panels. Because it will be remote, we will need someone who can do the work when we are up there so we can lay out the approximate area and have them do the work with their best judgement.
I would also like to take this time to plant fruit trees and plants for privacy and security, things with large, dense thorns in certain areas, plants that will take over and spread and make a nice, thick hedge.
- Setting Up Electric and Water: It may not be possible, but I would like to have the electrical and water systems in place before we start construction. Since we will be staying either a few days, or a few months, being able to have electricity and water to live on the land before we move in is preferred. That will require a lot of money up front though, we are looking at a range of 25-300 watt solar panels, which make it kind of expensive. Add on that batteries, a charge controller and inverter, and we are in the thousands of dollars. Many thousands even. We need electricity for tools though, so we have to figure something out. It is also possible I can start the solar system and have it temporary and even able to disconnect, so I can start it, have the parts there we need while there, and shut it down and take with us parts that we can and bring them back each time.
It is also possible to make the trailer we are using to haul stuff be solar power for tools so we can just bring that back and forth and have a sort of mobile power plant. With several panels on top and batteries inside, we can fill it up with equipment and materials, go up there and do a bunch of work, and come back without risking losing the solar panels to theft.
- Excavation and Foundation: It might be possible to rent an excavator if I can find someone who can use it properly. I’m asking around the area up there for anyone who can do, but digging the hole for the foundation is something we have to likely outsource.
For the foundation, we will probably go with a concrete slab below the frost line and then build up concrete block walls to above the frost line and build on top of that. I don’t want a full basement, but we could use it as a crawlspace at least to make it easier to run wire and possible even put the utility closet down there and out of the way. I was trying to figure out where to put the utility closet anyway, considering it will have batteries and electronics in it, as well as a water heater. The space will need to be vented and insulated though, but I’m planning for that. I might put foam board insulation around the inside of the cinder block walls to keep it from losing a lot of heat, but it might not even need that. The utility closet and root cellar might be able to remain without temperature control though. We can have a trap door somewhere that gives us access to it and keep electronics and food separate with two small rooms under the main floor.
- Floor, Walls and Roof: We then need to put up the walls, put in the floor, and put the roof on. I’m still working on the exact design, but it should remain pretty simple and basic. I’ll have to look at materials, but I want the outside walls to be 2×6 so we have room for thicker insulation and the floor will be insulated and using a thick plywood or OSB to reduce any movement and add strength. I’m also looking into double-layering the floor with having one set of OSB run on direction and the other running perpendicular. I can then overlap the seams to make it stronger, thicker, and more durable. That might be overkill though.
The exterior will be OSB also, wrapped with a vapor barrier like Tyvek.
For the roof, I want to use metal if possible and affordable. While I’d love to use recycled metal from old houses, there is a chance that won’t happen as I’d have to wait for a demolition project to happen where we could get enough roofing material. I will have to look into prices as well.
- Doors and Windows: Windows and doors will hopefully be all recycled from old houses. We can shop around and find something that will work for us though. We will also need vents installed, and have the locations for heating and cooling prepped, as well as place for where water and power will come into the structure.
- Siding: I’m still looking at options for what to cover the outside of the house in. I’d love stone or brick, but that may not be in our budget or skills. Maybe a partial wall or stone from the property or area and then vinyl siding above that.
- Outside Finishes: Any touch up work, a little paint, caulking, etc.
- Running Electric, Plumbing and Networking: When done right, we can put any wiring and plumbing in the exterior walls where it needs to go. I’m going to be running as much ethernet as possible all over the place, as well as putting in places for power outlets, both AC and DC. There is a good chance I’ll run more than needs to be run actually. While I cannot do the fixtures yet, we can at least get the pips run to where they need to go.
- HVAC: At this point, we should have power in place to put the heating and cooling systems in and be able to work around it. We should only need a small heater and air conditioner, but the AC I’m looking at will need to be installed by a professional. It may need to be two units, with one in the bedroom and one in the main area, but I’m not sure yet.
- Interior Walls and Doors: Then we put in the interior walls, which should only be the ones around the bedroom, bathroom, and walk-in closet. The crawlspace rooms will be done before the main floor flooring is in place. None of the interior rooms need insulation either, though they will have electric and networking in them.
This is the point where we put up drywall also if that is what we are using, though wood paneling would be nice as well. I also want a ceiling above the bathroom and closet, but the rest of the area will be open to the ceiling. There will then be a small space above those areas for storage. I could put some of the utility closet parts up there instead of under the floor, but I’m not sure yet.
- Cabinets and Floors: I hope cabinets and flooring we can use recycled materials. We have a tiny kitchen now, so more space would be great. We can make a large sink in the kitchen, make it more ergonomic, and put things where we need them. If we can get it from old buildings that are bing remodeled, then our cost will drop.
- Plumbing in Kitchen and Bathroom: Finishing up the plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom should be easy since we will already have everything in place. There will cut off valves in place in many areas though, as well as a main cut off somewhere we can easily access it. I want to use a propane heater for water though, but that will be underneath in the utility closet, along with a pressure tank or pump.
- Painting: Everything should be done and ready to paint now.
- Finishing Touches: Little details or things I didn’t think of will come into play.
- Moving In: Move all our stuff in, get furniture, make it happen. We might be able to move in before everything is done, but my worry is that we move in too early and then have parts we never finish because our living stuff is in the way.
That’s about it then.