Evil Resource Hogs is Hogwash

I follow a blog called “Tiny House Blog” and they recently did a post advertising their tiny house building seminar where you can go and learn how to build a tiny strawbale house. It’s a 2 week course. I was very interested until I saw the price ($1600).

Anyway, in the process of building up their seminar, they chose to tear down anyone that doesn’t make the same decision to live in a tiny house. They are by no means the only tiny house movement blog that does that. Almost all of them do it and there’s nothing that gets me more riled up than when I see that liberal holier-than-thou attitude coming from the “permaculture” movement. Permaculture is cool because it’s self-reliant, not because I’m wasting less than my fellow man so I’m somehow better than they are.

My comment on their blog speaks for itself, so I’ll copy and paste it here for your enjoyment.

Let me first say, I am a BIG fan of the tiny house movement and we’re actually building a 384 sq ft cabin on our off-the-grid land and we’re moving there to live for a year for the experience.

But I currently live in a 5100 sq ft house and yes it’s quite pricey to maintain. But it’s my choice to live like that. Demonizing other people’s choices when they don’t match your own desires, isn’t really the best solution for recruiting others to the tiny house movement. You can point out the downsides, that’s fine and should be done as there are lots of downsides to living in a big home. And yes, I realize we’ll save $80K a year by moving to a small home, off the grid. I get that. But please don’t elevate your choices of living simpler by telling those that don’t choose that, that they’re making the wrong choice and there’s somehow a moral imperative that they not “waste” so much resources. That’s when you lose people like me who think it’s really cool that one can live simple and people choose to do that…etc. But it’s just a choice and no better of one than someone else’s choice. You’re not somehow holier or a better person because you choose to live in a smaller home. That’s just nonsense. And you may not mean to say that, but the tone of your post leads people to that conclusion.

I greatly admire those that can live in a small home and indeed, I’m going to do it for a year, too. Can’t wait, actually. But I’ll be going back to my larger home not because it’s a status symbol but because I like my kids being able to bring people over and enjoying the pool and the huge play areas. I like having 30 people over and everyone can enjoy themselves in comfort. If I’m evil because of that… well, I guess I’m evil.

Incidentally, we moved away from Oregon to get away from this kind of judgmental attitude. I’ll call them the “Birkenstock” crowd. Tolerant until someone doesn’t agree with them, then it gets personal and the other party is “evil” or somehow lessor of a human being because they don’t agree with them. 😦

Mini Cabin Placement

I took a trip to the ranch yesterday. It was dicey getting in, but got there eventually. (I posted a video of what I was contending with on our Facebook page. If you haven’t gone there to “LIKE” it yet, please do. Go now and then come back to finish reading this post.)

I also tested our cell booster kit, to see if the cell phone would get a better reception. In short, it didn’t. I was very frustrated at that outcome. However, I have a way of getting it higher (elevation) than what I tested yesterday and there is a directional antenna that I can get, too. (The one I tested is an omni-directional one.) So, all is not lost. But it is definitely a disappointment.

I found 3 potential mini cabin sites on the property. (Well, I found more than that, but I have settled on 3 that we’ll choose from.)

Here are my main criteria, not necessarily in order of importance:

  1. South facing without losing some sort of view.
  2. Can the car reach the cabin without having to move tons of rocks?
  3. Is the drainage proper for that spot without a lot of drainage work?
  4. Can it even be built in that spot without having to move a ton of rocks?
  5. Is it easily accessible to the “farm” area that we’ll be building?
  6. Can we install solar and propane services within close proximity?
  7. Does it have a great view?
  8. Can it be defended easily against the inevitable zombie wars?

The reason I have not selected the site yet is because I really have to talk to someone who knows what they’re looking at (an engineer) to see what spot makes the most sense given all my criteria above.

Here is a flickr page with all the pictures I took yesterday. Be sure to read the descriptions below the pictures to get a sense of where you are on the property (if that’s possible.) The dirt pictures are so I can talk to someone about whether a pier and beam foundation will suffice and how deep they recommend going down for the piers.

Side note… I have all the stuff I need to experiment with my rainwater catchment ideas. I’ll be posting some pictures of that soon.

Another side note… I’ve started a spreadsheet to track my costs for this project. So far I’ve spent $610 and have absolutely nothing to show for it yet. Grumble, grumble. 🙂

Okay… go LIKE our Facebook page and tell your friends, too. Share it on your timeline if you think your friends would be interested in following our journey. Thanks!

You Had Me at Chickens!

Post from Allison…

Once Daniel and I realized that the cabin plan could really work, we had to talk about it with the kids. We asked Haley (our oldest), “What do you think about building a cabin on our property and living in it for a year?”. She thought about it for a minute and said “OK”. Not really enthusiastic, but not negative either. Then we started talking about how we would live off the land as much as we could, including having a few chickens. From that point on she turned off her music, pulled out her headphones and she was all in. “CHICKENS????? I CAN HAVE CHICKENS????” She was hooked. I guess the move to Arizona last year would have been easier for her if only we had promised some chickens in the deal!

Zoe was a little less interested, but she followed Haley’s lead and warmed up to the idea the more they talked about the chickens. In the following 3 days we added a goat and some bunnies to the mix. The bunnies are for pets, not for food. We learned our lesson in Oregon that bunnies don’t belong in a suburban garage, so while we live out at the cabin we agreed the girls could each have a bunny or two. For Zoe it was sweetening the pot and it worked.

For the rest of our trip this move was pretty much the only topic of conversation. The kids loved talking about their bedroom (they want to share), looking at the spot on the land that we’ve picked for the cabin, discussing chicken coops and bunny food and hikes with Phinny. One morning at breakfast I reviewed all of the things we’d done this summer: day-long pool parties with friends, a trip to Oregon, several summer camps, a trip with the cousins and several trips to the property. I asked both Haley and Zoe to name their favorite part of the summer- the activity that they’d like to do more of next time. Both of them named the trips to the property as their favorite parts of the summer. Later that day I snapped the picture of the girls (above) at our Holey Cave near the top of our property and texted it to my mom. She responded that they both looked so content. I guess there’s just something about the place that feels good for all of us.

PS: In case you are wondering, here are the names they have chosen for the animals so far: GOAT: Tony Stark; CHICKENS: Mrs Doubtfire, Pepper Pots, Mr. Clucks, Mrs Clucks, Mrs Marvel; BUNNIES: Nemo, Om Nom. All of these are subject to change as we see more movies in the next year, I guess. Frankly I’m surprised we haven’t named something Katy Perry yet.

Home Plans are Gibberish

We got the blueprints for the 14′ x 24′ cabin.

Yikes, on a stick!!

Now I know why people don’t build their own houses. Ha! I can’t make heads nor tails of the plans. So I guess that means I have to actually work at this project.


Fortunately, I do have some friends that can point me in the right direction. And of course, I could just wing it, too. Going off of common sense.

“Umm… yeah, that looks like it goes there.”

Okay… I’m going to try to stay away from that method. It probably doesn’t work all that well.

It appears my next trip to the ranch is going to be Wednesday the 22nd. This trip will be to test the cell booster and to scope out where the mini cabin will be going. I know where the main cabin is going, but haven’t been to the property since we’ve decided to do a mini cabin first. There are many places it could go, so I have to figure out the BEST place.

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting quotes on stone veneer for the outside walls. Not cheap, but I can’t seem to settle for regular siding. Perhaps my “all or nothing” DNA can be altered so as to accept the notion of the mini cabin having regular siding. As we get closer to that step, I’ll reassess. Same with my desire to have concrete roofing tiles. They look amazing, but again… pricey. Argh!!!

One of my first big decisions is what type of post foundation I’ll need to have. I haven’t quite figured out what the frost line is in that area. So I’m not sure how far to dig my post footers. I’m going to stop at the courthouse again and try to talk with one of the building code people to see what he/she says. It would be WAY cool if I could just put it on the ground, flush (I mean the concrete block piers, then a post on top of those.) With just some crushed gravel under them for proper drainage. Another owner I know over at Woodland Valley Ranch (neighboring ranch lands to ours) put hers at grade level, so I’m hoping that we can do ours that way, too. I’m thinking ours is going to be built on a slight slope, so I have to figure that out, too. That shouldn’t impact the decision for the footers, though.

Oh, I got a book called “DIY Projects for the Self Sufficient Homeowner” that goes over all kinds of nifty projects that you can do around the house to make your household a bit more independent. I’ll report more on it as I take on some of the projects.

Things are continuing to move forward. Yeah!



Our Cabin is Growing

Okay. I was thinking about the 192 sq ft “starter” cabin that we decided to build, for practice. This is the floorplan for that one. It’s 12′ x 16′.

There’s a loft, too, of course. But that was it.

So I got to thinking about this more. What IF we have to live in this cabin for longer than anticipated? It might get old, really quick, with 4 people even if 2 of them are small.

Think… consternation, grimace, grunt… think some more… hmmm…

Lightbulb! Why not go a TEENSY bit bigger? In discussing this with Allison, she said, “We’ll never regret having a slightly larger second cabin on the property, later on.”

Then if we do have to stay in it longer than a few months, at least we can stomach that possibility.

So here is the new floor plan (click on it for a larger version):

This one will be 14′ x 24′ for 336 sq ft plus the loft (which is another 200 sq ft or so.) The floor plan you see here is really rough but the bath/kitchen location will be in the same respective areas. We’ll most likely build a double loft. The dotted lines show the edge of the loft spaces. One on the left and one on the right.

Yeah. I’m much more comfortable with that solution. Plans are ordered.

Anyone in the market for blueprints on a 192 sq ft cabin?  🙂

Cell Phone Booster

Cell Phone Signal Booster KitI finally got my cell phone reception booster kit. I’ll post a more thorough review once I test it up at the ranch. But I’ve posted a short video of what it looks like, meantime (bottom of page.)

Of course, I couldn’t wait until I got to the ranch so I did a very rudimentary test in my dining room today. I pieced it together which took all of about 5 minutes and that includes unwrapping all the little doo dad connectors that keep the wires screwed to each other. Then I plugged it in to see what it would do with my Verizon cell service (it works for all major cell companies, though.)


To give you an example of just how well it worked, I tested my phone with a signal meter.

Side note… almost all phones actually have a built in signal meter. Not the bars. That’s crap. I mean an actual power meter that shows you the exact level of power you’re getting for your signal. Here is a list of phones and how you access that power meter for each. For the iPhone, you dial *3001#12345#* and then hit Send. The screen will come up immediately and you’ll be able to see in the place of the bar meter in the upper left corner, your actual signal power measured in dB. It’ll be a negative number. The closer to 0 the number is, the better. A good signal would be in the low -80s.

My normal cell signal at my house is about -85dB to all the way up to -92dB. It fluctuates. When I hooked the booster package up and just held the outside antenna up in one hand and standing about 15 feet from the indoor antenna (the one that receives and transmits to your cell phone inside the house), my signal went to -81dB. Now, remember, I’m in a suburb of Phoenix, where my signal is SUPPOSED to be good anyway. But with this signal booster, my reception DOUBLED (at the minimum). To understand that better, each -3dB that the number goes down, your power actually doubles. So, -81dB is actually double the power of -84dB. And it doubles again at the next -3dB. So -78dB is double the -81dB and actually 4 times greater than -84dB.

I also tested my data speeds. Unamplified, my data speed was PATHETIC. My ping time was 110ms and my download speed was a paltry, 40kbps (.04mbs) and my upload speed was .22mbps. (I just tested it again, later at night, and it was better with .43mbps download and .52mbps… but still.) My bandwidth numbers with the booster on was 96ms ping and 1mbps download and a .7mbps upload.

Remember, this was with the omni-directional OUTDOOR antenna, being held up with my right arm in the middle of my two story house. Imagine if you put that out on the eave where it was designed to go? Your signal would be rocking.

Reminder… if you get one of these, be sure to do your bandwidth speed testing with your wifi off. Otherwise, it’ll be testing your wifi speeds… not your cell data speeds. You can test your bandwidth speed by getting an app for your smart phone. Just search for “Speed Test” in your app store and you’ll find a lot of various speed testers. I use this one for the iPhone. It’s nicely laid out.

I’ll post my data and cell power tests from the ranch, later. I’m going out there next week.

Water Catchment & Bonus Rant

Obviously, water is a REALLY big deal when planning to live off the grid. It’s amazing what we take for granted in this country, as it relates to everyday necessities. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t… we’ve worked hard, as a collective society, to create that ease of living. But when you decide to go it alone, replicating those conveniences becomes quite the challenge.

SIDE MINI RANT… It should be explained here that I’m not going off grid to “save the earth.” I’m doing it because it’s just really cool to challenge one’s self and shake life up a bit in the process. And it’s kind of important to know HOW to live without modern conveniences in case the world goes to hell in a hand basket and we need to rely on ourselves to survive. And it gives my kids an experience they’ll never forget. And last but not least, I get to build a cool place to come on the weekend when I’m not swimming in my larger-than-necessary pool, back here in the valley, when we move back to the grid.

Yeah, yeah… I love the lump of rock we’re spinning through time and space on as much as the next, long haired hemp lover… and yeah, I try to be kind to it by NOT peeing on it’s historical parade. Okay? But you’ll never hear me blathering on about how we’re destroying mother earth by taking long showers, blah blah blah. The earth isn’t a woman. It’s a lump of dirt with things crawling on it. It was here before us and it’ll be here LONG after us, humming right along, quite nicely. And what cosmetic scarring we do to it during our relatively short tenure here, will be repaired to a “like new” condition by our future selves, through advanced methodologies and technology. Someday, humans will have a good laugh about the ruckus some of us made about taking 50 gallon showers.
Just in case you’re a Birkenstockers reading this blog. I have mad love for you and your craziness. Our different conclusions to the same observations is what makes this 80 year ride on this ball of dirt, so fun. But if you’re aghast at what I’ve said and you MUST leave in a tizzy since I’m obviously stupider than you… ta ta and cheers. Wish you well. Remember to not hate. Tolerance is key to your chi… um… or… whatever.
If you’re staying… congrats!! You’re practicing what you preach… diversity. Kudos. I promise to dance with you later.

Anyway, where was I?

You would think, living in one of the driest regions on earth, that water would be our hardest problem to solve. Surprisingly, it’s not.

To put some context to what I’m saying, we’ve lived in our current home for 13 months. It’s 5100 sq ft on about 1/3 to 1/2 of an acre, with a lawn, larger pool and shrubs everywhere that need watering, all the time. I’m not counting the bigger anomalies like emptying our pool and refilling it and we replanted grass for winter…etc. Taking out those anomalies, we’ve averaged approximately 3400 gallons of water usage per month for the past year. Here is the graph:

That’s about 40,000 gallons a year (give or take.) For that water, we’ve paid a whopping $850 for the entire year. That’s about 2 cents a gallon. (These are rough estimates, but close enough for government work.)

For the move off grid, we have three options. Dig a well, truck it in or catch it from the sky when it falls as rain.

Digging a well will cost a BUTT load of money. Approximately $35 a foot and you go into it blind. Having no idea how far down they’ll have to dig. I’m not willing to risk thousands of dollars at this point, for a well. Just not worth it, considering the viability of the other two options.

Trucking it in will cost about 16 cents per gallon. Minimum delivery is 1000 gallons. So, that’s QUITE a bit higher (8x) than I’m paying here in the valley. But it’s doable, considering our usage will be much, much less at the ranch than it will be here. My guess is, we’d use about 1800 gallons a month (maybe more if we have a lot of animals). So, if we trucked every ounce of it in, that would be about $288 a month. Seems like a lot, but when you factor in all the money we’re saving living on the ranch compared to the valley, it’s chicken feed.

Rainwater catchment is the neatest and cheapest way to get all your water supply. If you haven’t heard about this, do a google search (or youtube is even better) for rainwater reclamation, harvesting or catchment. They are all interchangeable terms. I figure, based on the total average rainfall at the ranch in the past 12 months of about 7 inches, I can “catch” about 75% of our need for water, for free (the cost of getting storage tanks and catchment supplies, notwithstanding.) When we fall short, we’ll just have a truck come out and top us off. Easy peasy.

What WILL be one of my biggest challenges is building a large enough catchment system to keep our supplies going through even the driest of seasons, yet not scar the beauty of our ranch with a big whopping “thing” that is designed to catch water. Anyway, I have an idea on how to do this without a visual eyesore on the property. I’ll blog more on this as I experiment with some unorthodox ways of doing this. The way most people do it is to catch the rain from their roof via a gutter system and divert it into a barrel or some other large water container or cistern. However, for us, even with our future larger cabin, that will provide a good solid 2% of our needs, not 75%. Because the roof area is not large enough to capture what we need based on the average rainfall now a days, of 7 inches. Incidentally, the normal rainfall for our ranch area is 12 inches a year, but with the drier conditions recently, it has fallen to 7 inches. I do anticipate that will come back up closer to normal at some point, and we’ll then be able to catch all our water needs.

Sooooo… on the list of problems and their solutions…

Water?…. CHECK!!!

Piss Off Hippies?… CHECK!!! (jk, hippies. I love ya!)