Breaking Ground

We are planning a trip out to the ranch to break ground on a 14′ x 14′ cabin, the weekend of Feb 23rd. We were going to do it the weekend of the 9th, but the footing forms we’re going to use for the concrete piers won’t be here until the 12th or so. And Allison’s going to be in Oregon the weekend of the 15th. So, the 23rd it is!

We’re going to be using concrete pier forms made by Bigfoot Systems. On top of those, we’ll be using cardboard concrete forms called sonotubes. I’ll be posting videos of our progress.

In case you don’t follow our FB page, I announced a few days ago of our change of plans for the property. We were going to move there for 1 year to see what it’s like to live off the grid in a permanent state. We’ve been thinking long and hard about that decision and we’ve decided to cancel our 1 year sabbatical from the grid. We have lots of reasons (as you can imagine), but the chief one being we’re just now settling into our new community. Just didn’t seem like the reward was worth the sacrifice at this particular time in our lives

The good news is, we’re STILL going to build a small cabin on the property and we’re still going to outfit it for living so that in the event we do have to high tail it for our own safety, we’ll have a place to go and more importantly, a place to LIVE, that is off the grid and sustainable on it’s own.

So, the purpose of this blog hasn’t changed. We’re still going to chronicle what it takes to build a cabin and set up off grid living. It’s just that we won’t be residing full time at the property for a year as we had previously planned.

So I hope you’ll stick with us and see what it takes to do all this.

Compost Toilet in Suburbia (Update)

So we’re about 8 days into the compost toilet experiment, and I can report that the Humanure method of collecting your waste is extremely well received. I have had waste in the bucket inside the house now for over a week (here’s the original post.) There is absolutely NO smell to it. It’s really quite remarkable. It makes you wonder why all of suburbia doesn’t just use this method. If you have a spot to compost somewhere on your lot, it would save the average household a LOT of water and give you ongoing, great compost for your flowerbeds or garden…etc. I guess water isn’t expensive enough yet. Ha!

Anyway, what a great system for off grid living. That is one challenge overcome. On to the million other challenges.

I’m still experimenting with my water catchment system. I’ll post some pictures and perhaps a video, soon.

One of the ways I’m looking at building out the mini basement (inside crawlspace for the kids to play in, under the house) is to use ICF forms. These are relatively inexpensive, great for insulation, awesome for below grade use (below ground level) and is really, really simple to construct. I think I’ll use them to build the crawlspace area, up to where the first floor joists will hang, and then assess it from there. They are more expensive than just using traditional stick framing so I’m not sure if I’ll use them for the entire shell of the house. But they’re darn near unbeatable for below grade walls. So, I’ll definitely use them for the crawlspace “stem” wall. Then I’ll see if I want to continue and just build the entire structure out of ICF. We’ll see.

Cabin update…after a LOT of thought and planning and mulling over things… we’ve decided to build a 14′ x 14′ structure, with a full second story (no loft overlook.) So, the official footprint size will be 196 sg ft. But the upstairs will be about 172 sq ft of usable, open space. Then we’ll have a flat roof that can be used as a roof deck.

Of course, I say all this but then I’ll probably keep changing the plan until the last nail is in place. I just want it to be exactly what we need for the second cabin. No more, no less.

My HOPE is to break ground sometime in Oct. But you know what they say about the best laid plans….

Off Grid Advice – Expert Opinions

Shows where our new mini cabin location will be compared to the main cabin spot and I threw in the zip line location so you can see that too.

If you check out our Facebook page (link on our front page), you’ll see I posted some photos and videos of the property yesterday. We took a trip during the holiday weekend.

The main reason for the trip was to consult with someone (Ken) who knows a lot about the area, about building stuff, about the land, and water and sewage and, well… he’s just knowledgeable.

We’ve had 3 different spots in mind for the mini cabin and what we finally came up with was yet another spot. Best laid plans….

Some things I’ve determined based on my consult with Ken, are:

  1. I need to place the pier footings about 30 inches down, just to be on the safe side from a frost heave perspective. He said 18″ to 24″ would be fine. And my piers will be well within the interior of the home’s imaginary borders and I’ll be cladding the underside of the cabin with materials that will help to trap heat under the house. All that combined probably means I could go even shallower. But I’ll probably put about 6″ of pea gravel in a 30″ hole so the pier blocks will rest at the 24″ level. With that, I’ll be confident we’ll have absolutely no problems with front heave.
  2. A septic system is just out of the question. He said it’ll probably cost around $5K. Heck, that’s probably about half what the entire cabin is going to cost. I’m not going to spend that on a septic system. That’s just crazy. So, compost toilet it is. I’ve been reading a LOT on this topic and have come to the conclusion that the Humanure system is simply the best and most simple (and cheapest) system to compost human waste. I bought the book and it is quite detailed in what you need to do in order for the system to work well (with no smell…etc.) If you can weed through the sanctimonious “save the world” speeches, it does have some good practical information.
  3. A well is also out of the question. Ken said if he had to take a guess, he’s say we’d find water around 300 ft down. That translates into about $10K. Again, that’s just crazy when it falls free from the sky. Even if we had to truck in all our water, we wouldn’t hit $10K of usage for 4 or 5 years. And I’m pretty sure we can get about 50% to 100% of our water needs from the sky. (We’ll see what that ends up being.)
  4. Rocks are no problem. Ken said he wouldn’t be too concerned with rock slides on our hill. He said, at the most, just put up a retaining wall to block some more worrisome rocks in the event one becomes dislodged. But the slope is such that even if one came down, it would come down fairly slowly. But with where we’re going to put the the mini cabin, there is really no rock danger anyway. So, the question was mainly for any fort activity we build for the kids, into the hillside, than for the cabin.
  5. Great building season. The part of Arizona our land is in has a year ’round building season. He said the first frost doesn’t come until around mid Oct and it’s mostly really nice weather all the way through Thanksgiving. Even the winters, although can be a little cold, are not bad at all for building. Very little moisture to get in the way…etc. So, that’ll be nice to not be hampered for months on end due to the weather. That is completely different than where we moved from, in Oregon. Ha!

So I have many of my preliminary questions out of the way. My blueprints are at the drafter’s office. He’s tweaking the plans to my specifications. Once we get that finalized, it’s off to the county for a permit. That will take about 3 weeks, give or take. Then I hope to be breaking ground in mid Oct.

Allison wants to spend Christmas at the cabin. I have some work cut out for me. Ha!

Picture above gives you an idea of where our mini cabin will be (the newly picked spot) compared to where the main cabin will be built. Bonus points… I drew where our zip line will go, too. Just for the fun of it. The zip line will go from about 100 ft above that valley to about 40 feet. It’ll definitely be a heart pumper. (BTW.. this drawing is not to scale. The cabins will appear smaller if they were actually in the pictures.)

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!

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?  🙂