Realistic Progress

Recently a friend asked what I realistically expected to accomplish this year. The list of things I would like to get done is a long one, and far more than could reasonably be done with the available resources.

The list has been deftly prioritized by the nature of a Saskatchewan winter. In about five weeks we will be leaving our winter rental to take up permanent residence on the homestead. Getting a reasonably comfortable camp set up will take a bit of work, but should not present too big a problem. The countdown to the next winter is already on my mind. Lethal cold has a way of providing focus.

The cabin has to be up and finished to lockup stage, insulated with a working woodstove and a good supply of firewood. The tasks and projects we take on over the next eight months need to be compatible with that simple reality.

The List:

– 48 sq. ft. insulated shed divided in half. One side is an outhouse and the other has accommodation for a generator, storage batteries and an inverter. Until our solar capacity is greatly improved, starting the generator for an hour or two each morning will be necessary. Combining these functions seems to make sense. The distance between the cabin and this shed will be set by our longest (80’) heavy duty extension cord. This should be close enough for convenience and efficient transfer of power, and far away enough to minimise noise and unfortunate aromas.
– 96 sq. ft. cookshack. This small building will be mounted on skids to allow for re-positioning. Until the cabin is done we will use this as a kitchen and a snug sleeping loft will serve as a refuge on nights too cold or stormy to pass comfortably in the tent. It will be rigged out temporarily with a two way RV fridge, three burner propane stove with oven, sink and hot and cold running water. With a metal roof, full insulation and a tiny woodstove, it will be a valuable addition to the homestead even after this summer. We are currently fighting over future possession of this shed to use as an office, studio, hobby room or summer kitchen.
– 930 sq. ft storey and a half cabin. We are attempting to design the smallest, cheapest little shack that can be built at high speed without hired help and using minimal equipment and facilities. And yet we want the resulting building to be solid and comfortable, last beyond our lifetime and stand as an asset that can be rented or sold off in the future. Not much to ask, right?
The only way this plan is at all realistic is to develop a fetish for simplicity. The foundation will be concrete piers at a spacing of 8’ running down under the frost line. Large J bolts will allow adjustments to be made to counter the effects of frost and settling. The storey and a half design gives the maximum amount of floor space for the materials allocated. Eliminating the attic gives a house that has a smaller footprint that is easier to heat with a woodstove. Past generations of homesteaders in this area favoured this layout because of its economy and practicality.

– Construction of approximately 800’ of driveway and roadway.
– Clearing 1 – 2000’ of new trails for access and harvesting firewood.
– Harvesting, cutting and splitting 10 to 15 cords of firewood.
– Setting up separate off grid electrical systems for the cabin and workshop.
– Setting up off grid setup for hauling, storing and distributing water.
– Repairing and re-furbishing old workshop
– Repairing or removing existing sheds
– Removing the remaining junk left from the old homestead.
– Clearing brush for workspace and to reduce problems with skeeters.
– Making a start on gardens, planting fruit trees, moving existing trees, starting composting and soil improvement.

Is it realistic to think that we will finish all of this in 2014? I expect not, but we will work on all of these things. What we need to get done, we will get done. The rest is carried over to the next day, or the next year. Death will be the signal that the homestead is completed.

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10 Responses to Realistic Progress

  1. May I suggest for your outhouse you consider a composting toilet? This is a fanciful name for using a bucket instead of a pit and dropping some sawdust and woodchips on your, well, droppings every time you go to the bathroom. Then you simply pour the bucket out somewhere less permanent once a week and give it a quick rinse with some baking soda and vinegar and a toilet brush before bringing it back in. I have heard that this does not smell at all, I know some people who do this and then fill a hole and plant a tree on it or even compost it thermophilically to destroy the bacteria and use ital for their fields and gardens! You could also just put it in the woods and it will add to the biomass of the forest. You would not even need an outhouse this way… You could keep your toilet somewhere warm!

  2. I appreciate the input and have considered the method you suggest. It seems fairly sensible to me, but all such decisions are a product of the partnership I am part of. In this instance I have been overruled by my partner, who has displayed a great deal of flexibility on a range of issues.

  3. Keith Tall says:

    Hi Mark,   I find your list of things to do this year rather challenging. I have not given extensive thought to this answer but that never stops me from talking.   In the first year it is not against the homesteader code to purchase things that will save you time even though you would do them yourself normally. You are trying to eat an elephant and it will take time. For instance buying some wood the first year would free up a lot of time and let you concentrate on getting that cabin, toilet facilities and water system completed while you know that the heat for next winter is already drying. 15 cords of wood takes a lot of time, fuel, and energy that could be used in this precious summer period to get your essential services ready. In that climate I suspect you don’t need heat only from June thru August in a good year. I remember cool Septembers. I am sure the one thing you are not short of is advice. Good luck and don’t forget to have fun. Whistle while you work.   Keith  

  4. Hi Keith, I agree with your advice in principal. In fact I made just that kind of choice when it came time to get the truck though the provincial inspection. It required extensive work mainly on the suspension (caused no doubt by the state of the roads last summer) and it was all work that I would normally have done myself. If I still had use of your spacious workshop (I miss that shop) and all of my tools, and no pressing time limit, I would have done all the repairs myself and saved a chunk of change. Instead I forked out $2400 to get the truck ready to licence here.
    On the firewood front, we are still keen to rely mainly on wood, with a emergency option of supplementing with propane. I still have two small RV furnaces in my collection. The main reason that wood heat is still viable this year, even while I am under pressure to get building projects done, is my partner. E has only modest building skills at this point, but she is a crackerjack at firewood harvesting. Mostly on her efforts, and in the dead of winter, we have built up our reserve to about 3 cords. This is in addition to what we burned in the old workshop this winter, which was probably another 2 cords. We are highly motivated to keep getting the maximum use out of the wood resource on our property. Harvesting the deadfall and dead standing has the dual benefits of cutting the heat bill, and at the same time cleaning up the property, reducing the fire hazard and improving access.
    Another job we may hire out to save time, would be the heavy digging for this year. The foundation for the cabin and the permanent pit for the outhouse are jobs that may make it worthwhile to hire a backhoe for a day.

    • Analog Man says:

      You will get lots of advice…pardon mine..I cant stress enough the importance of heating, not just generating it but keeping it in. You must minimize this in everyway…I do not have to split my wood..full logs up to I think 9 inch’s in dia fit through the door due to changes I made to mine some logs up to 24 inches in length and this means less cutting, the thermostat control means rock solid even and long burn times (I dont even use my cat,pulled it out) I am heating roughly 1000 sqft to short sleve temps all winter with a fire that never goes out on roughly 3 cord a year…in nearly the same climate as you….
      I am now going under 3 cord a year as I have built window insulating panels for the large south facing windows, this lets me pop the panels in at night and out in the day when the sun heats the house… To spread construction cost out over a couple years think of building your structure with 2×4 walls, insulate, wire and plumb as nomal, just sheet the outside in plywood or chip board to get by the first year, then in your second year go around the structure with a Larsen truss of whatever depth you wish to build super insulated walls. Just some thoughts for you to consider…. you can rip down 2x4s to build the truss your self…

      • Hi Analog Man, I can see from your blog that you have accomplished a lot of what we are setting out to do, so it would be foolish not to hear every bit of advice you are willing to give. The insulating panels are worth thinking about, E is a dab hand at sewing, so every window will have heavy (lined) curtains. I am also considering insulated exterior shutters. I am far too cheap to consider the off-the shelf motorised rolling shutters, so we are talking manual swinging shutters unless I get around to building some type of remote system.
        I am giving real consideration to going with 2″x4″ walls to save money and time this year. The insulation could be upgraded later by strapping the walls with 2″ x 2″s and adding an inch and a half of rigid Styrofoam. Siding could be installed over top. Unless I decide that I want stucco as an exterior finish, in which case I should probably do 2″ x 6″ walls right away. Either way the walls go, I think it will be worthwhile going the extra step on the roof. Since I am building by myself with very little lifting equipment, the framework will have to be assembled in place. The rafters will be 2″ x 6″ with fiberglass, I will then add 2″ x 4″ purloins laid flat across the rafters, and fill the space between with an inch and a half of Styrofoam, then plywood, then roofing felt and then metal roofing. Snug…..I hope.
        Thanks for your input, Mark.

  5. Analog Man says:

    In 82 up near Debolt Alberta, back when I didnt know a roofing nail from a finishing one, my self and a uncle started from scratch in the middle of nowhere to build a house maybe 24 x34 or 40 . Cant remember for sure, the ground still had snow on it when we started, and was falling again when he moved in..but it was will have a full plate.

  6. Analog Man says:

    Forgot to mention….most new windows are low e or some such thing….I find I dont like them…they dont seem to let the warmth of the sunlight come in, even plants dont seem to do as well…I would head down to re-stores or habitat for humanity stores and buy old windows, often there is a very faint mark etched into the glass in a corner indicating the type,

  7. Its going to be a busy year, especially now that E has found a job in town. I will miss her help on the building site, but the extra cash is a blessing. As long as I can get the shack closed in and insulated with the stove working, I can finish the interior next winter. I will be using as many second hand windows as I can lay my hands on. I hauled a few out from B.C. and picked up a few more this fall. I read somewhere that the Argon gas tends to leak out after a few years, especially if they have been moved from their original mountings. So much to do and learn, stay tuned.

  8. Humpy Creek says:

    “Death will be the signal that the homestead is completed.” We can definitely identify with that! Good luck with it all, you’re further ahead in the process than we are (it’ll be a while before we’re building anything more than goat shelters) so we’ll following your progress with interest.

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