Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Starting With Nothing

What's the first thing to look at when you buy a property in the middle of nowhere that has nothing - no power, no water, no housing? You're starting fresh but it's still very easy to become overwhelmed by all that has to be done.

Realistically we're looking at a 3 to 5 year time frame before making the complete move from a house in the city to some sort of cabin or shelter that'll be completely off the grid.

So where to begin?

We're thinking of moving in two stages - the first being a summer place - maybe 2-4 months out of the year. That means that heat won't be an immediate issue. For any extended length of stay, the obvious concerns are water, power, shelter and waste disposal.

In our case, year round aquifers are plentiful in the hills behind the property, so drilling a well goes to top of the list. For human waste we could build an outhouse as a temporary solution, but we've been looking at composting toilets. The latter can be easily moved later into a more permanent dwelling in the future.

I can see that our first projects are going to be simple - maybe some small sheds - for firewood and tools. And maybe a deck for a yurt - our first temporary housing alternative.

For these simple goals we're already talking about a building a good complement of tools. Suggestions in Chapter 5 of Logs, Wind and Sun by Rex and LaVonne Ewing apply to most construction sites:
Sears 7" worm drive saw - expensive but you won't regret it for heavy duty work
12V cordless trim saw with 5" blade
Compound Miter Saw
At least two drills - variable speed and reversible
- 3/8" cordless for screwing down decking and plywood
- 120V 1/2" drill for tougher jobs
Reciprocating Saw
Builder's Level

See the book for more startup information

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quest for Quiet

Living in Calgary since the mid 1980s, finishing university, and then working at home as a database developer and consultant for 15 or so years, it's been easy to become accustomed to the comforts of city life.

Lately however the Calgary population has exploded and its had the expected effects on surrounding noise, traffic congestion and never-ending construction. When my parents decided to celebrate their 75 birthdays and 50th anniversary in 2007, my siblings and I jumped at the chance to use my brother's remote Powell River location as the destination of choice for this reunion of sorts.
We stayed at the gorgeous Desolation Resort north of Powell River, British Columbia which is very close to my brother's off-grid acreage at the end of a logging road between Powell River and Lund BC. Marty just happened to be selling two subdivided lots of land that he owned as part of the Tokenatch Creek Land Coop.

He'd told me about it before, but with two boys, a step-daughter, a mortgage and an easy two day drive to Powell River from Calgary, this would be no weekend getaway. The idea was easily dismissed until my new wife, Maggie and our blended family made the short drive out there from the resort and spent a day on the water and deck, enjoying a fresh salmon grilled on the outdoor fire.

It was a location surrounded by huge Douglas Firs and cedars, an ocean inlet that meets a freshwater stream where salmon ended their spawning trip, a pair of blue herons sailing overhead, loons singing their distinct song. So quiet, so away. It was ideallic and we both fell in love with it.

Still unreachable in reality, Maggie and I talked about the possibilities until we got back. After getting an actual selling price, the next few weeks were spent with a bank loan officer, trying to calculate work incomes (we both work out of the home) and acceptable debts, finally getting the current house reappraised at a value high enough to add a second mortgage large enough to buy the property. We also had to get Marty to carry a 5 year loan from us for his part of the land.

When I next saw the bank loan officer he remembered me well, joking that he had received his raise because of my loan. Probably closer to the truth than he'd want to admit. Now saddled with huge debt we have a 5 year goal to move out there. Earlier would be great, but until the boys finish grade school probably not realistic.

In any case.. the next few years will be preparing for other realities... the property is and always will be completely off-grid. There is no current source of power, water or heat. Ever flowing aquifers in the hills behind us will supply water via a well. Power will likely be from multiple sources - micro-hydro and sun, maybe wind. Heat by a wood stove or radiant heated floors if there's enough micro-hydro power..

Follow our plan here... it should be an interesting road with many twists along the way. Be sure to leave your comments and suggestions if you're following a similar path or have experiences to share.