For some it’s just a pipe dream, for others a life’s pursuit, and yet others would call it a small project.
For me, it’s my life, my sweat, and my blood being poured into the ground in Southern Missouri.
I didn’t throw everything I had into that property by accident, and I didn’t decide to build up there on a whim. I’m not the type to drop and go, despite some of my more recently developed proclivities. But here I am, on top of a hill in the Ozark Mountains building my dream home, a humble 384 square foot cottage.
As for the rocks, I kinda screwed up. l ordered a couple sizes too large because of my prior experiences with this quarry, and not thinking the matter through or considering the possibility that they could have simply been “out” last time because everyone in the area was busy replacing a bridge after a nasty flood.
But you live and learn, and I learned a lot yesterday. With the stones being too big for raking, I tried the shovel. I was sweating and wearing myself out to spread near nothing. With only an hour or two to get work done before the calling of my day-job, I sat and though, atop a pile of heavy stones, and began tossing them from the piles. You can’t tell from the picture, but in a mere hour and a half, I moved quite a bit of rock. Much more than the shovel would have moved, and without even breaking a good sweat.
There are times when it’s simply easier to use your hands and get a little dirty, and this is my plan for the weekend.
Six Days In
I’ve been charting my progress according to a standard 8 hour work day with a 30 minute lunch, which is about my working time out there on days off. I’ve gotten six full days in, plus a little yesterday, and I’m almost ready to drop joists and start framing, which is a fairly quick process. Should start looking more like a house and less like a slab soon. By the end of day 8, I plan on being ready for subfloor, and it’s all up in the air from there.
I also made a little tally of my costs. Including a brand new circular saw, I’m at around $4000, but not all of that is “house,” per se. $1555 was spent on power grid stuff, with will be a major part of a full off-grid power kit that will peak out at around $5000. $440 was to clear the site, as well as another 3/4 of an acre around the property. Lumber, screws, concrete, saw, and related so far is at $1627, not including the rocks which were $275 delivered on site (these are to give critters second thoughts about burrowing and digging around the subframe, and keep the weeds down a bit as well, some will be used for a parking area because there’s a LOT out there). I also spent $172 on PVC fittings and pipe, as well as related supplies for the part that must go beneath the subfloor. So, actual house costs right now for the finished foundation is just a touch over my proposed $2000, and that includes joists which aren’t yet installed. The lumber for them is already on site and the hangars are in my truck. Well, that plus six work days.
Framing and planking should run me another $2000, I have ~$3000 to spend on the power grid, and the rest is “inside the house” stuff. I plan on offsetting my costs here from the local Habitat for Humanity, and I may even do a little promotional post on them depending on how it all turns out.
I’m doing this all by myself, with nothing more than a circular saw and a drill so far. I’ll need to purchase a jigsaw soon for some of the plumbing and piping, and I have a reciprocating saw as well. These tools run off a little 10A generator that if I recall correctly, cost about $400. A lot of my knowledge was gained from researching on the internet, reading code requirements for different things (even though I don’t strictly need to adhere to them where I’m building, it’s THAT remote), and asking more experienced hands like farmers and local builders. The rest is learning as I go, and working everything out on paper six or seven times before I purchase timber.
If I Could do it all Over
If you have some property and find yourself wanting to undertake something like this, I recommend not waiting. Don’t try to do everything yourself, and invest money where it makes sense. If you aren’t LIVING there (why I moved down this way permanently) then you aren’t there to keep the saplings down by mowing or get anything built. I was taking 2 weeks per year before, and the weather was bad almost every time. Now I can get out on my land every week for a while, even if it’s just to browse spring berries.
It took a lot of losses (minor leaks in the financials over time accumulated) for me to get down to the point where it was “now or never,” and I wish I had started by simply ripping up 2-3 acres and dropping the house on it, plus getting a mower. I might never have gotten tick sick if I started my moving here that way, instead of cave-manning it last year to clear a tiny amount at a time by hand. I expect to be living there full-time next year, and that means the comforts that I need have to be in place.
There was one upside to going fully wild out there for months at a time. I know for damn sure what I can and can’t tolerate in a living environment. During those times, I washed all my clothes in a bucket and dried them on a line. I supplemented all of my meals with wild food. I learned to make the nastiest bog-water drinkable. I wouldn’t trade the experience, but I could have also experimented in a small hut while still having my comfy cabin right there to retreat inside if things got bad. In fact, I may start digging a hole when this guy is done and build a true from-scratch cabin one day, but I’m not making promises on that.
Expectations and Expendatures
$5000 for off-grid power. That’s a permanent solution including a generator, battery store, charging/inverting equipment, wiring, solar panels, etc. I’m thinking $6000 for the finished cabin “livable shell,” and perhaps another $3000 for furnishings, cabinets, and the like. There’s a lot more that makes a home than walls and insulation. Not sure how much my fireplace is going to cost, but that’s my “I will not live without” item that some might consider superficial. Real wood, real fire, real sustainability as new fuel is constantly sprouting up everywhere around me.
There will be hard times ahead, and I’m sure I’ll have some hiccups and problems out there, but I’ll deal with that when the time comes. If I can supplement my food and loose my current $400 rent payment and $100 utility bill, then my day-job should cover me, and as I continue to grow my readership, my words may eventually take over for the bills.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, I love being out there by myself for weeks or months on end without much human contact. It’s peaceful. Even if animals are killing other animals all around me every minute (everything fights for it’s life in the wild), they seem more polite about their business than human beings. Birds are going to eat bugs. Foxes eat birds. Coyotes and wolves eat dear. There’s mass murder all around me, yet everything is peaceful and quiet. I sit around the shaded area during the hot hours will all the rest of the bugs and small critters for break time. We’re all stuck out there together, and for a couple hours, the killing seems to stop while everything hides from the biggest predator: the sun. Interesting natural dynamics take place in the wild, and new curios emerge every day.
30 working days to livable. That’s my target. That’s 30 ~8hr days in total, spread out based on my schedule at work, the weather, and a couple other factors like supply chains. I’m six in, and I have the foundation all but done. Framing, planking (plywood), insulation/electrical/piping, drywall, finishing and furnishing. It’s going to be 30 days of solid hard work, and dripping more of my own blood into the woodwork as I go (I was bleeding on rocks yesterday due to a nasty cut from one of them), but I’m not the type to simply turn away when the chips are down. I fully intend to see this through.
Living on my land isn’t a maybe, It’s a necessity for me. Failure is not an option.