Off Grid and Underground – an Introduction

 Off Grid and Underground

I would like to start out my Blog postings with an introduction to our quest for a simpler life. Most of our lives we spent working to make money to pay the bills to keep us comfortable while we worked to make money…. You get the picture! As we became empty nesters with both our son starting their own families, we decided to see if we could simplify our lives and remain comfortable doing it. At the time, we were living in an urban environment and realized that to really simplify our lives, we would need to find a more rural situation.

We found a 10 acre piece of raw land in 2000 and started out be camping on weekends to begin to get a feel for the land and what was available around it. The next year, we built a small cabin that we could leave our camping stuff in – a 10 x 12 that did not require a permit. Up to this point we were hauling water by barrels to mix concrete with for the small foundation.

As we got closer to selling our urban house, we took out an equity line of credit so we could begin to but some basic infrastructure in for when we decided to make our move. Our first consideration was to get a well in place. You can read our story about the well in the book, “Off Grid and Underground”. By the summer of 2002 we were ready to put an ag-barn in place which only required a $60 ag- permit. We even had a barn-raising campout week and invited some friends out to camp and help us with the basic framing of the barn. It was actually a lot of fun even though the whole week was over 100 degrees temperature.

By September of 2002, we had our barn closed in so we could move our household possessions in when we sold our house in the city. We bought a 5th wheel trailer to live in until we were able to build a home and finally moved onto our country homestead.

Our electric was by generator and when we inquired with the power company about getting electricity out to the homestead, we were told it would be at least $20,000. We decided to take that money and put it into a solar system which has evolved into a very reliable system with panels, batteries and back-up generator. Our well is even solar powered now even though we didn’t have that at first.

We put in a small septic system for our trailer at first, but the next spring, we got a county permit and put in the largest system they allowed for single family plots with the anticipation that we would expand our accommodations as time went on. We also built a freestanding  kitchen, bathroom, and laundry building so we could use part of the barn’s upstairs to live in while preparing our meals in the kitchen so we could let the trailer go.

We spent a lot of time and money developing the soils on our homestead so we could plant an orchard and large garden. Looking back on it now, we would do it differently as I explain in our book “Off Grid and Underground”. I’ll probably write another post on better agriculture options somewhere along the way too. It is important to have the ability to grow your own food if you are going to simplify your life – no question.

We were trying to build a conventional home and going through the permit process with the county, but we kept running up against obstacles. The plan we had chosen kept requiring alterations and new engineer work and it finally got to the point where we had wasted so much money trying to make the county happy that we finally pulled the plug on the whole project. We decided that we would just live with the arrangements we had in place and take some time to think about what we really wanted to do.

By 2007, we had a better picture of what we really wanted and began to seriously work on plans for an underground structure. We felt it was important to achieve the benefits of a more constant temperature that underground structures provide so that we would be spending a lot less on energy requirements for both heating and cooling. You will find detailed information on what we finally built in our book, “Off Grid and Underground”.

Our current situation is that we have a wonderfully comfortable home that is solar powered, has the ability to grow our own food, and uses very little energy to stay comfortable. We don’t need a lot of money to keep our homestead up and running. We don’t have city water or electric payments, and our taxes are quite low because we are rated agriculture. We have lots of room between ourselves and our neighbors, and we can see amazing star displays at night. We wouldn’t trade it for anything.

It takes a different way of looking at things, but it’s definitely worth a try!

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The Essentials

 The Essentials

 

I wanted to spend the time in this blog talking about what I consider to be the most important areas to address for different levels of existence. You can take care of basic needs and survive, but that’s not much fun or comfortable. You can add in some comforts that make life a whole lot more enjoyable, but even these need to be prioritized. Some are very expensive and others are modest in cost, so I want to go through some of these to help give proper consideration to each aspect.

Shelter is in my opinion the most important need to address. Of course, there are different levels of shelter that provide varying degrees of comfort, but it is important to at least be able to protect yourself from the elements. If you can’t maintain your body heat in cold conditions or keep cool in excessive heat conditions, your ability to stay alive will deteriorate rapidly. In our situation, we started out by camping with a tent in the summer months and by fall when colder weather started to move in, we had progressed to a 5th wheel trailer that offered insulation and a small heater to offer warmth and comfort. Eventually, we built our underground home that works very well at keeping cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

In keeping debt free on our homestead, we started out simple with what we could afford, and progressed as we could pay for it. It took about 10 years to finally get to the point where we had our situation permanently set to our liking, but we maintained livable conditions as we went along, gaining in complexity as we could pay for it. Even now, our situation is much simpler than the standard household in the US, but it is very sustainable for our lifestyle. You can read more about the home we built in our book, “Off Grid and Underground”.

Water came into our consideration fairly early on – you can only live without water for about 5 days before serious problems hit. We started by hauling barrels of water from a community filling station, but knew that we didn’t want to settle for that as a permanent answer for our situation. I do know people who have no better choice than this and learn to live with it, but we decided to see if we could get a good well in place. If you want to have a good agriculture program, I believe that you will need a well in place.

We were blessed to have an excellent well and began to place an irrigation system in place. An advantage to our property is that we are on a slope so we designed our system to pump from the well up to a holding tank at the top of the property. From there, we used gravity to carry the water throughout the irrigation system and home water supply. We are lower in pressure than the standard city water supplies, but it is sufficient and we use low pressure fittings and valves for most of the system that work just fine. Our home water supply has a small 12 volt booster pump in line so that we can increase the pressure where needed for home applications.

This gravity design allows us to operate our irrigation and water supply most of the time without the use of pumps and pressure tanks. The only pumping we have to do is from the well up to the holding tank as the holding tank empties. Running the well pump for about 2 hours fills the tank. This is better on the well pump since they last longer if they are not off and on for short intervals all the time. They like to run for extended periods.

We have finally installed a solar pump in for our well and I recommend the Grundfos pumps. Our pump is able to operate on 40 – 400 volts either AC or DC at any time. We run on the sun’s DC power from solar panels most of the time, but if it’s cloudy or we need an extra tank full at night during the hot spells, we can pump with our little generator on AC power. It’s a great combination!

Food is the next level to consider. You can live without food for about 40 days, but somewhere along the way, you are going to need to bring it into the picture for sustainable living. There are two aspects of food to consider. First, you need to be able to produce food on your homestead for sustainable living. This will necessarily involve establishing an orchard and garden area – and I might suggest getting involved with an aquaponic program for your food production. In any case, you will need to be able to produce what you want to eat in order to be self-sustaining.

Preparation of your food is going to be another consideration for your design. You will need some kind of kitchen type facility to prepare your food in. Eventually you will most likely have this in your home, but up till that is in place you may need to build something else. We actually built a structure that combined as our laundry, bathroom and Kitchen. This gave us the ability to prepare our food comfortably while we were still in the “camping” phase of our building project. It still is very useful to use on hot days or if we have friends come over to visit. It also would work well if you had several friends over for a special occasion or campout.

Sanitation is another consideration for sustainable living. Early on, we placed a small septic system for our trailer, but within a short time, we had a large system placed fairly low on the property so we could bring several bathrooms into it. Once that system was in place, we did the building that had the kitchen, laundry and bathroom so that our sanitation was taken care of. We have since brought a couple other bathrooms into the system and there is room for several more as time goes on. I recommend building a large system so you can add to it as the need arises without having to expand the system at additional cost.

Energy is an important consideration as well. Energy takes in several systems. You need some type of energy for cooking, heating, lighting and appliances. We chose to use solar energy for the bulk of our needs. Our lighting is all solar. Our refrigerator is on solar, and our computers run off solar. We don’t have TV, so we don’t have to worry about bringing in any cable service. Our internet access is by mini-fi from our local cell phone carrier – wherever we have a phone signal, we have internet access.

Anything that requires heating elements is usually not good to try to run on solar so our cooking is done with propane. Our water heater is propane also. We use an on-demand water heater so we don’t use extra gas for a pilot. We also have a small propane catalytic heater for cool winter days, and in the barn we have a large wood stove to provide heat. All of our heating and cooking sources are non-electric. The propane is provided by using 90# bottles that we can take into town and fill when needed.

The propane we use and the gas we need for the generator are the two weak points we have in being totally self-sustaining, but we are a whole lot closer than most – especially those who live in the suburbs and are totally dependent on being plugged into the grid. At least we can have spare tanks and cans available that allow us to ride out a supply problem for longer than most.

This brings us to the last category we will look at in this blog – Storage. I believe it is important to have storage in place so that you can have extra food supplies, extra fuel supplies, extra parts for your system repairs, needed equipment, extra household items (otherwise known as junk!), tools and assorted other items. We built a barn for this purpose and it has served nicely. In the beginning of our project it allowed us to store our household items without having to pay for storage and now it houses the above mentioned items. It could even be built out into livable space if the need should arise.

Another type of storage that works out well and is inexpensive is either 20 or 40 foot containers. They are water/weather proof and may have a secondary use being used in an underground home like we built later on. Other types of structures to consider could be: yurts, concrete preformed structures, semi-permanent canvas “barns”, pre-fab structures – I’m sure you could put several more options in here.

I hope by now you are starting to think about how you would like to establish your homestead and be able to sustain a comfortable lifestyle with what is truly essential, but absent of many of the things we don’t really need. The way we did things is not necessarily the only way to do it, but maybe it will help to stimulate thoughts on how you might want to approach your particular situation. If you have any questions, be sure and send them in. In the meantime, HAPPY HUNTING!

Categories: Planning an Off Grid Homestead | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

An Introduction to How We Got Here

Blog post #1 for Off Grid and Underground

 

I would like to start out my Blog postings with an introduction to our quest for a simpler life. Most of our lives we spent working to make money to pay the bills to keep us comfortable while we worked to make money…. You get the picture! As we became empty nesters with both our son starting their own families, we decided to see if we could simplify our lives and remain comfortable doing it. At the time, we were living in an urban environment and realized that to really simplify our lives, we would need to find a more rural situation.

We found a 10 acre piece of raw land in 2000 and started out be camping on weekends to begin to get a feel for the land and what was available around it. The next year, we built a small cabin that we could leave our camping stuff in – a 10 x 12 that did not require a permit. Up to this point we were hauling water by barrels to mix concrete with for the small foundation.

As we got closer to selling our urban house, we took out an equity line of credit so we could begin to but some basic infrastructure in for when we decided to make our move. Our first consideration was to get a well in place. You can read our story about the well in the book, “Off Grid and Underground”. By the summer of 2002 we were ready to put an ag-barn in place which only required a $60 ag- permit. We even had a barn-raising campout week and invited some friends out to camp and help us with the basic framing of the barn. It was actually a lot of fun even though the whole week was over 100 degrees temperature.

By September of 2002, we had our barn closed in so we could move our household possessions in when we sold our house in the city. We bought a 5th wheel trailer to live in until we were able to build a home and finally moved onto our country homestead.

Our electric was by generator and when we inquired with the power company about getting electricity out to the homestead, we were told it would be at least $20,000. We decided to take that money and put it into a solar system which has evolved into a very reliable system with panels, batteries and back-up generator. Our well is even solar powered now even though we didn’t have that at first.

We put in a small septic system for our trailer at first, but the next spring, we got a county permit and put in the largest system they allowed for single family plots with the anticipation that we would expand our accommodations as time went on. We also built a freestanding  kitchen, bathroom, and laundry building so we could use part of the barn’s upstairs to live in while preparing our meals in the kitchen so we could let the trailer go.

We spent a lot of time and money developing the soils on our homestead so we could plant an orchard and large garden. Looking back on it now, we would do it differently as I explain in our book “Off Grid and Underground”. I’ll probably write another post on better agriculture options somewhere along the way too. It is important to have the ability to grow your own food if you are going to simplify your life – no question.

We were trying to build a conventional home and going through the permit process with the county, but we kept running up against obstacles. The plan we had chosen kept requiring alterations and new engineer work and it finally got to the point where we had wasted so much money trying to make the county happy that we finally pulled the plug on the whole project. We decided that we would just live with the arrangements we had in place and take some time to think about what we really wanted to do.

By 2007, we had a better picture of what we really wanted and began to seriously work on plans for an underground structure. We felt it was important to achieve the benefits of a more constant temperature that underground structures provide so that we would be spending a lot less on energy requirements for both heating and cooling. You will find detailed information on what we finally built in our book, “Off Grid and Underground”.

Our current situation is that we have a wonderfully comfortable home that is solar powered, has the ability to grow our own food, and uses very little energy to stay comfortable. We don’t need a lot of money to keep our homestead up and running. We don’t have city water or electric payments, and our taxes are quite low because we are rated agriculture. We have lots of room between ourselves and our neighbors, and we can see amazing star displays at night. We wouldn’t trade it for anything.

It takes a different way of looking at things, but it’s definitely worth a try!

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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