Amy Suarez | |

Making tea for the installer is not enough

So you decided to buy land and build a home yourself.  You dream of a valley, water from a natural spring, a small wood with old Oaks.  But there are also some practical things to consider if you plan to build in a remote setting.

Beyond the end of the pavement and the web of water, sewer and electrical lines, land is significantly less expensive. That lower land cost is offset by the cost of utilities. It’s important idea to understand your utility needs before signing a land purchase agreement.

Water and Septic

Water and sewer present as much of a challenge as electricity. Many remote homes are served by wells and septic systems.  Many are not .  While this isn’t always a problem, it’s a good idea to understand issues that might arise. Contact a local well driller and septic installer to discuss your specific building site. Well costs are based on the depth of the well and whether water quality calls for additional treatment, such as softeners or filters. In many areas, water availability is predictable enough that a local driller can estimate a cost just by knowing a well’s approximate location. In some places however, local geological conditions may make water unpredictable. Because well costs can vary from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, it’s important to know what to expect.

Soil conditions affect septic system design and can also affect cost. For example, a basic gravity-feed type of septic system often costs less than $10,000. Drip irrigation or mound-type systems usually cost $20,000 or more. Local health and building codes will determine the type system your site will require, and local health officials can provide information about that system. Local licensed septic installers can provide cost information and offer suggestions for locating your system and siting your house that can save thousands of dollars in construction costs.

Power Generation

Electrical service is more complicated than well or septic. If you don’t have service, ask for an estimated cost of installation. If the cost is more than $20,000 (not as rare as you might think), get quotes from several solar photovoltaic-wind installers. While costs of solar electricity generally are higher than traditional grid-provided electricity, the cost difference is shrinking. Depending on your circumstance, it may actually be the most affordable alternative.

If possible, have electricity available at your site when construction starts. While it’s possible to build a house with electricity provided by a generator, builders usually charge for this. Generator charges can run thousands of dollars for a lengthy project. If you know that your project will be built mainly using a generator, make sure the builder knows this beforehand and ask the builder to include a fixed generator cost in the construction contract. This provision can provide additional incentive to finish on or ahead of schedule. A solar array won’t even begin to handle the power demands of the tools required for construction.

Cost of Materials

In a construction project, lost time equals lost money. A remote building site means a long trip to town or a long wait for delivery when supplies run short. And delivery generally isn’t free. A more complete materials package from your log provider means less time spent calculating material needs, fewer trips to town and faster construction. Even the most complete materials package won’t include everything you’ll need. Estimating construction materials requires detailed construction knowledge. Try to find a builder or contractor who has experience with your provider’s package. This experience should result in a more accurate estimate of additional materials.

Stockpiling materials at your job site means having storage available that is secure from weather, animals and late-night “bargain shoppers.” One solution is to rent a large trailer. If your project involves a garage or utility building, consider constructing it first. Rental firms that specialize in construction equipment can supply a trailer or direct you to a provider.

Remote Builders

Building in the boonies requires a good project manager or general contractor. Orchestrating any kind of a construction project requires skill and experience. In remote areas, organization becomes even more important. Delivery delays, construction questions and unreliable workers require immediate attention. What adds days to an ordinary construction project can add weeks in a remote setting, while snow and rain wreak havoc with work already done.

If you are hiring a builder or general contractor, management will be part of the contract. When interviewing potential contractors, ask about their experience building in remote settings and check references carefully. If you plan to manage your own project, consider hiring a supervisor or project manager who can handle day-to-day activities. Finally, make sure construction contracts address delivery costs and time delays.

If you have neighbors with their own construction projects, consider joining forces to get group rates. You can find people using our free service – www.landbuddy.com.

Delivery costs for materials and pick-up and drop-off charges for heavy equipment add a substantial amount to a construction contract. Sharing leaves money in your pocket. Wells, septic systems and foundations make especially good candidates for group rates. If your projects require a large crane and you can coordinate construction carefully, your savings can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Also, contractors may offer better rates if they know their crew will be employed for several projects.

Be sure to check references carefully for travelling crews. With less likelihood of additional work in an area, some people are less concerned about quality and reputation. In addition, warranty issues or callbacks are harder to resolve when your crew is not from the immediate area. The best references will come from people who, like you, built their home in an area away from the crew’s home base. Ask about their work ethic and how much time they spent on site. Did they put in five-day or long four-day weeks? Did the job progress quickly? How often was their site idle?

Building in paradise can seem like a daunting task. Planning and organization is even more important than for routine construction. But by considering your circumstances carefully, checking references thoroughly and anticipating potential problems, you can avoid many of the pitfalls that can bite you in the budget.

Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site

3 Responses to “Choosing Land for your off-grid home”

  1. Leave It Alone

    I don’t understand why you would say rain water was a joke. It isn’t if you catch it. And I am sure it rains there.

    Second, about the septic system. Septic systems are a scheme to get money. There are no cases of finding E-Coli in the water table due to septic. It has been “assumed” to be because of a septic. But it turned out to be caused by other things. You gotta remember. People have been using outhouses and wells together for a very long time. And nobody died from the water. Modern thinking lacks the wisdom and common sense of yesterday. That’s because every truth nowadays is laced with a thin layer of lies. Everybody puts money first.

    Reply
  2. robert

    I just simply brought in a manufactured home, put it on pylons/pedestals (poles driven into the ground/concrete.)
    This way I didn’t have to deal with all the drama to pour a pad for which is considered a permanent installation, and have to pay significantly greater property taxes!

    Had a livable home in days instead of months or years.

    I found my dream property had come up for sale a year later, so I bought it, as water was a serious problem, rain water was a joke, according to a drilling co, a well was totally impractical, as the water table was below 1500′ and the drilling itself would be a challenge that would be very time consuming, and very costly, and to date, only one well had been drilled to the water table in the region, and it was for a government facility.

    So, water had to be shipped in monthly from 30 miles away, and made things like bathing an issue. So I wasted no time in picking it up, installed the new base at my chosen location, and installed the septic tank (septic tank is required by law to prevent contamination of surface water that could make it into the water table, and spreading things like E.coli). then in one day, I cut out the base and had the manufactured home split, driven to new site, and all set up in one day. My wife left for work in one location and came home from work that evening to another location, she called her instant background change.

    As for power, we run off of solar and hydro, and wind is , well, mainly over kill, but it just has that feel. and a generator as back up.

    There are many ways to go off grid, but It requires careful planning and understanding your needs, then adapting the two.

    And the technology (“primitive” and modern) exists to retrofit you into a comfortable off grid living.

    But like with any real-estate, as the saying goes, location is everything.

    Reply
  3. Cabinman

    My only comment on this would be that if you are going off the grid in a place where septic systems and building codes are an issue then you are in the wrong place. Just my opinion.

    We have an abundance of fresh water in our area and remote enough that an outhouse eliminate any need for a septic system.

    Reply

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