How did we get here?
Our off-grid project began long before it was drawn out on paper, and long before it was carved out in wood. It began as a dream, or really more of a series of ongoing dreams, that altered and evolved over the years. We slowly weaved our dreams together into one, and after years of planning we have now begun living it. The funny thing is, it is almost just that simple. Almost.
I’ll bring you up to speed with how we began, how we got to where we are now and reflect on some of the main lessons so far, a year and a half into our journey. These are a few of the challenges and lessons we’ve learned so far.
First, and probably foremost, Dream Small.
Our original plan began small, but in reality it ended up even smaller than we anticipated. Since the very beginning, we knew it was important to us to create an extremely functional, practical and naturally beautiful place of our own that would have a minimal footprint and completely suit our needs. For months, Jamie extensively researched affordable off grid systems, permitting requirements, natural design and build methods -- straw bale in particular, as well as passive solar design, heating, waste, and water catchment systems. We both studied up on permaculture design concepts, and developed a strong desire to incorporate all of these into our overall design.
Initially we were both very drawn to the idea of building a straw bale home. We had both previously spent time in, and even helped to build a straw bale home and that type of design appealed to us for dozens of reasons. I love the simplistic beauty, breathability and sensual curves of earthen walls. I love the idea of using sustainable straw to insulate, and especially love the idea of molding my house literally with my hands and feeling connected to the natural surroundings.
Jamie drew up some rough house plans which we later brought to my father who helped us develop more detailed plans. We didn’t really begin with an actual budget in mind, but ideally we were hoping to keep costs low, preferably under $20,000. For months this was our intended plan, and when it was time to break ground on clearing the land, we carefully carved out our plot and intended house site. Clearing began in April of 2015, about four months after purchasing the .92 acre plot of land in December of 2014. Teaching himself how to use his 18” Jonsered chainsaw, Jamie spent the spring and summer months chopping away to create openness for maximum solar gains as well as for garden growing spaces. We rented an excavator for an entire week, and after teaching himself how to operate it, he cleared the driveway, pulled over a hundred stumps, and leveled the yard. We now had the beginnings of a buildable site, but still had many months ahead of processing dozens of felled trees and massive piles of brush. It seemed almost unending. It was about this time that we both realized that if we continued to move forward with the originally intended plan, we would be several years away from actually completing our home and making the move northward. We were compelled to shift in a slightly different direction.
The second big lesson for me, was the importance of having a Plan B. As the reality of our financial and time limitations became more clear, it also became more clear that perhaps we needed to alter our plan significantly and downscale the project -- or basically cut it in half. This drastic change in plan would allow us to significantly cut our building costs and get us closer to a position of moving onto our property in a much more acceptable time frame. We were forced to reevaluate the entire project, decide what was truly important, absolutely necessary and what we could do without. We had to research a completely different, more traditional style of building and materials, and refocus our energy on a new project, without losing sight of what was most important to us.
We decided on building a modest 16 X 16 off grid cabin on peers, in a slightly different location on the property. The cabin would be a traditional stick-built frame with a sleeping loft, and steeply-pitched metal gable roof. Our design would be simple, functional and filled with natural light and wood, and roughly 378 sq. ft. The more we thought about the specifics of the layout and design, the more we realized we would probably be more than content to remain permanently in the space, and could ditch the original plan altogether. I believe this change in plan was one of the most intelligent decisions we could have made. The decision would speed up our project, and force us to have a much smaller footprint, which has always been important to both of us.
Now plans were set in motion, and although they looked very different from what they did months before, we were rapidly propelling toward our dream, with a newfound excitement that this new dream was now becoming a reality.
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