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We have the temporary power pole up on the property, just behind where we’ll be constructing the house next spring. The box on top is an exterior breaker box. The bottom is the meter base. On the side is an outdoor, waterproof outlet connected to the breaker box via conduit. The power company will connect their wires to the meter box through the schedule 80 conduit you see at the bottom of the meter base. That conduit goes down 18″ into the soil in the direction of the road. The trench behind the pole is 18″ deep and about 10′ long. In it are two 10′ long, 5/8″ wide copper-coated steel ground rods separated from each other by 8′ and connected to each other and the breaker box via #4 bare copper conductor wire. We had to pound those 10′ rods straight down into the soil and to 6″ below grade.

10' ground rod pounded down to 6" below grade.

The meter base sitting below the breaker box.

The service we’re signing up for is 200 amp, though we don’t think we’ll ever actually use all of it. The building inspector just sent us the electrical permit today, meaning that he was out to inspect our work sometime late last week. The next step is to have the power company come out and mark the trench, dig it, and connect us. We’ll most likely pay a nominal fee every month for being connected, but this is one less thing we have to worry about in the spring.
We went out to the land today so I could take pictures of the electrical work and so we could start taking down one of the two bad maples near the building site. The one we’re working on first has a few branches that might interfere with the machinery for the driveway. My husband got to wield the chainsaw while I had a battery operated saws-all for de-branching the limbs he cut. He got all but one crucial limb down, then was able to get the first wedge cut in the trunk. We had just enough time to stack up a brush pile with the smaller branches and cut up the larger pieces of the limbs into firewood, then we had to go pick up the kids from my parents. The next time we go out, we’ll lop off the last offending limb and send the tree down into the clearing to be cut up further. I’m thinking we’ll get at least a cord of wood just from this one tree. It’s a big’un, even missing the whole top. The trunk is approximately 3′ in diameter. The other broken maple on the build site is twice this size with several trunks that meet at the bottom. It’ll give us a great start to our firewood for the next winter!

The inspector stopped by tonight to have us finish signing some permits for a fire number and driveway. While he was here we grilled him a bit more on the sanitation permit (which is required before you can even think about getting the big guy: the building permit). The sanitation permit will be given when we have demonstrated through measurements and design that our water and waste system is valid. Since we are going with a non-standard form of sanitation (pit privy) we are not allowed to have any piping going into or coming out of the house. That means no pipe connecting the well to our faucets. No leech field. No reservoir. Because we don’t want to defecate in perfectly good drinking water, we aren’t allowed to have ANY perfectly good drinking water hooked up to the house. I guess they’re afraid that we’ll fill our sawdust potty with water, thus making sewage? Or maybe that we’ll flush solids down into the leech field and clog everything up? Who knows. It’s ridiculous, especially when one views the International Building Code, which clearly states that a sanitary system without a big, expensive septic tank and pretty porcelain thrones is perfectly legal.

So anyway, we grilled him on the sanitation code to see what we could and could not get away with until the final building inspection. Basically it looks like we’ll be stuck hauling buckets of water in and out of the house. Clean water in, grey water out. Showers? Not unless we feel like filling up a high bladder ourselves and saving up all the water that runs down in a big bin to be emptied outside. Small, water-conserving baths and sponge baths sound like they’ll become routine. I think I could live like that for a little while – many other people have done it and survived to tell the tale.

But then we show him our plans on Google SketchUp – an amazing program that let us create very detailed 3d renderings of the floor plan, framing, terrain, and complete building. He asks about the square footage. We tell him 600 plus the loft. That was when the most devastating bombshell of all hit. The Township where we are building requires a minimum square footage of 1000 square feet for a single story, single family dwelling or 1300 square feet for a two story single family dwelling with at least 900 of the square footage on the ground floor. That’s HUGE. We’ve done that before. We hated it. The whole reason we want to build this small is because we DON’T want the McMansions that everyone likes building these days. We DON’T want to pay $160,000 over the life of a mortgage for a house that we could have built on our own for $40,000. We DON’T want to be a slave to high property taxes that come with huge buildings. We DON’T want to have to heat/maintain/clean more home than we use. We’re in a 800 sq ft apartment right now and we only use about half the space. Seriously.

So this is a huge snag. He (the building inspector) sounds like he really wants to hear more about this lifestyle we’re chosing, but his hands are tied. We will need to apply for a variance. Each variance is $250, and must be accompanied by a ton of information: specs, drawings, measurements, precedence, and above all else hardship. We have to prove to a board committee that we cannot comply with the code. Well we feel like we have some solid reasons for our choices, but we’re not so sure a committee of strangers are going to hop on board. After all, it took us ten years to get to where we are comfortable with such alternative methods of living.

So… now we have to really get cracking on the plans. Every little minute detail must be planned. Every source we have ever taken information from must be recorded and put into some sort of easy to understand presentation. If any of my readers have ever fought against a municipal restriction and won, I would love to hear about the experience. Heck, even if you lost you might provide some insight to us.

Thanks for reading. Wish us luck!

We went to the Title company in Marinette this afternoon. The land is now OURS. Yay!

My husband and I have decided that we want to document everything about this process to show what it is costing us to move out to the country and set up a homestead. We entered into this knowing that friends and family have spent excessive amounts of money and taken out atrocious amounts of money in loans and mortgages. This was considered normal. That’s not our normal. We don’t want to end up paying $180,000 for a $100,000 loan that dictates what we have to build, where we have to build it, who we have to hire to build it, and when we have to finish building it by. We don’t want a 30 year mortgage. We don’t even want a 15 year mortgage. After looking at how much you will pay when all is said and done on a mortgage contract, it blows my mind that there are so many people willingly signing up for them just so they can have a decent house.

Our goal was to purchase the land using cash, then build the house as funding became available. We talked about getting a construction loan, but no banks were willing to let us do the building ourselves – we would have had to hire a contractor and hire out almost every step of the building process. Not only that, but we would have to play by bank rules and wouldn’t be able to use a sawdust toilet or anything deemed un-sellable in the future market. The rooms would have to be a certain size, the materials would have to be all new, and everything would have to be finished by the end of 1-2 years. We’re not building a typical house, and we sure aren’t going to be finished within two years.

Instead of paying all of our savings for the land, we offered to put $10,000 down and take the remaining $19,900 on land contract with the previous owner. He financed us at 8%, which seems steep until you hear that it’s only a 4 year loan. Our payments are completely flexible since we are working with a person instead of an institution. To pay it off in 4 years we would have to pay $440/month, but since we are dealing with a person who understands that circumstances change over time, we are allowed to pay just $200/month until we are out of our apartment and can snowball that $600 payment into the balance against the land. Doing it this way, we will have it paid off well short of the 4 year mark.

That left us with $10,000 in savings to start on the house. We had initially estimated that it would cost us ~$1000 for a 200′ driveway, $1000+ to get electricity to the site, $4000 for a septic system, $2500 for a well, and $1000 to pour the footers for the house. That spoke for almost the whole savings amount, but we’ve had some great news – our estimates were rather high! So far the best quote on a driveway is $600. And the electric company just mailed us a quote saying that it will cost us $2200 for overhead wires or $400 for buried. Bring on the buried cable! The best news of all, though, is that Wisconsin will not force us to install a septic system. They actually accept sawdust toilets as a sanitary system. Even the permits for sawdust “privies” are cheaper than the permits for a septic system. So that brought our sanitary expenses from $4000 down to, what? $5 for a top o’ the line pair of buckets plus $10 for a truckload of sawdust? I’d say that’s a deal.

This weekend we plan on installing the batter boards to square out the corners of the house site. We can’t start digging until we get the actual permits in hand, but we’re excited to have something to start with! I will be keeping this blog updated as we move along. We plan on keeping detailed records of our expenditures and projects on this blog, so keep checking back throughout this next year for updates.

Oh, one more note. The previous owner of the property not only paid his share of this year’s taxes on the property, but did a title search for us. I’ve been told having Title Insurance is key when you are purchasing land, so this was a good sign that we purchased land from a reputable man. He took care of all the little details and made this process very fast and pain-free. If anyone is looking to buy land in Northern Wisconsin, I have a great recommendation to give you.

When I used to hear that word, I thought of this kooky old man who buried dozens of school bus shells underground and linked them all into a complicated network of rooms where he and his nonexistent group of end-of-the-world survivors would hunker down, breed, and live in harmony under his dictatorial rule until the air was clean and all the zombies were dead. I thought of an old neighbor of ours who always murmured to no one in particular about how “it would come from the east” and who lived in a midden heap of junk because he never knew what he might need to survive the end times. Survivalists were crazy zealots who were obsessed with civilization as we know it coming to a screeching halt. They were nuts who spent every waking moment worrying over their stash of food, gold, and ammo and who had elaborate plans for dealing with anything from alien invasion to worldwide nuclear war. I have met my fair share of these people, but I’ve also had the opportunity to meet representatives of the other end of the survivalist spectrum.

Boy, was I wrong about what a survivalist was.

Now I have broadened my definition to include normal folks who just want to make it through tough economic or personal times, and people who are fed up with commercialism and want to go back to their roots for health, personal, financial, or other reasons. After reading about families who dug their way out of financial debt, learned how to do things for themselves so they weren’t reliant on so many other people and services, stocked up on food and money for tough times, and who were genuinely happy and content with this lifestyle… I actually have a lot of respect for survivalists. It’s not about ET blasting us to pieces. It’s not about the big, bad government taking a turn for Communism. It’s not about the end of the world. It’s simply being prepared for all the little things that can and will happen in a lifetime: job loss, market inflation, threats to our personal safety, crop failures, food shortages, economic depression/recession, natural disasters, etc.

A few years ago, I had the mindset that everything was perfect. We lived in a great society with a good balance of government and freedom, I thought. Prices were relatively stable, I thought. Food and shelter were two things that I would never lack, I thought. Then I married and had my first child. I think if I had to pinpoint a time when the preparedness bug bit me – that would be it. I never had to worry about another life before. I never had to think about the future much. But then this little boy comes along and my world turns upside down. What if the power goes out, and we lose our ability to heat the house, cook, and use electricity for lights? Even a half a day without power would find us cold and miserable… and with a baby who isn’t as strong as we were. What if my husband lost his job? We’d be stuck paying all of our meager savings, barely scraping by, and we’d probably lose our high-mortgage house, cars, and ability to buy food. What if’s plagued me. I didn’t know what I was doing anymore. I felt lost, like my whole world could come crashing down in a catastrophic way, and it really wouldn’t have been that bad but I had a little life to protect and nurture now. I couldn’t let him down.

That was when I started trying to garden. Oh, it was tough, let me tell you. I had a perfectly black thumb. My first attempt at gardening ended up yielding a few veggies and a metric ton of weeds. I also started learning how to cook from scratch and make things like quilts and clothes. My poor husband was my guinea pig for new recipes, and to his credit – I can’t remember a time when he didn’t eat the food I put on his plate. I taught myself how to sew, knit, crochet, pressure can, dehydrate foods, and plan meals out ahead of time. I found all sorts of websites and forums to teach me how to clean (yes, I had to learn how to clean and keep house) and handle home finances. I quickly discovered that even though I thought I was ready to become a parent, I didn’t have the faintest idea what it meant to be this amalgamation of mom/wife/housekeeper/secretary. (Sometimes I think I’m still way behind the curve, but I’m catching on fast!)

In the process of learning all these great new skills, I started to think about our future. At the time of our first son being born, we were in debt up to our eyeballs and living paycheck to paycheck. We didn’t own anything outright. We would have been totally dependent on family or friends if any hard times hit, which they did, indeed. The list of things I wanted to change started forming in my head. I wanted to be out of debt. I wanted to own our house. I wanted a way to feed my family without relying on the sensitive nature of grocery stores. I wanted safety and security. Don’t we all?

These past few years have really changed me, I think. I went from gagging whenever I touched raw chicken from the supermarket to being able to slaughter, pluck, and prepare a live chicken. I went from growing weeds to tending a bountiful garden. I went from throwing out perfectly good produce because we couldn’t use it in time (yes, it’s shameful… I wasted a lot) to rockin’ the pressure canner like a pro. I transformed from meek little sheeple to confident, prepared Mama. And I’m still growing!

Now, to me, survivalists aren’t defined by any obsession with end times, nor are they all secluded hermits who hoard. They are you and they are me. They love their families, and only want to see them through life’s ups and downs. While my husband and I are taking preparedness a few steps further than the average family, we don’t see our goals and lifestyle as being far-fetched or crazy. As a matter of fact, I feel like I am a more respectable person for wanting to take care of myself instead of relying on the government (which is NOT as benign and reliable as I originally thought) like so many others do these days. And it’s not just me. When I meet someone new and share a few of my goals and hobbies with them, the dominant response is to be impressed. How many people do you know who actually have the knowledge and desire to grow their own food and build their own house? I’m deeply in awe of people like Jackie Clay, who will be able to take her family through just about any disaster because she thought ahead and prepared.

I want to be okay if the economy tanks. I want to have food on the table if my husband loses his job. I want to have a safe, warm place to live even if we don’t have the money for rent. And if nothing bad ever happens? Well then I will have raised my boys in a safe, loving home with lots of good food, responsibility, hard work, and a healthy respect for life. I will have been a good wife and partner. And I will have lived in a manner that made me happy. Maybe to some people I am actually crazy. I guess I can accept that. But you know what? If I get my way, I won’t have the stress of being unprepared to deal with. I won’t have to take money from the government, move back in with family or friends, or wonder where my next meal will come from. I will survive, and perhaps even thrive.

Another survivalist out of the closet. 🙂

September 2011
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