Letter Re: Building Design Questions for a Retreat

Mr. Rawles:
Several years back I purchased 40 acres next to a National Forest. In three months I will have the property paid off free and clear so I am using the cooler months ahead to clear a homestead site, put in a well/septic system and try to move ahead faster than the world is declining. (It is surreal at times to live a nice life now but constantly prepare for what a lot of folks are seeing coming down the tracks – a huge train wreck!) I am always feeling I’m behind the curve, but I’ve decided that if I do several things each week toward preparedness, then I’m better off in the end. I get a few tools here and there, round out the food stores, etc. And sometimes not do anything at all–I need the mental break from it. It took many years for the wife to get “on board” but after she saw how my preparedness paid off after [Hurricane] Katrina, she is a total believer. Hang in there guys, sometimes you are alone for awhile but you still have to do the right thing to protect and provide for your family.

My question is this: Do you have a design of a homestead house that is practical, defensible and can be built by a do-it-yourselfer in short order? I don’t want a “bunker” but am looking for something that blends with the landscape, can be buttoned up in a moment’s notice for security, and most of all is affordable. ([House construction ] prices aren’t going down, ever.) I’m not sure if I can get a cement truck out this far so foundation designs are a concern also. I figured on building a base structure first for essential living, and then add on extras after that. “Pay as I go” is also my motto. Off-grid solar is a must, although my property has a road with power/phone running close by. I noticed a local saw mill so I plan on purchasing rough cut wood there. Metal roofs, noncombustible siding and ability to secure windows/doors (“Patriots” gave good examples on doors and windows.) Thanks for your advice. Also, I’m in a hilly area. Do you build toward the top of the hill, but not on the ridge?
Your “Rawles Gets You Ready” preparedness course is great. I need to re-read it again.

JWR Replies: Your letter raises a number of related issues, many of which I discuss at length in my books Rawles on Retreats and Relocation.and SurvivalBlog: The Best of the Blog – Volume 1. First, in terms of house siting, the traditional “castle on a hilltop” (with lower ground in all directions) still makes sense if, from the vantage point of the nearest road that there are higher hills beyond your house site. This way your house (and anyone walking near it) will not be “skylined.”

Many of the designs that I have worked with for my consulting clients have involved copious poured concrete. If you are limited to pickup loads of concrete sacks and a small portable mixer, then perhaps you’d be better off with a log house, rammed earth house, cordwood house, brick house, or Earthship (tire house). If those sound like they would significantly “stand out” from among your neighbors’ houses, then consider building a traditional wood frame house with metal roof and metal siding, but with specially reinforced floor sections to support the weight of sandbags that could be added at a later date. (For in-house defensive positions.) This would fit in with your “pay as you go” goal.

For your photovoltaics, take advantage of the free consulting available from Bob at Ready Made Resources.

Thanks for your positive feedback on the “Rawles Gets You Ready” preparedness course. It is gratifying to know that the course has both informed and motivated so many people.