Living The Homesteading Life Dream – Part 2, by 3 AD Scout

(Continued from Part 1.)

Construction Type

One of the other expectations that I had was that the home be built post-WWII but not past the 1970s due to both construction practices and construction materials. It was not a common building practice to attach the frame of a house to the actual foundation until after WWII. This means that an earthquake or even the winds from a tornado could literally move the house and unfortunately the electric wiring, plumbing and gas lines that are not meant to move. My personal opinion is that the quality of building materials started to fall starting in the 1970s with the advent of OSB. Sure, OSB is strong as long as it doesn’t get wet.

The BOL that we purchased has a very well built 1960s home. Real wood and solidly built unlike today’s slapped together with cheap materials like particle board and glued beams. The lack of quality in modern “lightweight construction” is so notorious among fire fighters that in some jurisdictions a sign must be displayed on the door to warn fire fighters that the building is of “lightweight construction”. I took a building designs course, taught by two building inspectors, as part of some volunteer training for collapse rescue in my community and saw how, for the most part, houses being built today are like everything else being manufactured and are basically “disposable”. Instead, we wanted something of quality that would last even after the end of the world as we knew it.

Timing of repairs and additions

When we bought the property, the home on the property had three small bedrooms, one bath an all-electric kitchen, dining area, sunroom, mudroom, and living room. There was a basement under the house with part of it being a garage. As we originally were planning this as a retirement home, we planned on only using it for the weekends and summers or if some disaster would necessitate us bugging out.

Our very first project was to update the kitchen. With that update, I had the electric stove/oven replaced with a propane one. We also added a ventless propane heater in the basement. I have always done this in each home we have had so that if we have a prolonged power outage in the winter these heaters, that don’t require any electric, could provide enough heat to keep pipes from bursting. We once had a three-day power outage in the dead of winter and that little heater keep our 2,800 plus square feet house at 50 degrees in most places. The BOL that we ultimately purchased had a fuel oil furnace, a wood burner that is plumbed into the homes heating ducts, and a Heatilator fireplace. With the addition of the ventless propane heater we now have four heating systems.

The old kitchen cabinets were solid wood but had been painted and the arrangement was not what we wanted. The old cabinets were replaced and relocated to the basement for added organization and storage. After the kitchen remodel I started to bring out a substantial amount of preps in case we did need to bug out of the city. This was probably a good idea for logistics reasons but our construction projects on the house were not done so having a bunch of workers running around looking at your preps isn’t the best Operational Security (OPSEC) move.

I had a plan to relocate the preps out of eyesight but that plan fell though. I will explain more later. Luckily, I ended up knowing one of the guys and making friends with the contractor and his brother who are of somewhat similar thinking. If I had to do it again, I would have had waited until all the construction on the home was completed before bringing out as many preps as I did. The good news is that although some stuff was seen, it was not even close the majority of it. I also learned that to some people, a “few” ammo cans is a lot of ammo. I bit my tongue before I could say that what they were seeing was only a small portion of what I have accumulated.

Barns

The property had a 24’x40’ barn with gable roof and hayloft. The barn’s frame needed some attention due to improper repairs. Those were fixed and I also white washed half the downstairs. This barn will be used for our cow, pigs and maybe some goats and/or sheep. The loft is very large and is currently used for storing materials such as plywood, 2×4’s, metal roofing/siding and other non-temperature sensitive and critter proof items. The loft also stores lengths of different PVC pipe. Of course, we will store hay in the loft as well. I wanted a big barn with more space for storage and animals but that just didn’t come to fruition.  The old barn is also slated to have an overhaul done on it, replacing the roof and sides with all metal. In talking with the wife, we agreed to have a new pole barn built for storage and a work shop while keeping the old barn for animals and feed storage. I carefully thought out what I needed in a new barn and where on the property the new barn would go.

Since we wanted solar power, it only made sense to place the new barn where we could ensure good sun light for solar panels that will be attached. The contractor we used to build the new pole barn came highly recommended. The barn builder said the barn would be built in the Fall, but he didn’t even start until the early summer the following year. This caused the OPSEC issue with the contractor who were building the addition onto the house seeing many of our preps. My original plan was to remove much of our prepper equipment and supplies from the BOL home to the new barn while the addition and remodel where going on. But since the barn wasn’t built, I could not do that. I have dealt with a few multi-million-dollar contracts at work over my career and know the value of a detailed contract and scope of work. Unfortunately, I didn’t demand that from my barn contractor (it was just a barn) and that caused issues that will be covered under contracting. The good news is that even though the barn contractor and I had some issues over the contract language, I am very pleased with the quality of work.

Beside being situated to get the maximum exposure to the sun for the solar panels, the barn was also placed so that I could use the rain water from the gutters to feed a catchment system and gravity feed a drip irrigation system in the garden. An outdoor shower is also planned for summertime use. I will also be able to use the water catchment system to provide water to the chickens in the warmer months. What I didn’t plan for was a big enough footprint for the batteries, charge controller, and inverter in the barn. I can remedy that but it will be at the cost of having the batteries and large inverter where I really didn’t want them. I had a room built in the back of the barn and loft above it. The room and loft were well worth the additional cost. What I like about the loft storage space is that you must set up and use a ladder to access it, hence no prying eyes. I store a lot of my larger preps that are not temperature sensitive in the loft. I put a number of plastic shelving units in the loft to help maximize the storage space.

My son and I worked on insulating the workshop inside the new barn. My thought was, if we needed to, we could clean the workshop out and make it living space. I have a small spare wood/coal burning stove stored to install if ever needed. The walls of the new barn allowed me an excellent way to organize and store items like my shovels, picks, axes, sledges, saws, air hoses, extension cords and chains. It seems like I have a small fortune in hooks and other holders used to hang many tools and other items up but it is well worth it since I and other family members and quickly see where these items are. I did not include the electrical work inside the new barn since that was something my son and I could do. The electric is pretty much bare bones with four 5,000 lumen LED lights and two cord reels hanging from the ceiling in the main part of the barn. The idea with the cord reels is that I wouldn’t need as many outlets since I could just pull the cords where I need them–even outside. Each man door to the barn has a fire extinguisher and a LED flashlight hanging immediately inside the door. I put an electronic combination lock on the main door (with a key back up). We installed four LED lights and 8 outlets in the workshop.

We built a work bench at the end of the shop that wraps around the wall. There is also a shelf under the workbench that allows us to store totes or tools on the shelf and under that shelf on the cement floor with room for more totes. Above the work bench is peg-board with the exception of a 2-foot by 4-foot piece of dry erase board that I put immediately inside the door. It is a great place to work out math or plot out a project. It is also great for writing down items I need to pick up at the hardware store. Above the door hangs a .22 rifle for dispatching groundhogs in the field.

In the back of the workshop, I installed used kitchen cabinet bases and counter top my wife found on Craigslist for $50. The base cabinets hold most of my nails, screws, and other hardware stores. On the countertop I have some of my chemistry equipment and supplies. We have been looking for used cabinets to hang above the base cabinets but have yet to find the right deal. One of the projects that is on the “to do list” is hanging a piece of plywood from one of the loft floor joist by a piano hinge to make a hanging bulletin board. When not needed the board will be folded up and stored by securing it with barrel slide bolts. I have dry-erase film that I will place on half the board and on the other will have topographical maps of our area along with an aerial image of our homestead. The idea is that we could use this room as a “tactical operations center” (TOC) in a post-TEOTWAWKI world.

Contracting

We have now had three different contracts for work done on our homestead/BOL. The first one was for the re-model of the kitchen. We used a contractor that we had used before that did “good” work (at least I thought) and decent prices. The second contractor was for the pole barn which was good work but ended up costing me a little more in the end due to contract verbiage. The third contract was a contractor that we met at the annual “home show” in the city where we used to live. I can say that he will be the only contractor that we use now after seeing one of the most detailed quotes/contracts that I’ve seen along with excellent workmanship. I received two quotes for the addition project. I did not go with the lowest. There was about a $12,000 difference between the two quotes. I added up the costs of the materials on the very detailed quote and their costs alone was more than the entire second quote. (I checked the prices since the quote provided make and model of cabinets, tile, flooring, right down to towel bars and toilet paper dispenser) I asked the contractor with the low-ball quote for some clarifications and never heard back. Spending time getting and clarifying quotes and contracts is a must. If you want something make sure it is in writing with your expectations. Just because you verbally told the contractor what you wanted and expected doesn’t mean anything unless those words make it onto the actual contract.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 3.)




4 Comments

  1. My brain is wired a bit different. I inherited it, so is not my fault. My grandpa called it ‘backwards thinking’, a phase that describes what now recognized as dyslexia. He was also a self taught engineer, and involved with early radio, and began building and selling Crystal radio sets on the streets of New York at the age of 14. I also tend to take to engineering. A big part of engineering something necessarily requires one to make a series of compromises. The result will hopefully will be a good balance of desirable characteristics. Unfortunately we can’t have it all, or the ideal retreat. The ‘ideal’ is perfection, and as they say, “Perfection is the enemy of good”. I believe “good” in this instance refers to a set of well balanced attributes.

    We should have water and food, and way to defend it. The two are the easy part, the a ‘no brainer’. The third is not a ‘no brainer’ for most. In sad fact is, is that most folks have little concept of how to defend their retreat. They may have guns, and it goes ‘pew, pew’ and that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy to have a piles of the stuff. Yet is it only security blanket, and means little in the real world. You got it, but can you keep it? At the end of the day, it is not what you got, but what you can keep. For example, I may not be fabulously wealthy, yet what little I own will be well defended. Therefore the odds that I get to keep what I got are much higher that someone who has it all, their ideal retreat, and all the firepower one could dream of. All of that long term survival potential, farm and fire power is pointless if one does know how to use it, and are located in an area where is it is more vulnerable. I cannot help others with tactics, and all that Rambo stuff here, but I can point out one of the more important aspects often overlooked that can give the novice defender a decisive advantage.

    It is all about location, location, location. First find a community of like minded people. Yet also look at where is it is situated. It should have less than a population of 1000, so that it may have a sense of community, lots of water, and farm land to sustain itself. It should also be remote and isolated, at least 10 miles from another community. There should be one county road in and out of the valley, and protected by terrain such as mountains, on it’s flanks. I would choose a location that also has an enclave of like minded neighbors, a smaller community, that is on side road, and then locate a retreat off that side road. It would all be located at a higher elevation than the county road, with terrain that gives one the easier to defend high ground. I would prefer defensible space, and an opportunity to use height and long range fire to defend the main avenue of approach that will controlled in way. It should also have plenty of trees on either side of the road leading in that can be cut and dropped across the road for a distance of 100 or more yards to prevent travel of any kind. This is a last resort tactic.

    There is much more to be said about this topic. This is only to introduce the idea. As preppers, we are not infantry, and will not have the skills of infantrymen, so we must find a location that helps compensate for our lack of skills.
    Where a retreat is located should weigh heavy in our basket of desirable attributes that would define a suitable retreat. Again, if we cannot defend it, it will not be ours for very long. It does not matter how nice the retreat is, if it cannot be defended. The first rule of real estate also applies here, location, location, location. I would rather over pay for a property that is situated in the most defensible location I can find, that also has the other essentials such as water, and land that could support a 1/4 acre garden or more. My priorities are different than the average prepper. I think backwards about stuff. I have other ‘goofy’ ideas as well, as I would also be prepared to feed my neighbors, so that potential threats would become assets. This Christian thing about giving to those in need, is actually wise indeed. I might live in one room a pioneer style log cabin that requires little wood to heat, but there is less chance that what little I got, will be taken.

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