If you are purchasing property to live sustainably there are many things to consider. If you are moving to an entirely new location be sure you can adapt to the weather and have the knowledge to grow food in your climate. For example, even moving from the Northwest to Kentucky I had to completely relearn how to grow a simple vegetable garden. Everything grows good in Kentucky; including the weeds and bugs. Other things to consider is how much financial resources do you have to spread across property, home, and moving toward a sustainable food and energy system. We purchased an old family farm without going through the bank. It is always best to try to avoid institutions that charge interest; you will end up paying for your home twice. There was already a home established; however, that home was in serious disrepair and is over 100 years old. There was a yearlong conversation that went on between my husband and I over whether we should keep and fix up the old place or tear it down. Sentimentality got the best of us and we still sometimes engage in the “what if we had torn down the old house conversation.” We ended up tearing down the back half of the house and building a new bigger addition that would accommodate our large family. Much to my husband’s dismay nothing in a 100-year-old house is square; but, everything has character. Of the part that we preserved one half has a poured basement. You can see the layers where the original builders must have hand mixed, formed, and poured as they went. At that time, they would have brought in concrete mix and tools by horse and wagon in this part of the country; I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been. My youngest son and I gently scrubbed the basement floor and walls and applied sealing paint. It is a wonderful place to store my canned goods where it is dark and cool.
I have herd numerous stories about this house from neighbors and family about the people who grew and lived on this farm. This house has a life of its own and I am glad we chose to keep the story going; this helps to think about when remodeling and new construction has to be altered to fit the old part of our home. This is what it looked like after we tore down the back half. We spent the better part of a year tearing down the old part and getting set up to build.
While we were getting ready to build we had moved into a very small house in town so we could be close to work, school, and the farm. All six of us piled into a tiny house for two years. The prospect of open spaces on the farm was what got us through all of our intense bonding moments.
Our daily routines during the week entailed getting up early, piling in the car for school, the kids learning and me teaching all day, after school sports and activities; and then on to the farm to work. The interests of our children have pulled us in five different directions. After school activities ranged from ROTC, to football, to soccer, to karate, to academic team, and so many more just while we were commuting back and forth to work, school, and farm. I would sometimes not even change out of my teacher clothes to build. Sometimes I would go to work the next day with sawdust in my shoes and pockets.
While we were working on the house and farm our oldest son moved out and got engaged. Our oldest daughter graduated, joined the military, got married, and moved to Germany. We tried to build up some animals on the farm as we were building as we could. It has taken us this three years to get a few cows, goats, and chickens. We have grown a garden every year; but, it has taken up until this year to actually have a good garden.
To get construction started James built and sold two bikes and we have scrimped and saved along the way to be able to pay for the construction in cash. So far the septic and roughed in wiring are the only things that we have contracted out for and only because it would have costed us more money to do it ourselves than it was worth. We have learned along the way from the many family members and neighbors in our community that build. Up until building this house, the biggest thing we had ever built was a chicken house. Soon into the project James had to have knee surgery. The kids and I just kept going. At one point James was sitting on the blocks of our footer with his knee propped up and digging with a short shovel.
There has been steady progress since we began this venture despite all sorts of setbacks. The footer seemed to take the longest amount of time. Once that was finished and we set the subfloor it seemed that all of a sudden we had a livable structure. That whole summer we camped out on our farm. We washed in the spring, cooked outside, and had bonfires every night. I liked it so much that we are building an outdoor kitchen and have plans for an outdoor shower.
You can see in this photo the back wall to the old part of the house. We decided to keep that wall as it was rather than covering it up. Some of the boards that were used to box this old home are so wide that I can only imagine the very large trees that would have been cut down by hand and sawed for building. We have used all of the reclaimable scrap from the teardown. The lumber went to build a chicken house and for barn repairs. Some of the tin from the roof was cleaned, shellacked, and used for wall covering on the inside of the new addition.
As we were building we constantly looked for good deals on materials. Creigs List is a wonderful resource for cheap building materials. Outlet suppliers and sometimes just being brave enough to ask what stores have in the back that is slightly damaged or asking for discounts can also assist the rapid lightening of your pocketbook that building will cause. We found some very inexpensive maple and cedar at a local saw mill. James was able to plane the boards and put them up in our utility room. It took so long to put it up that we decided not to do it in the rest of the house; a decision that I admit I am sad over because it is so beautiful.
For our wood stove pad I went on the hunt for field stone, its what we grow best in Kentucky, and laid my first stone work. Our small son, his uncle, and James mixed my mortar as we went. I have not sealed it yet; but it has proven to be very tough which is a plus when you have a brood of rowdy children. It took a day to build and will hopefully take a century to fall apart.
We are now three years into building our home and farm including the year of cleaning and tearing down. While we are no where near finished with building, and I suspect we will never really be done, building slow and paying for it as we go has been emotionally and financially rewarding. When I walk into my kid’s rooms and look at the floors and wainscoting I think, “I installed that myself.” It is a heady sense of empowerment to build and create with your own hands.