Living off the Grid: Month Two of Our Homestead Development

As I write this, it is mid-November and we have passed the two-month mark on our land! While our first month was spent primarily running errands, picking up tools found on Craigslist and taking our trailer to the septic dump, month two was very different. In weeks 4-8, we actually got a lot of work under our belt!

When we were first embarking on our journey of starting our homestead, we had some elaborate plans in our head of what would get done when. As mentioned in our month one update, we thought we’d hit the ground building on day one even our second month was spent doing little tasks that needed to happen prior to intense building… like gathering stuff to put in our homestead tool box!

While we could have started building our barndominium pretty quickly, the events of month two confirmed that it was wise to get some work under our belts first for the sake of learning our tools, developing new skills and working on our working-relationship together.

Collected $5,000 to $10,000 in reclaimed materials from a demolition.

One of our biggest projects in month two was salvaging materials from a demolition. We found this opportunity by calling on a Craigslist ad for a bunch of used roofing for $300. When we showed up, we were informed by the contractor that we were free to take anything we’d like out of the house as it would be demolished in two days.

In short, we fueled up our portable generator spent 3.5 days salvaging every last board of lumber we could, in addition to the roofing, and it was a great opportunity! Check out this article we wrote for Mother Earth News about this demolition in detail. Lots of great information, as well as info on how to find your own demolitions to take advantage of!

We collected about 70 panels of roofing for $300 which was a bargain!}
We collected about 70 panels of roofing for $300 which was a bargain!}
We were able to salvage all of the cedar pole rafters which was beyond exciting. This is all perfectly usable and will look great in a project!
We were able to salvage all of the cedar pole rafters which was beyond exciting. This is all perfectly usable and will look great in a project!
Here are some of the materials we collection from this demolition. The insulation was kind of “icky” but using it for winterizing our trailer meant we didn’t need to buy any which worked out great.
Here are some of the materials we collection from this demolition. The insulation was kind of “icky” but using it for winterizing our trailer meant we didn’t need to buy any which worked out great.
Here is the house after it was completely demolished.
Here is the house after it was completely demolished.

Built sawhorses with leftover lumber from our DIY Alaskan chainsaw mill.

This is a fairly little project, but we feel the need to mention it because we’re learning that when starting a homestead from scratch, especially with your loved one, it is critical to start out by completing small projects. If you go straight for the large home when you haven’t done anything small together, you increase the risk of not completing the project and giving up in frustration.

Check our our blog post on the  diy sawhorses built with leftover lumber milled using our homemade chainsaw mill and the fun video too! In the blog post, we delve more into why this sawhorse project was so important to us and our off grid homestead from scratch project.

Built the framework for our hot tub deck.

Many of you know that we’ve been working on our diy hot tub deck. In month one we fell two Douglas fir trees which we ended up milling into lumber with lots of fun power tools handed down from past generations of carpenters. This was our first lumber milling experience and we’re happy to report that everything went really smooth! Okay maybe we tried to make our little Craftsman table saw into a sawmill and it wasn’t too happy, but with a little patience, it cut every last board perfectly!

In month two, we got up the framework for our hot tub deck. We only ended up working on the deck for maybe five days total as many other projects needed attention and some unexpected projects took precedence. For a few days of work, we got quite far. We are now ready to mill up some decking and to add some sort of roof to create a shelter. We have in mind a lean-to single pitch roof design that we hope will both maximize the view of the mountains and valley as well as give us the beginnings of our first ever rain collection system! Exciting stuff!

Here is the framework for our hot tub deck! Not bad for a few solid days of work.
Here is the framework for our hot tub deck! Not bad for a few solid days of work.
We fell a pine tree for the decking but we fell it on the side of a hill which is turning out to be problematic. We broke the rack on our ATV while trying to winch the first section which we sent to a welder, and then other projects got in the away, so I guess we will figure out how to mill the rest of the decking later.
We fell a pine tree for the decking but we fell it on the side of a hill which is turning out to be problematic. We broke the rack on our ATV while trying to winch the first section which we sent to a welder, and then other projects got in the away, so I guess we will figure out how to mill the rest of the decking later.

Many of you have been asking about why the hot tub has been a priority for us when we don’t even have a real home (barn or house) to live in, which is a great question! We plan on writing a full blog post on why this is so important to us and why we believe it is critical to our journey, success and happiness.

Found $10,000 in materials for under $1,000 due to our barter flyer.

In month one we created our “barter flyer”. We posted this around town with the materials and tools we were in need of, and to our surprise, it has saved us a lot of money so far! One man alone has given us roofing, travertine, two wood stoves, high density foam, plumbing parts, electrical parts, five double-pane vinyl windows, 2,000 bricks for $75 ($4,000+ value), a bunch of fiberglass insulation, cedar boards and more. Here are our 9 top ways to find your own reclaimed building materials!

We spent way more money than we planned but opportunity doesn’t always knock at convenient times and we always try to open the door for it which is one reason why we seem to find so many great deals. If it makes sense, we make it happen even if timing isn’t perfect.

We moved 2,000 bricks within a couple of days and they’ve already come in handy around the property. Brick is awesome… if you see any at a ridiculously low cost, snag it up!
We moved 2,000 bricks within a couple of days and they’ve already come in handy around the property. Brick is awesome… if you see any at a ridiculously low cost, snag it up!
At this stop, we collected a trailer of materials for $125 which included lots of lumber, a couple windows and more.
At this stop, we collected a trailer of materials for $125 which included lots of lumber, 90′ of ABS pipe, treated posts, a couple windows and more that had been laying around for 7 years.

Took four days off to spend time with our first visitors- Jesse’s aunt and uncle!

We had our first visitors this month- Jesse’s aunt and uncle! They came at a time when we were in need of a break, so it was great to spend time with family while relaxing a bit. We took a drive up to Canada to visit Ainsworth Hot Springs, enjoy some fall color, and share a lot of laughs! While we are always busy trying to make progress in our lives and on our homestead, we also prioritize spending quality time with our family.

fall-color4

fall-color1 fall-color3 fall-color2

Winterized our trailer by building a 10×12, 3-sided timber frame tiny house style cabin with reclaimed materials.

This month, things were a bit hectic as there have been many signs that winter is rapidly-approaching! Our priorities quickly changed from developing our property to winterizing our trailer. Winterizing an RV can be challenging when living off the grid. There were a few solutions we could have used for this particular project but we decided that we wanted to build a small addition to our carport so that we could heat our space with a wood stove, plus have a little extra space around our RV. Here is a full post on the building of our winter cabin.

Here is our three-sided cabin in progress. We’re stoked that this went up in just a few days!
Here is our three-sided cabin in progress. We’re stoked that this went up in just a few days!

We calculated that this addition would have cost us over $3,000 if we were to buy the materials new. Due to spending so much energy and time on collecting reclaimed and second-hand materials, we were able to keep our cost to around $300, including a chimney for our wood stove, “windows”, and a bunch of screws! If screws are our largest cost then that is okay with us.

Here is the cedar wood floor in our little add-on. The entire floor would have cost us over $300 if we were to buy the materials retail but instead, we got everything for pennies, if not free with our other material gatherings.
Here is the cedar wood floor in our little add-on. The entire floor would have cost us over $300 if we were to buy the materials retail but instead, we got everything for pennies, if not free with our other material gatherings.

This project was only possible thanks to a short visit from Jesse’s sister. She’s a super hard worker and gave us a morale and labor boost just when we needed it. After moving materials for over a week then without a break doing nearly 4 days of demolishing work we were exhausted. Big sis arrived the next day and gave us a lot of help. We are very appreciative for all her hard work and the long drive she made to visit and help us. Next time she visits we hope to spend more time enjoying the area with her!

Jesse's sister was a huge help. We appreciate it very much.
Jesse’s sister was a massive help at just the right time. Thanks sister!

We got our winterizing done just in time! 10 minutes after lighting our wood stove for the first time we saw our first snowflakes fly! This was a pretty satisfying evening as the days leading up to the completion of our little cabin were incredibly stressful and hard on the mind.

Had our septic system installed, by contractors, after getting a septic permit.

As many of you know, we were really on the fence about whether or not to get a permit for our septic system, and then we had to decide whether or not we would install it ourselves. After much research and thought, we decided to let the professionals install our septic system for us.

There are many reasons we had this installation done so quickly, despite it costing us around $5,000 total. Read all about our decision in this blog post and video.

Had our second visitor… Jesse’s sister!

We touched on this earlier, but wanted to be sure she gets full credit! Jesse’s sister came up to visit for a few days and she said “I don’t want to leave until we get you set for winter”. This was totally unexpected but a huge help to us that we welcomed! Jesse’s sister has a lot of building experience so Jesse and his sis were able to beast-mode on many tasks like getting our trailer load of reclaimed materials back to our property safely (including 24′ long cedar poles!), getting chimney parts picked out, selecting our new Makita Cordless Drill Combo Kit to replace our growing pile of dead drills, the framework of our winter addition and dragging downed trees off the hillside for firewood. It was so great to spend so much time with her and also to use the strength of family to get projects done rapidly! You’re welcome any time sis!

Anna and I cutting posts for the winter addition!
Anna and I cutting reclaimed cedar posts using a WWII era handsaw from my Jesse’s grandpa for our winter tiny house style cabin addition!

Bought a handful of new goodies.

While we are trying to use as little money as possible on this trip, we did have to make a few purchases this month. In all honesty, we are spending a lot more money than we initially thought because it turns out there are a lot of things we don’t have but need to complete our homesteading tool box! While we don’t love spending money endlessly, we do consider most all purchases to be simply investments.

Some of the things we bought were Georgia Boot Romeos for Jesse (watch the unboxing here), a battery charger for the trailer, a Carhartt jacket for me (Alyssa) so I wouldn’t freeze, a Makita 18V LXT Brushless Cordless Drill and Impact Driver set because our brand new Black & Decker 20v cordless drill kicked the bucket (watch the unboxing here), and more. We also had our fair share of returns which was disappointing, not to mention a waste of our time, so we will be providing product reviews on those things as we have time.

so far this blows our black and decker drill out of the water! We are both in love pratically with the impact driver… it has been making our lives a lot easier and it’s already survived a 15’ ladder fall with no damage!
So far this blows our black and decker drills out of the water! We are both in love with the impact driver… it has been making our lives a lot easier and it’s already survived a 15’ ladder fall with no damage! The battery life is stellar, charge times are quick and in our recent wind storm carnage it was nice to have a reliable tool when we needed it most.
esse wore out his pair of sketchers which were never really inteneded for construction or ranch work. We splurged on a pair of good boots for him and he is loving them so far and feels much safer as he has more traction. These only looked this new for one day!
Jesse wore out both pairs of shoes which were never really intended for construction or ranch work. We splurged on a pair of good boots for him and he is loving them so far and feels much safer as he has more traction. These only looked this new for one day! We looked at some other brands and kept coming back to Georgia Boot for their quality construction. These boots shall receive no mercy!
When we had time to pay attention to the RV battery, we realized that we were draining it faster than the generator could charge it because our RV has a trickle charger. This battery charger allows us to bypass the trickle charger and charge the battery directly. Now, we can easily charge our battery by running the generator for an hour instead of eight hours!
When we had time to pay attention to the RV battery, we realized that we were draining it faster than the generator could charge it because our RV has a small 1 amp trickle charger built in. This battery charger allows us to bypass the trickle charger and charge the battery directly. Now, we can easily charge our battery by running the generator for an hour instead of eight hours! Additionally this is a smart charger and is able to give our battery as much juice as it can handle as well as top it off completely. Much needed tool and will be helpful when we get a larger battery bank!

Month Two in Summary

All things considered, we had another great month! We can’t say that this month was stress-free, however. We frequently struggle with the idea that we aren’t accomplishing what we want quickly enough, and our attention is often pulled in ten different directions at once. We can say in all fairness that we did a great job of burning the candle at both ends, and we are ready to calm down a bit for winter. We’ve also felt that we’ve been neglecting the blog a bit because we simply don’t have time to do it all. This is one of the reasons we are looking forward to winter, so we can share more of our journey with you all.

Hope everyone is ready for winter, here’s to month three!

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

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Comments

  1. Gregory & Karen says

    Hello, we have been watching and enjoying your blog since day one, although it seems hectic at times its also falling into place. We are very excited for the both of you, and your journey to a self sufficient life style is now beginning, what you are doing now is what I had always dreamed of, so for me its a part of my journey.
    We look forward to all your posts and hope for the best for you.
    Warm regards, Greg and Karen. Berks county PA…

  2. Mike Springer says

    Hi Alyssa and Jesse,

    Wow, I’m blown away by all the changes on this post! I am so glad to see the additional building going up. I truly was worried about you guys with the cold weather coming on. The wood stove will make a big difference in keeping things warm too and it will also keep you busy keeping it fired up! Campers generally don’t have much insulation in them so it’s hard to keep them warm in very cold weather. Good to have help from family members too. That always makes things move along faster.

    Well just thought I’d stop by and say Hi. You guys sure are working your tails off but that’s what is necessary when you take on a project like this. Hang in there ….it’s coming along!

    Mike Springer

  3. says

    Wow! What an amazing adventure, and how fun that you do this together as a couple!
    I found you through FB and will follow along.
    We bought 20 acres of land in 2014 and work towards turning it into a working farm. We also had nothing on the land, and very quickly became addicted to Craigslist.
    We find so many things for free. Our best find so far is an outhouse and a tiny house that was part of an old homestead. I am very proud it lives on with us! You can read about it here if you like: http://ladyleeshome.com/moving-outhouse-visit-old-homestead/
    We also found a cheaper way to pave a driveway that you might want to look into. It saved us a ton of money. http://ladyleeshome.com/the-cheapest-way-to-pave-a-driveway/
    Sharing this on FB and Pinterest and will definitely be following along! Good luck.

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by the blog and sharing yours as well! Just took a look at a few of your blog posts and love them! There are definitely ways to do things for cheap for the homestead with a little creativity and relationship-building. Once, Jesse had his driveway paved with asphalt for dirt-cheap because they were paving a driveway down the road, had extra material, and he raced down to see if they could pave his too and they happily obliged, and gave a huge discount as they were already in the area so it was a win-win situation! Many people don’t know these things so I think it’s great to raise awareness when you/we find a relationship loophole! So many materials go to waste daily. One guy that comments on our blog talks about dumpster diving and how he hasn’t paid for groceries in 6 years because he gets everything he needs in grocery store “waste”. This sounds a little “out there” but another example of the opportunities that are available for the brave!!

    • says

      Very cool Lydia! What an awesome opportunity you and your husband have chosen to take on. It’s amazing when you take that leap from city life to rural living. Even out where we live, we still have cell service which we are thankful for as it helps us to maintain this blog. Due to a storm, we have been without for 5 days now and it’s kinda weird, but a good weird so long as we don’t have too much work to catch up on! Lots of fun content on your blog… I love the idea behind Big Laurel Learning Center! Also love that you’re a fellow Mother Earth News blogger! Will keep in touch, thanks for sharing your blog!

      • says

        Thanks for the encouragement! I actually found your blog through Mother Earth News, so it’s a great resource. I can relate to your power woes. Our power has been coming and going a bit too, and when the lights are out it is DARK up here. Not a streetlight in sight, even in town half an hour down the mountain. It can feel isolated very quick.

  4. says

    You guys are getting a tremendous amount of stuff done! And I can’t even try to compare you to me or the other way around because thankfully we are “setup” for winter and have a home. But everything you guys are doing now is instrumental to getting you guys through the winter and ready for the spring. I love staying on top of your updates, you’re both a true motivation!

  5. John Emberley says

    Hi
    Just found your channel on You Tube and now I’m here :) I love what you’re doing. I’m curious, with the addition only being 3 sided is it warm enough? Why not put up a wall and just heat the addition. Just wondering as I’m sure you have it all figured out what works for you. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • says

      Hey John! We are still living in the travel trailer (bathroom, showers, water, etc.) so we can’t simply winterize the trailer and live in the addition, although that would be nice! We are still working on insulating the carport but we’re making a lot of progress. We’ll update the blog as soon as we are “finished” winterizing to share how it’s working out! We have high hopes! Glad you’re enjoying the blog and YouTube channel!

  6. Patty says

    Great going guys!!!!

    Don’t forget the old saw, “You can’t get, if you don’t ask.” Just got a nice big fat roll of wire and three metal posts from a neighbor who had them in his scrap pile. Scrap metal prices here are way down, so…they sat there in his pasture. We are going to use the wire for cucumber, bean & tomato trellising and the posts will be used in espaliering some plum trees. Took him some hot rolls and will be delivering weekly tomatoes, cukes & beans this upcoming spring. It works. Last year I traded him veggies for a load of manure for my garden.

    Was wondering about those apples at the place w/the demo for metal roofing. Would you be able to go back later and make a deal for apple picking?

    A cold weather hint if not for you guys then someone else in the cold hinterlands – my family with a travel trailer uses large round hay bales – you can use squares too – all around the perimeter of their trailer as winter insulation. Later the hay can be used to work into your garden or landscaping efforts.

    You might also want to start thinking about fruit & nut trees – they’ll be in your local feed/hardware type stores in the early spring and then not again until fall. It’s one of those things, the sooner you get them in the sooner you can eat from them thus the lower your grocery bill for other things you might want in your new home.

    Where we live we don’t have regular trash pick-up but county provided dumpsters in neighborhoods. We have gotten a ton of lumber, furniture, etc. by picking the trash dumpsters each time we go by. I’m not too proud. I’d rather see stuff reused than going to the landfill.

    Re-users, UNITE!!! Go ya’ll!!!

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