Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Several years ago my husband (Ray) and I were confronted with an uncomfortable truth: we wanted to retire and enjoy our lives while we were still young enough to do the things we wanted to do, but unfortunately possessed a very meager retirement savings account. We hoped to be able to receive the pension from 25+ years of state service my husband was earning, but that and even Social Security can no longer be counted on. We also knew we wanted to sell our current home and downsize. So we made the decision to buy raw land, develop it with our own labor on weekends and vacations while my husband still worked his state job, and only buy items and needed services with cash. We would build our new house using only the equity from our current home and so we could retire without a mortgage in a new house that was suitable for us. It wasn’t hard to decide where to buy land. My husband and I are avid outdoors-people and verified do-it-yourselfers, so we decided to buy some acreage in the Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains just east of the Sacramento Valley where we presently live.
Finding suitable land and sidestepping “For Sale By Owner” charlatans was not an easy task, but through all the trials and tribulations and two years of searching for the perfect place, we finally found our little piece of heaven about seven years ago. Since the purchase, we have been slowly developing the land, getting ready for the day we will be able to retire and move up to the homestead. Through this process, our friends, family and co-workers have been quite inquisitive about our shenanigans. A few think we are downright crazy but most have been genuinely interested in our process, and some have come up to help us. I developed this website and am writing this blog for two reasons: to keep everyone up to date on the latest developments, and to garner wisdom and advice from a lot of professional homesteaders who have “been there, done that”!
So here is what we plan to do to make our homestead more eco-friendly, sustainable and affordable in our retirement years:
1. Build the house using Insulated Concrete Forms. We live in the middle of a forest in California. Forests are notorious for wildfire. ICF homes are more fire resistant than most other forms of building. Another advantage of ICF building is that the walls are super-insulated, most being at least 8 inches thick, resistant to insect damage and noise pollution, and are owner-builder friendly.
2. Heat the house with a masonry stove, which uses less wood but produces more heat energy than most manufactured woodstoves. Cool the house with convection and a whole house fan. The house will be designed to utilize passive solar as much as possible. We plan to be off-grid, but at this point we aren’t absolutely sure.
3. Collect rainwater from the metal roof into above ground tanks and underground cisterns to use for the vegetable garden and orchard irrigation.
4. Utilize solar and wind power whenever possible including a solar hot water heater hybridized with a tankless propane heater, along with solar panels on the roof to run household items, including a super energy efficient refrigerator and clothes washing machine.
5. Grow our own food in a vegetable and herb garden along with a fruit and nut orchard, raise chickens for eggs, possibly goats for milk, and maybe even raise fish in a pond. Build a root cellar for storing food and learn food storage techniques.
6. Enjoy living.
If you have any thoughts, suggestions or advise, please speak up! Your wisdom and/or questions will help not only Ray and I, but may also help others who read these pages!