A Homestead Without A Home

NOTE:  I have removed the names of our architect and the engineer from this post and replaced them with their initials.  The reason?  We live in a litigious society and some people, who I will NOT name, may not want to accept the truth about their poor business dealings.  I do not forgive them, nor will I forget, but I don’t want to spend time away from building our home while in court defending the truth.  So, if you read this post and want to know who I am referring to, let me know and I may get in touch with you in a less public format via e-mail.  Thanks

What’s a homestead without a home?

We have been working for two years… TWO YEARS, trying to get our architect and engineer to produce working and legal house plans.

Here’s the backstory.

Ray and I purchased five acres of mountain property fifteen years ago and have slowly developed it over the years, while we lived and worked in our home in the Sacramento Valley.  First was the septic system, then came the well.  We blazed a driveway through our property and brought in four truckloads of gravel. We planted our orchard.  We prepared a nice place for our travel trailer (you can see that post HERE), since we would be living in it while we were building our new house, and beefed up the solar system (see that post HERE) to minimize the need to run a generator, lessening our dependence on fossil fuels.  The house site has been graded and leveled for more than a year now.

This is our nice, level building spot! The orange tape on the stakes indicate where the septic tank is. This picture was taken in April of 2016 and our building lot has remained empty since!

We also built our beloved outhouse.  We built the outhouse for many reasons, some of which you can read in a previous post about the outhouse HERE.

how to build an outhouse

Our outhouse.

The summer before Ray’s retirement, we had a 20 foot long cargo container (read about that HERE) delivered to our property, to store the household items that we were keeping, and over the next ten months we decluttered our house, spruced it up and started filling up the container, getting ready to put our house up for sale upon Ray’s retirement.


We must have done a good job, because we put our house up for sale by owner before Ray actually retired, just to feel out the market, and sold it sooner than we expected.

Fortunately, we were prepared, the escrow went very well, Ray finally retired, and we moved up to live on our property permanently in late March of 2015.

The family room of the house we sold so that we could build a new home on our mountain property. Oh how I miss that house!

So, that’s the backstory.

We have planned to build the outside walls of our home with Faswall ICF (insulated concrete form), which is a mineralized wood product formed into what looks like a very large concrete building block. These are stacked much like Legos and then the voids are filled with rebar and concrete.  After studying several ICF systems and weighing the pros and cons, we felt the Shelter Works Faswall was a superior product and decided to contract with them.

This is a screenshot of an e-mail I sent to our architect, dated February 6, 2015. You can click on the picture to make it bigger and easier to read.

We were referred to an Engineer, D.S. (whom we will now call Engineer), who was familiar with the Faswall system and, although he lived in Oregon, had a California Engineer’s license.  In several e-mails we told Engineer that we were DIYers and were wanting to build on a limited budget, as we did not want to have a mortgage.  He assured us that this was definitely a DIY project and that in the long-run, the house would not cost more than a house that was stick-built.  He also said that his costs would be very reasonable.  But first, we would need an architect to actually draw the plans, and Engineer referred us to J.S. (now called Architect), also out of Oregon, to draw the plans.  Architect does NOT have a California license, but Engineer assured us that it was okay, because his California license would cover everything.

So, we signed a contract and sent a deposit to Architect TWO YEARS AGO this month.

This is the main floor plan I sent to the Architect, so that he could convert it to easily build with Faswall Blocks and also to bring it up to California Code.

I sent the house plans I had been working on for several years using a software package I had purchased at Staples. All Architect had to do was make them fit with the Faswall system (each block is four feet long) and make sure the plans passed California Building Codes.

In fact, other than the final dimensions, his preliminary plans almost exactly mirror the plans I sent him. Again, we emphasized to Architect in e-mails and phone calls that we wanted to build as cheaply as possible, and that we were planning to do the bulk of the work ourselves, though we were NOT licensed contractors!  Thank goodness we saved every single E-mail, in case this ends up going to court.

This is the plan the architect came up with. Not much different than mine, is it? So, why in the world would it take so long to come up with the final plans?

FOURTEEN months later, they finally had everything necessary to submit our building package to the planning department for inspection and review.

Why would it take so long?  We wish we knew!  We begged, we nagged and we pleaded, to no avail.  Is it because we made a lot of changes to our plans?  NOPE!  We had Architect remove two windows on the second story that HE put in and we didn’t want, and I had him flip flop the shower with the toilet room in the master bath on the preliminary plans.   That’s it.  Seriously!

Why am I naming names? Because these are the cold, hard facts.  I am not worried about slander, much less libel, because I am telling the truth, as hard as it is to swallow.  I have saved all our e-mails, and our local county personnel will back me up on all of this, and so since I refuse to sugar coat anything, I am naming names.  Perhaps I can prevent someone else’s heartbreak.

When we finally submitted the plans, we got the results of our first review back from the “plan checker”  within two weeks.  There were pages and pages and pages of things that were missing, incomplete or just plain wrong in our house plans.


UGGGGHHHHHHH!  This was in late July of 2016.


In the meantime, we had a bunch of contractors up to our property to give us bids on the foundation work.  That was one of the only things we were not planning to do ourselves (besides the roof), because we wanted to have a good foundation to build on!

Contractor after contractor told us that just the basement alone was going to cost between $50,000 to $60,000.  Holy @%$&


Because our home was essentially three stories (basement, first floor, second floor) some of the footings were to be seven feet wide!  And one of the basement walls had to be a solid concrete wall (filled with rebar) 35 feet long, 10 feet high and eight inches thick, to hold up the house above.

Did someone forget all the e-mails about this being a DIY project with a reasonable cost?  Why did they ignore our requests and communications?  Were we speaking Chinese?

You hire professionals to work for YOU, to listen to YOUR problems, to understand what YOU need and to provide that service!  Wouldn’t the Architect and Engineer know that the basement with the huge footings and that concrete wall were going to be extremely expensive and certainly NOT a DIY project?  If one of them had warned us of that in the preliminary stages, we would have nixed the basement right away! But after the preliminary plans were done, there was very little communication, other than the bills they sent us.

Which we always paid with a week of their receipt.

So, after realizing that a basement was not worth a huge chunk of our budget, we asked the architect and engineer to remove it from our plans, along with correcting the pages of errors the plan checker had sent.  Oh, and we added a small retaining wall across our back patio and removed the fireplace.  It took more than six months for them to do this.  SIX MONTHS!  Because of that, we missed out on another building season.  And then they had the audacity to charge us thousands of dollars more!  Oh, and I forgot, since Oregon does not require electrical or plumbing plans (apparently those inspections are done in the field), Mr. Architect and Mr. Engineer refused to do ours. But wait…  we were assured by Mr. Engineer that since he had a California license, he would make our plans California compliant.  I have that in an e-mail and told him so, but they still refused. So, we had to hire a house planner who is licensed here in California to do this! 

Do you see a theme here?

We finally were able to turn in everything for our second review in February 2017.  Were we good to go?  NOPE.  Again, errors and omissions. To top it off, now WE have to pay more than $160/hour for the next building review (the third), for mistakes and omissions our Architect/Engineer are responsible for!

What a scam.

This past winter was brutal.  If you have been following this blog for very long, you know that we moved from our travel trailer into our “cottage” over a year ago.  See the post of our cottage HERE.  Travel trailers are not meant to be lived in 24/7, and we were burning way too much propane just to keep warm.  We were having to drive 45 minutes to get to town just to buy more propane!  It was insane!  Hey…  that rhymes.  😉

Living in a tiny cottage

Our saving grace this past winter has been our tiny wood stove.  Thankfully, it heats our little cottage really well…  sometimes too well!

Anyway, this past winter here in Northern California was the fourth wettest since recording began.  While living in the cottage to stay warm, every time I had to use the bathroom, I had to go out into the cold rain and sometimes snow. We were still showering and cooking in the trailer, so I was having to constantly go back and forth between the cottage and the trailer, oh, and the outhouse.

In the rain.

And snow.

The truth is, this is not what we signed on for.  I thank God that Ray and I are best friends, because this has really been a strain on our marriage and I wouldn’t wish this situation on our worst enemy.

So far, we have wasted two precious years, our retirement years, waiting for Mr. Architect and Mr. Engineer to do their jobs. When Ray sent ANOTHER e-mail to them to see what the status of our plans are, essentially they responded that they were working on them.

Yeah.  Right.  If you believe that, I have a bridge in Taiwan I will sell you cheap for $10,000!

We need a house.

One that we can call home.

If it takes any longer just to get plans to build a Faswall home, it’s not going to happen and we are truly heartbroken!  The Faswall folks have had our money for the blocks for a year and a half now (we made our final payment December 2015), and we will be asking for a full refund.  Luckily, Faswall won’t lose one cent, because they don’t manufacture the blocks until arrangements have been made to pick them up.  The truth is, they probably MADE money through interest over the past year and a half!  Luckily, our contract with Faswall states that if we don’t get a permit to build, and we haven’t (through no fault of our own), we will get a full refund. We are talking almost $24,000 here, folks!

We are also considering whether we will sue J.S. and D.S..  We have contacted quite a few architects in the area, and have been told that two years for a residential house (nothing fancy here, just a normal, everyday house) is not even fathomable…  It’s insane!  It’s unheard of!  In fact, ONE year (according to EVERY contractor we asked) is crazy!  So, I don’t think we will have a problem winning that one.

If you have made it this far in the story, I would really like to have your opinion.  You, my faithful followers, have given me great advice in the past.  What do you think?  Should we give Mr. Architect and Mr. Engineer another month to get the plans right and hope to get our Faswall dream house, knowing that it will be ANOTHER year before we can get started?  Or, should we cut our losses (time), go to court to get all of our money back, and start again from scratch?

Our Tiny Cottage

Here is the tour of our cottage I promised a few months ago…

But first, some history.

While we are building our new home, we are living in our travel trailer.  Unfortunately, we have discovered that travel trailers were not meant to be lived in – they are basically tin cans that don’t have much insulation.  To make matters worse, cooking in the trailer only adds moisture to the air, which condenses and collects on windows and doors. Everything was damp.  Our bedding, the upholstered seats, bath towels, and our clothes.  Yuck!  We needed a warm, dry spot to sleep!

Don't Live in a travel trailer

The “NEW” tool shed.  You can see how we built it HERE

So, we built another shed (let’s see: a laundry shed, the first tool shed now turned into our tiny cottage, and the new tool shed.  That’s a lotta sheds!), moved everything from the first tool shed  to the new tool shed, and then turned our first tool shed into our new tiny cottage! We bought the kit for the new tool shed at one of those “big box stores” on sale. Despite the instruction manual being written like a Japanese cook book (thank goodness for pictures) we got it all put together in a couple of weeks, including a nice foundation.

This is the cute little wood stove wecooking on a small wood stove bought last spring as a way to cook outside during the summer.  It worked really well! Chicken and dumplings, pork roast, beef stew, navy beans and ham!  We could eat these great meals without heating up the trailer to cook our meals. The stove itself cost less than $200.

When we decided to put the little stove into the tiny cottage, we discovered that the pipes and everything that goes with it to safely vent the smoke outside cost almost twice as much as the wood stove itself!

Was it worth it?  You betcha!  That little stove really cranks out the heat.  In fact, when we were breaking in the pipes (the paint really stinks when you have your first few fires), Ray checked the temperature at the peak of the ceiling – 100 degrees!  Yup – it works well!

Building a Big Box Store Shed

Cooking on the woodstove in our new tiny cottage!

The best part?  When it’s cold and we have the wood stove fired up, I can cook on it!  Our first meal on the stove was a cozy beef stew with biscuits!  Yum!  And I can have a cup of tea almost any time I want it!  We leave the tea kettle on the stove because heating with a wood stove can make the air too dry, and the gently simmering water adds moisture to the air.  Ironic, isn’t it?  In our new tiny cottage we need to worry about having enough moisture!

Living in a tiny cottage

My new favorite place to sit with a cup of tea, a good book and a glowing fire! Cozy!

The rocking chair next to the stove came from our previous home in the valley.  It is small and doesn’t take much room, which works well in this tiny cottage, but is very comfortable. When it’s really cold and raining outside, it is just so cozy to sit in the chair with a good book and a cup of tea or coffee.  The firewood is held in a wood carrier that my husband inherited from his mother.  He remembers sitting in it when he was a little boy, pretending he was sitting in a car!

The bunk beds were built for guests that stayed the night with us, and have been in the tool shed, now tiny cottage, for a few years now.

Living in a tiny cottage

Ray sleeps on the extra long twin on the bottom (he’s 6’2″ tall) and I have a regular twin on top. Now that we have moved in, we have begun customizing our spaces and Ray has built a couple of shelves at the head of his bed, big enough for his laptop, cell phone, wallet, keys, etc..  I want a storage headboard for mine, so I can store my books, magazines, hand lotion and extra reading glasses.  My dearest mounted a “ceiling fan” that bathes me with cool air and a cute little LED reading light. I needed that fan many times this past winter and spring because sometimes that wood stove works too well!  But now that the outside temperatures are getting much warmer, my favorite quiet time is laying on my bed on a hot summer day with the fan gently blowing a cool breeze while I am reading my favorite magazine, Mother Earth News!

In the meantime, while I wait for Ray to build my storage headboard, I put everything on the loft shelf that is just above the head of my bed. Wanna hear a funny story?

Tiny Cottage One night, I heard Ray stirring as he was getting up to use the outhouse.  I figured since I was awake, I would use it also.  It was dark, very dark, but I was able to make my way down the bunk to the cottage floor, out the door where a motion detector light led my way to the outhouse.  Back in the cottage, I climbed up the bunk and lunged into bed, totally forgetting the loft shelf.  Wham!  I hit my head about one inch above my eyebrows, front and center.  I saw stars…  lots of stars!  The next morning, I told Ray what had happened, and as I brushed my rumpled hair aside, I could feel quite a lump.  Ray started laughing.  I ran to the mirror to see what appeared to be a unicorn horn trying to erupt through my forehead!

Can you see the black pipe wrap turned bumper pad that Ray put on the edge of the Loft shelf that very next day?  Yeah.  He knows me all too well.

On with the tour.

At the end of the bunk beds, Ray installed some hooks so we couldTiny cottage tour hang up our TV trays. These trays come in handy when we are eating in the cottage or using our laptops.

Behind the bed is Rays dresser and storage drawers.  It sure is nice to have dry clothes!

You can also see my magazine rack, chock full of magazines, a battery operated lamp and my CD player.  Everything is so handy, and even though the actual room is very small (10×12), we have everything in there that we need for comfortable survival!  The truth is, we are living better than probably 75% of the world in this tiny cottage.  We are warm and dry.  We have food and clean water.  We have lights, satellite TV, and refrigeration.  Plus, this is all temporary.

On the opposite side of the cottage from the bunk bed is my dresser (did I tell you how nice dry clothes are?) and the TV.  Our solar panel system supports a satellite TV receiver for two TV’s, along with the TV’s, a porch light and an interior light, my ceiling fan and LED light, and a small refrigerator/freezer.

Our flat screen TV, my dresser, a refridgerator/freezer and organized storage above. What else could we need?

Our flat screen TV, my dresser, a refrigerator/freezer and organized storage above. What else could we need? Can you see the CO2 detector in the right upper corner?  Yup, we have that and a smoke detector that you can’t see in the picture.  Safety first, you know!

Ray installed a long shelf above to store coffee, tea, mugs, paper towels, napkins, sugar, plates, etc, and I found these cute fabric storage cubes at one of the Dollar Stores so that it looks neat and organized.  One thing I have learned about tiny living is that when everything is organized and appears neat and clean (clutter is my worst enemy), I am much happier and feel a lot less stress.

Now, the only reason to go into the trailer is to shower, cook (if I’m not cooking on the wood stove or the solar oven) and retrieve food in storage!  The only thing we don’t have in the cottage is running water.  But, again, it’s only temporary!  Besides, there’s always the outhouse 🙂


These are some of the places I party:

Thank Goodness It’s MondayClever Chicks Blog HopGrand SocialMix It Up MondayCreate, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me MondayMotivation Monday;  Homemaking Mondays; Show & Share TuesdayThe Gathering SpotTuesday Garden PartyBrag About ItTuesdays with a Twist;The ScoopTwo Cup TuesdayTweak It TuesdayInspire Me TuesdaysTuesdays at Our Home;   Lou Lou GirlsParty In Your PJ’sYou’re Gonna Love It  Make, Bake and Create;  Wicked Awesome Wednesday;  Wined Down Wednesday;  Wake Up WednesdayFluster’s Creative Muster;  Homestead Blog HopWow Us Wednesday;  Wonderful WednesdayOur Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  The Handmade HangoutCreate it Thursday;  Think Tank Thursday;  Homemaking PartyTreasure Hunt ThursdayThis Is How We Roll; Inspire or be Inspired;  Inspiration Gallery;  No Rules Weekend Party Freedom FridaysFriendship FridayFrom The Farm Blog HopFriday Flash Blog PartyWeekend re-Treat;Family Fun FridayFriday’s Five FeaturesReal Food FridaysShow Off FridayCraft Frenzy Friday;  Awesome Life FridaySimply Natural Saturdays;  Saturday Sparks;  My Favorite Things;  Dare to ShareScraptastic Saturday;Share It One More Time  That DIY Party;  DIY Sunday ShowcaseSnickerdoodle Sunday;   Best of the BlogosphereSmall Victories Sunday

Trailers and Tool Sheds

We have been starting to feel more comfortable on our homestead, though I still miss the home we owned in the valley for the past 25 years.

Building a Storage Shed

We made shelves for almost every wall, nook and cranny. Storage is key in a travel trailer!

We have added shelves for more storage units in our travel trailer, which is our current “home” while we build our new home.  Ray built me a nice shelf that fits over the sink for oils and vinegars and stuff, and then another spice rack to hold all those little bottles of spices and such.  We also put one of those over-the-toilet storage thingys in our bathroom, which helps tremendously.  Ray also built a drawer inside my closet so that I can utilize the space all the way to the back.

Build a storage shed

We found these wire racks at a local dollar store, Ray mounted them on a board and – voila – spice rack!

I will be honest with you – downsizing from a 2,400 square foot home to a 26 foot travel trailer has been difficult.  It seems we are always on top of each other, especially now that winter is coming and we had to take down our dining tent and outdoor living gazebo.  While we can still get away from each other on our five acres, we are side by side when in the trailer.  Literally!

That’s the good news.  The bad news?

Travel trailers were not meant to be lived in.

Case in point:  Ray spent the better part of a month replacing the bathtub/shower in the trailer.  Why?  Mostly because of carpenter ants!  Those little critters got into the wall studs of the trailer in the bathroom area.  We aren’t sure if it was the ants that weakened the structure which caused the tub to crack, or if the cracked tub leaked and dampened the wood, attracting the carpenter ants.  Either way, Ray had to replace a lot of wood and shore up the structure of the trailer before we could even address replacing the tub. Perhaps if the travel trailer had been traveling and not parked in one area for a couple of years, the carpenter ants may have found the trailer less tasty. That all happened in October, when it was still warm.  Thank goodness, because this is how we took our baths:

Building a Shed

Yup – this was our bathtub for a month! Next spring we plan to use it as a small pond with water plants in it. This will be great for our honeybees!

We bought this stock tank waterer at our local Tractor Supply store.  The guys at the store probably thought we were crazy when we sat in it to make sure we fit (especially Ray, who is 6’2” tall), but this was how we kept ourselves clean while the bathroom was being repaired! When Ray was halfway done repairing the bathroom, we stayed in a hotel while visiting relatives, and I will admit that I may have taken a long, hot, shower.  Two in one day.  I know we are in a drought situation, but those hot, wonderful showers were necessary for my sanity!

Anyway, with all the preparations and a new bathroom, we were ready for whatever winter was going to throw at us.  We had plans to start clearing the site for our garden and the chicken coop, finish clearing where our new home will be built (the architect’s plans arre coming soon, I can’t wait to show them to you!), burn the brush piles we had amassed, and on cold, wintery days, read and research new projects, order seeds, etc..  Well, the cold, wet, wintery days have arrived, but we can’t get these chores done – yet.


Remember when I said travel trailers are not meant to be lived in?

Well, when we got our first snowfall, it was cold.  Really cold.

Even the olive oil got too cold!

Even the olive oil got too cold!

Sure, we have a propane heater in the trailer, but it seemed it was running all the time – even when we had the thermostat set at 60 degrees!  Our travel trailer has 2” x 2” framing and very little insulation.  And the windows are single pane.  Even with the miniblinds shut and curtains closed, we could still feel the cold coming in.  Brrr…

To make matters worse, the air inside the trailer was very, very humid.  Every time I did dishes, cooked, made coffee/tea or we showered, the warm water evaporated in the cold trailer air and caused extreme humid, which is not good.  Our windows started weeping water.  The metal door was dripping wet.  Our clothes were always damp and, yes, even our bedsheets and blankets were damp.

This wasn’t going to work.  It was only November, with the coldest months come, and I was miserable.  And if I am miserable, poor Ray was even more so 😉

We decided that our best solution was to move into the tool shed.

The tool shed that has 6” very well insulated walls, a strong and very well insulated metal roof, a double pane window, and a sturdy bunkbed!  Remember our little wood stove we bought?  We would install that in the tool shed also!  Instead of burning an exorbitant amount of propane to keep barely warm, we would burn free oak wood and stay toasty warm.  Sounds like a great plan, right?

The only problem was that the tool shed was full of…   well…   tools!  We had to build something to put the tools in, and found a great shed kit from a big box store on sale.

Living in a Travel Trailer

The first thing we did was clear the site for the shed, level some concrete blocks, add a retaining wall and then put together the frame with joists for the floor.

First, we prepared the build site by clearing off some of the leaf mold and duff and leveling the ground somewhat.  Since this will not be the permanent location for this shed (it will be moved to my new garden/chicken coop area after our new home is built), we decided to just place it upon concrete blocks.  When the blocks were all in place and the tops level, we did add concrete and rebar to the first two rows because of their low position on the hill, which helped make everything more stable.

Building a Box Store Shed

The walls are all built, one on top of another, on the actual floor of the shed.

The shed really wasn’t too hard to put together – that is if you can read a Japanese Cookbook!  Luckily the illustrations were a bit better.  We added extra joists and also bought heavy duty plywood for the floor.  The walls are built on top of the floor, side walls first and then the back wall.  Then, you raise the back wall and brace it.  It was fairly heavy, but Ray and I were able to do it without too much sweat!  Now it was time to raise one of the side walls and attach it to the back wall. Once this was done, the other side wall was next. Once this was done, we stood back to view our work.  Not too bad!

Living in a travel trailer

Moving along…    The walls were still wobbly, but once the loft and shelves were up, it was beginning to be quite sturdy.

The next thing to do is put in A New Shed 8the shelves and loft, which helps shore up and secure the back and sides of the shed.  Once the front of the shed was on, it was time to put up the rafters and plywood sheathing for the roof!  The instructions said to use a comp roof, but we opted instead for a metal roof.  We live in the middle of a forest, and metal roofs are safer in a forest fire situation.  Also, every roof we have on our homestead is used to collect rainwater into large water storage containers, as will this shed.  From what I have read, asphault (or some people call them composition, or comp) can leach toxins into rainwater.  Since we use this water to irrigate our orchard, we prefer not to have toxins!

With the metal roof on, front doors hung and windows installed – this shed is ready for some tools!

Don't Live in a travel trailer

Here it is! It still needs some paint and rain gutters, but it is water tight and already filled up with lots of “stuff”.

And once the original tool shed is empty – we can fashion it into our tiny cottage!  Here is a sneak peak of the inside of our tiny cottage:

Building a Big Box Store Shed

Cooking beef stew on the woodstove in our new tiny cottage!

I can’t wait to take you on a tour of our new tiny cottage!  Stay tuned!


This is where I party:

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