How to Homestead

Homesteading is essentially the entire domain of owning a home, but with many more domains involved.

The severity of living on a multi-acre property sits on a spectrum relative to how many conveniences you have available:

  • At the extreme simplest, you can have a garden and learn how to fix your own home (instead of hiring professionals for all your basic needs).
  • On one end of “complete” homesteading, you can live in a full-function house (indoor plumbing, central HVAC, wireless internet, etc.) with a nice view, a reasonable distance from town, and a slightly increased risk from nature and the elements.
  • On the other, you can live in self-made alternative housing, grow your own food, dig your own well, compost your own waste, and only visit town in the occasional event of a medical emergency you can’t handle yourself.
  • You can still live within range of a relatively small town and have the convenience of a community with the privacy of living remotely.

A huge part of this has to do with how you choose to generate income or goods you need.

  • It can be a very harsh life if you intentionally live completely off the land and produce your own products, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.
  • On the other hand, if you generate enough income remotely (e.g., software developer) or travel for work (e.g., construction contractor) you can typically purchase most of what you need in a large-enough metropolitan area.

In general, only consider living somewhat remotely if your extraversion is low enough that you can withstand a week or two in complete isolation.

  • If you’re not sure, try vacationing somewhere without any communications technology for 2-4 days at a time to ease into it.

Everyone accustomed to city life must adapt their philosophy on getting things done.

  • Everyone only needs to worry about day-to-day needs in a city (hand-to-mouth mentality), money management, and knowing the right experts to contact for various specializations .
  • Things are often more difficult to find in a rural region, so stockpiling is absolutely critical for times when things become more scarce (abundance mentality) and it’s important to know how to diagnose and fix things, as well as finding creative solutions.
  • In general, everything is no longer a “thing”, but now a “sequence”, so treat everything as part of a larger system with an “output” and an “input”, and always plan ahead for it.
  • Without understanding hand-to-mouth versus abundance, a long-term disaster becomes almost certain.
  • Beyond core household needs, invest in a few additional items for improvisation: welder, lathe, mill, and plasmacutter.

Living off the land does not have to be expensive, and is often much more affordable than renting in a city.

  • Some states give away vacant properties if you build a house on them or live there for a certain amount of time.
  • You can often secure a subsidized or low-interest farm loan through the government if you meet certain criteria.

If you choose to live somewhat remotely, and you have children, the best decision will be to homeschool your children.

  • Remote learning doesn’t give the impact that an in-person teaching session can provide, especially when a teacher has the work divided across many more students.
  • Eventually, expect your children to either leave to find their own lifestyle (in the career of their choice) or adopt something related to your career.

To attain maximum civilization, a homestead only needs a few specific things:

  1. Clean water
  2. A decent-enough dwelling
  3. Conveniently accessible food
  4. Indoor plumbing and sewage lines
  5. Enough electricity to comfortably turn on whatever you want
  6. A heat source and, preferably, air conditioning
  7. Sufficient communications technology

To prepare for the experience, get engaged in social media about the subject a long time before taking the plunge.

  • Most of them are down-to-earth and honest, so you’ll find way more information than you’d ever need about any domain you can think of.

If you’re going to dig anywhere (e.g., natural gas, water, electrical lines), make sure you’re not hitting anything the government installed first (e.g., going online to 811 In Your State and finding your office).

Water

The need for water is huge:

Therefore we have a few options:

  • A clean water source (e.g., a running river).
  • An unclean water source with a way to filter it (e.g., a swamp).
  • Water imported from somewhere else (which can get very expensive).
  • If you’re in a moist enough climate, and away from a body of water, you can draw water from the air with a dehumidifier.
  • A creative method to acquire water (e.g., collecting rainwater or precipitation).

Get test strips for all bodies of water near you.

  • Your water may be affected adversely by nearby factories or population centers.

It’s worth noting the water doesn’t have to taste good to be sufficient (e.g., a natural well may have sulfur in it).

While digging a well is a conventional approach for many water needs, you can also build a gently sloping tunnel called a qanat:

  1. Find the highest points underground where your water table is located.
  2. Find any nearby area that’s at or above ground-level to that point.
  3. If necessary, dig a hole downward at the downhill area to create a reservoir.
  4. Dig a canal from the first point to the second, which will probably involve digging holes downward at different points to get to where you need to dig.
  5. The water will be resistant to evaporation, as well as generally more accessible.

Dwelling

Broadly speaking, nature’s elements group into a few major things:

  • Adverse cold weather, which at extremes can lead to frostbite or death.
  • Adverse hot weather, which at extremes can lead to heat stroke or death.
  • Moisture, which can erode materials, magnify heat or cold, and invites mold and mildew.
  • Wild animals, which can be dangerous when they don’t stay away from us.
  • Wildfires, which can kill us and at the very least destroy structures.
  • Various forms of wind, which can blow over the structures we were using to protect us, and sometimes brings water.
  • Other people, who can kill us and steal from us.
  • Geography-specific elements (volcanoes, geysers, earthquakes, tidal waves), which usually tend to destroy structures and kill people.

You do not need anything elaborate, though a larger dwelling allows you to do more without any distractions.

  • We tend to be distracted by adverse conditions that make us feel unsafe.
  • The amount of protection we need is highly contextual to culture, but living well requires either accommodating those preferences or changing them.

The Tipi method is one of the easiest ways to create a durable-enough building:

  1. Sharpen poles, sticks or tree branches that are at least 22 feet long and 3 inches in diameter.
  2. Stab three poles into the ground in a tripod formation, then tie the top together where they meet.
  3. Place all the other poles in the open spaces to form a cone-shaped structure.
  4. Tie everything together with another rope or cloth, then cover with a blanket or other sturdy material.

The Rammed Earth technique allows you to build a relatively permanent building with nothing but dirt:

  1. Find a soil mixture of about 70% sand/gravel and 30% clay.
  2. Trace a square outline on the ground.
  3. Gather tree branches that can stretch across the length of the structure.
  4. Stand sticks up along the traced outline.
  5. Moisten the soil and smooth it along the sticks to about two feet high, then wait for it to dry.
  6. Repeat the process with mud layers until the walls are at your preferred height.
    • The clay and water together can make dried wall as hard as sandstone.
  7. Place the tree branches from end to end on the top to cover the walls.
  8. Smooth mud over the branches to meld the branches with the wall.
  9. Wait for it to dry and harden, then fill in gaps with more layers of leaves, twigs, sticks, and other debris.

You can improve a rudimentary structure later.

  • Mix clay dirt and water, then shape it around long grass to make adobe.
    • You can make adobe into bricks or as a protective outer layer.
  • Make plastic bottles into dirt bricks with a hybrid of the Rammed Earth technique or concrete.
  • If you have any screens for vents, use them to repel bugs.
  • Making or acquiring paint can protect wood from rotting.
  • Either bury your valuables or create hidden storage compartments inside your shelter to prevent theft.
  • Make a root cellar or smokehouse to store food more easily.

In order of relative importance, you need several dwelling rooms:

  1. A bedroom to sleep (since it’s typically when we’re affected the most by the elements).
  2. A bathroom (since we value privacy and hygiene).
  3. Storage room (to protect our things against the elements).
  4. A kitchen (food preparation, since we’re typically already protecting our food nearby there anyway).
  5. A relaxation room (for us to enjoy time indoors during adverse weather).
  6. If there are more people, more bedrooms (for more privacy).

Throughout the dwelling, you’ll need a few key interior components:

  • Doors permit partial entry while maintaining insulation and protection, and when possible should face east (toward the sunrise).
  • Windows make the building more pleasant, and should always face east or west (toward the sun).

While we need water, it’s the enemy of every building:

  • It consumes wood, erodes masonry, corrodes metals, and peels paint.
  • It also expands when it freezes (affecting plumbing)
  • And, it also permeates everywhere when it evaporates.
  • It warps, swells, discolors, rusts, loosens, mildews, and creates odors.
  • Even when you build the house on poles, capillary action will mean it’ll still enter the house through the foundations.
  • Design with water in mind.
    • Generally, the prevalence of water will mean a house will deteriorate from the bathroom outward, followed by the kitchen.
    • Presume the water will penetrate the exterior layer, and make a system that intercepts it behind that and returns it outside again.
    • Only use siding that vents out the moisture.

Use materials that can steadily withstand a long-term barrage of decomposition.

  • Ideally, roofs should require no maintenance, but walls should be low-maintenance to accommodate the lifestyle changes we adopt.
  • If you can, make a main frame of the building that can last 300 years.
  • Wood is the most adaptable, but the worst for maintenance because it always absorbs moisture.
    • The only exception to this is timber-framed buildings because the wood is protected from the weather, massive, and exposed enough that it’s easy to keep dry and inspected.
    • Use hardwood pegs instead of metal bolts for timber frames.
    • Stud construction buildings wear down very fast.
  • Bricks are amazingly durable, and simply need repointing (replacing the mortar 1/2 inch into the brick) every 60-100 years.
    • Most brick walls are often not long-lasting because they have an outer layer of decorative brick with an inner layer of cheaper brick or concrete block bound together with metal ties, which corrode and make it fall apart.
  • Vinyl and aluminum siding hide existing problems, which make them very risky as an outer layer (e.g., they trap moisture behind it).
  • Concrete is very long-standing, but it can’t be changed later or easily repaired.
  • Insulation can be stuffed in between the inner and outer layers of the building, and can be made of a variety of materials.
  • To keep the house insulated, tightly connect the windows and doors.

Water’s ubiquity means the roof is the most important part of the building.

  • The roof’s effectiveness is defined by its pitch and its shape, and then by the detailing.
  • The simpler the roof, the better, and chimneys or skylights can invite further problems.
  • The best metal roof is standing-seam, terne-coated stainless steel or copper.
  • The lighter a roof’s color, the more it can also withstand solar deterioration.
  • Fasten with stainless steel screws, not nails.
  • Use hanging metal gutters to catch and redirect water from affecting the base of the building.

Whatever dwelling you design, make sure it’s accessible later:

  • Have 2-5 different possible scenarios for how you might use the building, then use a strategy that accommodates all of them.
  • You should be able to easily clean windows, reach light fixtures, access electrical panels and plumbing controls, access ducting, and open up the walls if something needs repairing or improving.
  • If you design it correctly from the beginning, you will save a lot of time and money later.

Spend more money than you’d expect on the building’s basic structure.

  • If you get low-quality building materials, you will have to fix it later.
  • However, don’t obsess too much about finishing materials, since they’re more for design than use and you may easily want to change it later if your preference leans toward it.
  • If you’re hiring an architect, you’ll probably need to rein them in on the finishing, since they typically get carried away with their creativity where it shows the most.

If you’re building something larger, adapt your strategy as constraints arise at each phase of the project:

  1. Building permissions must conform to legal requirements.
  2. Preparing the site may have certain constraints on what you can do or how much.
  3. Construction often runs into problems with materials or supply chain issues.
  4. When finishing, it’s easy to see design issues you may have missed earlier in the project.
  5. Finally, once you live there, you’ll often find issues you wouldn’t have realized otherwise.
  6. Over the long-term, the building may start representing patterns of specific issues, so improve as you go.

Pay close attention to the risks associated with the building’s geographical climate:

  • Earthquakes mean the foundation must be particularly durable.
  • Hurricanes mean the roof and windows must be more secured to the structure of the house and the walls must be more secured to the foundation.
  • Snow means the roof must be stronger.
  • Heavy rain means more sealant everywhere.

While you can use CAD software to create construction drawings, builders work off a PDF set of plans.

  • You can find plenty of open construction diagrams online, then adapt them according to local code or necessary specifications.

If you’re hiring a contractor to build (which is a good idea if you don’t have a background in construction), hire good help or they’ll install things poorly.

  • Note who you can save on: cheap siding installation isn’t as devastating as cheap masonry.
  • Your building is a creative outflow of your personality, but becomes less “yours” proportional to your uninvolvement with the project.
  • Try to be physically present through all stages of the construction, since you may miss something important about your preference (e.g., placement of fridge or sinks, counter height).

Food

You have a few options with food:

  1. Import the food, which means routinely visiting town and making a large purchase.
  2. Grow your food, which is time-consuming and hard work.
  3. Raise livestock, which even more time-consuming and challenging, but yields far more rewards.

When you grow your own food, preserve everything you can.

  • Get a large freezer and refrigerator.
    • Improvise a refrigerator by building an air conditioning unit to cool an insulated enclosure.
  • Salt any meats you can’t refrigerate.

Can your food with mason jars:

  • The container must be airtight for it to work.
  • You need extreme heat to seal jars.
  • A conventional oven is challenging because you can’t easily determine how long or how hot the cans are.
  • Get or make a pressure canner, or boil the cans in water.

Sewage

We need a sufficient way to get rid of our waste.

The easiest solution is an outhouse:

  1. Dig a hole several feet down.
  2. Place an enclosure with a door on top of it for privacy.
  3. Every few weeks or months, depending on the hole size, dig another hole, move the enclosure, and cover up the hole with the waste.

If you want, there are advanced techniques to convert human waste into compost, but it takes a lot of work.

Indoor plumbing is a major convenience:

  1. You can use a toilet indoors, with minimal odor.
  2. You can route clean-enough water to a shower stall, bathtub, or sink and route waste water out again.

Plumbing waste has “gray water” like shower and sink runoff, and “black water” with feces and urine.

  • They do not have to route to the same place.
  • Gray water can still be useful for irrigation or re-filtering, but it all depends on what you were using the water for.

If the gray water is particularly clean, you can usually have the water drain into the main water supply and route to the rest of the property.

  • However, if you’re using high-end chemical cleaners, you’ll likely need to neutralize them with some type of water treatment before re-exposing it to your native land again.

If you opt for indoor plumbing, you will need a septic tank or will need to connect to a municipal sewage main.

  • Septic tanks typically break down waste by introducing bacteria into it that eat poop and urine.
  • Routinely add more cultures to make sure there’s a thriving ecosystem.

When diagnosing any blockage, make sure to address the issues as soon as possible. A small flow can be cleared with a drain cleaner solution, but a large flow requires snaking it out.

Electricity

Each power source has its own benefits and drawbacks.

  • Any mechanical generator needs fuel.
    • You can run a diesel engine on low-quality fuel and even on cooking oil, but it’s not as efficient as gasoline.
    • Propane is often affordable, but usually requires someone to deliver it when it’s a large tank.
  • Solar cells and wind turbines are very conspicuous, need frequent maintenance, and give volatile energy.
  • Hydroelectric generators requires a water source.
  • Thermal generators require a heat source.
  • If you have the time, you can convert an old car into a powerful generator with an Arduino Nano attached to a generator (preferably with a gearbox to avoid overloading the system).

No matter what, make sure that any electrical assembly you create is safe:

  • Never leave wires exposed: cap them off or make sure they’re in no way part of a potentially live circuit (e.g., unplug from the fusebox).
  • Always ground your assembly with at least a few ground wires. Otherwise, the wires will maintain a charge even even when the power has been turned off.
  • To keep things simple and avoid draining power, always leave unused electrical objects unplugged.
  • Thoroughly label everything, with clear documentation on where everything leads. Unlike plumbing, it’s impossible to discern electrical work by intuition alone, especially if you’re not color-coding what you do.

You can cut down on most electricity needs by using alternative energy sources (e.g., wood stove) or making lifestyle adaptations.

If you can, try to get a very high-capacity battery or create an array of smaller batteries to store electricity.

Stay much more aware of incoming storms, since natural disasters will more easily take out your power (and it won’t be restored as quickly) than a city’s.

  • If the power ever does go out, make sure to power off everything to avoid accidentally charging a wire later when you’re working on it.

HVAC

The climate of your region determines how much you will need a heat source, and how extensive.

  • Search online beforehand for the record coldest temperatures, as well as typical cold temperatures, and plan for the typical record with awareness of the record.

You can often cut down on heating requirements with a few design additions during construction:

  1. Lots of high-quality insulation, especially near window and door joinery.
  2. Localize all ventilation to go through channels designed to ventilate, through several approaches:
    • A heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system that captures heat as air leaves.
    • Specially-placed windows that permit fresh air to enter near the floor while warmer, moist air is released near the top.
  3. A means to extract moisture from the air and send it outside (e.g., a central dehumidifier).

The pinnacle of convenience is central air and heating, but local HVAC works just as well:

  • Small electrical space heaters in the rooms you occupy.
  • Window-mounted air conditioners, which can be mounted directly into a wall if you want.
  • In general heat rises, so place the air conditioner output at eye-level or lower and the heat output near the floor.

Generally, heating your household will yield much less gains than heating yourself.

  • Get plenty of warm-weather clothing (e.g., socks, jackets, blankets) and dress in layers.

You have several options available:

  • Electrical heating makes your heating needs overlap with electricity, which has the benefit of one less resource to manage, with the downside of failing when the electricity fails.
  • Combusting a fuel source (e.g., propane) is very efficient and affordable, but also typically requires importing it from somewhere.
  • If you run a pipeline underground, you can use a heat pump to draw in geothermal heat.

Barriers & Access

You’ll need to build a fence around the property if you don’t want people trespassing.

  • The easiest barrier is a chain-link fence, but it’s ugly and doesn’t give much privacy.
  • Aluminum wire is better than steel for permanent fencing because it’s much lighter and doesn’t decompose as quickly.

To save on materials and make it more sturdy, build brick walls and wood fences in a wavy or zig-zag pattern.

  • The additional benefit of a zig-zag wooden fence is that you won’t need to establish posts, which may be very helpful on rocky soil.

If you have the equipment available, you can take excess material (e.g., dirt, rocks) and pile it into a horizontal hill.

  • While erosion may take away from it over a very long period of time, natural barriers are the longest-lasting.

You’ll want to build a means to access the entire property that can work in all weather conditions.

  • Before anything, make a plan on where you want to blaze a trail. It should allow easy-enough access to the entire property.
  • Dirt roads are fine, but only work when there’s not much precipitation.
  • Gravel is the most affordable, but you’ll probably have to replace it frequently if it rains or snows enough.
  • Asphalt is the best option, but is also expensive.

Water runoff is a common reality of large tracts of land, and you can assist against dry times if you trap it in a pond.

  • Without trapping it, water runoff can become floods that affect you and your neighbors.

Communications Tech

We generally need enough technology to communicate with others, which tends to simply be a phone line and internet.

  • However, you can find many domains of expertise available for free on the internet, making it almost completely necessary if you depend on it for your lifestyle.
  • In particularly remote areas, cellular networks are limited or nonexistent, and your only internet option is often satellite networks.

Further, the availability of information on the internet makes internet access very important for fixing things and creative ideas for all the above.

  • If you need the internet, especially if it’s for your career, have at least 3-4 types of technology to access it as backup.

Other Improvements

Since it’s your land, you have unlimited freedom:

  • Plant a forest.
    • If you want to grow a faster forest, use a diverse range of tree types.
  • Reroute natural water systems.
  • Build new buildings on the property.
  • Operate a business off the land (e.g., landfill, green waste dump, using resources, selling resources).

Further Reading

Water

Dwelling

HVAC