My mouth dropped open in awe as I took in the stunning landscape of forest and sky. Dark hills framed a stunning pastoral view. We were standing on a perfect south-facing slope. Dad looked at me with a grin and said, “I think this would make a splendid location to build an Earthship.”
Others had considered building here, but the cost to bring in power lines was prohibitive. There was no well on the property and no guarantee that drilling one would produce drinkable water. The soil has slow percolation rates, so it would be expensive to build a septic system and leach field. Dad went on to say that if I were serious about constructing a self-sustaining home that generated power, caught water, and dealt with septic in another way, then none of those issues applied to me. Did they?
My Dad’s voice was soft in my ear. “It might just be my opinion, but I think this is more appealing than what you are looking at in Taos.” He added another boyish grin for good measure.
~ Edited excerpt from Twisted Oak: A Journey to Create a Self-Sustaining Life and Home
One of the first steps to creating any home is finding the right land. When building a self-sustaining life and home, it is even more important to take the time and effort to find and get to know the property.
Finding an affordable place to create a home can be a daunting task, and many folks get frustrated when they see the prices of land. But there are many advantages to those seeking a self-sustaining, off-grid lifestyle.
These seekers can search for land that may have been on the market for a while or has "problems" that others may not know how to manage.
Places like this may be difficult or expensive for those who need to trench in power lines to the building site. But, a home powered by the sun with photovoltaic panels doesn’t require expensive power lines, hook-up fees, or monthly bills.
The most important feature of the site is that it must have access to the sun. The land can still be very forested, but the southern face of the house and the PV panels should have solar exposure from at least 9am-3pm during the heating season.
There may be land available that doesn't have a suitable building site for many types of homes. It may be sloped or may not have easy access to a flat area conducive to conventional construction. A south-facing, sloped building site is a perfect location for a passive solar home bermed into a hillside.
Land with poor or rocky soil often requires a custom, engineered septic system. These systems tend to be very expensive and can scare off a potential buyer. However, incorporating a greywater system to clean the shower and sink water can reduce the size of a costly septic system. And adding a composting toilet may eliminate the need for a septic system altogether.
Water, one of the most important resources we need, can be scarce on many properties. In the Southwest, lands with reliable water sources are often out of reach for those on a budget or trying to build “out of pocket.” Even if water is available, drilling a well can also be very expensive. On the other hand, water catchment systems are inexpensive and straightforward and will bring life to a home that might typically have to rely on water hauling or costly treating of well water.
If working less or from home is the plan, then finding a more remote property can save money as well. Properties, close to cities and towns, command higher prices. So, folks choosing a sustainable lifestyle may be able to live comfortably on a more remote site with fewer trips to town.
Twisted Oak resides on property that is mostly sloped, has challenging access to power lines, unlikely access to clean water, and the soil would have forced an expensive septic system design. By choosing a self-sustaining home, I was able to put all of the funds that would have been required for conventional utilities straight into building the house and gardens.
Adventure awaits anyone willing to take the road less traveled to a self-sustaining life and home.
***Always do your due diligence when making a land purchase. Understand the building and planning code requirements and consult any professionals necessary before finalizing your purchase.***