Farm Estate Update


How to Reduce Cooling Costs on the Farm

Holly WellesA  farmhouse comes with ample charm and coziness but, sometimes, you'd like your place to be a little cooler — temperature-wise, anyway. Summer can be uncomfortable in a drafty old home as heat easily makes its way inside the place you go to cool off. To counteract this, you might pump the air-conditioning, a method that works but can be pricey.

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So, how can you have both — a stunning country homestead, but one that also stays cool without an exorbitant utility bill? Here are five ways to do it:

1. Upgrade Your Air-Conditioning Unit

You're thinking that this will be a big expense, and that's justifiable — but it's one that'll save you money in the long run. A newer, efficient air-conditioning unit will churn out more air while expending less energy. Start your search with appliances approved by Energy Star so you know that they'll use the least amount of power possible to keep your country home more comfortable than ever.

Once you've upgraded, check with your energy provider to see if they offer rebates for your purchase, as some companies want to provide incentives for their customers to use less. Your homestead can benefit from taking advantage of modern-day energy efficiency.

2. Close the Curtains

When you choose to live in the country, you want to gaze at your land. Chances are, your home has nice, big windows, and you love to keep them open and take in the outside landscape.

However, natural light is also a natural heater, so you should keep blinds and curtain shut, especially during the day's hottest hours. Do the same with doors outside — open and close them as quickly as you can.

To that end, try to avoid using heat-producing appliances, such as the oven or dishwasher, when it's hot outside. Limit baking and other heat-reliant activities to the morning or nighttime.

3. Try a Fan

Fans use a fraction of the energy that an air-conditioning unit does and, while they can't create cool air, they can keep things circulating through your house. Plus, that breezy feeling can make your space seem a lot cooler. Some estimates say you can reduce cooling costs by about 23 percent simply by turning on your ceiling fans and setting the thermostat slightly higher than usual. And, if you have a breeze blowing on you, then it won't feel warmer at all.

4. Keep the A/C Unit in Shape

When's the last time you changed your air filters? Leaving them to collect dust and other allergens makes it harder and harder for air to pass through and cool down your home. So, your air-conditioning unit will be working harder than it has to — and expending more energy — just to regulate the temperature. Replacing filters once a month can remedy this.

To that end, regular tune-ups can keep your air-conditioning unit churning at its full capacity. Before the heat of summer sets in at the homestead, think about calling in a technician to ensure the appliance is in working order — this small expense can help save energy costs in the long run.

5. Check for Leaks

You don't want your air-conditioning unit breathing cool air into your home only for it to escape through a leaky door, window or wall. Inspect your country home for any leaks in the seals around such areas with external access. Plug any holes that could be letting out cool air — weather stripping or caulk typically do the trick.

Keeping Your Farm Cool

Take the above five steps, and you'll be on your way to keeping your farm cool and comfortable in the summer. That way, you and your family can do exactly what you intended in the first place when you moved there — enjoy the landscape and enjoy life.

The Homesteader's Guide to Yard Sale Success

Holly WellesSpring means housecleaning for many, and that means its time to host a good, old-fashioned yard sale to clear the clutter out of your home. Many people can earn more income for their old belongings. They simply do not know how to maximize their earning potential.

Hosting a successful yard sale shares many similarities with running a profitable retail shop. The difference is, instead of having overhead costs, you pocket 100 percent of the proceeds. Here are some tips for making sure your spring yard sale rakes in some extra money, even if your property is a little remote.

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1. Get Out the Word

Advertise, advertise, advertise! You need not pay to advertise your yard sale in the information age. Utilize social media and websites such as Craigslist to spread the word.

Apps exist providing maps of yard sales. Such apps come in particularly handy for those who live in rural areas who host their own sale instead of going the neighborhood route. You have plenty of great stuff — make sure far-away neighbors can find your homestead!

2. Help People Find You

Many people struggle to find yard sale success due to a lack of signage. Remember, most sale visitors whiz past signs at 30 mph or more, so using more than one sign in a signature color is key to helping people find you.

Local dollar stores sell poster board for a buck or less. Select bright colors such as florescent pink, orange or green. Make sure people can see your signs by posting them prominently — and be a good neighbor by taking them down when the sale ends.

3. Can You See a Pattern?

Remodeling your kitchen from country chicken chic in favor of sleek black and silver? Consider having a themed yard sale! Themed sales draw individuals seeking what you have to offer.

Popular themes include kid-themed sales for those with growing tots and sports themes for those looking to peddle their old baseball cards. Those who love the smell and feel of real books can hold a literature-themed book sale.

4. Collaborate With Neighbors

Yard sale shoppers adore neighborhood-wide bargains and why not? Neighborhood sales mean more merchandise to choose from and require less driving and fuel. Joining together with neighbors helps reduce vehicle emissions from idling engines.

5. Have Plenty of Help

Most yard sale shoppers get up early on Saturday to find great bargains. Unfortunately, some come with less than honorable motivations. Some yard sale shoppers travel in pairs where one individual distracts the seller while the other grows sticky fingers. Make sure you have ample eyes to keep your valuables from walking away in someone's pocket free of charge.

6. Think Like a Retailer

If your idea of staging your yard sale involves tossing a bunch of items on a blanket in the front lawn, you likely will earn little. Just like shoppers in retail stores, garage sale shoppers appreciate an orderly arrangements. Group similar objects such as kitchen appliances together and use tables and empty crates to display wares in an attractive fashion which draws eyes to more expensive items.

7. The Price Is Right

In general, count yourself lucky if you recover a third of the retail price of certain items. Furniture and designer clothing and accessories demand higher price points, but most merchandise nets between $.50 and $5.

Non-designer duds usually fetch anywhere from $1 to $5. Softcover books usually sell for less than a dollar, hardcovers fetch a bit more. Collectible items can fetch a pretty penny, although you may earn more listing certain items on eBay if they have a niche market.

8. Give It Away Now

Even the most successful yard sale enthusiasts get left holding some leftovers. Assuming you don't want to list items online, consider making a donation of unsold items. Many local churches accept donations to help the needy, and organizations like Goodwill offer receipts for larger items so you can deduct the estimated price on your tax return.

Hosting a Yard Sale on Your Homestead

Yard sales go hand in hand with spring housecleaning, so if clutter is driving you buggy, take advantage of warming temps by hosting one. Whether you hold your own or take part in a neighborhood sale, you'll walk away with an extra wad of dough in your pocket!

Is Backup Power Important for Your Homestead?

Holly WellesLiving in the countryside has many benefits — the beautiful scenery, the fresh air and being away from the hustle and bustle of the city are likely just a few of the many reasons you moved to a rural area, or why you’ve enjoyed living there your whole life.

That said, being in a more rural area comes with its challenges, and if you’re not prepared, those challenges can do serious damage to your home, your health and your wallet. One of these challenges, as we know, is getting power.

It’s likely that you've thought about getting backup power for your homestead, but with so many different options and price points for backup generators out there, how do you know which one to get? Beyond that, is getting backup power a worthwhile investment?

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Protect Your Homestead

If living in the country has taught you anything, it’s probably the importance of being prepared. Since we don’t have the same access to resources as the city-folk, we've learned to adapt and anticipate a problem before it happens.

Your access to energy should be treated the same way. A power outage to your home could mean frozen pipes, spoiled food and a lack of running water, which is why it’s essential to be prepared when a crisis strikes and have a backup generator in place.

How to Pick the Right Generator

When you're deciding which generator to get for your homestead, you’ll want to think about a few things to make sure you're prepared.

1. Pick the Right Kilowattage

If your generator is too small to handle your appliances, there isn’t much point in having one in the first place. For your typical three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, a general rule of thumb would be no less than 10 kW.

If you want to be able to run all of your appliances in the event of a power outage without the risk of overload, you might consider a generator in the 15 to 25 kW range, depending on whether you have all gas utilities, all electric or a mix of both.

2. Select the Right Style for Your Intended Use

Backup generators come in two-pole and four-pole styles, the difference being how hard the motor has to run to generate power. The two-pole-style motor will need to spin at double the RPMs as a four-pole style to produce the same power.

Two-poles are good for running for the duration of a normal workday, while four-poles are better for long-term use. The further away from civilization you live, the more reasons you’ll have to get the four-pole style. If it’s typically a days-long venture to get the power back on, you’ll need a generator built for that type of workload.

3. Choose the Right Engine

Generators have various engine options to choose from, and you’ll want to pick the one that’s the best fit for your homestead. Gas, diesel, natural gas and propane are typical options.

  • Diesel is best for efficiency.
  • Gas is best for convenience, especially if you live deep in the country.
  • Natural gas works best if you have an existing natural gas line going to your house that you can tap into.
  • Propane will work only for those that have access to a large propane source since these types of generator motors are not very efficient.

Another option you have available to you are power take-off generators. They'll allow you to hook up the generator to a farm tracker and let your tractor motor do the work. These generators are efficient and cost-effective if you can stand to be without your tractor until the power is back on.

Set up Your Generator

Once you’ve picked a generator that will provide the right power load to your home, you’ll need to hook it into your home’s electrical system. This step can be accomplished with an automatic or manual switch.

Automatic switches are very convenient because they'll throw the generator into action as soon as your primary source of power goes out. You’ll pay for the convenience though, as this option is very expensive, with many automatic switches cashing in at over $1,000.

The manual switch is a much more cost-effective option, and it just requires you to manually pull the switch once you’ve noticed the power is out. Doing so will transfer the power source over to your generator.

Enjoy Peace of Mind

Living in the countryside provides a sense of peace that you just can’t get anywhere else. Be sure to prepare for a power outage with a backup generator proactively so that your peace of mind is never interrupted. A tough farmer keeps on running, even when it’s dark — why shouldn’t your home be the same?

How to Polish Your Homestead for Summer Weddings

Holly WellesHomesteaders have a lot of ways to make extra money with our land, and an increasingly popular way to do this is to open up our outdoor spaces for summer weddings. It's the perfect time of year for a celebration that embraces natural charm and beauty.

If you're getting ready for a summer wedding season, however, you do have to figure out how to prepare your outdoor space for such a gathering. To make that task more manageable — and ultimately successful — here are five tips for getting your homestead's exterior and landscaping just right.

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1. Clean the Hard Surfaces

After a winter of snow, sleet and salt, your outdoor surfaces might look a bit dingy. You'll want any picturesque barns and patios to shine in your clients' photos, so it's time for some spring cleaning.

You might be able to clean up on your own by grabbing the hose, turning the head to its hardest-hitting setting and washing away dirt and debris. If you find you can't clean your homestead up with the supplies you have, hire a powerwasher to come over and rinse everything before the celebration.

2. Landscape

It's not all about the grass in your backyard, although you should work to keep it trim and healthy Creative landscaping can add that finishing touch to your outdoor wedding venue. There are plenty of ways to accomplish this, no matter your style.

Try optimizing gardens to create bright blooms and lovely smells. Planting lavender or herbs can add a new element to a summer wedding. Colorful flowers can create a unique visual aesthetic. You can also add elements like a gazebo or trellis to create more opportunities for photo opps.

If this sounds like a lot of work, try keeping things low-maintenance. Your homestead can incorporate natural elements that fit into your local environment and still add plenty of charm to any summer events. Consider adding or pruning your trees to create lovely shaded areas, and plant drought-resistant grass to reduce your landscape's ecological impact.

3. Choose Your Mood Lighting

Floodlights outdoors make it easier for guests to see, but the bright bulbs don't quite set the mood for a party. Plus, the glow will undoubtedly attract bugs — you can do better than that with mood lighting.

Your best bet is to try torches and candles, both of which you can assign to double duty. Finding a flame that contains citronella will keep bugs at bay while providing your customers with the perfect level of mood lighting.

Hosting Summer Celebrations

By taking these steps, you will ensure your homestead looks its best pre-summer wedding season. And, once you've completed the checklist, you get to focus on the business — taking photos, listing your venue and meeting potential customers. Your hard work will have made it all possible.

Letting Go: When to Hire Professionals for Projects

Holly WellesA self-sufficient lifestyle is appealing. When you don't need another person's assistance, and you can manage your property on your own, that sense of independence is a source of strength. It's a freedom you've earned through hard work — a special kind of satisfaction you can't find elsewhere.

At the same time, a self-sufficient attitude can compromise your operation if you're not careful. You're a competent, capable homesteader, of course, but it's smart to ask for outside help when a project exceeds your abilities. Knowing when to hire professionals will keep you from making any costly mistakes.

With this in mind, when is it best to delegate the work to someone with more experience? When should you entrust a project to someone else? Here are three situations that demand expertise.

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Photo by Getty Images/welcomia.

1. Electrical Work

It's often best to leave electrical work to electricians. When you work with wiring, you're putting yourself at risk of electrocution, but that's not all. You're also creating a fire hazard that could spread throughout your homestead and cause larger problems. These are essential issues to consider if you want to take a DIY approach. 

More than that, certain projects with electrical work require permits and inspections. An electrician can handle the approval/disapproval process and save you the frustration. When you have a homestead or farm to operate, you have better things to do than deal with paperwork, which is an unattractive prospect for anyone.

In short, it's a smart idea to bring in an electrician instead of taking out your toolkit. Even though they're admittedly expensive, you can mitigate the cost. Something simple like mapping out your circuits correctly can save a professional from having to do it for you, and by extension, save money.

2. Renovations

If you have plans to renovate your homestead, you're likely enthusiastic about starting the process. You have your tools; it wouldn't take much to find the supplies and, depending on the scale of the project, you might even finish it in a weekend. Before you start, though, you should pause to reconsider.

Even if you're confident you can complete the project yourself, time is money when it comes to remodeling. You don't want to stop halfway through because of an unexpected setback you hadn't prepared for. It could cost you far more than what you were expecting — or what you had in your budget.

With an experienced contractor, you can attend to other responsibilities around your property while trusting a professional to manage the work for you. As long as you ask them the right questions and contact a few of their former clients, you'll feel far better about the success of your project.

3. Mold Removal

Mold removal doesn't always require professional help, but it's important to acknowledge when the problem is outside your skillset. If the patch of mold exceeds more than 10 square feet in size, you should seek assistance from someone with experience in the area. Otherwise, your safety is at risk.

When you're attempting to contain the problem yourself, you could run into unforeseen issues. It helps to have someone with you who understands the complexities of mold and how it spreads. As an example, contamination in an HVAC system can distribute mold throughout an entire building, with the occupants unaware.

Consulting a contractor or other service professional can prove beneficial in more ways as well. They can identify the source of the mold and provide actionable advice on how to account for it in the future. Their expertise will keep you and those who live with you safe from harm.

Everyone Has Limitations

A self-sufficient lifestyle is appealing, but everyone has limitations. It's important to recognize them and know when to hire professionals if you need outside help. When that happens, don't hesitate — reach out to someone in your area who can lend a hand.

How to Find the Perfect Spot for a Home Build

Holly WellesThe location of your home is just as important as the home itself. Before you move into the initial stages of your build, you'll need to choose a plot of land which supports your vision. It isn't always quick, and it isn't always easy, but when you find the perfect spot, you'll see the time and effort were well worth it.

So what's involved in the process, both before and after acquiring your plot of land? How do you select the ideal location for your build, and once you have, what comes next? We'll walk you through everything you need to know and more, making the homebuilding process simple and straightforward.

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Photo by Pexels.

1. Calculate Your Budget

Before you can begin your search, you'll need to calculate your budget. It's the foundation of your future decisions, creating structure so you don't overspend. You have a lot to cover, including the cost of the land, local taxes and fees, design and engineering costs, as well as the construction of the home itself.

Beyond these expenses, it's also smart to have a contingency fund between 10 to 20 percent of your expected costs. Start with a spreadsheet and organize your budget with separate columns for each expense. You can reference this sheet as you continue, updating and modifying it when necessary.

2. Choose Affordable Land

Among your range of options, you have to consider the issue of price. Even if you find an attractive plot which appears perfect for your plans, you don't want to begin your build with debt. You might have to compromise, but in the end, you'll see just how crucial this simple suggestion is to your success later on.

As you browse your areas of interest, look into foreclosures, "for sale by owner" properties, and opportunities for free land. You'll likely locate an attractive property that doesn't fall outside the limits of your budget. With a little looking, you'll come across something great at an affordable price.

3. Determine the Distance

You might take pride and satisfaction in your self-sufficiency, but you don't want to purchase a plot too far from a local town. After all, you'll have to drive to the markets in your area if you intend to sell your homesteading goods. Distance will only make it more difficult to make that type of trip.

Then again, this suggestion may or may not seem relevant depending on your goals. In some situations, your distance from the general population won't matter as much. Even so, you should think carefully about the inconvenience of living far from a town or city and some of the complications it could cause.

4. Learn the Area's Details

Once you've narrowed down your choices, you'll need to see if they accommodate your lifestyle. Answer these three questions as you continue your search.

 

  • Does the property have access to a source of water from a nearby city, creek or well?
  • Does the property have access to a state-maintained or privately owned road?
  • Does the property have access to utilities such as electricity, or is it off the grid?

Your quality of life will depend on the availability of clean drinking water, safe routes of transportation, and certain utilities. You'll also need to research the area's zoning laws and learn if they permit agriculture. Accounting for these essential details will keep you from making any costly mistakes.

5. Select the Best Builder

You're investing a substantial sum of money in your build, and you should only entrust it to experienced professionals. When assembling your team, search for a builder with a long history of helping people like you. Reach out to their past clients and ask them about their experience.

As you interview your potential builder, ask them about the subcontractors they work with. Their expertise is just as important as the builder's expertise, and you don't want to bring them into your project if they lack the right qualifications. Background checks are crucial.

6. Manage the Paperwork

In most situations, your builder will reach out to your local municipality to ensure you have the proper permits before starting a build. Obtaining the necessary permits is absolutely critical, and you can't begin unless you have them. After you've secured these permits, you'll need to acquire insurance.

General liability insurance and workman's compensation insurance are both necessary, protecting both you and the builder throughout the project. Should any workplace injuries take place on your jobsite, you aren't responsible, which will save you a significant amount of money in court fees. 

7. Finalize Your New Build

You'll have to make many decisions throughout your build ranging from the building materials you'd like for your homestead to the location of outlets. Other considerations include landscaping and final cleanup.

With all of these responsibilities and obligations competing for your time, it may feel a little overwhelming. As long as you approach your build with care and attention to detail, you can feel confident in your decisions as you move closer to completion. Just take things step by step.

 

How to Maintain a More Natural Landscape

Holly WellesMost North American neighborhoods don't deviate much in their landscaping. In suburbs across the country, you'll find well-manicured lawns, trimmed shrubbery, inoffensive trees, and perfectly spaced flowers. It's an admittedly attractive layout, but its effect on the environment isn't so pretty.

Roughly 90 million lawnmowers, leaf blowers, weed trimmers, and other small-engine tools in the United States contribute about 5 percent of the country's air pollution. With this in mind, it's easy to understand why homeowners have shown increasing interest in a more natural landscape. 

If you're ready to commit to eco-friendly landscaping, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about making your yard a little more green. Most of these changes are straightforward, and even if you don't spend much time in your garden, you'll find them simple to implement.

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Photo by Pexels.

1. Pick Wildlife-Supporting Plants

Most homeowners choose plants and flowers for their aesthetic value, searching for species which complement their space and lend it color or depth. Fortunately for them, they don't have to compromise the beauty of their landscaping to make a home for wildlife in their area. They can serve both themselves and nature.

When you choose wildlife-supporting plants like hedges, you're structuring your space while creating a natural habitat for a whole host of animals. Birds, hedgehogs, and other small mammals are attracted to hedgerows for their food and shelter. While the property belongs to you, sharing it is still vital.

2. Reduce Your Fertilizer Use

While fertilizer accelerates the growth of your plants, excessive use has consequences for your expenditure. When you layer too much fertilizer on your lawn, it'll grow too quickly, and as it grows, you'll need more water to sustain its health. You'll also need to spend more time using your lawnmower, increasing your emissions.

In truth, you only need to fertilize your landscaping twice a year. As long as you fertilize once in the spring and once in the fall, you shouldn't run into any issues later on. As for the type of fertilizer you should use, organic products are best, providing your plants all the micro- and macro-nutrients they need.

3. Raise Your Mower Deck

You want your landscape to look natural, of course, but waist-high grass isn't attractive. Fortunately, it's easy to maintain the appearance of your yard and remain on good terms with neighbors, all while using fewer resources. As long as you cut only the top third of the blade, you'll limit growth and reduce your workload.

Raising your mower deck to keep your grass tall has other benefits beyond slowing its growth. Your lawn won't require as much water or produce nearly as many weeds. When your turf is lush and dense, it crowds out any weed seeds which would otherwise take advantage of a stressed space with less shade.

4. Choose Native Species

As you browse your local greenhouse for seeds to add to your inventory, look for native species which will work well within your garden. You might feel tempted to purchase big, bright flowers with visual appeal, but if they're non-native, you'll find you're doing more work for upkeep. Naturally, this leads to higher expenditure.

Native, noninvasive plants are ideal for your landscaping because they're able to establish a balance with other plants more easily. When searching for these native species, you don't have to go to a greenhouse — a trip to your local farmers' market will suffice. Vendors will be happy to guide you in the right direction.

5. Collect Water With Barrels

Your methods of maintenance are just as essential to natural landscaping as the species of plants you choose. You can always find new ways to reduce your resource consumption, and, with a little creativity, enhance your garden's appearance as well. Consider the use of barrels for water collection

When you attach a wooden barrel to your downspout, it'll fill with water, which is both eco-friendly and attractive given the right setting. Beyond a barrel's functionality, it'll bring a rustic charm to your landscaping — something modest and straightforward that will make your garden feel friendlier.

An Opportunity for Growth

As you design your lawn's layout, remember, you don't have to conform to the dominant aesthetic. A natural landscape is an easy alternative which is just as visually appealing, and far more beneficial for the environment. Homeowners like yourself have made the changes on this list to incredible effect.

While you review your options, consider wildlife-supporting plants, native species and strategies for conserving resources. You'll find these aren't limitations, but an opportunity for growth.







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