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Our Homestead at the End of the Dirt Road

Locating Your House and Passive Solar Energy

 Cynthia Brownell watercolor

lilies resized

By Cynthia Brownell

In the last blog, I talked about hiring a forester or logging company to come in and help you clear your land. Granted, this scenario isn’t appropriate for everyone. Some lucky person will buy an already-established barn and house, or buy a piece of property in a large subdivided field. This is for the person who is standing in a mess of trees wondering, like we did, “Now what?”

Once the property is logged, it usually comes as a shock to most people because the land looks like a mess. It is amazing, however, to see how fast the forest can re-establish itself. When it comes to planning, you will have to stay on your toes. Our first year after the property was logged, we noticed a large growth of blackberry bushes. We were completely excited. Blackberry jam and jellies. After five years of berry picking I now have a strange fascination with running down a number of blackberry bushes with my lawn mower. They are everywhere!

Now that the land is cleared, the question is where to place your house. In the southern United States, house placement is different from where we live in the northern climate. Our winters are long and cold and summers are short and sweet. We needed to place our cabin in the most energy-efficient location on the property. We were so proud of ourselves; we placed the cabin in a location that would get the most sunlight throughout the day. This is what we learned:

1. Summers are hot! Yes, hot. When the sun is beating in all the windows, the temperature of the cabin rises during the day. Going to bed in the evening is like laying in an oven on 350 degrees. For us, air conditioning is out of the question right now.  I have friends who live off-grid and hook up an air conditioner to their generator and let it run during the day to cool off their home. Then in the evening the house is a little more comfortable.

Our solution was to buy a few insulated curtains. In the morning, we close the insulated blinds to keep the house cool. In the evening, we open the windows and the blinds and let the cooler air into the house. 

 insulated curtain

Granted, when it is hot and humid this system doesn’t work to combat the humidity. We are working on it. The funny thing is, when we moved off-grid we sold our air conditioner. My husband and I are now on the lookout for a smaller window unit. I am looking forward to hooking up an air conditioner to the generator. 

2. Winter wind is cold!  In our first winter in the cabin, we ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to add the porch before the first snow fall. The location of our front door is apparently in a direct path to the wind from Lake Ontario and the tug hill plateau. Talk about cold! Some mornings we would wake up to frozen door hinges and a light dusting of snow under the door. Our solution? Build the enclosed porch.Once we could hold a hammer without our hands freezing to the metal, we started to build. The second winter was much better. We could still hear the wind, but we couldn’t feel it anymore. 

The placement of your house truly affects how comfortable you are. We are in the process of planning our larger house. We are designing the home to use passive solar energy during the winter and a possible air-flow system in the summer.  We are still in the designing and researching phase. Our first two years living in the cabin have taught us how the weather affects our property, the placement of the sun, the location of outbuildings, and shade trees. 

The original idea about moving into the cabin was to save money and kick-start our dream of homesteading. What it has become is our “training” cabin. We can try different ideas without losing a ton of money. My suggestion before you start to build is stay on the property either in a camper or cabin. Use this as your training cabin and find out the best possible place for your future home. 

In the next blog, I will be exploring different water sources and systems. What is your best water idea and system set up?






To Log or Not to Log?

   Cynthia Brownell watercolor


To Log or Not to Log?

Part 2:  Land

By Cynthia Brownell


Finally, you have purchased your dream property and you are ready to start your homestead.  If you are like us, you probably stood there in shock asking yourself, “Now what?”

Our property was a tree farm. The trees were planted by my husband’s grandfather and uncles about 50 years ago. They stood majestically in long rows of scotch pine, red pine, and eastern white pine. The lot was the fourth property from the dirt road. At the time, the only access to the property was walking in through the woods. There was no access to power or phone. We had a few decisions to make.

The solution? The property was logged. To gain access to the property, the logging company created a road on our right of way. They removed most of the stumps from the driveway and cleared a turnaround on our property. The logging company we hired selectively logged the property. When they were finished, we still had several trees standing.  At first, we were OK with that. 

That fall we had a microburst blow through the property. Many of the trees were blown over like pick up sticks. All in the same direction — what a mess. After that, we decided to remove a few trees from around the cabin. We measured 100 feet and cut down about 30 trees. 

Two years later, our property was hit by a small tornado. Once again, several trees came down — mostly blocking our driveway. Once again, we cleaned up the mess.

The last straw for me was this past winter. My son and I were in the cabin finishing his school work. We suddenly heard the familiar sound of a tree falling. The tree came down and crushed our clothesline and just barely missed our roof. That was it!


We contacted several home-school families to see if they had any solutions. One family owns a maple grove and they gave us a contact for a logging company that chips wood for a power company. We immediately contacted him. He can chip the wood that came down during the microburst and the tornado. Plus, he can take down all the other trees that will possibly die off and cause more headaches. When he is finished, the land will be cleared minus the stumps. The same family owns an excavating company and has given us information about renting a tractor to remove the stumps. We will get paid to clear the land. 

Trees are a wonderful renewable resource. We have already tagged a few trees that we want to keep on the property. I have also started digging up the smaller trees — black cherry, sugar maples, and hemlocks. I have been placing them in pots getting them ready for replanting after the lot is cleared.  We plan on selectively planting them around the house and barn.   

Our goal with the trees is to replant them in a good location so that there is enough space around each tree and they can grow without becoming tall and thin. The leftover trees from the tree farm were just like that and that was what caused the most problems. Once the land is cleared, I hope that will be the last time we hear the familiar sound of a tree coming down.

The next blog I will be talking about how to plan your homestead layout. Where should the house be located and why? What about the barn? What about the gardens and additional outbuildings?  Why plan?