Establish New Farm Land Avoiding Pitfalls with Utility Lines, Driveways, and More

The author discusses the steps that he took to establish his new property with signage, a driveway, water, electricity, and a septic tank.

article image
by Unsplash/Zoe Schaeffer

Buying land is one thing, getting on it is another. This is my final “getting there” blog post (you can read them all here), but it is an important one as it describes costly mistakes that had a significant impact on our budget. This will mainly apply to those interested in staying on their farm for a significant amount of time. Our solution to that “problem” was to purchase a used RV — a travel trailer — a stopgap decision to give us time to build a small house on the property. This turned out to be a major financial mistake.

Create an Address

If your new address starts with “000”, then your first job is to secure an address — you won’t get very far without one. At least in rural Kentucky, you do that at your local 911 dispatch office. That way, they will know how to find you.

Mark Property Borders

Next, with survey in hand, you will need to find all markers and borders of your property line and mark them in such a way that you can see one from the other. Not all of them have to be bright markers, as some would have been left by your surveyor. Again, for me this was quite difficult due to the thick understory. Using a GPS unit and marking several points, not just markers but also structures of interest, was very helpful in this process.

Put Up Signage

Once accomplished, you will need to place some signs at appropriate places. This is not just for no trespassing or no hunting purposes. You should check with your state laws, but signs also protect you from liability should someone decide to trespass on your property. And even then, you have to make things safe or have some type of warning in place should that not be possible. Your insurance agent should be able to advise you on what you need. It can be fairly complicated, though, as liability differs between workers whom you are paying, invited friends, uninvited trespassers, and those who are working on your land for hunting rights (the latter is where interpretation of the law may be in question).

After the above was accomplished, we were ready to establish some form of residence on our farm.

Building a Driveway

Our next task was to hire an excavator to put us in a gravel driveway and do what it took to get our utilities the required 650 feet and do some other clearing for other projects (including septic tank placement). These folks are very skilled at moving dirt, pushing down trees and making 8-foot-wide trails through your farm.  They are skilled at it, because that is what they love to do. But, in general, they are not wildlife biologists and most are probably not experts on invasive plants and so forth.

Water erosion issues should be in their wheelhouse, however. We had some problems with the driveway, but those were unpredictable, and there is no value is describing them — just don’t underestimate the potential difficulties in time and money.

Running a Water Line

One of the advertised advantages of our property was that hookups for everything were available; there were and are homes nearby. But the layout of our property and access for what we wanted required a distance of 650 feet.

We started with our water line. This one was relatively easy. I just told them where I wanted the spigots and where I anticipated I would need access to it in the future and within a few weeks, the lines were in.

Pitfalls with Getting Electricity

man operating a backhoe behind a blue house

Electricity was a different story. I met with a representative of our electric company out in the field, having already purchased the camper. His suggestion was to bury the line and because I was having some excavating done anyway, it would be less expensive to have the excavator bury the conduit for the main line. It turns out that in my haste, I had already made two costly errors.

First, our local electric company will lay 1,500 feet of wire free of charge. They do this for the revenue from your use of electricity. However, what I was not aware of until very late in the process was that this applies for houses and other dwellings only — including mobile homes — but not campers, due to their mobility. While we could have sold our camper, we elected to press on, but this ended up costing us more than a pretty penny.

There is a provision that you can get an annual partial refund if you use enough electricity, but the monthly requirement far exceeded my highest bill in my home in the month of July of that year. So, take the time to be more informed. Don’t expect others to tell you the questions you need to ask.

Excavation Issues with Utility Lines

electrician using a tool to check underground electrical lines

Second, the deal with letting the excavator bury the conduit was another mistake. First, he had no such experience — it turned out that he called the company regarding what he would need. The excavator then called me and had me pick up the necessary parts at Lowe’s, with the help of a helpful store clerk. This worked for all, but one piece and this led to the electrician, who had not yet been involved, to not being able to run the wire. He figured out the problem, but in order to rectify it, he had to dig out the conduit and replace the part.

Unfortunately, while doing so, he ruptured the water line, which was in the same ditch as the main wire. Not only did this take a long time to repair due to a tremendous amount of rain, it also led to quite a bit of discussion between professionals about the distances between the water and power lines — which fortunately ended up being appropriate.

The bottom line: make sure everyone doing work for you has experience and, therefore, accountability doing every component of the needed work.

Septic Tanks

Finally, if you need a septic tank, be aware this requires a permit that can take some time, but should not be a problem. You just need a permit approval and a good excavator. Considerations include but are not limited to terrain and distance from a water source such as a pond, lake, or creek.

I hope this helps you with how to get things started with your farm. It took us a while to get here, but it was worth it! Next month, I will begin life on the farm with something you will definitely need, but one that could also lead to a disaster — the good, old-fashioned chainsaw. I hope you will join me.

From the trails of Bobcat Ridge.

Bradley Rankin farms several of the 48 acres at Bobcat Ridge Habitat Farm in rural Kentucky, where he and his wife also manage a woodlot to attract wildlife. When he is not tending woodlands and pasture, Bradley enjoys raised-bed gardening, rock collecting, tree identification, and astronomy.

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