Building Your Own Home is a Huge Project, But Worth It

| 8/18/2010 1:56:00 PM

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Samantha BiggersMy husband Matt and I have a 15-acre farm in western North Carolina, about 20 minutes from Asheville. It is a work in progress. Before we moved here the land had previously been used by my family to graze a mixed herd of cattle but had been allowed to grow up for 8 years. When we moved there are intentions were to build a house first and begin acquiring some livestock. This was in February 2008. It took awhile to get the house going, we poured the footers for our house in June 2009. We also cleared some of the land. Most of this was done by hand. We could not walk through any of the pasture in the beginning.

We then got some Speckled Sussex chicks in the mail to raise for laying hens. We started to fence the property in for livestock. Sometimes it went fast and sometimes it went slow since it is just the two of us. In the meantime we acquired several goats and raised a few baby goats to help us to clear up the massive tangle of honeysuckle, bittersweet, and multi-flora rose that covered the majority of the pasture. Clearing out pasture and fence lines also involved felling a large number of gnarled pine trees. In the beginning we used handsaws since we had not yet acquired a chainsaw.

Things have come a long way since then. Our house should be done by Winter 2010. We have two registered Dexter cows and a Dexter bull. We also are raising 4 pig and 100 broiler chickens throughout the summer. This year the farm census will include 7 cows, 100 broiler chickens ( 50 at a time), at least 8 ducks (2 Saxony and 6 Dark Rouens), 21 laying hens ( mostly Speckled Sussex, 1 rabbit, 2 Pilgrim Geese, 3 goats ( with two more on the way), 1 sheep ( A Corsican sheep that everyone thinks is a goat), 1 Bourbon Red turkey, 4 Warren Wilson College pigs and 2 Great Pyrenees dogs, and one farm cat. We sell pastured poultry, grass fed beef, laying hens, ducks, free range eggs, shitake and oyster mushroom logs and mushrooms, and pastured pork. In the future we would like to become a licensed Dexter dairy and produce honey. We try to be as self sufficient as possible and hope to one day soon only have to go to the store for flour, sugar, corn meal, brew supplies, and coffee.

The Groundwork

The land my husband and I farm, used to be my grandfather's and he farmed it from 1960 until his death in 1986. The whole farm was plowed by a small horse named Thunder who is still talked about to this day. We still have all the plows and singletrees and such and intend on using them with our ox, George, when he gets big enough. When my grand bought the place there was a tobacco allotment that went with the property. He raised vegetables, tobacco, and about 30 head of cattle on 28 acres. Up until about 2001 there was at least cattle on it but the drought forced my father and uncle to sell off the cattle due to the exceptionally high hay prices. Of the original 28 acres we have 15. In 2007 we decided to build our own house. We ordered some very basic cabin plans from Sheldon Designs. We bought the “Classic Mini Cabin Plans” for about $30. We had looked at other plans but found that many house plans cost hundreds of dollars. My husband had previous carpentry and stonework experience so that helped enormously as I had no idea about building a house. I am just going to start at the beginning and not sugar coat it so maybe someone can learn from our experience both good and bad.

Originally we wanted to build in the valley of our property but were advised against it because of the water flow so we decided to build a house further up on the side of the mountain. We had it excavated for a full basement and dug out footers before we even realized just how much it would cost to get a concrete truck up our road. With a pump truck costing an extra $250 for each concrete pour, the price of concrete, and the amount of road work necessary to get a concrete truck up our road, we abandoned the first house site and decided to do a post and pad foundation a bit further up the mountain at 3,000 feet but beside our road. It was frustrating but necessary.

We started to lay out the footprint of our house and get it square, which is harder than it sounds. We had a family friend help us use a two person auger that was rented to loosen up the dirt so we could dig our footers out by hand. At this point it got too cold to pour concrete so we had to wait until it warmed up. My husband and I poured the concrete for our foundation by ourselves mostly. We had assistance for a day or two when we were pouring the largest columns and to haul some supplies. It took 20 bags of Portland cement, about 3 or 4 tons of gravel, and I forgot how many tons of sand. We had a electric concrete mixer but we had to pour the concrete into buckets or a wheel barrow in order to pour it in the right place. The gravel was a little ways from the concrete mixer so it had to be pulled by wagon to the edge of bank and then shoveled in buckets to be loaded into the concrete mixer. It took us from the middle on June of 2009 to the middle of July 2009 to pour the footers and columns for the foundation. This house is being built with a building permit and all so we had to pass our inspection before going on to framing the house.

12/20/2013 10:32:45 AM

I'm so impressed! We are in the process of building a 600 SF cabin as well. We can't make it past the special needs and requirements for building on the waterfront. Ours will look very much like yours, I hope! Please post more pictures, it gets me excited at a time when frustration is taking hold! Thanks for the posting!

Nebraska Dave
8/29/2010 8:17:23 AM

@Samantha, Kudos to you both. Ah to be young again. In today’s culture I seldom find such ambition and determination to succeed in life. You are on the path of financial freedom at such an early age. I wish that I had the wisdom to go down that path when youth and energy was in my life. Your collection of animals boggles my mind. Chickens, goats, cows, and pigs Oh my. You have chosen quite the adventurous life. I’m not quite so sure I could live in a camper for two years while building a house. The pictures of your house in progress were fascinating. I love a good building project but I really like a good hot shower at the end of the day. I guess it’s just something these old achy bones require on a daily basis. I had always envisioned owning an acreage but life, kids, and work came along and stole the dream. Don’t let anything side track your dream. It’s very wise to get this all completed before the kids come along. You will appreciate no mortgage for years and years. Quite frankly I can’t imagine what that would be like, but it must a wonderful feeling not to owe the bank for anything. The best of luck to you in your out of the box endeavor. I love reading about real life amazing stories and yours is definitely one to follow. Please keep blogging about your experiences.

8/18/2010 4:16:43 PM

Bless you Samantha for y'alls hard-work, determination, skill, and honesty. It is an adorable little house and with what seems like just the two of you, will serve as a wonderful "dry spot" for a life lived largely out of doors. I wish y'all the best of luck. My wife and I are preparing to embark on the same thing so seeing you painting that siding makes us realize it is doable. Here's to NO house payments, huh? Cheers!

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