Preparing our Homestead for the next move…

Over the past few weeks my wife and I have discussed our next moves to get our future homestead going and making it livable.  We really needed to decide how we want the property laid out..where the cabin will be placed..and the other necessities that we will need. Since the property is now raw land  it is going to be a learning experience to start fresh.

We began by finding a contractor and asking for a quote to clear the land for us. We had originally thought about doing it ourselves by hand but knew that would be time consuming if not demanding on our body.  Hiring a contractor would also make the process go much faster.

When we began talking to the Contractor we also found that he is a licensed Septic System installer and could help us with that also. It turned into a win -win for us along with the great price he gave us.  He suggested that we begin by installing the septic system first.

During the permitting process the Inspector draws a diagram on the permit indicating where the tank and drain field should go on the property. That’s where he did the “percolation test”. This will give us an idea of where we would need to put the cabin on the property and any electrical poles and water lines. I don’t think anyone wants a power pole or water line in the middle of a septic field.

It also makes sense to place our cabin on the property where we can take advantage of energy efficiency, sunlight for solar– if we choose that later– and those great breezes through the windows.

Our Septic Contractor also recommended a local electrician to help us with the electric grid hookup.  We found that the best way to obtain electric on our property would be having an electrician install an RV service pole on the property. Depending on the type of dwelling you want for your residence it really made more sense with an RV service hookup. We could easily place a cabin on the property and simply Plug it in, with an extra weatherproof outdoor receptacle for our camper. We are considering adding 200 amp service for any later expansion. The local Electrical Inspector advised us that would be acceptable and pass inspection. Usually, the electric companies will not provide power to your property until they see some type of construction in progress.

We have also been fortunate that we found great neighbors who agreed to give us easements to run the power line drops across their properties to reach ours.

Even though we would like things to move a little faster we plan to head that way in early June to meet the contractor when he clears the property and installs the septic system. We want to take some time before his arrival and decide where and what we want cleared away from the septic system. Our visit will also give us a chance to apply for electric and water service. Feel free to follow along in the month of June as I will be providing updates and photos or videos from our project and its progress.

If you happen to need clearing or septic installation in the Livingston Tennessee area we will happily provide a free plug for the company we are using.  Feel free to contact Benton Tucker at Tucker Farms LLC 

Take the time to read my wife Cheri’s take on our upcoming plans at her Blog Here

Our Guest Author, Dan Sullivan has submitted this great article for Preppers who are beginning or experienced homesteaders. Feel free to use this great advice and follow him Here OR Join his forums Here

 

How To Become A Prepper —- Without Even Trying!

If the title puzzles you, it’s because, as a homesteader, you’re already prepped for various emergencies and may not even know it. You already make your own food, harvest rainwater, raise animals, maybe even have a generator or a few solar panels. Unlike most people , you’ll be able to put food on the table even when something bad happens like an economic collapse or a prolonged grid-down situation.

Now, I’m not saying you need to prep for Doomsday or some other far-fetched scenario. Quite the opposite. In this article, I want to reveal to you some of the scenarios that are actually likely to affect you, your family and your homestead, as well as give you basics survival advice.

Like I said, you’re probably doing some of these things because you’re a homesteader, but I’m sure many others are not on your to-do list, in which case I’m glad I helped you uncover these holes in your emergency preparedness plans.

#1. Basic Preparations

I’m sure you probably have some sort back-up if the lights go out for a few hours, maybe some food set aside… but what if next time it’ll last a week? You’ll need much more than flashlights, but have no fear because the things you need are not only easy to procure but also cheap.

Consider:

  • lanterns, hand-crank flashlights, chem lights and those garden solar lights that recharge themselves during the day
  • making a blackout box where you can keep most of this stuff, including candles, matches, a solar battery charger and, of course, batteries
  • some other means of heating yourself such as fire wood, a clay pot heater (ineffective but still) and, as a last resort, blankets

Blackouts aren’t just about the lights going out. You need to consider all the things that can happen. For example, what if one occurs during the winter, when there’s snow and freezing temperatures and you can’t leave the house for a couple of weeks?

Things like extra food (tuna cans, beans, rice, peanut butter, honey), water, flashlights, an emergency radio – these aren’t just things you see on boring emergency lists; they are things you need.

#2. Water

Literally any kind of emergency could mean you run out of water. You’ll need it for much more than drinking: consider you have to wash clothes, do the dishes, take care of personal hygiene, water your garden and so on.

Now, I’m not trying to be overly negative and suggest that your water could get contaminated (though I do read regular news of rivers getting contaminated), but consider the more likely scenario of when your faucets stop working.

Consider the following:

  • one of those WaterBOBs that you keep in your bathroom and, when you hear news that water might run out, you put it in the bath tub and fill it with all the water you can
  • a rainwater harvesting system (mandatory if you have animals, particularly cows, which drink a lot), but also means to purify that water, such as a Sawyer Mini, which can process up to 100,000 gallons
  • digging a well in your back yard (you’d need to make a study and see if you actually have water underneath)
  • means to store larger amounts of water in large containers
  • and even means to reuse it, such as flushing the toilet with the water you use in the kitchen (the so-called grey water)
  • a few water filters that will allow you to make water drinkable, such as the LifeStraw or the ones made by Berkey, just keep in mind they don’t filter heavy metals (you’d need one of those filters made by ZeroWater for that)

#3. Bugging Out

Though, as a homesteader, you’re probably much better of hunkering down in case of a disaster, you always have to consider the possibility of you being thrown away out of your home. A huge flood, a major hurricane, a wildfire, in cases like these you have no chance of staying inside your home; you just have to go.

Bugging out, or evacuating in plain terms, is not hard, but it does take some planning. First, you need a vehicle such as a car or an RV that you’ll use to make your escape. It needs to be properly equipped for all seasons, including food, water, blankets and flashlights (in case you remain stranded somewhere on the side of the road).

Next, you need to know all the possible ways to get out. With disaster on your tail, you may have minutes to evacuate, and you can’t afford getting stuck in a traffic jam or hitting a dead end. Every second will count.

Speaking of vehicles, you need to make arrangements to take as many things with you as possible. A large trunk will help, maybe even a trailer or a rooftop cargo carrier.

Then, we have the preppers all-time favorite, the bug out bag. We like to spend time tweaking it, making it lighter, smaller and, of course, to add more things to it. My list of over 150 bug out bag items will help, just make sure you stay away from cheap items that might break or not work at all when you need them.

Last but not least, you’d need a place to evacuate to. Even if you don’t have one, you should still prepare to bug out. Better to sleep in your car than die in your home, but really, any place that can keep you safe can be considered a “bug out location”: a friend’s house, a piece of land that belongs to a relative etc.

#4. Security

You need to secure your home, your family and yourself. I’m just pointing out the obvious here, but having a few guns, an alarm system, a couple of security cameras and some motion sensors will go a long way towards protecting your home, your garden and your livestock.

But you also have to consider your personal security. A concealed carry handgun is probably your best option, but there are others if you don’t like guns, things like pepper spray, stun guns and other alternative weapons.

#5. A Stockpile

I’m sure you probably have enough food to last you 1 – 2 weeks, but what if the next disaster will keep you inside for longer? A 1 month stockpile should be anyone’s goal, maybe even longer if you have the space to keep it all. Focus on the staples (rice, beans, honey etc.) but make sure you only get food you usually eat, and stay away from MREs and other survival foods. Most aren’t worth it.

Last But Not Least…

Besides what’s listed above, one other thing you can do to increase your chances of survival is to simply try new things. I’m talking about things that are useful in an emergency, such as:

  • outdoor cooking (useful when you don’t have fuel or electricity)
  • food preservation techniques (salting, smoking etc.)
  • fixing and even making your own clothes
  • woodworking
  • first aid
  • baking your own bread
  • fishing

These aren’t just meant to prep you for emergencies or to take up your time they can also be fun! So feel free to experiment…

Thanks,

Dan Sullivan

Beekeeping 101: A Personal Guide Part 2

 

Beekeeping 101: A Personal Guide Part 1

My wife and I began our beekeeping adventure after a day at work turned into a honeybee rescue of sorts. One of the tenants at the Condominium complex where I was working noticed a large swarm of bees in the soffit of a building stairwell. I decided to go and investigate and indeed found a large swarm of honeybees. Of course, the owners were determined they wanted it removed.

After noticing they were indeed honeybees, I knew that spraying would not be an option in getting rid of them. Bees are just too important to our way of life and the environment. Without any prior experience with beekeeping I realized that bees pollinate a third of everything we eat and play a vital role in sustaining the planet’s ecosystems. Some 84% of the crops grown for human consumption – around 400 different types of plants – need bees and other insects to pollinate them to increase their yields and quality. These include most fruits and vegetables, many nuts, and plants such as rapeseed and sunflowers that are turned into oil, as well as cocoa beans, coffee and tea. I not only learned that bees are essential for our food crops, but are essential in cotton crops.

Bees are some of the hardest working you can find.  Bees depend on plants for food, just as much as plants depend on bees for pollination and reproduction.  This much I  understood but had no clue about raising honeybees or where to start. I still have much to learn about them and how to keep our hives healthy.

After about an hour of deciding how to move forward, we decided we would call a professional beekeeper to come and remove them. I knew they would have a good home and will be taken care of.  My wife and I had previously talked about beekeeping and raising bees and this was a chance to talk with her about possibly bringing the bees home. She readily agreed that we could give it a try.  First, we needed to buy a hive and all of the equipment we would need to be good beekeepers—even if we were amateurs.

It took a day or so for the professional beekeeper to come out and start the removal process. Decked out in their suits and veils they began the tedious process of the hive and bee removal. The one thing we found with beekeeping is everything is slow and deliberate. There is a reason for that – Bees can be delicate to handle and one can easily destroy the combs they build which produce honey and provide brood for new bees to produce.

Inspecting and Deciding how to remove it

 

 

With a hive tool or a knife they began the task of removing the combs from the building and placing them in the new hive frames that we purchased.  The beekeeper gave me a sample of a piece  of the comb that he removed to taste the honey. It was awesome!!  Most of the neighborhood is overgrown with Brazilian Pepper bushes which gave the honey a sweet yet spicy taste. The entire process took about an hour to complete.

A sample of the great tasting honey

When the combs are removed and placed in the new hive frames the bees will have a tendency to follow along. For those that don’t, the beekeepers have a special vacuum that is used to gather the remainder of the bees. Don’t worry, these vacuums don’t hurt the bees. I will say that in the process, you will lose some bees but not many. Most strong hives will contain around 40-50,000 bees in them. Losing some is inevitable but you shouldn’t notice a difference in the losses.

Large Comb removal
Placing the combs in the new hive

After the beekeepers were finished they immediately drove them to our house for their new home. We gathered some important pointers from the professionals and started our new beekeeping adventures. We purchased the hive and frames from the beekeeper and found a local hive builder for the smoker and tools we would need.

Now for their new home!

Being new to beekeeping we depended on the beekeeper to give us advice and guidance to make sure that our bees would be stable and continue building out the hive. If you are inexperienced in beekeeping, I suggest you do this to be sure the hive will survive and allow them to monitor the hive, making sure the hive still has a queen bee and no diseases. Without a queen, it wont last.

In Part 2, I will highlight our experiences with beekeeping at home and give you some suggestions on purchasing hives and equipment.

 

 

How To: Digging a well on your property

 

Your typical Pitcher Pump

 

I know I have often thought about drilling a well or simply being satisfied with a public water system on our property.  Many times the costs are less when connecting to a public water supply, but the water isn’t always the best! After all, water just isn’t something you can do without, right?  In this instance, I will give you some ways to have supplemental water sources for your garden or watering your lawn!

If your property has soft, sandy soil or loose gravel on top of a shallow water table, here are three cost-effective ways of drilling your own backyard water well. On the other hand, if the water table is 150 to 300 feet below the surface, use a portable drilling rig, or hire a contractor for the project.  Well Drilling Contractors can be a good source for telling you if your area is suitable or possible for a well. Deep well water is usually potable — provided it passes certain tests performed by an approved laboratory. If not, your deep well should produce enough water for a sophisticated irrigation system.

Check your Zoning Laws and the Water Table

  • Check your local suburban zoning laws before planning a well or purchasing equipment — some cities do not allow private water wells. On the other hand, if your local ordinance allows backyard wells, apply for the relevant permits and ask for the location of municipal utility cables and pipes on your property before proceeding. Once this is done, establish the approximate depth to water table by either checking the depth of nearby wells or hiring a hydrologist to perform a survey of your immediate area.

Driving a Wellpoint

  • A wellpoint is a perforated pipe fitted with a hardened point that is driven into the ground by hand. The openings in the pipe are large enough to allow water to enter but small enough to keep water-bearing gravel out of the pipe. Wellpoints vary in diameter from 1 1/4 to 2 inches, with lengths between 18 and 60 inches. After the initial drive point is hammered into the ground, subsequent pipes are attached to the ends with specially designed drive point couplings. Pipes are added until the perforated end penetrates the water table by 2 to 6 feet. Wellpoint extraction only works when driven into a high water table, 10 to 15 feet below the ground. Once installed, about 5 or 6 gallons per minute can be pumped out using a pitcher pump or a shallow well pump.

Air Pump-Assisted Drill Bit

  • An air pump-assisted drill bit can drill your backyard water well to a depth of up to 100 feet. The unit consists of a small but powerful air-driven drill bit capable of cutting through hardened clay and densely packed soil. The bit is attached to the end of a tubular expansion chamber containing the inlet pipe from the air pump, with holes in the lower part for water to flow into the system. A 100-foot length of 2-inch PVC pipe is attached to the outlet port of the expansion chamber. The well is constantly filled with water from a garden hose until the drill bit penetrates the water table. Exhaust air from the drill bit is ejected up the expansion chamber and into the 2-inch PVC pipe, forming a vacuum and sucking water and slurry out during drilling operation. A well liner, foot strainer and pump is installed on a concrete slab to complete the project.

Jetting or Washboring

  • Jetting or washboring is suitable for producing a shallow well where the distance to the water table is 25 feet or less. In basic terms, serrated teeth are cut into the end of a schedule 40 PVC pipe with a hacksaw. A drill head with two 3/4-inch threaded fittings is attached to the top of the pipe with a threaded pipe coupling. Hose pipes are connected to the threaded fittings to supply a constant flow of water into the Schedule 40 pipe. A wide wooden handle is attached to the pipe with hose clamps to provide leverage. The operator stands on an open pickup truck tailgate, places the serrated end of the pipe on the ground and has a helper turn on the hose pipes. He then twists wooden handle back and forth to allow the teeth on the end of the pipe to cut into the soil with the help of jetting water. Extra lengths of pipe are added until the required depth is reached. A well liner, foot strainer and pitcher pump or a shallow well pump is installed on a concrete slab to complete the project.

Micro Drill Rig

  • Use a one-man diesel-powered micro drill rig to drill a well up to 300 feet through clay and rock formations. These rigs are equipped with hydraulic power for easy handling and for added pressure on the drill bit. A powerful mud pump is used to pump drilling mud directly to the drill bit to speed up drilling action, and manual setup and positioning is straightforward. Since these micro-rigs cost over $20,000, you may be able to rent one through a heavy equipment rental outlet. If not, you could always recover costs over time by renting the machine out to your neighbors — or you could establish your own micro-drilling company as an added source of income.

Land Preparation- Is your Land Ready for your Homestead?

 

 

My wife and I decided that we wanted to find the perfect place we could call home and be certain that the land was sufficient for the things we wanted to do with it. We needed to focus on land preparation. We began that journey more than a year ago as I posted in a previous Blog Post. Without some basic research, we ended up with a property we couldn’t do anything with. You can read about it here –>>http://www.homesteadinghowto.com/a-place-to-call-home/

We found another piece of land that was a little smaller and decided to venture back to Tennessee and meet with the Land Specialist to look at it. A few days earlier we decided to do as much research on this property and learn as much as we could. After all, we didn’t want to end up in that same boat we had been in before. We quickly found the contacts for the utilities and if a title search was needed on the property. Title searches can show you any discrepancies with the property and any obstacles over ownership or deeds. After talking with the Register of Deeds Office in that particular County we found that the property was free and clear of any potential heartaches. That was a good sign!

The Road to Our Homestead:

When we arrived in Tennessee, we checked into our hotel in preparation for our trip the next morning to look at the land we were interested in. Traveling those mountain roads is a lot of fun and we ended up on a gravel road which led us several miles, it seemed, up the mountain to our future homestead. We passed old farmhouses that appeared to have been there for many years. The gravel road lead us under tree canopies, past small farms and cattle, and an occasional old tractor or pickup truck. In some areas the edge of the road appeared to be washed out from the rainfall, however, the road was still passable and well maintained. Once at the top of the mountain we saw a wooden sign appropriately named ” Big Sky Acres”. Our future land would be at the end of the road. We were told that the area was once supposed to be an exclusive development with an airstrip. The road in front of our future property was part of the old airstrip runway. The development, in all its expected glory, never materialized. The area has cabins and homes in the area with a few neighbors scattered here and there. The property is mostly wooded and underbrush with a bluff in the back of the property overlooking a portion of the Obey River below. We can’t wait to see the view in the winter months when the leaves are fallen!

Utilities:

Many people do prefer the “off grid living lifestyle” and that’s fine. At this point in our lives, it’s just not for us, particularly when we will be new to the area and we aren’t that young anymore!

It didn’t take long to find the local electric co-op for that particular area the property is located in. After speaking to the Engineer and later meeting with him, we found that electric service was much easier than we thought. A service pole is within 375 feet of the property boundary and they would install a pole if needed, adjacent to or on the property at little or no cost to us. A little tree limb adjustment on the neighbor’s property would be needed to run the lines at very little cost to us.

In subsequent phone calls, I located the water utility company for that particular area. That was a little more difficult since the utility companies in that area have different boundaries for service. You will find that a lot in rural areas. Once we connected with the right company we quickly found that a water main runs directly in front of and ends at the property. This was also a good sign! The manager was very helpful and knowledgeable about the water in that area and informed me that he used to own the water system and could happily tell me all about it. A water tap will cost us a few hundred dollars to have water for our homestead.

Land Clearing:

We knew once we walked the land, asked the right questions beforehand, and we came prepared with some needed answers before we arrived, we felt we could do something with this. It was about a week later we decided to purchase it. We realize that we would have to have the land cleared somewhat before we could decide where to put the cabin, driveway, and the things to make it livable. I found a local contractor who gladly went and looked at the property and gave us an estimate on clearing and installing a septic system. We had thought once before that we would try to clear the land ourselves to save some money. We made a decision that in the interest of time, we would have the contractor clear those areas that we needed for the cabin and access, and do the rest ourselves, at the pace we wanted. His price was also affordable and could be completed in about a day!

The contractor we are hiring has various pieces of equipment to complete many tasks, but we asked him to clear ours with a forestry mulcher. If you haven’t seen one in action, they are quite impressive! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXyEOX1srf4

These Mulchers will clear the brush and small trees and provide a mulch for the ground on our property. It helps the environment and saves us from disposing of unwanted underbrush and limbs. We will use the larger trees that need to be removed as firewood for our small farm. We also plan to leave the road frontage untouched to provide a buffer for privacy. If you live or have property in the area, feel free to give him a call with your needs! He is very knowledgeable and great to talk with!

You can find him here —->http://www.tuckerfarms.farm/

If you prefer to go the old-fashioned way with a lot of elbow grease and hard work then you will need the right tools to do it with. I recommend a good quality chainsaw that will last! I chose the Stihl 170 chainsaw for the work I want to do! You also need a good wood splitting ax to chop or split wood. You can also rent equipment to clear land or dig holes, but keep in mind, if you break it you will more than likely be responsible for repairing it.

Building or Setting up a Cabin:

My wife and I decided to purchase a 14x 40 Pre-Built cabin to live in. Once it is ordered and delivered it will be set up on concrete blocks or pillars. We want it a little higher off the ground to be able to easily install plumbing and drain lines underneath for easy access. Our ground is suitable for that since we previously had a percolation test to determine the absorption rate of the land. If you have soft and sandy ground I would recommend a foundation support under it. It can be in the form of concrete footings in the ground that go below the freezing level or concrete pillars. You can find the pictures of our future cabin in an earlier blog post.

Organic or Non-Organic Garden Preparation:

When we are settled on our Homestead we plan to start an organic garden, meanwhile finding out what we can grow, and cannot, in our new surroundings. The land should be ripe for growing as a result of the mulching that will be done to clear the property. Regardless of where we are, we have found that different areas of the country have different growing seasons for different plants and vegetables. A good resource, if you are just beginning, is to contact your county Agriculture Extension Service. They have a wealth of knowledgeable people who can guide you along the way and they are free. They can also put you in touch with the right people for soil testing. Organic farming can be a little more tricky and time-consuming since you are trying to keep away all the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. There may be farmers in your area you can contact for advice.

We plan to use as many natural protectors as possible in our garden for the food we eat. We also plan to install a small greenhouse to provide us with food during the winter months. Planting cover crops and plants on your property also help with garden growth and pollination and will provide some food for our renewed bee hives! Look for what grows best in your area and start there!

Making Your Homestead Affordable!

I was recently doing some research for my next Blog post and came across an article about these great Tiny Homes for retirees.  In my infinite curiosity I decided to take a look at what this was all about and what they were promoting.

They were all great Tiny Homes, but the price tags?  To me, this simply defeats the concept of becoming minimal, living small, and the idea of affordability without a mortgage. We all want to retire someday and live comfortably, and  in the way that we choose. Many of us aren’t looking for a super large house with new cars and a boat in the driveway. Well, maybe some, but not everyone!  It’s not something that my wife and I are looking for or wanting in life . I  also found that according to a 2015 survey by a Tiny Home website that 30% of Retirees living Tiny are between the ages of 51 and 70.

Our focus begins with reducing our clutter and the material things that we don’t want or need.  My wife Cheri addresses much of that in her Blog. We definitely do not need a large house where we end up only adding things to it along with a huge mortgage.  We also aren’t interested in a small or Tiny House that we cant reasonably afford with those bells and whistles attached to it.  There is nothing wrong with those who want that, but its just not for us! Many retirees may have the extra cash or savings to sink money into these houses and indeed end up with no mortgage at all.  What about the ones that don’t have cash available or a hefty retirement package?  I hope to give you some ideas about how to do that and not having a  never ending mortgage.

The average cost to build your own can start around $23,000 or less. It really depends on what materials you use, your skill level, and the things you want in it. If you have someone build it for you, the prices can begin at around $45,000 and up.  My wife and I began our journey by looking at THOW’s ( Tiny Houses on Wheels).  The builders that we met are great people and great builders doing quality work. We changed our minds because we were not interested in anything on wheels and the PRICE TAGS!  Almost all builders want full payment for the Tiny House they build for you. Nothing wrong with being in business and making a profit, however, many people don’t have that kind of spare change laying around. It can also be difficult to find a bank to finance one.  That’s problem #2!

We decided that we wanted to create our own and in a style that we liked.  During our searches we found some Mennonite built buildings that are mostly designed for storage or backyard kids playhouses. No, Not that small!  We all know that the Mennonite and Amish have the construction quality and techniques that we look for in a building.

Take a look at what we found Here.  You can find a simple storage building or a Lofted or Un-lofted Playhouse barns as large as 14 feet wide and 40 feet long with delivery and setup within a certain radius of the nearest dealer.  They all come with a choice of doors, windows, metal or shingled roof, siding and paint or stain colors.  The benefit in being affordable is the fact that  you can purchase them outright or rent to own over a three year period. We chose the 14 x 40 Deluxe Lofted Playhouse with full porch and metal roof when the time comes for us to purchase and have it moved.  We really don’t have much of a desire to climb stairs so we will probably opt to use the lofts for storage space.

This was a much better option for us because it gives us the option of finishing the inside ourselves with a floor plan that we choose.  We also want a vintage look inside the cabin which can allow us to use recycled materials where we want.  Of course, because of safety reasons and permitting, we will need to have a licensed electrician for the electrical hookup. You can see the examples in the photos below.

Exterior View of Unfinished Cabin Photo Credit : Cheri Jones
Unfinished Interior with Loft Photo Credit : Cheri Jones

Due to the proximity of our property in Tennessee we have chosen a local dealer to buy our cabin from and have it moved and setup.  With some steady work and a little elbow grease we could very well have our cabin in the woods livable within two to three weeks. If all goes well, we shouldn’t have a mortgage or much of one anyway!  We can spend that extra cash adding chicken coops and gardens and enjoying our life at the top of our mountain!

 

Where Have I Been?

You may have been wondering where I have been?  Well, I have really been wanting to create a new blog post. Something I can share with you to help create that homestead of yours! As with many things, I do have other commitments and a job besides blogging! And Yes, those holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are upon us!

While I am working on creating another topic or two, I wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy and Joyous Holiday season!

Please feel free to Like our Facebook page or Follow along on Twitter using the widgets!  We would very much appreciate it!

Is Solar Right for You?

I am sure that the thought of installing solar is about as thrilling as mowing your lawn or remodeling your bathroom. But, like adding a new shower stall or cabinets, solar can be a home improvement that has its advantages- by paying for itself and then some! Here is the How To find out if solar is right for you!

Is Now a great time to think about solar power?

If you decide that solar power makes sense for you, now is a good time to check out your options. Most of us already think that solar power is a great  idea. Your ability to capture free sunlight and convert it to energy? Just think of the possibilities! You’ll save on our electric bills and not waste our natural resources that we have available! It seems everyone wins!

Solar power to others may seem too expensive unless you are a modern day McGyver who can build almost anything. Other home improvement projects just seem to be higher on project lists than installing solar. This has all changed in the last few years. Solar is definitely on the increase and many systems are much less expensive than they used to be.

Here are a few examples of the affordability of solar:

  • Federal and local subsidies bring the cost of solar down even further. The US federal renewable-energy tax credit—which expires at the end of 2016—cuts the cost of a solar power system by 30%, and state and local incentives also further reduce the price. So, a system that costs the average $21,400 would end up being about $15,000 after the federal credit, and local credits would make it cost even less. If you save $1,500 a year on your electric bill with solar, it’ll pay for itself in 10 years or less. (And the savings would continue for future homeowners, which would make the system a selling point for your home when you decide to sell it.)
  • More financing options means solar is more affordable for more people. With new leasing plans and solar loans, you don’t have to have thousands of dollars in cash upfront. You can rent the system and still save on your energy bills or get a loan that allows you to own the system with $0 down and no installation costs. In other words, you can go solar without tying up a lot of cash.
  • The cost of solar panels and systems have dropped significantly in the past few years. Between 2011 and 2014 the cost of systems have dropped around 60 percent.

Remember, that the  federal tax incentive for solar installation is set to expire at the end of 2016.

How Much You Could Save with Solar Power

In some cases, solar power could eliminate your electric bill entirely (after recouping the installation, system, and maintenance costs), and in other cases the solar panels will simply cut your utility bill by between 10% and 50%. (Solar panels are useless during the night, so you’ll still need to depend on your local utility company unless you get solar batteries to store excess power.) How you pay for the system and how your home is set up will factor into how much you can save.  Average monthly electric savings are between $100 and $200, so the average homeowner could recoup the investment in several years.

If you have a roof that faces south, southeast or southwest and you pay at least 12 to 13 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for electricity, solar is probably a good option If your roof is more than 20% shaded, you may need a ground-mounted system.

If you’re not in California or another sunny area, don’t worry. Even areas in cold climates or with many cloudy days (such as New England and the Pacific Northwest) could still benefit from solar, since systems can capture sunlight scattered by clouds or humidity, not just direct sunlight. Also, apparently, solar panels work even more efficiently in colder temperatures.

Estimate Your Savings

As much as solar power might sound like a no-brainer, not everyone will benefit from it, and taking on debt for it might not ultimately pay off. To find out if solar is right for you, head to EnergySage and/or Solar-Estimate to calculate your estimated savings. These sites use Google Maps to look at your roof surface, incorporate federal and state incentives, and estimate the increase in property value if you buy the solar power system outright. Use caution with Solar Estimate. It seems they require you to submit your phone number and I have seen reports that some contractors will call you about installing solar.

Grab your latest electric bill to calculate the savings using these calculators. To get a more accurate estimate, however, you’ll need to get a solar installer to come to your home and check out your roof personally. Houses that are covered by trees or other buildings might not be suitable for solar power.

How to Pay for Those Solar Panels

If you decide to go forward, you’ll get the most return on investment if you pay for the system with cash and plan to stay in your home for a while, but there are other financing options. Here’s a quick overview of them:

  • Buy the system outright or get a loan to purchase it: You’ll see 100% of the utility savings as soon as you recoup the cost of the investment. If you use a loan to purchase the system, it’ll take longer to recoup the investment than paying for it upfront, but you can still cut your electric bill by 40% to 60%, Money says, even after factoring in the loan payments. Compared to leasing or a purchase agreement, you’ll save more on your utility bills every year and also likely increase your home’s property value. However, keep in mind you’ll also have maintenance costs.
  • Lease the system: You pay a fixed monthly amount for using the system and get a guaranteed amount of electricity in return—at about 10% to 20% lower than your current utility costs. Most leases include maintenance of the system, but you won’t be able to get any tax breaks or rebates with this method, since you don’t own the system.
  • Power Purchase Agreement (PPA): With a PPA, you pay for the amount of electricity you use, much like you do already with your utility company. As with a lease, you don’t need to make a downpayment and you don’t own the system. It’s just a different contract type that’s like a lease but the amount of energy you pay for would likely vary by season.

In all three cases, the solar power system works like this: The solar panels capture sunlight, a solar inverter converts it into current that can be used in your home, and the electric panel in your home (which might need to be upgraded) feeds the energy from the inverter to your home’s circuits. The electric meter monitors your energy usage, so if your panels generate excess power, that gets sent to the utility company, which will give you a credit for the energy.  A Solar Inverter in a nutshell is a photovoltaic system. You are now powering the grid!

As with any other home improvement project, shop around and get several quotes from installers before committing. Ask about the warranty and maintenance on the system, look for certified installers (“certified photovoltaic installation professionals” to be precise), and ask for referrals or recommendations from people you know.

With our cabin in the mountains we plan to depend on the local electric co-op in the beginning and use solar when we can. The rates with our local Co-Op are pretty reasonable.

 

What About Composting Toilets?

With the new and popular trend about owning and living small, every Homestead owner must consider how to deal with using a toilet and living with less.  This should explain how a Composting Toilet works, the different types available, and how to maintain it and get the best  efficiency  from its use.

Composting Toilets are a dry toilet that treats human waste by using an aerobic process with no water or very small volumes of water for “composting” or managed decomposition. We find them in our  national parks and hiking trails.

 

Composting toilet systems normally mix human waste with raw sawdust, coconut coir, or organic peat moss which support aerobic processing, absorbs liquids, and mitigate odors from the toilet. Aerobic processing is simply the availability of oxygen to speed the decomposition process. Anaerobic is a lack of oxygen and slower decomposition found in wet  sewage treatment systems such as septic tanks.  This method is widely used by Tiny House dwellers, unless they have opted for conventional plumbing.

Slow composting or “ moldering” toilets are used  in moderate or seasonal use areas. “Moldering”  is  achieved by low temperatures, humidity, in which the temperatures aren’t high enough  to destroy bacteria and pathogens. This method is also known as “cold composting” which rely on long retention times for reduction of the waste.  Combining  with readily available Red Wiggler worms have been found to speed up the decomposition process known as Vermicomposting.

Manufactured Systems-

Many manufactured self contained systems on the market may contain chambers to separate human waste.  Some are equipped with fans for aeration and optional features such as heating elements.This helps in speeding up the decomposition process and maintain temperature. Heat speeds up decomposition, which is why many composting toilets should be placed inside. Generally, composting or decomposition work faster when temperatures are 55 degrees and above. Many systems on the market also use additives, or what is known as “bulking agents”.  They are absorbent carbon materials to absorb liquid, create air pockets between layers for better processing, and to create an odor barrier.

 

Maintaining your toilet-

Many brands on the market today provide different provisions for emptying the finished or composted product.  This usually depends on the speed of the decomposition process and the capacity of the composting toilet.  These can range from a few months (hot composting) or a few years (cold composting).   Many units separate the solids from the liquid waste, however, you shouldn’t  allow  “bulking” agents to become too wet.  Simply add more peat moss, raw sawdust, or coconut coir, to thicken it up.  It is highly recommended not to use Miracle Gro  Peat moss in your composting toilet since it contains additives. It is best to use organic as much as possible.

Properly managed units which produce 10 percent of composted material is suitable for soil amendments for agriculture, however, be sure to check with your local health departments as some localities have strict regulations on doing this.

Finally, when cleaning your composting toilet a simple environmentally friendly solution of water and vinegar will clean it up nicely.