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Becoming Self-Sufficient: Building Your Home

Updated on January 16, 2015

What Type of Home Do you Need?

The first step in deciding on what type of house you will build is to consider your needs and wants. Remember, your needs must come first. Your home must provide shelter, heat, light and a safe place to be. When I say safe, I mean properly built, wired and insulated.

  • You may want a hot tub, but you don’t need one. You will need a shower and/or tub however.
  • You may want a six bedroom home, but unless you have at least that many children it is not necessary.
  • You may want cathedral ceilings, but the reality is they are not the most energy efficient.

Do you see what I’m getting at?

Planning Your Layout

Self-sufficiency concentrates on being able to live within your means, and not creating space that won’t be used more than once or twice a year. When planning, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is going to be used to heat my home? If your answer is the sun, then your home must face south to take advantage of solar heating.
  • Where do I spend most of my time when I’m inside? If your kitchen is the nucleus of family activities, then it is important to have one that is spacious yet functional.
  • How many bedrooms do I need? In my personal experience, the number of bedrooms should reflect the number of family members, plus one. For instance, a couple with one child only need two bedrooms, but adding one more in the planning stages is easier than to add a room later. It doesn’t necessarily mean there will be an addition to the family, but having the extra room for company leaves your living space free. (Personal note: our current home is a two bedroom, and my daughter lives with us. When my son and his friends come to visit, they have to sleep in the living room. One more bedroom would be ideal for us.)
  • How many bathrooms do I need? The answer here is two, no matter if only one person lives there or an entire family. We have one bathroom, and it is not enough. You do not need more than one full bath, but having a bathroom on each floor is ideal (even if the second and third are only half baths).
  • What activities do I partake in at home? Allow a space for hobbies, or they may soon take over the rest of the house. (This is from my experience. I am also a fiber artist, and my fiber and fabric migrate to every part of the house. I would love a studio, so my next home will definitely have one. It may not necessarily be attached to the house, but that would be ideal.)
  • Do I cook a lot? This is an important part of home design; the kitchen. Having ample cupboard space is crucial, as is having the proper appliances. A full size stove is the wiser choice if you do a lot of cooking and baking. The apartment size ranges do not have a big enough oven to fit a big roaster. Unless you are prepared to build an outdoor oven, then opting for a full size stove is the best choice.
  • Do I like plants? Proper natural light is crucial for the growth and health of houseplants. Something on my list of must-haves for my next home is a solarium. In an off-grid home, this is almost a necessity for heating the rest of the house.
  • Where am I going to do my laundry? I’m hoping a washer and dryer has been factored into your plans. During the summer it is best to let Mother Nature dry your clothes. There are the rainy days and winter days that will quickly put a damper (pun intended) on that theory, so a dryer is almost a necessity. Plus, having laundry on the main floor is, in my opinion, the best place for it. Our house has the laundry area in the basement, and I don’t care for it. It has been over 20 years since I have had to do laundry in the basement, and the stairs were much easier for me to take then.

By asking yourself the above questions, it will give you a good idea in terms of how you use your space and what you will need.

Other Considerations

As you are planning your home, it is important to decide on what type of heating, cooling and electrical system you are going to use. Solar heat is great, but once the sun goes down you will need an alternative. If it’s wood heat you’re after, you will need a wood stove with the proper spacing from the wall and double insulated pipe.

Being off-grid allows extra flexibility, but you will still need a backup plan. Using only solar panels as your means of electricity will not work for 100% of the time. Cloudy days do not generate much electricity, and neither does the night.

Don't Cut Corners

It is important to make sure your new home and its systems are all up to code. Whether you are on or off-grid, you will need to have an inspector go through it and ensure all is well. Cutting corners in wiring, plumbing or heating could have devastating consequences. The last thing you need after spending all of that time building is a flood or fire.

Insurance companies will not insure your home unless it has been inspected. Not insuring is a big risk; why chance it?

Who I Going to Build It?

This is a topic that offers some controversy. If you are an experienced builder, then by all means, build your own home. If you have some building experience, leave the big project to the professionals and hone your skills as you build the shed and animal shelters. If you can’t tell a hammer from a screwdriver, then the obvious and sensible choice is to hire a contractor. Most are willing to work with the home owner in terms of customizations to a purchased plan.

What Next?

Once your home is built, and all of the outlets work and toilets flush, it is time to move in and enjoy it. All new homes have a few bugs that need to be worked out, but if you had a good working relationship with your contractor he/she will be willing to make any necessary adjustments. There will be dust from the drywall and maybe the water pressure isn’t quite what you’re used to, but those are things that come with the territory of a newly built home. They can generally be cleaned up/repaired without any trouble. Now, if you turn on the light switch and the faucet turns on, then you have a problem.

Enjoy your home, and take the next step and work on your yard and barn yard (if animals are in your future; and they should be).

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