Thursday, January 12, 2012


I've designed (and redesigned and designed again) our floor plans over the last several years. We'd talked about building a home for quite a while and I purchased the Punch landscape and building software so that I could play around with designs. It actually become quite relaxing, a definite creative departure from my normal analytic routine. Some designs were fanciful and had no hope of getting built; most incorporated layout ideas based on the many houses in which we've lived.

We've chosen the building style and I've designed a floor plan that we think will satisfy our lifestyle and the site. Now we need blueprints to actually get construction started so we're heading to the architect's office on Monday. I'm sure he'll have suggestions to improve the layout and I'll have to be very careful not to get defensive. After all, I've spent years fine-tuning this. But that's why you go to professionals, after all. To make sure your stair well actually does fit in the space you've allotted and that the trusses can span the building width without all those pesky interior walls.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Winter is the time to relax (and plan)

Okay, basically caught up to the right time frame. It's now the season to finalize plans and get ready for the building year to come.
We need to get my floor plans to somebody who can draw up the blueprints as step one. Then we'll start the permitting process and get going with contractors. Lots to do. We've already started speaking with SIP manufacturers (that whole walk before you can crawl mentality coming back to haunt us). They've been extremely kind and helpful about telling us where we should start (crawling). We'll get back to them soon I'm sure.
But for now, we'll sit back, enjoy the fire pit, and do some skiing once the snow starts.

Happy New Year and may 2012 be productive and full of family and friends. 

End of season

We got a lot of clearing done this summer. This is a picture of the future home site - we've done some initial blocking and will move the strings a bit now that we've refined the home size. It will fit better on the site and give us some separation from the work shop. I'll post a layout as soon as I figure out how to do that...

In the meantime, here I am on our future porch (you have to really use your imagination).

Still clearing trees

There is so much progress being made. We continue to fine tune where the house and garage are going to go. A big question is the septic and leach field. Uncle Bob will hopefully be able to help with the placement of those. Then we'll decide on the well location.

The sun comes through beautifully. I'm basically looking Northwest in this shot.
It's June and we're still wearing long sleeve shirts, even to work. The mosquitoes are part of the reason, but it's also much cooler up here in the woods. Let's hear it for tree cover!

Clearing trees

We've started clearing the homesite. Actually we started clearing the garden site. See, the future garden site had mostly small diameter trees on it that would be easy to clear. We'd then use that space to stage logs cut from the homesite which has larger trees. The log piles would be stacked according to use/size - firewood (four feet long to easily fit in the tractor bucket; would be cut to length when appropriate), fence posts (diameters too small for furniture or siding use but of a wood type suitable for fencing), and house use (8 to 12 foot lengths to be boarded for furniture, flooring, or siding). The garden site had the advantage of being relatively flat so the future sawmill would be easily set up on it. All the bark and wood chips that resulted from sawing would help protect the soil until we could actually start the garden some day.

Ah, how the best laid plans change. Turns out the garden site is now the home site for very sensible reasons having to do with a nice view and the wonderful sound of the stream. Haven't quite figured out the logistics of the wood piles now that we've made this decision, but it'll all work out. Just needs a bit of thought and planning. The important thing is to stay flexible and adjust when necessary.

Planning the homestead

(This post was originally written in March 2011). 
We're going to begin clearing trees this summer. That means we needed a pretty good idea of where we want buildings and gardens and stuff. We're not sure just how big this whole homestead is going to be - we'll wisely start small and grow when appropriate - but wanted to plan a layout that would include most of the possibilities so that we didn't end up with a country version of urban sprawl. The homestead needs to work as cohesive whole not a haphazard accumulation of buildings. You'll note that I said "homestead", not camp. Yeah - we decided to change from vacation property to home site. Fortunately we're within a one hour commute so this is actually possible. Anyway...

Not knowing the best way to lay out a homestead we did what all newbies do - we started researching. Some driving around, bookstore trolling, and internet searching turned up lots of information and examples. Countryliving Magazine even had a specific article on things to consider in setting up your homestead. The nuts and bolts of it? Consider how you want to live, what you want to accomplish, and then figure out what buildings and land-use will help with it. Kind of like buying the tractor!

We'd already talked about how and what, so we moved on to the mechanics. Made a list of all buildings we might need. Made a copy of our lot map. Started drawing a rough layout. Erased a lot of lines. Drew them in again. Finally got a draft that we'll work on refining once we can actually take some measurements (still way too much snow on the ground).

Here is our list:
House (including well and septic)
Summer kitchen / processing area
Woodworking / welding shop
Guest cottage (already have this)
Tractor shed (got this too)
Implement shed
Chicken coop
Small animal barn
Donkey barn
Garden shed
Green house
Kitchen garden
Wood shed

Some stuff is a given. Some won't ever happen. Some things may transform into others (we may make the tractor shed the donkey barn). But now we've got a plan and can start marking trees for removal. Gonna be a busy summer!

Land needs a tractor

Okay, technically it doesn't "need" a tractor. But boy does it make everything easier if you have one. So we did some research, talked to friends who had property and tractors, and then bought one. The number one thing that folks warned us about was buying undersize. Most everyone wished they'd gone larger. So we figured out our minimum requirement and then upped it enough to cover just about anything we wanted to do, up to and including digging a shallow basement. The Kubota has so far dug footers, groomed roads, helped with logging, and done most of the minor excavation work around my Dad's new house. We have not found it to be undersized at all (yeah!) and we're extremely happy with the purchase.
Of course a tractor needs a tractor shed, so that was the first thing we built on the property. Given its size we needed to get a building permit and we found the town to be very easy to deal with. We'd heard horror stories about other town inspectors and associated regulations but we were lucky to have a reasonable inspector and a really helpful town clerk. Asking questions up front about what the codes required saved us a lot of aggravation (and them too I'd guess). The whole family got together to help and we had great fun playing with the tractor and building the barn. The picture to the right is a couple years after the build and you can see why we needed cover. This is early March and there is about 3 feet of snow on the ground.

Subdividing the land

The land we bought consisted of 60 acres in Corinth NY. A pleasant small town with a good library, a decent grocery, and a really nice little restaurant where we could gather after snowshoing to discuss how we were actually going to divy up the lot. We hired a wonderful surveyor to give us an accurate map of the parcel, made copies, and began drawing on it to get three equal lots. Turned out equal lots weren't what we wanted though. So we came up with a division that made sense for our acreage dreams, satisfied the Adirondack Park Agency lot size requirements, and passed the town's planning committee. Whew! All of this for much less per acre than we would have paid if we hadn't been able to buy such a large piece of property.
Now Chris and I have about 30 acres for our camp. It's heavily forested with a good mix of hardwood and pine, stone walls that marked the old fields, and a tumbledown stone foundation from an old barn. A good road in met up with a skidder trail that just needed fill and grooming to make it a four-season driveway, so now we can get back there all year. Or, rather, we'll be able to get in once we actually start plowing it. For now we just park at the road and snowshoe in with supplies.

Finding the Property

We started looking for our vacation/retirement land several years ago. We've lived in many sections of the US (and even outside of it for a memorable 10 months) so we had a feel for the type of area in which we wanted to live. We love the Northeast - usable seasons, good people, and lots of cultural activities. So we concentrated our efforts there.
We took vacations in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York to see areas we liked and to solidify our wants and desires. Eventually some basic requirements ruled out several otherwise desirable locales. The property had to be: within an hour of a major airport, within our budget, and reasonably close to basic amenities (grocery, Target, Home Depot, good bookstore, the usual). Gradually we realized that we wanted a place closer to work so that we could enjoy it on the weekends. Too many people we know have camps multiple hours away and that seems to create more trouble than relaxation. So that effectively ruled out Maine and New Hampshire.
We were very lucky in that my father was also looking for retirement property; that allowed us to add another set of eyes to the search. It also meant we could look at larger parcels. We had found that small (10 acres or less) parcels came with high per acre costs, but large parcels were much more reasonable on a per acre basis. The downside was that you ended up with a lot of money tied up in land - not something that was in our budget. Having Dad look with us opened the possibility for subdividing a larger parcel - getting the best of both worlds. Then my brother decided he wanted in too. Woo-hoo! Now we were really on our way to finding a suitable parcel.
And find it we did. Mid-November of 2007 we were driving around looking at some land-for-sale ads that we had found on Craigslist. Although none of those appealed to us, we did like the general area so we decided to drive around and look for For Sale signs. Amazing how many there were out there. We had driven down a dirt road with no sign of civilization and Chris realized he needed to heed the call of nature. We pulled over and got out of the truck. The breeze was whispering through the last of fall's leaves on the Beech trees and I knew. This was where we were going to buy. Thank God Chris had to pee.

The Beginning

We purchased some land (more on that later) and are preparing to build our new home. I've enjoyed reading many blogs about similar topics and have learned quite a bit from them as well. So I decided to chronicle our adventures in building. Hopefully you'll enjoy reading about it and I'll continue to learn.

This all started back in November of 2007. I've tried to move chronologically in the following posts to bring this blog up to date. Probably left some stuff out, but it'll catch up eventually.