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Off-the-grid home that was inexpensive to build and very expensive to maintain

Search engines are a-buzz with folks who are looking to be off grid and create a more simple, affordable and independent lifestyle by purchasing property that is possibly undervalued because it doesn’t have power, water, or sewer lines running nearby. Sites like Living Off the Grid and Holding the Earth  have attracted thousands of followers looking for Do-It-Yourself information about products, the experiences of others, and tips for cutting the cord to “civilization”.

I have found very little credible information about how to select the property; the most important and most expensive element of your investment! If you’re planning on purchasing a remote piece of property, you’ll want to be a good detective, finding out as much about the hidden costs as possible, before falling in love. Costs for improvements such as water and septic, can make your dream home cost prohibitive, if these costs are hidden at the time you purchase your property.

1. Legal Access: Without a doubt, the most important first step to take before purchasing your dream spot is to acquire confirmation that the easement access you believe to be legal is confirmed legal on the deed. Meet with the local building officials before closing escrow to get their take on the legal access description in the deed. The seller should provide this paperwork for review before the close of escrow. Legal Access should absolutely be a condition for close of escrow, written into the offer. All recorded deeds are available to the public and accessible without the assistance of an attorney or Realtor. If you are working with a Realtor, they can, and should, attain this paperwork for you.

Is there a road maintenance agreement with surrounding properties? Do the neighbors adhere to the agreement? If there is no road or driveway to your building site, speak to an excavator who does road work, in your area, to get cost estimates before making an offer on the property. Crossing drainage or small ravines can add tens of thousands of dollars to your building cost.

2. Septic: Most rural properties will not have access to a public sewer system. A septic system is a private sewer system that disposes of waste, quite organically actually, by allowing the waste to break down in a tank. The “effluent” will then flow through a leach field where the water “leaches” into the soild, filtered by gravel. To find out if a standard septic system will function normally, a soils engineer will need to be hired to do what is called a “perk test”. Essentially, a big hole is dug, water added, and the engineer times how long it is for the water to drain.  Several issues can come up that would require a special (note to self: special is always more expensive) system that will need to be engineered specifically for your location. For example, if the water takes too long, if your ground water table is too high, or if there’s not enough drain-able dirt down hill from your home, it’s going to cost you. If a perk test hasn’t been done on your property, always be sure to have the condition of a successful perk test written into your offer.

3. The Well:  How deep is the average well in your area, and what are the average well costs? The county building department engineer may be able to give you some history on other wells, or drilling problems in the vicinity.

4. Sprinklers: Does the county building authority require sprinklers in homes without access to fire hydrants or in remote locations?

5. Good Fit: Does this property really work for the type and style of home you are thinking of designing. Does it have the proper southern or southwestern exposure, water, wind, to meet your energy harvesting needs? Finding a qualified Design-Build Construction firm with a sustainable focus before securing your property can help ensure that you will be shopping for property with a plan in mind. When you find your place to settle, it will be as ideal as possible for your logistical needs as well as your emotional needs.

Envirohaven Havens are designed to be site specific. With every package purchased, the set of drawings provided (including a site plan with excavation and foundation designs) is ready to submit for a building permit. We guarantee that it will meet the requirements of the local building jurisdiction.

The answers you discover to these property preparation questions, and other unknowns, might require a such large enough chunk of your budget that you won’t have enough left over to build your dream home.

Did I forget anything important that you have had experience with? Please add your comments or questions below. If you’re looking to live off-the-grid in Nevada, California, or Southern Oregon, please contact us to let us know if we can become a part of turning your dream into a reality. I look forward to hearing from you!