Our New Off-Grid Homestead is Underway!

If you’ve been following along via facebook, you know we arrived safe and sound in Nova Scotia. We haven’t stopped since arriving. We own two properties along the coast and we had the hard decision of which one would be the new homestead. After evaluating all the pros and cons, we’ve made the big decision. Our new off-grid homestead is underway!

Scenic Overlook from Homestead 2

Scenic Overlook from Homestead

Selecting the Homestead Site

Many of the criteria we have espoused in previous posts on our blog  http://www.inthewilderness.net/2017/01/09/selecting-homestead-site/ were used to evaluate the two properties. Some of the things we considered were ease of access, private location, potential for future close neighbors, good soil for a garden and orchard, a woodlot for aesthetics and firewood, strong potential for clean drinking water and a soil structure to insure a proper, standard septic installation. Johanna wrote up a spread sheet so we could  compare the parcels against each other. We rated each parcel in regards to each criteria. This helped us to reach our decision.

The Septic System

In regards to a septic system, we opted to apply for a standard C-1 septic system. My understanding is that in Nova Scotia C-1 is the simplest basic system. It entails a distribution tank and one lateral coming off both sides of the tank. Although we have a composting toilet that will be installed and our septic system will be used purely for grey water, for resale purposes, our C-1 septic system will be ready for someone in the future should the next owners choose to use it with a standard flush toilet.

Road Building and Clearing

Once we made the decision on a property, one of the first priorities has been to reclaim the beautiful gravel road that is about a mile long and heads across the peninsula. From lack of use, the road is overgrown with alder. After consulting with a local contractor, he recommended that we use an excavator with a grapple that can actually grab an alder bush and rip it out by the roots. This is by far more costly and time consuming but it is the best method in the end. We could have opted for a bulldozer to plow and shear the road open but any alder roots that would remain would regrow quickly and we would be overgrown again in a few years. Or I could have used either a chainsaw or clearing saw to hack the alder down but we would be faced with doing that routine every few years due to the roots sending up new shoots. Using an excavator with grapple is the best method for long term control of the alder lining the road. It also leaves the majority of the roadbed undisturbed so hopefully the roadbed doesn’t reseed and rejuvenate itself in alder.

We also had to select a specific location for the homestead itself, a daunting task that we accomplished by wandering around the heavily treed property. We have chosen an area that looks to be an old homestead site or pasture. From the vantage point of cliffs and high ground about 85 feet above sea level, it overlooks the ocean. The views are magnificent. I selected the route of the driveway that goes from the gravel road to the homestead site. It goes through the forest and I flagged and cut a path which the excavator will turn into a driveway for our access.

Clearing the Homestead

Clearing the Homestead

Chainsaw Safety

Please take note in one picture my chain sawing attire. Although we are closer to medical help than we were living alone in the wilderness, it is still imperative to be fully protected when using a chainsaw. Steel toed logging boots, Kevlar chaps and a helmet with eye and ear protection. For those who haven’t read my book, I spent a good 20 years logging our wood lot in Maine. My very first day “on the job”, I was very lucky not to be seriously injured when I looked up and a falling branch hit me in the eye. Foolishly I had begun my logging career with no personal safety gear. Fortunately,  I was given a second chance and I immediately bought all the proper equipment. Please consider wearing all safety gear before using a chainsaw!

At this point in time, we have the septic approval from the Province and the building permit application is started. Roughly 2 acres will be our homestead site. As we did before at our northern Saskatchewan wilderness site, we are manually clearing the area by hand with a chainsaw while Johanna piles the brush and limbed trees for later use.

Piling up Brush

Piling up Brush

Once the 2 acres is cleared, it will be much easier to assess the lay of the land and stake out the exact locations of house, garden, orchard, well, septic and solar array. The relationship between each of these entities is essential to an efficiently laid out homestead. See http://www.inthewilderness.net/2017/02/07/the-homestead-plan-part-1/  While the excavator is out, once it’s done with all the road and driveway work,  we will have it dig the well. That will tell us a lot. In addition to telling us the quantity and quality of water at our disposal, we will know the depth of the overburden and where the water table is. Overburden in this case is referencing to how thick the layer of soil and gravel is until bedrock is hit. That along with the depth of the water table will dictate how we build the foundation as well as if a root cellar/basement is feasible under the house.

One additional consideration for us is the fact that we are on high ground overlooking the ocean. It is obvious that the soil is eroding at the cliff edge although at a fairly slow rate. We can tell the rate of erosion is slow because further down the eroding slope approaching sea level we can see mature spruce trees that have a tenuous grip on the soil. Regardless of the minimum legal setback from the ocean, 25 feet, we will set back a longer distance from the edge, at least 125 feet. This will give us peace of mind plus there’s no point making the news as the last remnants of our house slide over the cliff never to be seen again.

Scenic Overlook from Homestead 1

Another Scenic Overlook from Homestead

Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!

Ron and Johanna

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8 Responses to Our New Off-Grid Homestead is Underway!

  1. Margy Lutz says:

    It will be interesting to follow the progress on the homestead. I was interested in your septic solution. Right now the BC government is trying to figure out what will be approved for our gray water disposal. Laws have changed everything and meeting the new waste requirements on a floating cabin aren’t clear. Our cabin owners association is in negotiations with forestry (the responsible agency) but there’s no conclusions yet. Tense time on the lake for all 200+ cabin owners. – Margy

    • Ron Melchiore says:

      I can imagine how tense it is for you folks. Anytime we deal with government entities, it’s a nervous experience. I’m sweating out the whole process of a building permit and inspections.

      We had planned on purely a gray water septic system and had contacted the engineer. We thought an engineer was the only entity in the Province to approve septic systems. After we contacted one engineer and found out the cost, he suggested contacting a “qualified” person to evaluate the soil and just pick a standard septic design. And it would be cheaper. So we learned an engineer is around to design specific systems but qualified people have enough education and experience that they can come out, look at the soil structure and make an application for the landowner for standard septic designs. Because it was cheaper, we opted to go for that and bypass an engineered system. The system was easily approved by the health authorities and we’re good to go. (OOPS pardon the pun)

      The bonus is that it is now approved for a flush toilet if the next owners care to install it. I hope it all works out for you and the other cabin owners. Best of luck! Ron

  2. Anita Babcock says:

    I just found out about you from your article in Backwoods Home Magazine. We live near Yarmouth. Whereabouts in Nova Scotia are you?

    • Ron Melchiore says:

      Hello Anita. I’m sorry for the tardy response. We just got back from the property. We don’t have internet or camp site setup yet and are still trying to get access to the homestead. The road is being graveled in spots. It will be so nice to have the camp set up with internet and power. I’m glad you found us and we hope you will find our journey of interest. We are in Guysborough County. Not too far from Sherbrooke. Quite a ways from Yarmouth area though. You can also follow along on our facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/OffGridAndFree.MyPathToTheWilderness/

  3. Carlos says:

    May I ask how much the excavator was per hour? We’re at the driveway planning stage :0)
    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Ron & Johanna Melchiore says:

      Hello Carlos. Thanks for the question. I don’t have an easy answer for you. Canadian dollars? US dollars? How big a machine do you need? If it’s a big job, would it be an advantage to figure cost by the job and not by hour? If it’s multiple days work, can you find a contractor willing to give you a break on hourly cost since he/she isn’t running in, off loading machine, working a few hours and reloading. How good is the operator? There are many variables. However, I believe in Canadian dollars we probably paid $80-90/hour for the size machine used. Be safe!

      • Carlos. says:

        I’m relieved to read that one doesn’t have to hire an engineer to “design” one’s septic system. We’ll just have to find the cheapest “QP”. And one contractor with an excavator who can then do it all: driveway, building site, dig the septic (C-1) and well (and the holes for our fruit trees).
        Thanks again for all of the invaluable information.

        • Ron & Johanna Melchiore says:

          Hello Carlos. Sorry for the late response. WordPress is no longer giving me notices when I get comments. I don’t know why. But yes, you have it right. Once you have a contractor out with the machine, look around and line up all the jobs that machine can do one after another. Time is money so have everything marked out and a game plan in place to use that machine the most efficiently. Stay well and thanks for the chat. You know how to reach us if you want to bounce any other ideas our way. Ron

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