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Temporary living strategies while building

 
Posts: 43
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I was thinking it would be useful to have one thread where people could list all the different ways one might get by living on vacant land while they build their house. For example, when it comes to water one person might choose to drill a well first while another person might haul in large quantities of water, and maybe a third person is able to get by mostly with rainwater and buying a little drinking water.

My plan so far:
Camp in tent, until…
Cordwood temporary shelter
Compost toilet
Solar power camping kit
Water? Not sure yet, hoping you guys can help me out
Kong 50 quart cooler should keep meat for several days.
Cans of meat, some vegetables
Camping cooking set
Bucket bathes, like I did in India.

Not sure what to do when winter comes around for bathing. I am familiar with the wim hof method so technically I could just wash myself in the snow, but I’d prefer some heat.

I’ll probably go into town once or twice a week to restock the cooler. I imagine I’ll need to go into town for tools, supplies, etc. anyway. I follow an animal-based diet, so filling up the cooler with meat takes up most of my food needs.

Feel free to share your own strategy, offer tips, or point out what my list might be missing.
 
pioneer
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I think your strategy is good.I have started from scratch several times.Usually like your saying you start in a tent.You set up your outhouse/compost toilet.Then set up a kitchen area.In my experience it's good to have a shade.So I make a pole building to cook under.Winter comes faster then you think even though it's already summer.Build something you can use a woodstove in for the winter while you work slowly on your house house.So your cordwood shed might be good depending on how fast you can build.For showers in the winter you can stand in a tote and just wash with a rag.They also make propane instant hot water heaters.for water you our most likely going to have to haul water at first.Maybe you can set up a raincatchment on your outbuilding/shed.Then eventually get a well drilled.Be realistic you will need things from the outside world.hardly anyone lives from the land from scratch anymore and if they do it takes time to set up systems.Your list if you wanted it to could include tools you need/tools you have/tools you can borrow.Sounds like you have some experience off grid so I think you got it covered.Where is your land located and how far our you from a water source?Maybe you can tap into one secretly?Just adding my two cents.You got this.
 
master gardener
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My wife and I comfortably lived in an 8x10 tent in northern MN beginning April 1 and lasting through  July 1. Yes, we saw snow and cold weather.  In hind sight, we would have been better off buying an 8x14  storage shed.  It would have served better in both the short and long term.
 
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John F Dean wrote: In hind sight, we would have been better off buying an 8x14  storage shed.  It would have served better in both the short and long term.

In our area, the largest shed we'd be allowed would be 10ft by 10 ft without getting permits, but this was my reaction also. If I'm going to be working hard on building, I'd need to get a decent night's sleep, and camping was great fun for a week or two, but that was for holidaying, not working 10 hours/day!

In fact, I'd be inclined to get 2 sheds - one for a kitchen and fold-down bed and the second as a dry work space for tools - some on wheeled carts, so they're easy to bring out for cutting large things, but easy to put in to keep them out of the rain or dew. I'd insulate both. The tool one could have a bucket toilet and a bin shower spot in it for when needed.
 
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I am living in a tree tent, using a bucket with a plastic bag in lieu of a toilet, and cooking over a fire pit.
It is OK, but I have to admit I am eager to get the house built 😆
20220411_211733.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20220411_211733.jpg]
 
Kevin David
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Ben Skiba wrote: I think your strategy is good.I have started from scratch several times.Usually like your saying you start in a tent.You set up your outhouse/compost toilet.Then set up a kitchen area.In my experience it's good to have a shade.So I make a pole building to cook under.Winter comes faster then you think even though it's already summer.Build something you can use a woodstove in for the winter while you work slowly on your house house.So your cordwood shed might be good depending on how fast you can build.For showers in the winter you can stand in a tote and just wash with a rag.They also make propane instant hot water heaters.for water you our most likely going to have to haul water at first.Maybe you can set up a raincatchment on your outbuilding/shed.Then eventually get a well drilled.Be realistic you will need things from the outside world.hardly anyone lives from the land from scratch anymore and if they do it takes time to set up systems.Your list if you wanted it to could include tools you need/tools you have/tools you can borrow.Sounds like you have some experience off grid so I think you got it covered.Where is your land located and how far our you from a water source?Maybe you can tap into one secretly?Just adding my two cents.You got this.



Thanks for all that info. Nice to hear from someone who has done this a few times. I’ll be looking for land next month in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I’ve seen lots of land up there with springs. That could be a nice solution to the water issue.

I’m wondering if anyone has encountered problems with local authorities regarding living on the land while building. I’ve read that it could be an issue, but I haven’t encountered anyone who has had a problem. And I doubt it will be an issue in the rural UP, but I do want to check with authorities before purchasing. I used to know a guy who lived in a garage he built while he worked on a rather large house about 20 years. I recently heard he’s still living in that funky smelling garage…it smelt funky 20 years ago.

Jay, I like the two shed idea. I’ve been considering that.
 
Jay Angler
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Kevin David wrote:  I used to know a guy who lived in a garage he built while he worked on a rather large house about 20 years. I recently heard he’s still living in that funky smelling garage…it smelt funky 20 years ago.

 I read about a guy who lived in a perfectly lovely 2-car garage. He got permission to live in the garage while building the large house he'd submitted plans for because when he submitted plans for a small, efficient house, he was told that it didn't meet the local requirements. So he built and outfitted the garage and added an attached greenhouse, turned the rest of the lot into a permaculture paradise, kept the neighbors happy by giving them surplus fruit/veg when he had it, and since in many areas, bylaws are only enforced if there's a complaint, there hadn't been an issue in the order of 20 years.

Unfortunately, getting away with that in my Municipality is unlikely... too many people have bought into the "anything a bit different will lower the value of my property" even though that is far less true than many people would think.
 
John F Dean
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I have made a point of buying property where building codes are minimal.  That said, I do make a point of getting my hands on some well developed building codes when I do build.
 
pollinator
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If the land was purchased and in place, and it just happened to be loaded with trees (sounds like your U.P. area), then I'd:

1. prep a piece of ground (rubble trenches, swales, drainage) & lay two skids (derived from the property trees)
2. build an 8x12 platform on it (plywood, something)
3. pitch the tent on this platform
4. replace the tent asap with a shed design of some kind, which is built around the tent (then remove the tent)
5. repeat skid effort as needed for other outbuildings

Being on skids, such "temporary buildings" will bypass most code issues. From the outside, it should look like a storage shed ... on the inside, you build to your desired level of living standards. Wood stove, etc.

Develop your systems (power, water, wastewater):
1. haul water, onsite storage tanks, plumbing as you go
2. inverter/battery-bank, add generator (build a gen box for sound)
3. humanure/composting

Should be enough to live in during the warm months; get the shed to a state where it could be year-round living by the next winter.

Alternatively, build on a trailer, tiny home fashion, and take it with you if you have to move on (same tent on platform concept). No skids, but trailer still gets you around code issues.

Hope this helps ...
 
steward
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I built a cabin over the course of a year at a place 2 hours from my house by parking a pop up camper there.  It could keep up on heat even down to 20F for deer hunting but I'd probably go with a hard sided camper for full on winter in a cold place.  When I had the cabin far enough along to sleep in, I sold the camper for $50 less than I paid for it.  All that usage for $50 and I didn't have to limit/accommodate a temporary building later in my design plans.
 
pollinator
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I'll just throw out a bus as a possibility. I see lots of people online say they get buses in reasonably good condition from school systems for a couple thousand bucks. My brother works at one of those garages and he said they will often go as cheap as $1000 or $1500 here in Maine. It would be easier to heat in the winter than a tent (a little, but you can add insulation) gives some storage and living space that is more "out of the elements" than a tent. Granted it would take some work to strip it and add in stuff, but most places it can be classified as an RV, so there are no problems parking it in a place where even a shed of the same square footage would not be allowed.
 
pollinator
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I am a fan of building something you need anyway. Garden shed, barn, garage, etc. live in it until the house is done. A small shed with a little insulation is easy to heat in the winter as a bedroom.

I have a BIG tent I plan to use but I don’t want to go through a winter just in it.

You also probably need dry space to store tools and building supplies and to work.

 
Kaarina Kreus
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I live in Finland, a country with a long border with Russia.
I am thinking of building a root cellar where we could hunker if Rusdia attacks.
 
Jay Angler
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Kaarina Kreus wrote:I live in Finland, a country with a long border with Russia.
I am thinking of building a root cellar where we could hunker if Rusdia attacks.


There is a whole thread on building a root cellar to double as a storm shelter. One issue to be aware of is that a root cellar is normally designed to stay cool and damp. This could be pretty unpleasant for any length of time beyond a day. I'd consider designing it as two areas with only one damp, and the other insulated so that body heat or a small stove could warm it up.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Mike,

The same margin can be had with a travel trailer.  I had a coworker purchase a used motor home...drive it to Alaska for the summer...and return.  He sold it for a couple hundred more than he bought it for.  Of course, one critical element is how carefully that initial purchase is made.
 
Kevin David
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I’m still amazed at the quality(and in this case the quantity) of responses I get when I ask a question at permies. Thank you all for the ideas. I really like considering many options before settling on a plan, so it’s all useful.

I definitely want to make one practice cordwood shed before starting on the house built to code. I want to make it as much like the house as reasonably possible in order to get practice with each aspect of the design. Of course, some things which would be too time consuming will be compromised building the practice shed. Like aging the cordwood for example. I’ll try my best to use a wood that doesn’t shrink and expand too much, and I’ll split the logs to minimize expansion and contraction. However, I still fully expect there to be cracks and I’m fine with that. As long as it safely provides me shelter and a valuable learning experience, it’s a win.

I’m considering the two shed idea(I believe Jay was the one who mentioned it) even more strongly than when I said so in my previous post. As several of you have mentioned, there are many things to store. The idea of getting it all into one cabin less than 200 square feet seems unlikely. It would be nice to have a cover for my truck as well with the heavy snowfall. And speaking of heavy snowfall, I’m inclined to get a snowmobile too. The snowmobile could fit in the second shed.

The second shed is also a second opportunity to learn. I could experiment with a different style. Different foundation, different mortar. See which one I like more for the house.
 
Kevin David
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A few more questions I’d appreciate some perspectives on…

Regarding water:
What have people done for hauling in water?
Did you have it delivered? Pick up lots of jugs?
Any preferences for storing water in a camp setup?

What about mail?
P.O. Box is the only option I can think of. I’m guessing I’ll need some fairly large items shipped at some point.

 
R Scott
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Mail is actually a big problem some places. I don’t need a building permit for a small off grid cabin, BUT I needed a septic permit to get a mailing address and will need a building permit if I want grid power. Even if only for an ag building or barn with no house on the property. Ag buildings don’t need permit, permits are tailored for houses only. It is a backhanded way to require zoning when the state has exempted agriculture buildings including worker’s housing at the state level

Water really depends on what you have to work with. Do you have a truck or trailer? How hard is it to travel your road? How far to get the water? How often do you go that way anyways?  

My preferred budget method is a food grade IBC tote for home storage. It is by far the cheapest in gallons per dollar I can find. A second one to put in the back of the truck is convenient if you have to make a special trip for water. A transfer pump will move the water easy without buckets.

Can you drive a sand point well?  
 
Jt Lamb
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We haul water, as we have an excellent water source (pristine mountain lake nearby). We are a mortgage-free and off-grid family of 4, and we use about 250 to 300 gallons of water each month.

Our water system infrastructure is an insulated/heated UTILITY shed 8'x16', in which lives an IBC up on conc heavies (for a bit of height); pex plumbing runs thru an insulated trench over to the house, about 12' away. We use our F350 with a 200gallon round tank to "haul water" ... this tank is easy to load/unload, freeing the truck up for other homestead duties. Once filled, a 1HP (sprinkler) pump and inlet/outlet hoses transfer the water through an access panel up high on the utility shed and into the tank; takes about 15m or so, and a few amps of power. Utility shed was built before anything else on the property, once enough roads were in, to protect all stuff that must survive winters.

If you don't have a truck capable of carrying such a water load (8 x 200, or 1600 pounds), just put it on a trailer suitable for carrying that load (with load-rated tires, and a vehicle that is setup to safely pull it!). The city/county infrastructure brings water down from the lake/treatment facility in a pipeline, about 30 miles or so, and several automated water taps are in place every so often. A simple "water card" and metered panel means we just plug in 200 gallons, and it delivers that into our tank.

We also have other tanks around the place, and it is easy to deliver water to those tanks for summertime use (gardening, etc.) ...

So, plan on enough sq ft in one of the sheds for 1 IBC (a round 500 gallon tank can replace it later, for upgrades), and plan on plumbing out, heat, and of course, power (inverter, battery-bank, generator ... later on, solar) ... even if you only use it in the summer for now, and drain it for winter.

I had thought that this would be temporary until we resurrected a water well on the property, but the system runs so well, and is so easy to do that bringing that well online will be years off still (oil & gas in the area, fracking, etc.); it may not ever happen, and to be honest, we don't need it, as we conserve water so well (see my other posts on what we do). We've been hauling for 5+ years now.

Water in tanks like this is a buffer in the water system, just like the battery-bank is a buffer in electrical system ... there's a chunk of resource available if things break/stop for whatever reason. *Must Have Buffers*, in every system!
 
Kevin David
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R Scott wrote:Mail is actually a big problem some places. I don’t need a building permit for a small off grid cabin, BUT I needed a septic permit to get a mailing address and will need a building permit if I want grid power. Even if only for an ag building or barn with no house on the property. Ag buildings don’t need permit, permits are tailored for houses only. It is a backhanded way to require zoning when the state has exempted agriculture buildings including worker’s housing at the state level

Water really depends on what you have to work with. Do you have a truck or trailer? How hard is it to travel your road? How far to get the water? How often do you go that way anyways?  

My preferred budget method is a food grade IBC tote for home storage. It is by far the cheapest in gallons per dollar I can find. A second one to put in the back of the truck is convenient if you have to make a special trip for water. A transfer pump will move the water easy without buckets.

Can you drive a sand point well?  



I believe I can drive a sand point well. Fantastic video. However, your questions really drive home the point that I may not need either a well or a IBC to begin with. I think I may just fill up a jug every time I go into town—because I do imagine I’ll be going into town once or twice a week. My only concern was the water quantity needed to mix mortar. However, I’m now leaning towards a different building method for the temporary shelter anyway. Which I’ll mention below.

Thanks to jt lamb and r Scott for the water info. Valuable perspectives to me.

Right now I’m still in the knowledge-building phase and I have no solid plans. I’ll be heading up to the UP in a month to look at land. I don’t want to rush the process, so I’m thinking I should plan on a building method for the temporary shelter that can be worked on in colder temperatures. If I build a log cabin, I don’t have worry about mortar.

What do you guys think would be an easy and quick temporary shelter that could be built in colder temperatures and keep me warm in colder temperatures? My understanding is that heating a tiny cabin(12x12) isn’t too difficult even with thinner walls—is this true? I’m guessing the property I purchase won’t have large trees, which is one reason I favored cordwood. However, I’ve heard vertical log cabins can be made with thinner logs. I also don’t understand why I couldn’t then just make a regular horizontal log cabin with thinner logs.

What if I made a log cabin using the pass and butt method with green wood of a smaller diameter? Say, 8”? What if some logs were 6”?

Or would the vertical method with a timber frame be better?

To be clear, this doesn’t need to be a structure that stands the tests of time. As long as it lasts long enough to safely get me to the house, it’s good enough.
 
Jt Lamb
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Site planning is everything, so much may be moot until you get closer to that perfect piece of land, and can see the lay of things. If you have to live in an 8'x16' space until the "big house" is built, you may not want the IBC & other utilities in there with you.

For water, dig a half-deep hole, plant the IBC, build rock- or cordwood-wall around it, cap with roof/hatch; this should be enough to protect it from 3 seasons (insulate for 4th season). Now your first "shed" is fully available for living in, vs storing utilities.

Given your particulars, I'd build an 8'x16' skid-platform (in a weekend); skids means temporary, so no codes (although you still build it "better than code") & no property taxes. See the "m-permieable" thread, here:

https://permies.com/t/178689/Permieable-TinyHome-Skids#1411968 (this is an 8'x12' platform, although it may get the tipi/yurt treatment until lumber prices come down, if ever)

Two end-walls with two a-frame walls later, you have a full a-frame structure with more than enough slope to shed U.P. snow load. Roof becomes siding, on the a-frame walls. End walls get the cordwood-wall treatment, for experience & visual appeal. If you extend the a-frame walls on either side (half-diamond pattern, if you can picture it), you end up with more front/rear porch area (could be decked later). This becomes guest house when you're done with it. If you are tall, as I am, many a-frame designs out there with a-frame wall "poke-outs", so no a-frame "slope-phobia".

Back half is kitchen/bath, front half is living ... either bed or storage in loft area (if you finish that out at some point).

Truck water to buried IBC, gravity dump ... small electric pump up to a-frame, and fill water carafe w/ 2.5gal jug on it. All utilities on common wall; spin carafe/jug, and it serves both kitchen sink and shower ... instant water supply.

Small gennie, battery-bank, inverter ... instant power.

Depending on your code/zoning, may need full OSSF (septic system ... not instant wastewater) before setting foot on the property, or portable camper toilets & portable blackwater tote ... instant wastewater (greywater onto the ground from shower area).

Did I forget any "instants" ... woodstove for heat (instant hvac, w/o the ac). Should also heat the water.

Really, REALLY helps to have a site plan to figure out how all systems tie together. Scratch one out on paper, adjust when the land is found.

Hope this helps ...

 
Kevin David
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Jt, thanks again. You’ve given me a lot think about.

I’m gonna try the sand point well first, like in the above linked bushradical video filmed in the UP.

Any recommendations for wood stoves?
I was watching some other videos from the bushradical guy and he just used a camping stove. I’ve been watching this 3-video series over and over on making a cheap cabin anyone can build. I’m abandoning the cordwood idea for the temporary shelter altogether since I may not be ready by frost. I am considering the A-frame suggestion as well. Been watching videos on that, including bushradical’s wife ‘girl in the woods’ whom built an A-frame alone. The fact that they are in the UP in these videos adds appeal to me. But I still plan on making a practice cordwood shed next spring followed by the cordwood house to code.

3-part series in UP. Seems like the easiest, quickest, post-frost, skill-free solution I’ve found. I plan on substituting some of the toxic parts for permies-friendly materials.


Speaking of code and permits. Is anyone aware of problems camping on their property while building a temporary shelter? I know I asked this earlier, but I’m coming at the question from a different angle now. Many places in the UP have a special category for short term stays with names like ‘hunting cabin’ or ‘recreational cabin’. The time one can stay in these places is limited. So I’m thinking I should be careful to check with officials to see if there is some time limit I have to finish this temporary shelter and apply for a building permit.

I assume I’ll have to get my building permit before I can stay in the temporary shelter beyond the allotted time for “recreational” stays. The amount of time allowed at cabins of this nature seems to vary. I feel like I’ve seen anything from two weeks to two months, but it’s been a while since I looked into this and my memory is a bit fuzzy.
 
John F Dean
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The first thing I did after I bought my property in MN was to have a well put in.  It was the correct decision for me.
 
Jay Angler
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Kevin David wrote:

So I’m thinking I should be careful to check with officials to see if there is some time limit I have to finish this temporary shelter and apply for a building permit.

That sort of thing can be *very* locality dependent, so a careful check is important. Some places seem to have few rules, but my municipality is crazy strict about it. You may still get away with it if the neighbors don't complain, but again, where we live, some neighbors seem to have nothing to do but complain!

Personally, I prefer fairly standard shed or gable roof styles. A-frames may seem easy to build, but you get a lot of useless space due to the steep ceiling, and it's much harder to put windows where you want them. In a forested area, I'd keep the roof as simple as is reasonable because every nook and cranny is a place for tree duff to collect and create a fire hazard. We had only one week to buy a house when Hubby was transferred here, and we're both ready to tear off the roof for something more practical. It's too steep and a place that doesn't require a steep roof, making it deadly to work on, and it's got all sorts of valley's and little chunks of eves trough that need regular cleaning or they start growing trees! You might think that eves troughs aren't important on a small building, but under certain conditions, you can get foundational instability if you don't control run-off properly. That doesn't need to be done with eves trough - I'd vote for "ground trough" if I could get it, as they'd be much easier to clean out!
 
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Jt Lamb wrote:...... *Must Have Buffers*, in every system!



This statement capped off a very interesting and nice thread.  Thank you for this!...
 
John Weiland
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John F Dean wrote:The first thing I did after I bought my property in MN was to have a well put in.  It was the correct decision for me.



We inherited our well in northern Minnesota and have never regretted it.  Water is so critical....  In a pinch for the animals, we can chop a hole in the ice of the nearby river and haul some up, but as we are aging, that is a less desirable option.  Trying to keep above ground tanks from freezing in winter would be extremely difficult I wager.  As an alternative, I did hear once of a person sinking a milk-truck tank into the ground far enough that his 'water stash' did not freeze.

Just adding to the chorus that recommends some sort of larger shed/pole building as a first build.  You can park tents, camper trailers, etc. inside to keep yourself away from the elements temporarily and store so much more in there to keep things dry.  And in the spirit of "buffers", during cold periods, the dead air 'buffer' in the building reduces exposure to rain/snow and extreme wind and cold.  Good luck!
 
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