Can a city boy build his dream homestead on a mountain, by himself and with no mortgage?

Posts tagged ““small house living” “tiny house” “do it yourself cabin”

a new. day. has. come

I’ve not been posting much over the past several months, mostly for 3 reasons.

1. it’s all quiet on my land and there’s not much to talk about (true) and

2. my life is so glamorous and busy that I barely have time to write out a grocery list (false)

3. I’ve been scouring the country in search of a better place to live than California (also true, see my posts from June 2012)

so I headed East…

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too muggy.

Further East…

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too dangerous.

Even further East…

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umm, no.

So then I went South…

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too depressing.

and further South…

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too wet.

Finally I went to Arizona…

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Now that feels ’bout right!

I cracked open my piggy bank and bought a small house at the edge of the sprawl outside Phoenix!

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This is the view out my front door!

The new casita is still technically a small house at 750 sq feet (not a tiny one tho). It has 2 bedrooms, 1 good-sized bath with double shower, laundry room, open kitchen/dining/living room, a nice large patio, and plenty of open spaces, desert critters and the cutest old wild west town a mile down the road!  It’s only 25 minutes from Downtown Scottsdale and the Phoenix airport AND, it cost me less than the down payment on a tiny 1 bedroom ghetto apartment in a bad part of Los Angeles!

What to do with my mountain and my tiny cabin? What about my career, spent basking in the glamour of Hollywood? What about my friends, family and everything else?

Hell, I don’t know. I do know a few things though…

1. California is a financial and social train wreck and getting worse. It’s not a place I want to (or can afford to) retire.

2. I love the desert and the scrappy people of  Phoenix and I LOVE my new little casita!

3. As a working freelance Hollywood creative professional, 90% of my work in the last 3 years has been OUT of California so realistically I could live anywhere near an airport.

4. It’s a 6 1/2 hour drive from Hollywood to my new casita, 8 hours to my mountain and my little car gets 40 mpg.

I am now splitting my time between my mountain, the new desert casita, my apartment in LA, and my work on the road so…

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I’m pretty sure I’ll work all this out, I’m a smart guy.    Maybe now I’ll be a happy guy too?

e.


All quiet on the Western front

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much lately, all is good, weather is hot, work is slow, cows and I are lazy, not much else to report.

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Tri-tip and Sirloin are fine, London Broil has been visiting her mother in the next county (I assume) and Lil’ Sirloin spends most of his time with the hoodlums down by the creek.

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The woodpecker has moved on finally, the disco mylar strips and attack spikes have managed to put a wrench in his gears so he’s off destroying someone else’s cabin.

Eventually I’ll do something and write about it, but just not today!

The lazy hazy crazy days of summer keep a rollin’ on

 


Anybody wanna be my neighbor?!

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There is a small plot of land for sale, not too far from my place, and I wanted to let y’all know about it! Small plots near me are rare, small ones for sale even rarer, and this one is a beauty. It’s almost a full acre, with plenty of oak and pine trees, a small wooded hill, and a good wooded flat area. It is one of a group of 1/4 to 1 acres plots that were originally carved out to be a housing developement back in the 1930s. I looked at it last week and someone could bulldoze a driveway right off the main road and put up a cabin with relative ease.

There is a power pole with electric and telephone service on the property line, so you could plug into the grid with a building permit. There’s also a well on the property line that belongs to a neighbor. It may be possible to negotiate a share agreement so as not to dig a separate well.

The asking price is $15,000, the general going rate for about an acre in the area. FYI, Vacant land is usually not mortgage-able, the buyer must pay cash or have the seller finance it with 50% down.

It is located about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Hollywood, North of Los Angeles County. If anyone is seriously interested, email me privately at theurbanrancher@gmail.com and I can get you more info.

On a personal note, please don’t email me just to get details for curiosity’s sake, only if you are seriously looking to buy. I don’t want to overwhelm the real estate lady with questions, I’ve met her in town and she’s very nice!


me and my big mouth

cabin close

A few weeks ago I was asked, by a very nice girl, if I would want to participate in a tiny house lecture/Q&A in Los Angeles. Being the publicity houndwhore that I am, I agreed.

With that in mind, if anyone in the Los Angeles area is not too drunk at 1pm this Sunday March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day for those of you in Rio Linda), come on down to Atwater Village, have a cup of coffee, and watch me make a fool out of myself for 45 mins! (you’ll have to buy your own coffee though). I’ll talk about my process, my cabin, and if I don’t get too nervous and wet my pants, I’ll answer questions about everything tiny house.

In case I suck and bore everyone to death, there’s a second lecture after mine about earth-building homes by a very cool and clever couple, it looks like they build fantastic hobbit houses from this picture on Facebook…

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Robert and Mireille from Earth Works Building will be speaking about the history of natural building traditions. From cob, adobe, and clay ovens, to newer methods like sandbag structures, recycle friendly earthships. Learn how surprisingly inexpensive, fireproof, and energy efficient natural building can be and the vital connection it makes in building community. http://www.earthworksbuilding.com/ 

Clearly they will be more interesting than me so this event should be well worth the drive (and if it’s not, we can always start a food fight!)

For you Face-place fluent types, there’s a interweb page about it…

https://www.facebook.com/events/138936376278864/

 

Tiny House lecture

Lecture is free.
Lunch is pay-what-you-want.
Q&A to follow both presenters.

 

The event is being held at “Thank You For Coming” at 3416 Glendale Blvd, in Atwater Village, a short walk from either Silverlake or Glendale, I hear that the food is fantastic.

Like the cool kids always say, be there or be square!

e.


long time no see

little sirloin

Hey y’all!

Sorry I’ve been offline for a while. Truth be told, I have very little news to report on my tiny cabin. As my sainted late Grandmother used to say “no news is good news, now go get me a beer sweetie!

All is well up on my mountain, the woodpecker and I are still playing our game of peck, destroy and repair. No signs of man-eating beasts but Tri-Tip and Sirloin had a baby! I’ve named him “lil’ Sirloin’ after his Father (see adorable picture above). The weather has been glorious, I am content, fat and resting.

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I had a very busy work season and am now in full repose, gonna start on my next project as soon as the winter chill is out of the air. I promise I’ll post as I go, once I start going!

Thanks for hangin’ in with me. Go out and find someone you love, give ‘em a big hug and a kiss and have a fantastic Valentine’s Day!

For now I’ll just sit here LMFAO watching Superbowl commercials, Tivo-ed hours of “Modern Family” and kitten/hedgehog videos)

e.


oh really?

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AN UPDATE to my last mobile piano post…

In my last post, I mentioned that I’d like to build a mobile recording studio with my real piano onboard. I put out a call for ideas on how to do it without trashing my beloved piano.

I’m getting LOTS (and I mean LOTS) of responses suggesting I just get an electric keyboard and save myself all the hassle.

Huh?!

While I DO own a fantastic Korg, it is not a piano. The sound of a live piano being played is otherworldly.  Any songwriter worth his salt needs a real stringed instrument to play. The keys push back against your fingertips and the pedals move with your feet, like Ginger Rogers dancing backward in heels. The harmonic vibration of the strings actually transcend this dimension and vibrate within other souls who are attuned to the ethers. You don’t just whack a piece of plastic, you dance through time and space with a finely tuned, precise, ivory trimmed piece of majesty!

If I wanted to make life easy, I’d never have undertaken this whole journey, remote existence and all, let alone build a home off-grid 4000 feet above the California sprawl. The idea is to overcome the bouncing trailer, the moisture, the weight, the risk and the general inconvenience.   CLICK HERE, listen to MCC for 3 minutes, then tell me I just need a Casio.

Come on kids, put your city pants back in the hamper and let’s do this!


a piano on wheels?

Wassup yos?

It’s been a fairly uneventful September, my work is very busy, the weather is great, all is well on my mountain.

Lately I’ve been dreaming of bringing my piano up into the woods with me. Not sure if I mentioned this but I was a modest songwriter/record producer for many years before I got into the tv/film business (music sorta paid for the mountain). I’ve been hankering to start recording again and would love to write music up on my mountain. My fave way to write is at the piano and I have one in my Los Angeles home.

I’m starting to design a recording studio on a trailer, kind of a single-wide trailer housing my recording gear and piano, soundproof-ed and stabilized for mobility. I could plop it down next to my wee cabin, open the french doors to the canyon and play and sing to my heart’s content (and the probable chagrin of the animals and people who share my canyon)

If anyone has any suggestions or cool ideas on how to do this without destroying my py-ano, send them over to me at theurbanrancher@gmail.com. I’m mostly worried about putting a very expensive studio upright (my most precious possession) onto a trailer and hauling it up to my mountain.

Shock absorbers? Hmmm…

 


Bigger is now officially better!

My ecrow has closed, the check has been cashed and the deed has been transferred, as Rush would say… “to those of you in Rio Linda”, I am now officially a land baron!

I have just bought a small parcel of land that make up a very sweet annex to my mountain. The new land is just across the street from me, simply walk to the end of my driveway, cross the street, and walk 100 feet up a dirt road into the woods.

I’m so happy I was able to get this land since it rarely comes available and when it does, it’s snatched up immediately by the neighbors. I guess I snatched faster than my compadres!
Not really sure what I’m going to do with it yet, it’s a marvelous little enclave with a sweet hilltop and a fantastic view, kept private since it’s all surrounded by small hills.
The parcel had already been subdivided into 4 lots, zoned for 4 separate homes. Maybe there’ll eventually be 4 tiny houses there? In the next few days I’ll set up camp on my new hilltop and contemplate what to do but for now, I’ll just hoist a few cold ones in my honor and keep dreaming.
Our houses can stay tiny but where pristine land, open skies, and our dreams are concerned, bigger is surely better!
e.

an update, a setback, and an upgrade

When we last left the UrbanRancher’s tiny cabin on Mt Elroy, it was being devoured by (allegedly) rabid woodpeckers and he was making plans to leave California…

First things first… I wanted to post some pictures of my  woodpecker “fix” to keep those nasty creatures away. Apparently they do not like wire mesh or anything metallic and shiny so that’s exactly what I screwed up onto the side of the cabin.

I am thrilled to report that after several weeks of the new contraption being in place, there are NO signs of any woodpeckers anywhere on the cabin! I’ll take down the mesh in a few days and re-install it again in the early spring aka “woodpecker mating season”.

Now, on the subject of my recent rant on leaving California…

I have just returned from a second fact-finding mission to Tennessee. I spent a week and a half sniffing around the greater Nashville area for acreage and getting to know the people better. I’ve made plans to return before the end of the year to meet with some realtors.

I’m also in the process of re-configuring my main house design to accommodate my possible move. There has been an engineering snafu and I don’t want to release my fantastically cool new idea until I’ve worked out at least the major kinks. I suspect that many of the tiny-house pre-fab builders will want to knock-off this idea so I need to be sure that I am legally protected in case there is money to be earned!

Now for some really exciting news…

My mountain is getting bigger! Land near me rarely comes available for purchase so when some did recently, I pounced.

Literally.

I heard through the grapevine that a small parcel of land belonging to one of my neighbors would be made available for sale. Within an hour I swooped in and made an offer. It hit the market at 10am and my offer was put in at noon!

It’s a very private piece of land, completely wooded, fully accessed by dirt roads around 3 sides, and has the same views as my cabin!

My offer has been accepted and we are in escrow right now! Since it’s a separate parcel and already zoned into a few small lots, I can either annex it into my main parcel, sell-off the individual lots to friends, or keep it as a little freestanding island of investment.

This opportunity has opened up so many possibilities, I need to absorb them all before I can take another serious breath!  I suppose it’s Murphy’s law on display. The minute I start planning to leave, the Universe makes me an offer I can’t refuse.

Kind of like the new car salesman I was dealing with recently, just as you’re exhausted from haggling and as you’re walking steadfastly out the door you hear… “WAIT, my boss just authorized me to knock off another $1000, I can make this happen for you today!”

and of course, you ALWAYS turn around

e.


is one a rat for jumping off a sinking ship?

this is an unusual post for me but it will explain my motivation for what’s coming up next on my mountain.

California is officially in shit shape…

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/us/huge-new-shortfall-predicted-in-california-budget.html?_r=1&hp

As a freelance Hollywood professional and a long-time California resident, I watch the financial health of the state like a hawk. In the past 4 or 5 years along with a constant degradation of “quality of life” here, I’ve seen much of TV and film production flee the state of California.

Tax credits and an unfriendly business climate have chased away a majority of TV and film work to Louisiana, Georgia, Michigan, New York, Canada, and even Eastern Europe. Last year I worked out-of-state 9 months out of the year. Apparently Hollywood is no longer in Hollywood.

The state of California is bankrupt and continues to spend itself into oblivion. With oppressive unemployment, the worst schools in the nation, absurd over-regulation and horrid taxation, the working middle class is leaving the state in droves as are the companies that employ them.

http://money.cnn.com/2011/06/28/news/economy/California_companies/index.htm?iid=Lead

I had the privilege to work on projects in both Atlanta and Nashville recently.

Tennessee and Georgia have low gas prices, low taxes, (no state income tax in Tennessee!) well paved roads, clean air, lush forested topography, very friendly people and VERY inexpensive land and housing.

I bought my land in Southern California with the intent to build a small residential compound and eventually retire to the woods, live a simple life shooting at animals, yelling at people to “get the hell off my land” and drinking lots of beer (ok, that’s partially true). It is becoming apparent to me that with the quality of life in California deteriorating, my dream may have to pack up and find a better state (and there are many).

http://www.kiplinger.com/tools/retiree_map/

It is a very big deal for me to consider abandoning California, as I’ve invested 20 years, my career, LOTS of cash, and plenty of emotions here. I do not take this decision lightly.

In order to survive as a state, it appears that California will be forced to explode a tax bomb on its property owners and residents in the next few years or go bankrupt and descend into anarchy. Neither of these is an option I find acceptable.

Governor Jerry Brown is considered by the financial gurus to be one of the major causes of our fiscal condition, dating back to his first term as governor in the late 70′s. In 2010, uninformed California voters chose to re-elect this hack over business powerhouse Meg Whitman because Ms. Whitman was alleged to have been unpleasant to an illegal alien maid. Yes, as hard to believe as it seems, the sunburned voters with their abysmal state-provided educations thought it best to drive the state over a cliff because of a manufactured claim of misconduct by Ms. Whitman.

Thankfully we have an election coming this fall. If California voters do not change course and vote out the entrenched political class in Sacramento, our future as a failed state will be sealed.

Much like the Greeks, it seems that Californians are unable to grasp the magnitude of their problem. Much like Greece, without an abrupt change of course California will descend into a failed third-world country in the next few years.

If that happens, I will not participate.

I have started looking at land in other states. I am assessing my options and am actively looking for work opportunities in Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia. How this plays out is dependent on my ability to find work out-of-state. How this plays out with my new small house plan is the subject of my next post. I’ve thought up a fantastic concept to move forward with my home design and building, pending relocation to a more stable part of the country.

it’s so cool, I want to finalize it before posting exactly what I’m gonna do.

Trust me, it’s awesome!

stay tuned…

e


the return of woody and his nasty pecker

It’s been gorgeous weather up on Mt. Elroy. Clear and crisp with some snow still on the distant peaks.

I was gone for a few weeks, went to Nashville and mid-Central Tennessee to check out the landscape (that’s a whole other post and a half). Upon my return I discovered that the evil “Woody the Woodpecker” had not only UNDONE the repairs I made to his recent damage, but he went back at my cabin with a vengeance.

Some of the holes actually go all the way through the OSB sheathing and into the insulation. Damage was done in all the same places, just more aggressively…

I nailed up some metal sheeting as a temporary fix. This week I will run down to LA and grab some metal mesh I have in the basement. Woodpeckers are Federally protected under the Migratory Bird Act (sounds like a lotta bulls**t if you ask me) so I can’t kill him. I can, however make life on the side of my cabin quite unpleasant for him. Metal mesh, sticky goop, and painted aluminum sheeting should do the trick (and maybe dull his pecker a bit). Since I am a law-obeying citizen and a friend to all living things great and small, I will bend my anger and let him live.

He may get a dinged pecker but such is life in the wild.

it’s a jungle out there.

I wish he wasn’t so damned cute


the devil is in the details

The first step in designing my new small house was laying it out in SketchUp.

SketchUp is Google’s very powerful and free 3D modeling software.  I downloaded it from Google (it’s freeee!) then simply watched a few of Google’s “how to use SketchUp” videos. I’m pretty good with all kinds of software already so learning SketchUp was pretty simple for me. I suspect most folks could learn it with relative ease.

SketchUp also allows you to add furniture to your rooms from a free user-created online database (amazing!!) and then walk-through your model. This makes it possible to see exactly what your house will look and feel like before you spend dollar 1 on anything!

I’ve decided to do detailed layouts of each pod, then spend as much time tweaking and finalizing my design BEFORE I hire an architect to draw my blueprints. By making most aesthetic decisions in MY computer on FREE software, this will cut down on paid hours given to the architect.

The first pod to be designed is the main room, kitchen/dining/living. I need to fit a full kitchen, dining table (I want one, ok?!) and full sofa/tv watching area. Since the kitchen is integral and permanent, it comes first.

SketchUp will let me download a fully built kitchen from the online model warehouse. I found one that is small, tight and will fit in 1/4 of my 16′ wide x 22′ long room.

In order to be precise enough for the architect, I need to design the kitchen down to the 1/8 of an inch. With my rudimentary modeling skills, SketchUp is not the best tool for this. I’m gonna let you in on a BIG SECRET resource…

the IKEA online 3D kitchen planner…it is simply AMAZING!!!

You’ll need to download their 3D browser plug-in so it will run on your computer (their website will let you do it automatically). It is an app designed for you to lay out your dream kitchen (using their products) then go to Ikea and it will spit out an exact list of what to buy (and how much it’ll cost).

It has a very slight learning curve but if you can use SketchUp, you will breeze through the Ikea app with ease. You can build the entire room, complete with doors, windows and vaulted ceiling (all adjustable to your specs), appliances and all cabinetry, all placed down to 1/16 of an inch!

Here’s my new kitchen in the main room…

and the view from the kitchen into the living room!

The app will let you print an overhead layout plot…

elevations of all walls/views…

and a material list with prices…

so as you can see, we’re almost to the point where anybody with a computer and an Internet connection can design their own home (for free) and as I proved last year,

ANYONE with a pickup truck, a few bucks and a dream can build their own home.

 

 

 

even me.

btw, I started one of those  face-page book things. It seems all the cool kids have them and I desperately want to fit in. Check it out and maybe be my friend? (that other tiny house place has like 8 million friends and I’m so totally jealous!)


and for my next trick…

I’ve been spending so much time up on my mountain that I think I’m out-growing the tiny cabin.

My goal of transitioning into full-time rural living is feeling quite attainable lately. I’m eager to put in some additional infrastructure (water tank, septic, garage), but I didn’t want to spend the money until I was ready to build the main house.

Knowing how long it takes to actually “build” a house, I thought I should get started sooner rather than later. I’ve been locked in my room playing around with SketchUp lately and I’ve finally settled on a design…

It’s a simple set of 3 small connected “pods”, built in the same style as my existing tiny cabin, bedroom pod, main room pod (living/dining/kitchen) and bathroom pod. Overall size so far is bedroom 12′x12′, main pod 16′x22′ and bathroom at 9′x12′ for a total of 604 sq ft.

By designing them as separate segments, I can use the lessons learned from building my small cabin and simply expand on them for the larger version…

-Single slope roof for ease of construction and lower material cost,

-Segmented design for building in stages,

-Built on piers for flood avoidance and easy utility access,

-Inter-connected rooms to make the interior seem more spacious (I love to roam from room to room in my LA condo),

-Use the same interior layouts from some of my favorite familiar spaces so I’ll know what each room will feel like before it’s built.

One of my favorite pre-fab homes is the FabCab, a timber-framed unit built using a pre-cut frame and SIPs. FabCab sells a gorgeous 550 sq ft model that is about what I need, the only problem for me is it costs $143,000 not including site work. Regrettably I do not have that kind of cash sitting around and I am not willing to borrow it.

FabCab’s lines are beautiful and very similar to what I’ve already built. By lowering the roof pitch, overall height and sidewalls a bit, I can get a more energy efficient interior by not having to heat and cool such a cavernous 14′ high space. By building in 3 segments, I can avoid a post and beam type timber frame and use less expensive stick-build methods (quality local labor is an issue in my remote area).

I can also have the exact floorplan I want to maximize my view and location, including an indoor/outdoor shower in my bathroom (a dream of mine, to be sure!) and a washer/dryer closet.

Since I will pay as I go and build it myself (with an experienced local carpenter or two), the interior and finish work can proceed at my own pace.

For the overall process I’ll go as far as I can in SketchUp then hire someone to do the blueprints, construction plans and engineering. Admittedly my grand scheme is only in the beginning stages but if I recall correctly, the last time I went down this road, within a year I had a cabin built (and got published in a magazine)!

Details are being considered, advice is being sought, money is being prayed for, the Gods of Art, Design, and Providence are being beseeched, and I’m feelin’ a fire down in me gut.

I hope to God it’s not the Lamb Vindaloo I had for dinner last night.

e.


what the f***ing f***k?

WTF?!

I was up at the cabin last weekend and noticed this…

and this…

and this…

I noticed the damage in the corner, up under the eaves

and what’s with the corners?…

when you look closely at the exposed tar paper, there’s acorns shoved all the way up and down the side…

I have been hacked.

a little online research found the culprit…

Bear in mind that it has been 4 days since I was up there last. This damage has occurred in the last 4 days.  Pecky the Pecking Pest is a fast little bugger.

More online research tells me to repair the damage immediately. Apparently Pecky the Pecking Pest will start pecking then get bored and move a few inches and start pecking again. If he can’t break through to the insulation, he starts pecking again, a few inches away until he finds a nice hollow place to roost. I prefer to roast him but this must be fixed asap.

I run to the big box store and…

remove the old, warped siding, replace the tar paper, fill the pecked holes with Bondo…

since money is tight, my dream of Ipe wood siding will have to wait. I buy more 4′x8′ T-111 and slap it on, caulk the edges and paint…

Voila’… new back siding!

It’s not the siding of my dreams but not too shabby, plus it should keep the local vermin and riff-raff out.

I set up a spy camera to see if I catch the culprit…

nope…

nope…

YIKES!

WTF is that? alligators?!

AHA!


thoughts on the tiny tumbleweed towable trailer homes…

A few weeks ago I drove up to Bodega Bay, CA to see an actual Tumbleweed Tiny House in person. Jay Shafer and his Tumbleweed Tiny House Company have had a lot of media coverage in the past year and I’ve been dying to actually see one of his homes in person. A charming and quite talented couple had built Jay’s “Lusby” model home to sell and they held an open house…see the Tumbleweed post here!

The house was adorable…

The 7500 lb. house is easily towed by a 3/4 ton pickup truck!

Check out the high level of fit and finish, it was stunningly well-built…

The kitchen was small but complete and the bathroom was surprisingly spacious…

The interior was beautifully done, hand-crafted cabinets & doors, solid construction, open airy feel with light woods, high quality fixtures and all-around terrific finish work. The shower was unexpectedly roomy and the upper loft area would be a magnificent place in which to wake up!

For some great pictures, scroll down through the blog post on the Tumbleweed site and on the Pepper Clark’s For Sale page here! 
It was a brisk (ccccold actually) and windy day at the bay. A crowd had formed as soon as the house was opened so I only had a few minutes inside. The thought that kept going through my head was how well-designed and built the home was and at the same time, how tiny it really was.
I know there is a lot of downsizing going on now and these popular trailer houses are definitely much more solid than a standard RV trailer but it was reeeeeally small inside! I suppose the weight limitations would make a larger/longer house too heavy to pull with a pick-up truck. Still, I’d love to build a larger main cabin and be able to move it where and whenever I wanted.  I’ll have to give this all some thought.

Great job Pepper, Jay and that shy guy who did the finish carpentry!


…and a ha-ppy new yeeeeear!

I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching this past month, temps on my mountain have been very cold and nothing newsworthy has happened at the cabin lately.  Though I’ve been offline a lot, I finally snapped outta my Xmas blues and snuck back online to wish y’all a fantastic 2012!

While it’s cozy here in the Christmas Corner, a big work push will be happening up at my compound right after I recover from my upcoming annual Jan 1 hangover.

Hopefully 2012 will see an addition to the cabin (oh yeah!), more decking, a sleeping loft (inspired by my friend Ranger X’s cabin!) and the successful online-ification of the recently completed “James P. Garzo Memorial Power Generating Facility”.

Gather ye young-’uns a-boot, pull that holiday goose outta yer oven and throw a cold glass of cheap Champagne on the fire for me!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Everyone!

e. and 2011 are o-u-t!


new trees, darker days and the reality of it all

Thanksgiving for me has always been bittersweet. I love turkey feasts and the gathering of friends and family. At the same time, I dread the onset of shorter, darker days and the cyclical unemployment that comes when Hollywood goes on holiday. This year, it seems, will not disappoint in its consistancy. I took the above photo yesterday afternoon on my drive down the mountain. The warmth of the afternoon is at odds with the layer of cold dreary mid-day mist, sort of how I’ve been feeling lately.

 

I am thrilled to have met a fellow wilderness devotee and my alleged doppelgänger. He has agreed to let me blog about him if I use the pseudonym “X”.  He contacted me through the blog and we have recently met and shared war stories.

X is close to my age, size & shape, bought a similar sized parcel of remote forest land on a neighboring mountain, was a freelance creative Hollywood professional for much of his life, and has now begun the transition to the wilderness living by building a 120 sq ft off-grid cabin which he recently doubled in size. Our similarities continue on into minute details but I think y’all get the idea.

X convinced me to plant some fresh trees on my land so I decided to do just that. 10 in all.

I spent a day digging and planting and another day raking watering and mulching. It was one of the most fun things I have ever done. I’ve never been one to garden but after spending time with my hands in the earth, I was hooked. I understand why so many older women in their golden years delight in grooming their prize azaleas, rose bushes and hydrangeas. Count me in, ladies, I’ll even wear the big floppy hat!

These are some of my new babies before and after they were covered in a layer of mulch…

X tells me that they will grow a few feet every year so I planted some near the cabin for shade and ’cause they’re pretty.

The days are now get dark by 5pm so I’m glad my new outdoor fireplace is working like a charm. It’s throwing off heat in the face of my 29 degree nights, as well as illuminating the cabin when I retire indoors for bed!

One of the things I don’t read much about in other tiny house blogs is the feeling of isolation. I love the solitude, peace and quiet of my land, heck, sometimes I drive up there on a slow night just so I can wake up to the sound of quails and the smell of the mountain air. Truth be told however, after a few days it gets lonely. Ryo Chijiiwa on his “Laptop and a Rifle” blog touched on this subject early on but many other small living pioneers rarely mention it.

Is it just me or do we all get lonely out in the woods? I know many of this new “tiny” community are paired up and living with a partner but my life is complex to the point where I’ve not been able to settle in with someone who can just drop everything and run off to the woods forever. Maybe it’s just the inherited restless nature of my soul or maybe I need to commit to living in either city or on mountain. Either way, lately I seem to be driving myself up and down a familiar road,  going intentionally back into the cold but familiar mist at the bottom of my mountain.

 


Why did the sirloin cross the road?

I don’t know why, but I am endlessly fascinated by the herds of free-range cows that roam my mountain. They’re awfully cute, timid but curious, very gentle and quite friendly.

I awoke the other day to a herd chomping on the dry grass around my cabin. Free lawn mowing, I say!

One adventurous cow tried to get into the tool shed but thankfully, she has no opposable thumbs and the door was locked.

It looked as though Ms. Cow had rubbed up against a newly painted green wall, fortunately not mine!

One teenager was fascinated by my new Pier 1 patio set…

In my spare time, I built a small diversion wall to direct the upcoming seasonal rains away from the cabin.

Next week I’ll buy some railroad ties and make a garden bed behind the wall. If you look closely you can see the 2 small baby oak trees that have sprung up there!

I LOVE all the oaks on my land and hope these 2 grow happily and healthily in their new garden bed.

I also stopped at Lowe’s and bought an outdoor fireplace for the c-c-cold upcoming winter nights. I’ll add some gravel and decorative paving stones around the area so my friends and I can hang out around the deck once the weather turns cold and wet.

When you are inside the cabin and a fire is blazing, it’ll almost seem like the fireplace is indoors!

quick note…look at the gorgeous view in the glass reflection, you can see why the cabin is facing North!

A shout out to all the new blog subscribers that were referred by the Westways Magazine article! My blog traffic has increased quite a bit since last month’s story ran. There are a few cool things on the horizon that have come as a result of the article but I’m gonna keep quiet so as not to jinx anything!

Now that my latest tv job is done, I have plenty of free time to chase cattle, work on the land and think up clever twists on old children’s jokes…

btw, “to get to the other side”

DUH!

:-)


Welcome Westways Readers!

It’s been a hot summer up on the mountain. I’ve been busy working, going back and forth to Los Angeles so I’ve not had much free time to get any “interesting” work done on the homestead.  This has led to a lack of posts since I reeeeally doubt y’all wanna hear about brush clearance and fence repair!

AAA’s member magazine, Westways, just published a story in their September issue called “This Small House” and included me in a section called “Pint Sized Abode”  and I’ve noticed a sudden rise in my blog traffic. I wanted to officially welcome any readers that have been referred by my mention in the magazine!

If anyone is curious how I built the cabin (or survived it, LOL), all my posts are all listed by month, from the beginning, in the sidebar to the right —>

Please feel free to email me at theurbanrancher@gmail.com if you have any questions, comments or ideas on how I can improve our small house community!

Now I need to get back to my brush clearance, fence repair and beer testing!

e.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


May Cows and the Lazy Days of Almost-Summer

Well May certainly has slipped by quickly! It’s been a busy work season for me in LA so my mountain time has been reserved only for rest and play, not much cabin work going on. The cows have been out in force lately too, lots of cute baby ones running around. With so many roaming through my land,  I really don’t need a lawn mower, I just watch and let ‘em graze. They’re all so cute, so friendly and so delicious!

I did manage to put up the stained siding on the power shed. I’m not wild about the color but re-staining will have to wait for another day, May has been all about R&R.

I also put a fresh coat of paint on the mini-deck. After a harsh winter it had started weathering…I just can’t have my friends sitting on peeling paint now can I?!

All in all it has been  a glorious spring and I’m looking forward to another spectacular summer. Heck, I may even get the solar panels and wind turbine installed!

Hope everyone is having a safe and glorious Memorial Day Weekend.  I also want to send a big shout out to all our military brethren and their families…thank you for your service!

Now go grill a big steak!

e.


April showers with a 40% chance of winter wonderland

The weather report was for sunny skies and weather in the 60′s so last week, I ran up to the mountain to do my spring chores. Fences need to be mended, posts replaced, brush clearance needs to begin, front siding still not done on the power shed, repainting winter-worn wood, solar panels and wind turbine to be installed, the list goes on!

Day one went as planned with a 40 foot length of rotting wood fence torn down and 2 new fence posts set into concrete, a new mailbox post installed, and gate posts were repainted. All in all a productive work day mixed with a few naps and tree-gazing sessions.

Day two was not so fun. Rain started at 10am and continued all day, temps dropped into the low 40′s and I retreated into the cabin to stay warm, drink hot cocoa and read. The rain was not letting up so I headed into town to buy comfort food and more beer. Driving back up the mountain I noticed a light snow falling and the temperature gauge on the truck was flashing “ICE/32 degrees!”.

Upon return, my land has a sweet dusting of snow, it is adorable but work is over for the day. I retreat, close the curtains, crank up the Lil’ Buddy Heater and fall asleep watching a movie on the laptop.

7am my eyes pop open and the cabin is ccccold inside! I stumble to get the heater back on and lift the blinds on the side window. This is what I see…

Apparently it snowed all night, dumping a full 8″ on the ground! Winter f-ing wonderland!

I bundled up, grabbed the camera and ran outside…

Needless to say, I had coffee NOT on the outside bench. The thermometer said 30 degrees outside and I couldn’t have been happier!

Although I cancelled my chores for the week and headed home early, a week later I’m still thrilled to have been completely surprised by the snow.  I guess this is one of those little things that only happen on one’s own mountain, all alone, when you least expect it.

as does so much of life!

 

e.


How I Learned to Grow a Beard, Read a Parcel Map and Write a Manifesto in Ten Easy Steps

In the past week I’ve received several emails asking me about how I found my land. Last year I wrote a guest article for the Small Living Journal called  “Finding Land For Living”.

With all the recent questions coming in, I decided to re-post the article here to hopefully answer some basic questions and issues that will come up on a land hunt.

FINDING LAND FOR LIVING

(or “How I Learned to Grow a Beard, Read a Parcel Map and Write a Manifesto in Ten Easy Steps”)

If the question is “How do I find land to live on?” then the answer would simply be “well Einstein… look!”

So in 2003, while sitting on a pile of cash from the (lucrative, LOL) sale of my house… I looked.

I quickly learned that the question SHOULD have been “How do I find land to live on that I can actually afford, have permission to build on, get onto with my vehicle, have potable water, electric power, a phone line, not get shot by crazy drug-addicted neighbors and, make sure I actually own what it appears I’m buying.”

Prologue. Start your engines.

While on a camping trip in the mountains outside of LA with my buddies, I found myself in a local watering hole, chatting it up with a commercial ranch broker. I just came into some cash and was looking to buy a piece of land in some remote Valhalla where I could eventually grow old, free of the rat race (and my annoying common-wall neighbors). His advice was to start with a local agent but to do all the research myself. He confided that many realtors often don’t put the same time and effort into selling vacant land that they put into houses. True dat.

Next day, I walked into the nearest mountain-town real estate office (the one festooned with the largest flags and loudest bunting) and announced I would be buying some land. I was assigned to the agent on duty, a lovely older woman with very little experience selling land. My meeting with “June” convinced me that indeed I would have to drive this land bus by myself.

The driving part was not so simple. This is what I learned.

Lesson One. Decide where you want to buy.

This is obvious but often taken for granted. “I’ll see what I can afford” is usually the first step but I say re-think step one. Take into consideration that while you’re building, you’ll be commuting from your home base. Friends will be more apt to visit if it’s closer to home. You’ll spend more time there if getting there is easier. I bought my land about 120 miles from my home in LA. Without too much traffic it takes 2 hours travel time if I hustle, 2 1/2 hours on average (with a gas, burger and a pee stop).

The Internet is great for finding parcels of land but you’ll really need “boots on the ground” to show you what Google Earth and Microsoft Bird’s Eye cannot. Once you have your general location picked out, a local agent can send you listings that fit your needs.  One factoid…with vacant land, an agent’s commission is typically 10% but it’s usually paid by the seller.

The further away from a city your land is, the cheaper it is.  There are many factors that determine the price of land and for me, “getting to it regularly” was near the top. I scheduled viewings on weekends and would hit several lots per day. It’s good to see them back-to back to compare how they feel.

Lesson Two. The better it is, the pricier it is.

Trees cost more, water costs more, paved road access costs more, a view costs more, privacy costs more. Large plots do get cheaper by the acre though. I bought 20 remote acres for the same price as a 60’x100’ lot in the local mountain town. I needed trees, privacy, road access and ground water. I got it all. I looked at 30 properties over 6 months and sat down with my list of pros and cons before making my choice.  It’s a balancing act. Fortunately the property I chose was heading to a tax auction. I bought it for a very reduced price just 2 days before it would have sold to county insiders on the courthouse steps.

Lesson Three. Where IS the property line?

Most realtors will not know where the boundaries are. Have your agent get you the parcel maps on properties. They can usually just print ‘em out at their desks. These maps will give measurements and notes on where the boundaries are. The listing sheet will often have landmark notes, “North boundary is below the fork in the road and the big oak tree”.

I suggest buying a handheld GPS hiking device and use it to walk out the property. I set waypoints at the known corners and hiked the perimeters following the parcel maps. It was pretty simple to do and VERY enlightening. The GPS will tell you how many feet you’re walking in any given direction. The parcel map should have those feet measurements. Many counties now put their parcel maps online, overlaid onto Google Earth satellite photos.

Lesson Four. Easements.

Make sure you can gain access to your land. If there is no road in, the land will be cheap. If there is no road in, how will you get in? Permission to bulldoze a road over your neighbor’s land is legal but usually VERY hard to get and will involve years in court.

The out-of-pocket cost of bulldozing into your land depends on the terrain but it can get pretty expensive.

Make sure no one will be suing YOU for permission to bulldoze through your land to access THEIR parcel. I passed on 2 glorious parcels for these kind of easement issues. (As a note, 6 years later neither of them have resolved their access issues and one is still tied up in court)

Lesson Five. What do you mean I can’t camp on my own land?

I cannot stress this enough…Check the local county ordinances, zoning and building codes!!! Many counties will not allow you to camp on your vacant land or even park an RV or trailer without a house in place. Many counties have zoning laws that won’t allow mobile homes or manufactured homes to be put up at all. You MUST check the zoning. It’s often easy to do this research online through the county’s web page.

My land is zoned “A-1” agricultural. I cannot camp on it. Many counties will demand that you determine the use of a vacant parcel by putting up a structure. A home (residential use), a barn (agricultural use), a business (commercial use), crops, or something that will establish what KIND of use. In my case I can live there ONLY if I build a minimum 440 square foot house that is NOT a mobile or manufactured home. If I was zoned R-1 (residential) or MH (mobile home) I could live in a double-wide!

There are pages and pages of restrictions on what, where and how I can build my house, EVEN THOUGH it’s quite remote and nowhere near Los Angeles. If any of my neighbors were to complain, the building department would make a total pain-in-the-ass of themselves, even in the middle of nowhere (they have already done this to my next door neighbors because of their live-in trailer).

Lesson Six. What, no mortgage?

It is virtually impossible to get a mortgage on vacant land. You must pay 100% in cash at escrow OR try and get the owner to carry a loan for you (usually with 50% cash down & 5 or 10 years of payments).  Real Estate companies will often package land parcels with a low down payment and monthly terms but double-check the details. They’re often used on undesirable parcels and you could end up over-paying based on the local comps.

In 2003 when I bought my land, Bank of America WAS writing mortgages on some vacant land IF there was a working water system in place. I’m not sure if this is still the case. Which brings me to…

Lesson Seven. Water.

You gotta have it. It’s availability will alter your purchase price dramatically but,

You gotta have it.

If you have city water pipes already in place, you’ll pay for it up-front in the purchase price (and you should check on the monthly fees). If there’s an existing well on the parcel, you’re in luck. If there’s a well shared with neighbors, that’s good too. If you need to drill one, take a deep breath.

Ask the adjacent neighbors how deep they drilled and who did it. It’s a good shot that your well will tap into the same water table. My well went down 260 feet through decomposed granite (easy to drill through) and in 2003 it cost me $10,000 (original estimate was $7,000). This is just for the damn pipe in the ground. A 3500 gallon (minimum) storage tank is required by my county (for the fire dept). This will cost me another $5,000 and the pump, pressure system and piping will be another $5,000.

Lesson Seven A. Utilities.

I’m not sure how important electricity and a phone are to you but I found that I REALLY needed phone access. Power poles are often located near a property line but many parcels are beyond the reach of the grid. This can be a plus to many, especially with the advances in solar and wind power. The close availability of the grid will “up” the price of land but power is a whole other issue. I just need a phone.

I found it extremely difficult to coordinate with realtors, surveyors, contractors, friends, work and more without a phone. Many remote parcels are beyond the cell grid so communication is tough. Access to a land line was important since I’ve no cell service for 10 miles in any direction.  I will eventually need to work from my mountain so this was on my checklist as a “must-have”.

If you’ll eventually need access to the Internet, DSL’s are rare in the wild and you can forget about cable modems, LOL. Dial-up has become my demon.

2011 UPDATE: Satellite Internet seems to be gaining ground, HughesNet and Wild Blue are 2 services that some of my fellow rural-ites use. Both will require 120V electric power.

Lesson Eight. Do I even own it?

Vacant land can often have title problems.

“Pops said he won the land in a card game in 1931 but he’s in a nursing home in Omaha with Alzheimer’s, we can’t find any paperwork”,

“My Father left this parcel to us 7 kids but it’s in probate til we find Crazy Sally”,

“Winnie said the papers burned up in the trailer fire”,

“When they cleaned out the cabin, all we could find was his manifesto”.

Yes, 3 of these are actual quotes I heard from people with land for sale. Make sure the title is clean and your escrow company does due diligence. I have an ongoing border dispute with my neighbor Hal about an alleged easement that was hand-written on note paper in the 1930’s. Hal’s bulldozing a road and heading straight for my property line. The county won’t get involved and neighbor Hal carries a shotgun so my surveyor is afraid to go near that border. I figure Hal’s really old and has been pretty sick lately, he’ll probably die before his bulldozer makes it to my property. Problem solved.  But ohhh, the title issues his kids will face when they try to sell!

Check the title.

Lesson Nine. No Fear.

Ask lots of questions, even if you feel like a total dumb-ass. I’d bought and sold homes in the past but with vacant land, there were so many issues I’d never seen before (dig for my water, wtf?!). The folks I dealt with were always more than happy to explain the smallest detail when asked and they eagerly referred me to their vendors and resources.

Lesson Ten. Git ‘er done.

Don’t let my gas-bag bloviating deter you. The entire land-finding process was WAY fun. I learned new stuff every day and as I moved forward, I felt smarter and more in control of my own destiny. Now that I’m actually building MY cabin on MY land, I feel like I’m on top of the world and I guess, I really am.

Good Luck!

elroy


keeping the down low nice and low down

I was corresponding to a fact-checker from Westways Magazine yesterday, they’re including my cabin and this blog in an upcoming article on tiny houses. I told my good friend Garzo about it and Garzo brought up a great point.

Westways Magazine is circulated and read by pretty much anyone in California with a AAA membership and that’s a heck of a lot of people! When I started this blog, it was more of a cathartic experience, a “real-world hard-copy” record of my cabin construction.  It would serve to keep me motivated and on track. Heck, if I opened my big yap and told the Internet that I’d do something, I sure better get it done!

In the past year or so, my regular readership has grown into the thousands. I get a decent amount of email and so far, ALL of it has been kind and supportive. Now, with the exposure to potentially hundreds of thousands of new readers I want to ask a favor…

Will you all please keep my location secret? My master plan relies on the discretion of everyone involved. While everything I’m doing is intentionally “street-legal” I’d really prefer to stay well below the radar. I’m an extremely private person with a career in the entertainment biz (go figure) and I’d love this whole cabin thing to stay on the down low. My mountain is my refuge from the world and I’d hate to lose my one small piece of serenity.

It was a big decision for me to open up and share my project with the magazine and I’m a little jittery about it. The writer was extremely kind and I trust her to be discrete.

Ultimately as I build more, I’ll reveal more details. For now though, I’m good with anonymous.

thanks guys, I know you all understand.

e.

(hiding under the couch with the cat and a bottle of Cuervo)


it’s gonna be an ELECTRIFYING winter!

I was planning to write a wonderful holiday post, filled with glorious winter pictures of my mountain compound… and then the rain started.

As you’ve probably heard, Southern California was just visited by 6 days of Biblical style rains. Sadly, all of the access roads to my mountain have been flooded, washed out or covered in mud and boulders. Although the rain has finally stopped for a full day now, access to my land is blocked until after Christmas.

Last week, before the rain, I started building the “Carmen A. Garzo Renewable Green Energy Generating Plant” (in honor of my best friend Garzo’s generous Christmas gift of a solar panel kit).

I decided to house the solar panels, battery bank, wind turbine and gas generator in a separate structure. After scouting the areas near the cabin, I thought it best to put the power shed next to the tool shed. There is ample clearance for wind, close access to the cabin (50 feet) and an unobstructed view of the Southern sky. I would only have to remove one large nasty bush and level a 6′x8′ area. The building was to be small, 4′x6′ with a small cantilevered closet on the outside. Since I can’t store the gas generator in the same room as the batteries (KABOOM!), I’ll add a “garden box” style closet to the left side of the shed, just large enough for my generator.

Bush removal and leveling the piers took all afternoon and after a few beers, I called it a day. After building the cabin, I learned it was best to draw up a simple framing plan. I checked the wood pile for resources and happily I only needed to buy 3/4″ plywood for the floor and 5 sheets of OSB for the sheathing, all the rest of the lumber was in the pile!

Framing was fast. The shed is only 4′x6′ with a simple slope roof, angled at 15 degrees and facing due South. Lots of online research on mounting solar panels told me exactly how to orient the panels (due South at 15 degrees, LOL). It turns out that with an 8′ high front wall and a 7′ high rear wall on a 4′ wide building, I get a roof pitch of 14.7 degrees!

Since the shed is so small, the sheathing went on without a hitch.

I had plenty of leftover 30 lb. roofing felt to cover the shed.  BTW, you can see the cantilevered 4×4 skids sticking out the left side of the shed, this is where the generator box will sit.

Since I did not yet round-up any roofing panels, siding or a door, I tacked extra roofing felt over the door opening. I was planning to run up and finish construction the following weekend but I got a fast little commercial job and then the rains started.

I’m hoping to get up there and complete the exterior as soon as I open my Christmas presents, but with another round of rainstorms coming, I’m gonna have to put my faith in good old asphalt soaked roofing felt (“tar paper” if you’re old school).

Until then, I pray that everyone has a safe and joyous Christmas!

Ho Ho Ho and peace out…

E.


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