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

Archive for September, 2009

Ok, so pressure treated lumber is more expensive than I thought

A trip to the nearby Lowes has set me back a few more bucks than I’d hoped. I needed to buy gravel to put under the concrete blocks and forgot to figure in the cost of pressure treated lumber. All-in-all I managed to get out spending about $350 instead of the $300 I budgeted. I ended up upgrading the floor to T&G plywood instead of OSB (firmer feel) and bought  3/4 ton of extra gravel (only $28 in a giant bag).

Building it by myself was actually pretty simple. I printed out several framing diagrams from the Internet ahead of time and with the aid of my trusty cordless circular saw (no 120 volt electricity up there) I was able to slam the deck and floor on in about 6 hours. That time includes about 3 hours for resting in the shade as it was 102 degrees by mid-afternoon. Since I was alone and working in the full sun, I decided to take my time and not push myself.

framing the deck

I think the hardest part of the decking was  leveling it. Since I didn’t use a bulldozer, I had to scrape and gouge out the uphill side of the foundation by about 6 inches. This was a real pain as the dirt was hard and really dry. Once the perimeter was framed, I had to dig down the uphill blocks a few centimeters at a time in order to get a level reading. Back and forth, back and forth with the level and the shovel finally paid off. The deck is absolutely square AND level in every direction.

the floor

I covered it up with a $39 tarp and it’s now ready for the big push, the walls are going to go up in early October. I have a freelance job until then so hopefully it will cool off and I can convince a few friends to come up and join me. I figure that if I bring a generator and provide lots of beer, it should go up easily with 2 or 3 of us. Lowes will deliver a truckload of lumber for $79 so I can use the bed of my pickup truck to haul tools and fresh water. I’ve made friends with the guy in Contractor Services so calling in my order a day or two ahead will get the load delivered first thing on a Saturday morning.

There are some secret hot springs nearby and even a microbrewery with killer hot wings and mind-blowing red ale. Should be a VERY good weekend!


The land is cleared and SketchUp is my new best friend

After spending a long Labor Day weekend with a rake and axe, I managed to clear a small patch of ground on a the pad next to where my trailer is parked. When I bought the land, there was a graded pad where the house should sit to take in the maximum view (270 degrees of  magnificent mountains). I placed the small cabin where I could still eventually build a larger house and have the cabin become a separate guest bedroom.

Building codes will only allow me to build an un-permitted structure of 120 square feet or less so 10′ X 12′ it is!  I’ve laid out some old boards to indicate where the cabin will sit. There is still 22′ of driveway to allow construction vehicles to squeeze by and plenty of unobstructed view even if a larger house does go up.

The cleared pad

I recently took a free SketchUp class offered by my union here in LA. I was amazed at how easy to use and powerful it is. After much trial and error and lots of “small-house” web surfing, I’ve decided on this design…

Cabin4Cabin4 viewR

The large 8′ tall commercial windows are salvaged from an old movie set and will allow me to have a free wall of glass. I chose a flat roof with a second slanted roof above because I don’t think I’m ready to be cutting so many angles on the sidewalls and with the drywall inside. The basic rectangle shape will allow for maximum use of stock-sized materials and no angle-cutting!

The tall windows face the main mountain view and with such a small space, the sliding patio doors require no inside clearance to open. They will face 2 gorgeous oak trees and the smaller green ridge beyond. A 36″ X 48″ slider window is located in the rear, over the headboard. With the patio slider open and screen closed, this will allow a bug-free and cool summer  (as well as spectacular nights sleeping in cool mountain air).

The slanted roof will hold solar panels and act as a shade overhang. It can be built and mounted again, with very little angle-cutting.

I’ve estimated the material costs at $1,800 for the whole cabin and since I can build in fits and starts, I’ll start with the foundation and floor, going upward as I can afford more. The only thing I’ll need to bite the bullet on is the patio slider doors. They are about $500 at Lowes or Home Depot and I can’t seem to find a good used pair yet.


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

The view from my homestead

A few years ago, I bought a plot of land on a remote mountain outside Los Angeles. With the economy deteriorating and my disdain for urban life growing, I decided to build my own homestead with the intention of transitioning to full-time country living. Due to some recent financial constraints, I can only afford to use free labor and either scavenge or pay very little cash for materials.

I parked my camping trailer on the land and have been using it as base camp on weekends. County ordinances do not allow camping or living in trailers but my neighbors are very private and have been pretty chill so far. The trailer has 12 volt battery power but no generator and must be filled with water regularly. It’s poorly insulated and only has 120v a/c plus the propane furnace cannot keep up with the winter cold. It’s a good enough starting point though, even with it’s limitations.

I have already drilled a well but ran out of money before installing a pump or holding tank. There is grid power nearby but no line or meter dropped on the land. The power company will only drop a temporary line if I install several poles and have a building permit in place. This is proving too expensive right now so I’ll have to work around it.

My short term goal is to have one insulated and livable structure built before the first snowfall in mid-December. Although I’m close to LA, and it was 100 degrees Labor Day weekend, the land is above 4000 feet elevation and gets 4 full seasons. Snowfall is usually light, rarely more than a few inches, but it does get into the high 20’s-low 30’s at night during the winter months.

Next step, designing the cabin and clearing the land! Click HERE to read the entire blog