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

Archive for November, 2010

Look out SoCal Edison, PG&E and DWP!

It was a cold blustery Thanksgiving weekend up on the mountain. Temps have dropped into the low-mid 50’s day and 20’s at night. The cabin was ccccold. It was time to try out ny new “Lil Buddy” propane heater!

I bought the heater at Camping World for about $80 last spring but never needed it until now. You screw a 1 gallon propane cylinder into the side valve and simply push the button and…instant heat.

It took about an hour to get the cabin from 24 degrees up to 60 degrees. Since it’s a combustion based heater, I need to crack the window open about 1/4 of an inch to vent the carbon monoxide (and NEVER run the thing while you’re asleep, NEVER!). A full cylinder should last 3-6 hours depending on how high you turn the thermostat. I heated up the cabin, shut of the heater, closed the window and slept like a baby. It was back down to about 48 in the morning but it was 28 outside. By the time I got back from making coffee in the trailer, the room was toasty warm.

In the pics above and below, you can see the Ikea $20 solar powered LED desk lamps. Sit it in the window in the sun for several hours and you’ll get 4 hours of reading light, they work like a charm for $20!

My other favorite toy is my new Makita 18v radio. It runs on 18 volt cordless power tool batteries. It has a terrific sound, big bass, and a surprisingly powerful antennae, all for $99 at the Home Depot. I also fell in love with the little LED flashlights you get at the cash register at the AutoZone, 2 for $5 and they work great.I have several and leave them spread around the car, truck, trailer and cabin so there’s always one handy.

Before I came up to the mountain, I found this Sunforce Solar Kit online at Amazon.com, it was highly recommended on one of the Solar Homesteading Yahoo groups I like.

It has 4 – 15 watt solar panels, a mounting frame, 120v inverter, charge controller, wiring and all the mounting hardware. It goes for $700 but Amazon was having a Black Friday Cyber-Sale and it was only $289! I was so excited, I told my best buddy Garzo. He had a bunch of American Express “points” that were expiring so for my Christmas present, Garzo cashed in his $100 in points and bought me the solar kit for only $189 AND they threw in free shipping (it’s a 62 lb box!).  I was gonna get Garzo a 12-pack of local micro-brewed beer (but I’m rethinking that now).

I’m so excited I could scream. Now I’ll have solar AND wind power!

I think that instead of the 30′ pole tower for the wind turbine, I’ll build a tall, narrow battery shed for the deep cycle batteries, orient the roof so that I can mount the solar panels on the roof AND put the windmill on a roof bracket attached to the shed. It’ll be my own little power generating station.  Elroy’s Power Company! This will allow me to store the gas generator in the tool shed and keep the charging batteries in their own hut, away from gasoline fumes and spark-generating metal tools.

I’m gonna take the time over the Christmas break to build the power shed, I should have enough scrap lumber to get it all framed up. Garzo will help and if I can guarantee a BBQ-d steak dinner and get the place decorated for the holidays, I may be able to coax some of my local homesteading friends over to help…before the snow comes!


so what aBOUT that trailer?

I got an email a few weeks back from a very nice woman asking me if I’d be interested in talking to her about my cabin and my blog. She is from Westways magazine, the SoCal AAA’s monthly. She was doing an article on tiny houses and the folks who love them. I called her back and had a lovely conversation. She asked me lots of questions about my cabin project and also about my lifestyle.

This past week she emailed again, asking me for pictures and my permission to use our conversation for her article. I was VERY surprised but also kind of happy. Westways is one of the magazines I enjoy and I’m a big cheerleader for this new “tiny house” movement that seems to be underway.  Hopefully the next issue will mention me and some of the others involved in the movement! (big shout out to my online hero Michael Janzen!)

In subsequent emails, J (the writer) asked a lot of questions on how I make do with the limited space and how I was transitioning to a smaller, more efficient lifestyle. It occurred to me that although my cabin is only 120 sq ft, a lot of slack is picked up by my camping trailer, parked right next to the cabin.

I never really talked about the trailer while construction was under way so I thought I’d write a few lines about how it is really helping to make my dream life possible.

I think the most important service the trailer provides is hot, running water! There is a 100 gallon tank on board and a propane water heater. I truck the water up in those 5 gallon buckets from the Home Depot. On the outside back wall is a small panel hiding an outdoor shower. It’s an amazing thing that I use regardless of the weather. There is nothing like standing on the side of a mountain naked as a jaybird, taking a hot shower while admiring granite peaks!

inside the trailer is a full kitchen and bathroom. There is a small tub with a stall shower in case the wind is too blustery for showering al fresco, LOL. You can see the bathroom vanity/sink in the rear, the tub and a flush toilet is in that room to the right of the door.

The kitchen has a propane fridge/freezer and a 3 burner stove with a decent sized oven. A double sink and ample cabinet space makes this a completely useable full-time kitchen.

There are 2 bench seats that turn into single beds (for extra guests) and a dining table that folds and stows in the back.

There is a queen sized bed up in the loft and a full 6′ of clearance below. These pics were taken last year, I now have a desk and some filing cabinets under the loft bed, I use it as my office space.

The rear wall is actually a garage door and folds down, completely opening up the back with a spectacular view. I installed an aftermarket screen and usually work with the wall opened up.

The trailer is 8′ wide by 22′ long, a total of 176 sq ft.  There are many tiny house owners living in far less than my 120+176 sq ft. I’m a tall guy (6’2″ and 200 lbs) and really need this space. I don’t think I could live comfortably in any less. The trailer has a propane furnace but is not very well insulated so I really prefer to sleep in the cabin.

Local ordinances will not allow me to camp on my own land so I have to be very careful not to camp on my own land. Plus, technically I don’t live nor camp there. It’s simply a trailer being stored in dead storage, parked next to a 120 sq ft storage shed where I keep my extra furniture. Nothing is connected to any utility, water supply or septic system.

There is a fine line that must be walked. Perhaps with pressure from the new growing tiny house movement, we can get local governments to amend their zoning ordinances to make it possible for good folks to live “tiny” and still live safe, clean and legal?

it’s part of my dream.

E. out


as it was intended

I spent the last few days up in the cabin, had a long list of chores…fence repair, brush clearance, ground leveling, trim installation…and on and on.

Instead, I drank beer, slept late in the new bed, chased a cow around (for fun), played with the local free-range hound dog, celebrated prop 19 (at exactly 4:20), watched “Breaking Bad” on the laptop, read the new “Trailer Life” magazine, had a wonderful conversation with a writer from “Westways” magazine and saw the most stunning display of galaxies in the crisp, clear night sky.

Turns out I actually got nothing “chore-like” done but I did have a wonderful, relaxing time enjoying the cabin as it was intended. If I had high-speed Internet instead of dial-up, I swear I’d move in full-time! (I need the broadband for my real job). I calculated that I could save at least $2300/month if I moved into my cabin. That would mean I could work less and after a while, have a crap-load of cash in the bank!  More on this scheme as my mind wraps around it.

I got an email from a lovely reporter from “Westways”, she’s doing an article on small houses and wanted to talk with me.  Not sure if any of our conversation will appear in the magazine but it is gratifying to know that there are so many peeps interested in extreme downsizing that a mainstream mag is talking about it!

For the record… as my compound is set up today, I could live there full-time and probably be quite happy. This would mean down-sizing my career and jettisoning my main home in Los Angeles before I’ve built my main “living-room” building. BUT, if the California economy keeps collapsing (and I suspect with Jerry Brown in charge it will) there will surely be a mass exodus to nearby business-friendly low-tax states.

If this happens, I’m ready to pack up the condo, clean the guns, cling to my Bible and head for the hills!