Last year we built a lovely shed to store kitchen cabinets we got for free from my parents. There was a tight timetable and we had to get the cabinets under roof very quickly, which meant the shed wasn’t quite finished in time for moving day. However, there was one detail – about a day’s worth of work – that we really should have done prior to moving day. It would have saved us a lot of frustration later on. We should have rodent-proofed it.



If you’ve been following this blog for a while, this might come as a bit of a shocker.

We aren’t going to build our homestead in Benson after all.

At least not for a while. A while being like ten years or more.

It was a really hard decision to make. We’ve invested a lot already and it’s hard to switch paths in the middle. And we were this close (visualize my thumb and index finger almost touching) to getting a building permit. But we know sticking around our home in Tucson is the right thing to do. (more…)

We submitted our cabin plans and of course they got kicked back for corrections. Most of the corrections are minor. Most of them. One isn’t.

Short story: The foundation requires engineering.

Long story: Pima County, where we are building was the first county in the U.S. to adopt a straw bale building code amendment. It outlines the rules for building a house out of straw bales. If you follow the rules, you can get a permit and build a house and you don’t need an architect or an engineer. (more…)

The past two weekends I made quite a bit of progress on the property.

Pumphouse with solar power

Pumphouse with solar power

Last weekend I did the lion’s share of the solar electric installation. I got the battery box hung on the north side (out of the way of traffic), the control panel set up inside, and the solar panel connected. It was on the ground all week since I didn’t have time to mount it on the roof.

I also got a door installed on the shed. We found this door in a dumpster. I bought a door frame kit from one of the home stores and the installation was really easy. I had better luck with the door frame kit and a salvaged door that I had with the second-hand pre-hung door we got for the pumphouse. It needs a deadbolt and threshold but otherwise is good to go. (more…)


Okay if you know anything about solar power this is the baby steps of baby steps but hey, I’m excited.

Behold, power tools charged by the sun!

Behold, power tools charged by the sun!

I put together most of the components of my solar power system to test it, and it worked without a hitch. It’s basically a solar panel, a charge controller, two 6-volt golf-cart batteries wired together to make them 12 volts, an inverter, and a mess of wires.

It can’t do much but it can turn on some lights and charge my cordless tools, which is really all I need it to do.

Combination solar panel and kitty shelter

Combination solar panel and kitty shelter

Presently our fledgling homestead has no utilities. No water, no electricity, no septic. We have our Potty House sawdust toilet and some basic shelter, but that’s it.

Come January, the homestead is making a rather definite leap into modernity. I am presently assembling a small off-grid solar electric setup. It will provide enough electricity to recharge my cordless tools and power some lights (useful for more productive time after dark).

Putting together this simple system has been incredibly fun and addictive. I’ve also learned a lot about renewable energy. Until a couple years ago the extent of my understanding of electricity was that you plugged things into wall sockets and they just worked, and that it is most unwise to put a paperclip into a wall socket. I was very proud of myself when I learned how to successfully wire a 3-way light switch in my house without killing myself. Now I am playing with deep-cycle batteries, inverters, charge controllers, and really heavy welding cable.

I’ve found instructions on how to build your own wind generator out of junk and scrap plumbing parts. And then there’s the breadbox solar water heater out of a discarded electric water heater tank. And the solar space heater made from beer cans. The homebrew windmill might be my next renewable energy project (I married a Kansas girl and wind power is pretty big in Kansas these days, so living in a wheat straw house with wind power is doubly cool).

I feel kinda like one of those people who build space shuttles out of parts ordered off the back of cereal boxes. Only I hope to get my parts off of Freecycle or out of dumpsters and roll-offs. These are the sorts of projects one might describe using McGyver as a verb, and those have their own special form of cool.

I want to post some pictures and a story about the solar installation once all the parts come in and I start putting everything together. So stay tuned! (Meantime, check out our wish list for recycled items… go ahead, feed my addiction!)

I love Freecycle. It is pure genius. It’s a de-stuffer’s dream. It is so much fun to offer things to the list and see how many people want what you really want to get rid of. It’s also a great way to score really useful stuff for, well, free.

Here are some of the things we’ve picked up:

  • A 10-year-old steel swing set. A little rusty and missing a couple parts. A trip to the hardware store for some spray enamel and a few replacement parts, and we’ll have a like-new steel swing set. We’ll put it on the homestead so the wee ones can have a place to play safely away from construction areas and prickly critters.
  • Vinyl siding. Carefully removed from the garage of the original owner. Soon to grace two, possibly three walls of the shed.
  • T-111 sheets, warped and not in particularly good condition, but could be useful to build a box for a solar water heater.
  • Macintosh keyboard, which makes using our Mac Mini a heck of a lot easier than with a PC keyboard.

You’ve gotta watch the list closely and be quick, because most of the really useful stuff gets snatched up right away. We’ve been looking for a queen mattress to put in the pumphouse loft, but so far we haven’t caught them when they come up.

I put together a wish list. I realized that many of the things I want to build or do to make the homestead more homey are things that often get thrown away or are leftovers from construction projects. So the list will help us to remember to look out for things. Check it out, maybe you just happen to have something we’re looking for buried in your shed or garage.

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