Archive for the Homesteading Category

Barndominium Floor Plans And Costs: Building a Dream Home in a Metal Building

Barndominium Floor Plans And Costs: Building a Dream Home in a Metal Building

barndominium floorplans and costs

NAVIGATION

Not long ago, I purchased some land to set up my homestead. I’ve always wanted a workshop, and eventually, I plan to build a small home on the property. As I explored my options (like moving my tiny house to the land while I build), a barndominium came up as a perfect solution!

what is a barndom inium houseWhat is a barndominium, you ask? It’s essentially just what it sounds like—a barn or metal shed that’s been converted into a living space.

Cheap and quick to erect, a barndo presents an excellent solution for my “where to live while I build” conundrum. I can put up a barndominium and set up a small living space in there while I work on my home. Eventually, it will become my workshop once I’ve finished my permanent living space.

If you’re considering the merits of living in a barndominium, here are the barndominium floor plans, costs, and details you need to get started.

What is a Barndominium?

what is a barndominium

Barndominiums, or barndos as they’re often called, are an affordable home option. They’re essentially small houses made from metal barns or buildings built with agricultural intent.

Most metal barns are prefabricated in a shop, then erected quickly onsite. Since barns are initially intended for commercial and agricultural use, they’re often scalable and inexpensive. The other benefit is that many metal building shells are large with high ceilings; this allows you to explore different barndominium floor plans and layouts to structure a livable interior.

What Are The Benefits of Barndominiums?


  • Metal siding and roofing are simple to construct.
  • The buildings are easy to find.
  • Barndos are often fire-resistant (made of metal).
  • The materials are easy to work with.
  • Costs are low.
  • Construction time is fast.
  • Metal buildings are energy efficient.
  • Built for agriculture, they’re low maintenance.
  • Barndos are excellent for homesteading.
  • They’re easily adaptable—extend them as needed.

Metal barn manufacturers have noted the popularity of barndominium conversions made by buyers and offer an array of options suitable to many different barndominium floor plans.

the benefits of building a barndominiumIf you’re wondering what your barndominium layout will look like, don’t. The building itself is just a shell. The fun part is that you can adjust it as you go and change it up to fit your needs. Because metal is so affordable, you can buy it in whatever length you want. When you side your barn, you can put up the whole side of a barn wall assembly in half a day. You can go from bare dirt to done in about four days for 5000 square feet if you’re building a simple structure.

You can dress the barn up with the siding you choose on the exterior walls and drywall or panel the inside just as you would finish a house. Some barndominium house owners even embrace the barn house appearance with trendy vaulted ceilings and barn doors on the inside. Many have the traditional gambrel roof, but even that is changing. People often go with the standard “hip roof” style.

To further add personality and functionality to your dream barndominium, you can add constructed features like a wraparound porch or patio, a deck, an outdoor kitchen, or another type of outdoor entertaining space. Making it your own is all part of the process. The more features you add, of course, the more the cost will increase.

barndominium floorplans

Why You Should Consider a Barndominium

why you should consider a barndominium

There are a lot of reasons you might want a barndominium. They work great as temporary or permanent living structures. They’re an affordable alternative tiny house, and because they’re essentially a “blank slate,” you can really adjust your barndominium floor plan and layout. They’re also nice temporary options you can later convert to a barn or shop (as in my case).

Barndominiums Are Excellent Structures For A Variety of Uses


  • Wood Shop
  • Office, studio, or workspace
  • Garage
  • Man-cave or she-shed
  • Meeting center for an organization
  • Game room
  • Pool house
  • Guest House

how to design a tiny house

If you’re building a traditional house or tiny house on your land, you can get a barndominium up in a few days or weeks and live in it until your home is complete. Similar to living in a yurt, a barndo is a good temporary housing solution. When you move into your finished house, you can repurpose your temporary dwelling for anything you like or keep it as a guest house for visitors.

barndominium interior optionsBigger barndos make great combination buildings. Ceilings can be high enough to have a garage or workshop on the ground floor and an upstairs with living quarters, offices, or a mancave. You can build a barndominium with a shop and run a business under the same roof.

Because your floor space is vast and your ceilings high, the possibilities for your barndominium floor plans are unlimited. A metal barndo is basically an affordable shell you can fill out for any purpose you envision. Play with the barndominium layout to suit your needs.


The Downside of Barndominiums

The Downside of Barndominiums

Now, as with any alternative dwelling, there are a few downsides and issues to contemplate. Before you leap, here’s what you should consider:

The Downsides of Barndominiums


  • Lenders might be wary of financing a metal-sided or non-traditional building.
  • While costs are lower, metal prices have gone up over the years.
  • It’s challenging to make an airtight steel building. You may need to experiment with spray foam and different interior finishing to combat the issue.
  • A barndominium is often a large structure. It may require you to have a larger parcel of land.
  • There may be local regulations on erecting or living in a metal structure.

All in all, despite the drawbacks, there are quite a few benefits to consider. The cost-savings is a huge benefit. Plus, barndos look great, and you can really personalize them and create a building that you’ll feel proud of.

How Much Does a Barndominium Cost: $70 a Square Foot

How Much Does a Barndominium Cost

Traditional homes run about $150 to $250 per square foot. Barndominiums cost less than half, typically coming in about $70 to $90 per square foot for finished space, including insulation, utilities, flooring, paint, and lighting. A basic barndominium shell without finishing can run as little as $20 per square foot.

barndominium car workshopThe cost savings are not limited to cheap materials, either. You save money on building erection, foundation design, and labor because the structures can be put up so quickly. While barndominium floor plans and costs vary, the outer shell is usually simple—a box with a roof on top. In response to consumer interest, barn manufacturers are starting to offer more elaborate setups and extras.

If you’re building a barndominium, keep in mind that the materials and interior structure you choose will significantly affect the price. As they start to get fancier and more-house like, the costs go up (so simple may be better if you’re staying in a budget). Once you begin adding multi-stories, French doors, and hardwood flooring, they can get pricier. Of course, as affordable as the structure is, I recommend you go ahead and splurge on the nicest finishes and updates you can afford (especially if you plan to live in the barndo long-term or turn it into a guest house).

how much does a tiny house cost cta

Barndominiums can be every bit as homey and luxurious as you want them to be, and they are endlessly expandable. Want more room? Just attach another barndo and add a pass-through or door. Modular construction makes it easy to add on as your needs change.

barndominium costsThe finished look of your barndo home is all about the details. Porch columns, window and door frames, and wood detailing turns a metal building into a warm, welcoming home. On the inside, choose from the same finishing details you would put in a traditional house. Hardwood floors, marble countertops, fieldstone trim, and even ceiling beams are doable. Again, any home-touches add expense though—the more it looks like a house, the closer you’ll creep to house-level costs too.

You can also add any functional elements you like, such as air conditioning, skylights, and solar panels. Keep in mind that similar to living in a shipping container home, metal walls can occasionally present certain wiring and alteration challenges. Be sure you’re familiar with how to weld and have the necessary information on the metal properties before you begin.

All in all, barndominiums are a unique, customizable, and, as long as it’s simple, affordable tiny home option. The bottom line is that your barndominium can be anything you imagine.

Exploring Barndominium Features

Exploring Barndominium Features

It’s common to find a barndominium with a small shop set up. Barndominiums with a garage can be a bachelor pad dream! There’s room for cars, tools, and projects with a small living space too.

Not to be too general, but most men are really excited about the shop aspect; women don’t typically think about the shop or garage size. They’re often more concerned about the features like bedrooms, kitchens, and living spaces. Fortunately, barndominiums deliver on both with features that are great for big families—you can select a barndominium floor plan with lots of square footage and room for plenty of bedrooms.

barndominium exterior styleThe folks who are most interested in barndominium life are usually homesteaders in rural areas. Often, but not always, barndominium dwellers are family-oriented with kids. They’re feeling the squeeze of feeding and caring for kids in a modern-day lifestyle, especially if one or both parents work from home. A barndominium presents an affordable, family-friendly option.

On the flip side, DIY-minded people are also really drawn to the concept of living in a barndominium. A barndominium with a shop is great for woodworkers, craftspeople, and artisans (as well as car enthusiasts). Having a barndominium with a workshop lets you have everything under one roof–a big workshop to run your woodworking or your Etsy shop!

For car fans, barndominiums with a garage allow you to store multiple vehicles and work right on your car project under your own roof. If you have a lot of ATVs, kayaks, boating equipment, or other recreation items, a barndominium with a garage is an excellent way to store and live in an inexpensive home.

barndominium floorplans

You can look for barndominiums with roll-up doors (like a garage door), allowing you to bring in big materials, and open up for fresh air. Some folks even include a car lift in their barndominium with a garage!

classic new england barndominiumOther features that are common in barndominiums include balconies, multiple doors, skylights, and porches. A balcony allows you to double your storage space (as they’re usually pretty tall). The balcony is generally featured above the workshop.

As you can see, there are an array of choices and features for barndominiums. It may seem like living in a metal building would be a challenge, but the truth is, with a little adjustment and planning (and insulation), a barndominium can really be a dream home for some.

A note on the insulation—many people living in barndos want and are willing to splurge on spray foam insulation because it helps seal the metal building so well. Metal buildings shift and constrict on the inside, which can leave gaps and air leaks. Spray foam prevents that entirely as it conforms to the space. This choice provides a huge maintenance advantage, especially if you’re both living AND working in your barndominium year-round.

design and build bundle

Barndominium Kits

Barndominium Kits

Several steel companies offer kits with everything you need to build your own barndominium dream home. The cost depends on the floor plan, materials, and extras. Kits typically include all main framing, secondary framing, exterior metal sheeting, trim, closures, fasteners, building plans, and instructions, starting at $10 per square foot.

The cool thing about these kits is how precisely they’re made. Even the holes are pre-drilled, so the work needed to assemble them is minimal. And since steel construction means there’s no need for load-bearing interior walls, you can configure your house plans in any way you choose. Want a gigantic walk-in closet or a bathroom big enough for a garden tub? No problem. Designers and engineers will work with you to design the barndo kit precisely the way you envision it.

Here Are Several Barndominium Kit Manufacturers That Deliver Anywhere


worldwide steel buildings

premier building systems

absolute steel

general steel buildings

sunward steel buildings

Barndominium Floor Plans with Pictures

Barndominium Floor Plans with Pictures

You might be surprised at all the options available. The outsides of the building are pretty standard (in varying sizes), but inside, you can have anything from an open floor plan to an elaborate home setup with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms.

barndominium bedroomIt seems the number of bedrooms is usually the most significant factor for most people, but keep in mind you can adjust the floor plan and layout of the barndominium to fit your needs. The barndo itself is just a metal shell, so it’s up to you to create a dream 3-bedroom, 2.5 bath 4000 square foot barndo. The number of bedrooms can be adjusted from 2 to 4-bedroom floor plans and on up.

Barndominiums aren’t necessarily “tiny houses” because although some are small, many can be pretty large. After all, these are meant to be barns and structures for agriculture. Many open concept barndominium floor plans rival something you’d see in Architectural Digest or a mansion!

It’s not hard to find inspiring examples of barndominiums. From traditional barn style to modern elegance, you can find all kinds of creative barn house styles online. I know “living in a barn” seems like a strange concept at first, but with the right barndominium floor plan, you can adjust the space to fit anything (and the price is right).

Below, I’ve compiled a selection of some of the best barndominium floor plans I could find. There are quite a few options, from tiny “studio” spaces to spacious barndos suitable for a family.

modern barndominium design styleWhen you design a barndominium floor plan, keep in mind that while you can build out the space modularly (adding more structures), you are somewhat limited to the size and shape of the metal barn you’ve chosen as your foundational piece. Barndos are usually square or rectangular without a lot of features on the exterior. So you may need to build in a porch or figure out ways to add the features you prefer.

You will also need to consider window placement and how many windows you would like in your barndo. Again, this is where those welding skills can come in handy. Look at the barndominium floor plans with pictures below for inspiration and ideas.

Barndos come in an array of popular sizes. While you can make your barndominium any size you like, a few standard sizes are common and easy to find (especially if you purchase a kit). The most popular barndominium sizes include:

CLICK TO JUMP TO FLOORPLAN SIZE

barndominium floorplans

80 x 100 Barndominium Floor Plan #1

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 40′ x 22′
Kitchen 29′ x 22′
Bedroom 1 20′ x 20′
Bedroom 2 13′ x 15′
Bedroom 3 16′ x 16′
Bedroom 4 16′ x 18′
Walk-in Closet 8′ x 12′
Baths (2) 5′ x 10′
Laundry Room 6′ x 12′
Garage/Workshop 80′ x 28′

barndominium floorplan

80 x 100 Barndominium Floor Plan #2

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 40′ x 22′
Kitchen 29′ x 22′
Bedroom 1 20′ x 20′
Bedroom 2 13′ x 15′
Bedroom 3 16′ x 16′
Bedroom 4 16′ x 18′
Walk-in Closet 8′ x 12′
Bath 1 8′ x 12′
Bath 2 6′ x 10′
Garage/Workshop 80′ x 28′

large barndominium floorplan

80 x 100 Barndominium Floor Plan #3

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 30′ x 25′
Kitchen 20′ x 18′
Dining 19′ x 17′
Bedroom 1 24′ x 22′
Bedroom 2 18′ x 20′
Bedroom 3 18′ x 14′
Walk-in Closet 5′ x 12′
Bath 1 10′ x 16′
Bath 2 6′ x 10′
Mud Room 12′ x 15′
Garage/Workshop 28′ x 65′

barndominium floorplan layout

50 x 75 Barndominium floor plan #1

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 28′ x 25′
Kitchen 18′ x 20′
Dining Room 15′ x 18′
Bedroom 1 25′ x 17′
Bedroom 2 15 x 15′
Bedroom 3 15′ x 15′
Walk-in Closet 8′ x 12′
Bath 1 12′ x 15′
Bath 2 6′ x 12′
Mud Room 10′ x 12′
Garage/Workshop 38′ x 25′

3 bedroom barndominium floorplan

50 x 75 Barndominium floor plan #2

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 25′ x 22′
Kitchen 20′ x 22′
Dining Room 20′ x 17′
Bedroom 1 15′ x 15′
Bedroom 2 15′ x 12′
Walk-in Closet 8′ x 8′
Bath 1 5′ x 10′
Bath 2 8′ x 12′
Utility Room 8′ x 11′
Garage/Workshop 25′ x 50′

2 bedroom barndominium floorplan layout

50 x 75 Barndominium floor plan #3

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 35′ x 22′
Kitchen 15′ x 22′
Bedroom 1 18′ x 17′
Bedroom 2 19′ x 17′
Walk-in Closet 1 12′ x 9′
Walk-in Closet 2 12′ x 15′
Bath 1 6′ x 15′
Bath 2 6′ x 15′
Utility Space 20′ x 4′
Garage/Workshop 25′ x 46′

barndominium floorplan with 2 bedrooms

40 x 60 Barndominium floor plan #1

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 16′ x 16′
Kitchen 11′ x 16′
Bedroom 1 15′ x 11′
Bedroom 2 19′ x 12′
Closet 6′ x 6′
Bath 6′ x 13′
Laundry Room 6′ x 3′
Garage/Workshop 35′ x 40′

barndominium floorplan with workshop

40 x 60 Barndominium floor plan #2

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 27′ x 18′
Kitchen 10′ x 18′
Bedroom 1 13′ x 15′
Bedroom 2 16′ x 18′
Bath 1 6′ x 11′
Bath 2 6′ x 11′
Utility Space 16′ x 4′
Garage/Workshop 23′ x 40′

2 bedroom barndominium floorplan with garage

40 x 60 Barndominium floor plan #3

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 27′ x 18′
Kitchen 10′ x 18′
Bedroom 1 16′ x 13′
Bedroom 2 12′ x 13′
Bedroom 3 14′ x 12′
Bath 1 6′ x 11′
Bath 2 11′ x 6′
Utility Space 4′ x 15′
Garage/Workshop 18′ x 40′

3 bedroom barndominium floorplan with workshop and garage space

30 x 40 Barndominium floor plan #1

Room Room Sizes
Great Room 12′ x 17′
Kitchen 10′ x 17′
Bedroom 14′ x 13′
Bath 5′ x 10′
Utility Space 4′ x 8′
Garage/Workshop 18′ x 30′

medium size barndominium floorplan

30 x 40 Barndominium floor plan #2

Room Room Sizes
Great Room 20′ x 17′
Kitchen 10′ x 22′
Bedroom 1 13′ x 13′
Bedroom 2 15′ x 13′
Bath 1 7′ x 13′
Bath 2 10′ x 8′
Mud Room 10′ x 12′

1200 square foot barndominium floorplan

30 x 40 Barndominium floor plan #3

Room Room Sizes
Great Room 11′ x 13′
Kitchen 11′ x 13′
Bedroom 18′ x 11′
Closet 4′ x 12′
Bath 6′ x 10′
Laundry Room 7′ x 5′
Garage/Workshop 18′ x 30′

1 bedroom barndominium floorplan

20 x 30 Barndominium floor plan #1

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 20′ x 11′
Kitchen 18′ x 9′
Bedroom 10′ x 15′
Bath 10′ x 5′

small barndominium floorplan design

20 x 30 Barndominium floor plan #2

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 12′ x 12′
Kitchen 13′ x 8′
Bedroom 1 9′ x 15′
Bedroom 2 9′ x 11′
Closet 5′ x 6′
Bath 8′ x 6′
Laundry Space 3′ x 6′

barndominium floorplan with 2 bedrooms

20 x 30 Barndominium floor plan #3

Room Room Sizes
Living Room 20′ x 10′
Kitchen 10′ x 10′
Dining Room 10′ x 10′
Bedroom 15′ x 10′
Closet 5′ x 3′
Bath 5′ x 10′
Laundry Room 5′ x 10′

barndominium layout with open floorplan

free aframe floor plan kit

Interior Barndominium Photos

interior barndominium photos

When you design the interior of your barndominium, you have similar options to any home. The biggest challenge is that you’re dealing with a rectangular-shaped dwelling with set parameters. Other than that, you can pretty much design your barndominium interior however you see fit (and in a way that meets your needs.

Many folks like to play up the barn-style with farmhouse décor and a rustic look, but you’re certainly not limited there. Some folks go for the barndominium with a workshop or garage on the interior—making it a spot to live and work. Check out these interior barndominium photos below to get a feel for what people are doing with the insides of their structures.

beautiful barndominium interior
barndominium style
bedroom in a barndominium
expansive barndominium interior
inviting barndominium room
barndominium bedroom
barndominium cozy living room
barndominium dining room
barndominium inerior space
solar power for tiny houses
barndominium hallway
barndominium high ceilings
barndominium kitchen and fireplace
barndominium kitchen
barndominium living room
barndominium living space
kitchen in barndominium
modern barndominium living room
barndo living space
stylish barndominium interior
barndominium hallway
installing a septic with a barndominium

Barndominium Exterior Photos

Barndominium Exterior Photos

Below, you’ll find a gallery of barndominium exteriors to help you get some ideas about your barndominium build-out. Keep in mind that some of these structures are quite large (they are barns, after all), but you can also go much smaller with your design and layout. In many ways, it’s similar to designing the interior floor plans of a tiny house.

rustic barndominium exterior
barndominium as a business building
barndominium building
barndominium entrance
barndominium exterior design
barndominium exterior style
barndominium homestead
barndominium house design
barndominium landscaping
barndominium metal and stone exterior
barndominuim style
barndominium with carport
barndominium with porch
classic new england barndominium
modern barndominium design style
simple barndominium design
rustic barndominium with wood exterior
heating a barndominium

Barndominium Workshop Photos

Barndominium Workshop Photos

One of the biggest appeals to barndominiums are the ability to have a dream workshop. You might be into cars, like woodworking or maybe you run your metal fabrication business out of your home, these are a few ideas for you.

barndominium as a garge
barndominium woodshop
barndominium garage workshop
barndominium open floor plan garage
barndominium shop
barndominium high ceiling garage
barndominium workshop and living space
huge barndominium garage workshop space
small barndominium workshop
stylish barndominium workshop
barndominium workshop and garage
how to run ac on solar power

Your Turn!

  • Did you save money and time by building a barndo?
  • What tips do you have for making a barndominium floor plan?

Off-Grid Internet: How I Get Wi-Fi In My Tiny House

Off-Grid Internet: How I Get Wi-Fi In My Tiny House

off grid internet for a tiny house or homestead

NAVIGATION

In a world that does so much online these days, having an off grid internet option for my tiny house was a must. My entire job is remote and online, so having off grid Wi-Fi in my tiny house that’s off the grid was a non-negotiable for me. I know many people are wanting to work from home in a tiny house or on a homestead in a rural location, so here’s how I got internet in my tiny house while off the grid.

Estimating Your Data And Speed Requirements

Estimating Your Data And Speed Requirements

A good place to start is to understand what you actually need out of your internet connection. This comes down to a few key numbers:

  • Connection type
  • Download speed
  • Upload Speed
  • Latency
  • Data usage

Connection Type

internet connection type

One the largest determining factors on how fast a connection is, how it performs, and its reliability is what type of connection it is. The list below is in order of how well it will perform, from best to worst.

types of internet connections

FIBER INTERNET: Fastest connection type, uses light through fiber optic.

CABLE INTERNET: Uses cable TV, tops out at 100-300 mbps

DSL INTERNET: Faster than dial up, slower than cable.

SATELLITE INTERNET: Uses a satellite dish. Like DSL but feels slower due to latency.

DAIL-UP INTERNET: Slowest connection. This is basically obsolete.

Off Grid Internet Download Speeds

Off Grid Internet Download Speeds

How fast you can download files is most of what we do when we’re using the internet. In general, you’re going to want at least 2 megabytes per second (mbps) at the very minimum. It’s important to note that many internet companies will sell plans of estimated speed or “up to” speeds, but the daily reality is often much less.

For instance, a cable ISP will sell a plan for a 50 mbps speeds, but you’ll typically see between 5 and 10 mbps at any given time, with the ability to spike higher if you are pulling down larger files.

In general, you’ll want speeds in these ranges for different types of internet usage:

0-5 MBPS 5-40 MBPS 40-100 MBPS 100-500 MBPS 500-1000+ MBPS
Checking Email Streaming video Streaming HD Streaming UHD All Uses
Streaming music Video calling Online gaming Fast Downloads
Web Surfing Simple Gaming Large Downloads Best For Gaming

Off Grid Internet Upload Speeds

Off Grid Internet Upload Speeds

Uploading speeds are often an overlooked metric and if you’re a professional that needs to move large files up into the cloud, push something to a server, or other work with large files, you’re going to want to pay attention to this.

If you’re a casual user that will do some web surfing and sending emails, an upload speed of 2-4 mbps for attaching small files to the internet and other upload tasks is sufficient. If you’re going to do any online gaming, you’ll want 5+ mbps (with a very low latency). Finally, if you’re a creative professional that needs to move large files, 5+ mbps is good, but you want as much as you can get.

Latency With Off Grid Internet Solutions

Latency With Off Grid Internet Solutions

This gets a bit into the technical side that most don’t concern themselves with, but latency is a measure of how much time it takes for your computer to send signals to a server and then receive a response back. You ideally want this to be as low as possible, but it can never be zero.

Anything under 100 milliseconds (ms) is considered “acceptable,” but you generally want to have it be somewhere between 20 and 40 ms, particularly for gaming or video calls.

Data Usage While Living Off The Grid

Data Usage While Living Off The Grid

Data usage is just how much data you use, often measured in megabytes (mb) or gigabytes (gb). When I do my daily work, I’m most often surfing the web, writing emails, or using web-based apps. Very little of my day-to-day work involves video—I either use phone calls or voice-only Zoom or Skype calls.

For that kind of work, 2-3 gigs per month is more than enough for my use. When I get into streaming videos, like watching YouTube or Netflix, my data usage balloons to a lot more.

Netflix Hulu Disney+ Amazon Youtube
Low 0.3 .65 0.7 0.8 0.3
SD 0.7 1.3 1.3 1.4 0.5
HD 3.0 2.7 2.0 2.0 1.5
UHD 7.0 7.2 7.7 6.0 3.0

All numbers are Gigabytes per hour.

Off Grid Internet Options

Off Grid Internet Options

In a world that does so much online these days, having an off grid internet option for my tiny house was a must.

When I moved off grid for the first time close to a decade ago, the land I was on was pretty close to the city. But because of the size of the land, local internet service providers wouldn’t run cable internet out to me. I’ve since moved out to the country and getting internet on rural land is even more difficult.

Rural Internet Service Providers

Rural Internet Service Providers

The good news is that there are quite a few initiatives connecting rural communities to internet because it can open up so much economic opportunity for working remotely, online education, and much more. In a weird twist of fate, it looks like my town in the mountains will get fiber internet before I could get it in the big city, because if a municipality is going to install internet infrastructure, it’s almost the same cost to put in fiber vs cable or DSL.

I wanted to start here because I think it’s important to bring some attention to the fact that the US Government makes funds available to rural communities for internet infrastructure build outs. In many cases, a town can apply to start their own internet service as a utility. These programs have seen a lot of success for towns that decide to pursue it. If your local government hasn’t already pursued this, take some time to discuss it with your elected officials.

Projects like this can take years to come to fruition, but you can start the process and shape the future of your town while relying on some of the below options for off grid Wi-Fi.

Starlink – Elon Musk’s Satellite Internet

Starlink satellite internet

150+ MBPS download 25+ MBPS upload 20-40 ms latency $99 per month

We are about to enter a golden age of off grid internet connectivity, and with recent COVID concerns, we are finding more and more employers are allowing people to work remotely. Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellite Internet is a major step forward to that end.

At the time of writing this, there are 485,000 concurrent users of Starlink and the initial real-world tests are very impressive considering there are only 1,000 satellites of the 12,000 satellites planned to be placed in orbit. People are consistently getting over 100 megabytes per second while downloading and at least 25 megabytes per second in upload speeds. Those numbers are not company reported, but what actual end users are seeing during their daily use.

pro tipStarlink’s dish uses a small heater to keep snow and ice off the face. The heater and dish can use about 150 watts maximum, with an average power of 100 watts continuous when it’s cold out. If you’re living on solar with battery backup, you’ll want an extra 366 amp / hour in your batteries to cover this.

Starlink’s dish uses a small heater to keep snow and ice off the face. The heater and dish can use about 150 watts maximum, with an average power of 100 watts continuous when it’s cold out. If you’re living on solar with battery backup, you’ll want an extra 366 amp / hour in your batteries to cover this.

This is all possible because Musk owns not only the satellites, but the rockets to deploy them en masse as well. And because of his reusable boosters, he can deliver those satellites for 10% of the cost of other competitors.

From talking with people about their Starlink experience, I’ve only heard resounding praise from people. They note that it was pretty easy to setup, connection was done via their phone, and their internet is very fast. The service charges a $499 setup fee which includes all your hardware, then $99 a month from there.

At this time, there isn’t any data cap, which will be something I’d watch closely for in the future. While fast speeds are key, having data limits would be a major blow to what might otherwise be the perfect solution.

Project Kuiper – Amazon’s Satellite Internet

Amazon Satellite Internet

150+ MBPS download 25+ MBPS upload 20-40 ms latency TBD per month

I wanted to include this so people are aware of this option in the future and I’ll update it as more info becomes available. While details are very sparce now, we expect that Jeff Bezos’ satellite internet provider will be pretty similar in performance and specs to Starlink with one major exception.

Right now, they are aiming for around 3,336 satellites, which is about 65% less that what Starlink will have. At this point I’m speculating, but I’d assume that they’re going to first focus on the US regions and China, and then later Europe and South America. They may back off of China given that their government is already making statements against these options as it would allow citizens to have internet access outside the Chinese government’s control.

At some point, it becomes a math problem of too many people per satellite, but what it will do is bring competition to the satellite internet space. That usually is a good thing for us as the consumer.

Cell Phone Hot Spots – Verizon, AT&T, T Mobile, Sprint

Cell Phone Hot Spots

15+ MBPS download 2+ MBPS upload 50-70 ms latency $40-$60 for 5 GB per month

The next most practical manner I’ve found is hot spotting using my cell phone. Right now, I have a 15-gig limit on my cell phone hot spot through Verizon. When combined with my unlimited internet on my phone plus calls and texts, it costs me $85 per month.

The one major downside that I find is that the signal disconnects from my computer every so often, so I have to reset it. This isn’t a huge deal, but it’s not like the “always on” connection that we’re used to with other traditional sources. I find that if I stop using my computer and it goes into sleep mode or isn’t active for a while, I have to reset it.

The biggest downside to this frequent disconnection is that I can’t use it with security cameras, on an Amazon Alexa or Google Home, or to monitor my solar power with my array data tracking interface. All of these applications will work at first, but at some point, something will trigger it to disconnect and unless you’re there in person to re-initialize it, you’re stuck.

This was a major road block when I wanted to set up some remote cameras on my land to monitor things while I wasn’t there. The internet connection would inevitably reset and I’d lose my video feed without being physically present to fix it.

pro tipWhen searching for rural land, bring along pre-paid sim cards for the different cell phone carriers. When you’re actually on the land you’re considering, take the time to test each carrier on that specific parcel where you think your house will be located.

By in large, I’ve found that Verizon is most expensive, but is often the most reliable and widely accessible. There have been a few times when another network could connect better, but I’ve found from practical experience that Verizon is the best in most circumstances.

Accessing internet through your cell phone has a few major downsides. In most cases, the speeds are adequate, except for video conference calls. I’ve found that when watching Netflix on Verizon, I can watch about 20 hours per month on my hot spot with the 15 gig per month plan. Keep in mind that general surfing and email uses very little data, and if I was just doing that, 2 gigs per month would be all I’d need.

One thing I’ve been doing lately is occasionally going to a coffee shop to work for the day as a change of scenery, and while I’m there, I’ll take advantage of the download feature that Netflix and other services offer This lets me download a few episodes or a movie or two to my device, then later watch them without using any bandwidth. I’ve found this to be a really great way to keep data usage low while still watching the shows I love.

fastest mobile networks in 2020

Other Hot Spots – Karma, Skyroam, etc.

internet hot spots

15+ MBPS download 2+ MBPS upload 50-75 ms latency $50-$70 for 5 GB per month

There is a whole host of third-party companies that make hot spots that either can be used with a major cell phone carrier or on their own network. In general, I have found these to be pretty lack luster. I’ve personally used the Karma hot spot and it was just okay.

In my experience, it’s better to go straight to the sourcewith a major cell phone provider, because third party device makers have to use their signals anyway. There aren’t any features of these third parties that make them stand out from the major carrier’s devices.

Fixed Point To Point Internet

Fixed Point To Point Internet

5+ MBPS download 2+ MBPS upload 20-45 MS latency $75+ per month

There are some cases where an internet provider offers fixed point to point internet service where they have a tower with an antenna on it. If you have a line of sight to their tower, you can usually get internet. I’ve done this with a business I used to run as our backup internet and it worked phenomenally.

pro tipTalk with your local point to point internet provider, as they usually are a smaller mom-and-pop operation that can let you know if you’d be able to connect to their service before you buy any land. You may have to mount the antenna on a tower.

Your speeds will depend on your plan, but in general if you have line of sight, you’ll have a decent connection. If you do a lot of video calls or gaming, this can be a tad slow in terms of latency, but overall this is a great option.

These services tend to have an upfront cost to get connected and for equipment (and possibly the cost of a small tower on your land), and the service will be about $10-$50 more a month than your standard cable provider, but all in all, this is a decent option.

DSL Internet

DSL Internet

1+ MBPS download 500+ KBS upload 20-45 MS latency $50 per month

One possibility in some areas that have a phone connection is DSL, which runs on a wire that looks like a phone cord, but is technically different. This option isn’t great, but it is definitely better than nothing and has the advantage of being more stable than a hot spot connection.

The downside is that it’s much slower than any of the other wired connections. However, if you want to have a remote camera or monitoring for your solar while you’re away (some monitors are also all cloud based), DSL can provide the stability you need. This type of connection is usually pretty affordable and fast enough for basic surfing and emailing.

Hughesnet Satellite Internet

Hughesnet Satellite Internet

2+ MBPS download 200+ KBS upload 100+ MS latency $60 for 10GB per month

Let me make this simple. Don’t use this. I’ve talked to so many people personally who’ve used this and, across the board, said it was one of the worst experiences of their lives. Slow to no connection speeds, spotty, difficult to use, and frustrating customer service.

The data caps seem pretty generous on the surface, but their measurement methodology skews it in their favor and you’ll burn through that very quickly without doing much online. In general, anything with video or gaming is out of the question using Hughesnet Satellite internet. Between the data caps and high latency, this is a non-starter for everyone.

The service also comes with a multi-year contract that they hold people to as a way to lock them in. They know how bad their service is and if it weren’t for the contracts, people would leave.

For more information, read this reddit thread from a former Hughesnet employee, it is very eye opening.

Cell Phone Extenders And Repeaters

Cell Phone Extenders And Repeaters

Many off grid people look to cell phone extenders to get a better signal in their house. It can be the case that outside your home you’ll get okay cell reception, but the second you step inside, your cell phone signal is awful.

People who live in metal-clad houses or barndominiums will frequently have this issue because the metal sheeting on the outside blocks the signal. If you do live in one of these houses and have a good internet connection, a lot of modern cell phones can use Wi-Fi to make the calls instead of a cell phone signal.

That said, I’ve personally tried one cell repeater and it was a very frustrating experience, especially considering that I’m a very tech savvy guy. Talking with others, I have yet to hear of anyone using any of the available options that could get one to work well. In most cases, people couldn’t get the extender at all, and those who did found it to perform so poorly it wasn’t worth it.

Making Sure Your Location Can Get Internet

Making Sure Your Location Can Get Internet

The last point I want to make is a big one: a word of caution. Getting internet is so critical to today’s world that it can be hard to imagine that you might not have a connection. I am all about living a simple life, disconnecting from social media, and living life on your own terms, but I also need to square that with the reality of needing a connection.

I love living simply and I want to make sure that technology is working for me and not the other way around. If you’re looking at living somewhere, buying some remote property, or just setting up on some land without an existing internet connection, proceed with caution.

If you call your local ISP, they may very well say that you’re in their service area, but then later on when you go to set up service tell you they can’t do it. It’s a story I’ve heard many times. If I were to do it all again, I would purchase land and have in the offer letter a contingency that the sale is canceled if internet can’t be established.

In my due diligence stage of buying land, I’d actually have them run the internet connection and power lines out to the site and plug in on the land itself and do a speed test. This may seem extreme and is most certainly unorthodox, but in a world that revolves around internet connectivity, it’s so crucial.

Having access to a high-quality internet connection while living off the grid or in a tiny house enables you to get a big city job that pays well while giving you the low cost and slow pace of the country life. It’s a major tool to you earning a good living and staying connected.

Your Turn!

  • How do you connect to the internet while off grid or in a tiny house?

How To Prepare Soil For Vegetable Gardens

How To Prepare Soil For Vegetable Gardens

soil prep for gardening

Having taught people to garden for years, many people want to know how to prepare their soil so they can start a vegetable garden.  If you talk to people who have been growing for years, you’ll notice they spend a lot of time building the soil in their garden beds.

For first time gardeners I always recommend to start small and because each patch of dirt is different, I recommend starting with a raised beds, which is nothing more than building a bed of soil on top of the ground instead of in it.  You can add sides made out of wood, edging or other materials as a side wall, but it isn’t required, mounded dirt works just as well if you’re on a budget.

Building A Raised Bed Frame

For most people they want to have the tidy look of a wooden frame and it can be done quickly for little money.  Start with three 2×6’s and cut one of them in half.  This will form the four sides of the bed and create a bed that is 4 feet wide by 8 feet long.

raised bed garden

This is an ideal size because it minimizes the number of cuts (pro tip: big box stores will cut it for free for you) and at four feet, you can reach to the middle from either side without having to stretch too much.  A few screws will make a solid frame for you to fill in the dirt with.

Turn The Soil Below

turn soil with pitchforkEven though we are going to build a bed above the ground, we want to break up the soil below it so that our plant’s roots have an easier time of penetrating the ground as they grow.  Ideally you would shovel off the top layer if it is grass, but I’ve done it both ways.  Removing the grass below will help reduce weeds coming up later, so it’s often worth the effort.

If the soil is pretty bare, what I’ll do is rake the top then go buy a gallon jug of white vinegar to douse the little bits of weeds or grass with the vinegar to kill a few days before I build my bed.  White vinegar will work well to kill the weeds in spot treatments, but if you have more than 10% coverage, I’d just scrape the top off completely.

The last part is take a “digging fork” and just break up the top few inches of soil, it can be pretty chunky because we’re going to cover it all with our soil bed mix soon anyway.  Don’t get too tied up in making it perfect, this is a really a rough pass that we do quickly and move on.

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Mixing The Perfect Soil To Grow In

First off, there are many different options here and if you ask 100 people you’ll get 101 recommendations.  So understand that if someone uses something different, that’s fine.  For most people just starting out I try to make it really simple and we can get into more of the nuances later.  So use this mix to start and in a few years, start to try different things.  We want to get you to gardening as quickly as we can and if you get caught up in what mix is the best, you’ll never actually start gardening.

raised bed soil mixture for good growing a garden

So I use a mix of compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. Typically I buy for a single 4 foot by 8 foot bed that’s around 6 inches deep the following:

  • 10 bags of compost (one cubic foot size bags)
  • 1 bale of compressed peat moss (three cubic feet size)
  • 1 bag of vermiculite (2 cubic foot sized bags).
  • 1 small bag of Bone Meal
  • 1 small bag of Blood Meal

If you don’t know what these are, just print this post off and bring it with you to any big box store, they’ll know exactly what you need from this list.  If the employee doesn’t know these items, it’s best to find someone else because these are gardening 101 supplies.

Compost

mushroom compsting mixFor compost you’ll find a lot of different options, my favorite is “mushroom compost” which you can find bags at any big box hardware store.  A close second is “Black Kow” compost.  I’ll often grab a few of each to make up my 10 bags for my bed.

If you can’t find these specific ones, it really isn’t a big deal, use whatever compost you can find at your local store or garden center.  Compost provides a lot of nutrients to your plants and serves as the base for seeds to root into.

Vermiculite

bag of vermiculiteVermiculite is essentially rock dust crushed up, it provides a lot of minerals for your plants, but it’s main function is to act like a sponge for water.  Be sure not to get confused with perlite, it’s not the same.  This one might take some calling around to find, if there is a local gardening group they might have some good leads.

I will also add a note here that if you start searching around about vermiculite, you’ll inevitably run into an old timer that will make the point about asbestos in vermiculite.  This is something that we had to worry about 40 years ago, but today there is no source allowed in the USA or Canada that doesn’t carefully screen and test for this.  The myth still persists today, but you should have zero concerns because the industry has long made changes to prevent this.

Often garden centers or seed/farm supply places carry it.  I’ve even seen it in small bags at your big box hardware stores.  If you can’t find it consider purchasing a few bags off of Amazon, while it’s a bit more expensive locally, you can buy a few of these bags of vermiculite and be good for a 4×8 bed.

Peat Moss

package of peat moss or spagnum mossThe last part of the soil mix.  This fluffs up the soil, allows for good oxygen infiltration and also acts like a sponge to hold in moisture until plants need it.  This can be found anywhere and they type or brand doesn’t matter.  The only thing I’ll suggest is make sure you get it from the soils section where you’d find your bags of compost or near the bags of mulch section.  Sometimes they sell small bags that are meant for growing orchids, these are often expensive, but the ones in the bagged compost section is usually sold “compressed” for very cheap ($10-$20 for 3 cubic feet compressed).

A common question that comes up around peat moss are concerns about if peat moss is sustainable.  It is true that 10 years ago peat moss was harvested from natural wet lands, but today it is done in a manner that is regenerative.  If you are still concerned, consider sourcing coconut coir which is a material similar to peat moss but made from the waste product of coconut husks.  In the end, I suggest you don’t get too caught up in your first year or so, just get your first year under your belt and then work on improving in later years.

Bone And Blood Meal

I prefer to use bone meal and blood meal, but there are many options.  Obviously from their names, they are a animal sourced product.  Those wanting a non-animal source can try seaweed meal or fertilize, you can buy seaweed fertilizer here.  Bone and blood meal are organic sources of the major nutrient (NPK: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium).

bone meal and blood meal in bags

Since we are starting out with such good ingredients, we don’t need much of these.  If we were starting with the soil in ground, there may be need for more as directed from a soil test, but since we are building our own soil we don’t need a soil test for our first year or two.  I start out with one large handful of each, mixed evenly across the whole 4×8 raised bed.

Mixing It All Together

Some people will use a tarp to mix the soil together, I just skip that and dump everything in a pile in the framed bed, then mix with my hands or a shovel.  If you choose compost that is moist, but not sopping wet it will mix easier.  Sometimes this means pulling off the top few bags at the garden supply place so you get to a lower layer of bags that haven’t soaked up any recent rain.

Here is my basic approach:

  • Take your peat moss bale and place it in the bed
  • With a shovel stab the plastic in a line to break open the bale
  • Turn it over to dump the peat on the ground and remove the plastic
  • Shake out half your vermiculite on top of the peat moss, set the rest aside
  • Grab one large handful each of bone meal and blood meal, sprinkle across the bed
  • Place a bag of compost in the bed, stab with shovel to dump on the pile
  • Repeat with compost about half your bags
  • Using the shovel and hands, mix it all up until it’s well mixed
  • Add remaining materials and mix it all up
  • smooth out the top and give the soil a brief water

How To Water Your Garden

You want to water it a few days before you plant if you can, this will let all the water to absorb into the peat moss and vermiculite.  Water for a count of five and then stop.  Again, counting to five, if the water fully absorbs into the soil so there is no sheen on the dirt from the water, water again for a count of five. repeat counting to five until the water doesn’t absorb all the way in five seconds.  This is a good indicator that the soil is nicely saturated with moisture, but not soaking.

how to water your garden and vegitables

In the end building your soil will set you up for success for years to come.  Following this formula and starting small, you will have a better drastically easier time because we’re not trying to fix our existing soil or battle weeds.  Start with one 4×8 bed, then next year go a little bigger.  The number one thing I see is new gardeners burning out their first year because they took on too big of a garden.

Your Turn!

  • What are your garden plans this year?
  • What tips have you learned?

5 Easiest Vegetables To Grow For Beginner Gardeners

5 Easiest Vegetables To Grow For Beginner Gardeners

5 Vegetables To Grow For First Time Gardeners

I’ve been there, the seed catalogues come in January and you get all excited about what to grow this year in your garden.  It can be hard to figure out where to start, so I thought I’d share my recommendations on five easy vegetables to grow in your garden in your first year.  The biggest mistake new gardeners make is not starting small:  They have too big of a garden, they try to grow too many things, and in the end they get burnt out.

My advice after teaching people how to start gardening for years is to only start with a few things.  Three to five types of vegetables in a single variety of each.  This will give you a really good foundation to start your gardening journey.

Grow What You Eat

grow the vegies that you like to eat basketA very common thing that I see newbie gardeners do is get excited by what they could grow, but they may not really like things or they try new stuff before they find out if they really like them.  If you were to look in your kitchen right now, what vegetables are you purchasing from the store?  Many of those could be good contenders for your first year’s short list.

There will be some things that you buy that aren’t in season or are more complicated to grow, but many of what most people like will be on our list below.  So consider what you eat, choose the easier ones to grow and let’s stack the deck in our favor!

Get Your Garden Prepared

It’s important to not just think about the vegetables that you’re going to grow, but to also think about growing good soil.  Have good soil is really what makes a garden go from okay to amazing, so don’t skimp on this step.  If you have never gardened before, check out our post on how to prepare your soil for a vegetable garden.

From Seeds Or From Seedlings

There are some things that do really well from seeds and some things that starting with a seedling is the way to go for first time gardeners.  Seedlings are simply very young plants that have been started ahead of time indoors, that you later transfer outdoors into your garden.

seedlingsIt can be tempting in your first year or two to in addition of starting a garden to also raising seedlings indoors, but my advice is to avoid this.  Your first few years to learn gardening is a lot, to add learning to start seeds into seedlings is too much and you’ll just burn out.

Below I’ll mention which ones I’d start from seed and which ones I’d start from seedlings.

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What Plants To Start With?

Here are a few of my favorite plants to start with.  These are pretty easy, widely available and you can find lots of knowledge from local people and online. Start with three to five of these in a single variety.  It will be tempting to choose a bunch of types of vegitables and a few varieties of each, but doing so will bring complexity, stress and a greater chance of failure.  We don’t want that!

Zucchini

zuchinni

zucchnis from gardenThere is an old joke that I like to tell.  In the city people lock their doors so people don’t steal their stuff, in the country they lock their cars so someone doesn’t leave them a bag of zucchini and squash in their front seat.  What is really great about this plant is that it grows really fast, its very simple and it produces a ton of vegetables.

I’d suggest starting out with three plants of zucchini if you have a family.  There will come a point where you can’t eat anymore (trust me), at that point I usually just pull the plants out of my garden and compost them. For your first year I’d start these from seedlings, they’re easy to find, cheap and makes it easy to start.

One piece of advice that I give is I’ve found that there comes a point when I start to see squash bugs on my plants.  When I see more than 2 or 3 of them on a plant, I pull that plant right then and there.  New gardeners will often be hesitant to prune or pull out plants, you can’t be afraid to.  Squash bugs are very difficult to combat, every trick I’ve read online doesn’t do anything for my garden.  So I plant a few extra than I need and then just pull the plants as soon as I see the bugs and am content with whatever squash I got to that point, usually I’m sick of it by then anyways!

Tomatoes

tomatoes

These are a favorite for most people and a garden tomato can’t be beat.  I would absolutely use seedlings for tomatoes.  The two varieties I suggest are “Early Girls” or “Roma”.  If you have short growing season I’d suggest Early Girls because they produce pretty quickly and earlier than most tomatoes.

tomatoes just picked

A few notes about tomatoes:  If you find that you are getting a lot of flowers, but they’re not really translating into tomatoes it’s often because they aren’t pollinating well enough.  This could be because they’re aren’t enough natural pollinators like bees or Humidity is binding up the pollen.  Tomatoes will often stop fruiting when it gets really hot, then start back up when summer temperatures start to wind down.

If you live in a very hot and humid area and Early Girls aren’t working for you, consider the variety “Pink Brandywine”.  They produce great tomatoes that are huge and tend to fair a bit better in higher heat.

Finally know that you will need to support the tomatoes in some manner.  This could be a cage, it could be a be a steak or string.  My favorite way to stake these is get a 6 foot pole that is durable metal coated in plastic and then use the rolls of twist ties you can buy at the store.  I find other options just don’t hold up over the years or are too cumbersome.

Radishes

radishes

I’ll be the first to say these aren’t my personal favorite, but they are super easy to grow and they open up the soil some as they grow.  I’ll plant these for the chickens to peck out of the dirt and for friends who like them.  Radishes take between 14 and 21 days to grow full which is very fast and they are a cooler weather crop so early spring or fall is a great time for these.

radishes from garden

These are very easy to grow from seeds and they’re very cheap to buy a lot of seeds.  The seeds are very small, so what I will do is prep my bed nice and even, then just scratch the surface a little bit with the back of a garden rake.  The rule of thumb for seed depth is 3 times the length of the longest dimension of the seed.

In the case of radishes this means you barley cover them if at all, just make sure you keep them nice and moist with a fine mist (not a spray).  It can be easy for these to dry out, but since we plant in the cooler parts of the year it’s a little easier.  For spacing I follow the same approach I use with lettuce, so read below to find out how I do it.

Lettuce

lettuce

There are a million varieties of lettuce so it can get overwhelming.  Ask around locally to see if people have favorites that do well in your area.  I often just get a lettuce seed mix which is several kinds all mixed together.   You loosely broadcast the seeds over a smoothed and prepared bed and lightly water.

leafy greens

Since we are starting from seeds, we need to know how to space them so they’re not so close that they crowd the others, but not too far that we allow for weeds or wasted space.  For lettuce I typically just shake the seeds out over the entire bed as evenly as I can, then when they start to grow up to about 2 inches, I go in and pluck out some of them to make enough space.  I typically go for about four inches apart from other plants, but I also try to choose the strongest ones.  It doesn’t have to be perfect!

Lettuce is grown in cooler weather, so spring or fall, the heat of the summer is often too much for most varieties, but there are some options for those who live in hot climates.  From seeding to harvest is about 3 weeks and you often can cut the leaves right above the soil about an inch and the lettuce will grow back another two times or so.

Beans

beans

green beansThe two main types are “bush” or “pole” beans, the only difference really is that the pole beans need something to climb.  I often just stick with bush beans because it’s less poles and structures I have to deal with. These are a great plant to start out with in your first garden.

Beans are easily started from seed and are a larger seed.  Because we know the rule of thumb: plant three times the longest part of the seed, they typically get buried about an inch or so below the soil.  I usually take my rake and with the handle side make a little divot, drop the seeds about 6 inches apart and then lightly brush the soil of the trough back over the seeds.  Again, we don’t need to get out our ruler here!

 

what to grow for begginers gardening

So those are my recommendations on how to start a garden the easy way, to stack the deck in your favor and keep it all fun.  In the comments let me know what you’re going to try.

Your Turn!

  • What’s on your list to plant this year?
  • What tips do you have for first time gardeners?

 

How To Get A Septic Tank Installed – My Septic Install: Costs, Advice, Details And More

How To Get A Septic Tank Installed – My Septic Install: Costs, Advice, Details And More

septic tank installationIf you’re anything like me, a home in the mountains or in the countryside has been a dream for a very long time. Having lived in the city where municipal sewer was available, I didn’t have to worry about such things. After I bought my land in the mountains of NC, I knew getting a septic system installed would be a necessity. Having just finished up getting my septic tank installed, I wanted to share my experience, the cost and other info for those who are doing the same thing

The land I bought is going to serve two purposes for me. The first being wanted a place I could move my tiny house in the future if I ever needed to. Having a piece of land with power, a well and a septic system for my tiny house would make it easy to roll up and connect. The second reason is, while I love my tiny house, it’s not my forever house. At some point I’m going to build a small home and this land is the perfect place.

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What Is A Septic Tank?

what is a septic tank

Let’s start with the basics. A septic tank is a sealed reservoir that’s buried and collects waste water. The solids will settle out, grease will rise and filtered liquids will flow out into a leach field. This allows you to safely collect, filter and distribute your black and grey water from your home. Over time, solids will collect in the tank and it will need to be cleaned.

Do I Need Permission For A Septic Tank? Permits?

do i need a permit for a septic tank

Yes, septic tanks in many countries are regulated to ensure public safety. In the United States, most permits for septics are issued through the state Department of Health.

spetic tankSetting aside the debate of smaller vs. larger government, the aim of this is to make sure that the septic field is installed properly and to make sure the ground water isn’t contaminated. This is something I can get behind, considering I’d like to know if my neighbors unmitigated sewage is seeping directly into my ground water.

Septic systems are simple systems, but the devil is in the details and getting them right is really important. I see a permit as money well spent in order to have a third party verify the important details are done properly. In my area, permits are pretty affordable.

Another important note is that if you build a septic without a permit, you might not be able to sell your home as easily in the future. Some banks require proper permitting before they issue a loan. At the very least, having your paperwork in order will be one less thing a buyer could negotiate against. If you don’t get it permitted, know the county could condemn your house and issue a fine.

Can You Install A Septic At All?

can you install a septic system

Realize that in some places because of the soil or municipality, you may not be allowed to have a septic. Some cities require you to be on their sewer system and won’t grant septic permits without extenuating circumstances granted by a variance. In general, if there is a sewer line on your street, you’ll be required to tap into it and will not be allowed a septic at all.

Choosing A Certified Septic Installer

choosing a certified septic system installer

Most places, if not all, require you to have a certified installer who has been through training. It’s important to remember that just because someone has gone through the classes doesn’t mean they’re good at what they do or run their business in a reputable manner. At the very least, they were informed of the proper way to do things, so one could hope some of it stuck.

choosing a certified septic system installerWhat is nice about this process is the county maintains a list of active certified installers. You can contact them directly to get an updated list (sometimes found on their website). Whatever you do, don’t assume or take someone’s word that they are certified with the county, always check directly with the health department.

I’d start with people listed close to your area, then work your way out from there. Call each person and trust your gut. It’s important to realize that the good installers are busy installers, so they may have to call you back or often they’ll answer their phone while running a track hoe. My installer asked a few questions then had me call his wife to schedule a time for a site visit.

With that said, look for people who are responsive, polite, organized, and time efficient. Schedule a time to meet each of them at the location and be wary of people who give quotes sight unseen. Shoot to have three quotes from three different people who you feel good about. That means you’ll want to have 5+ estimates from different people because you’ll naturally weed out some due to being late, not showing or something else that leaves you uneasy.

How Much Does A Septic Tank Installation Cost?

how much does a septic system install cost

When I started looking into septic system installations, cost was my number one question, but answers were not easy to find. There is a lot of variability in the cost of a septic install, so I’ll share the price and details of my system. I also wanted to outline some of the factors that impact the price and then share examples from others I surveyed to get a complete picture.

Factors That Impact Cost Of A Septic System

factors that impact the cost of a septic system

There are several things that impact how much your system is going to cost. It’s important to remember that while a portion of the price will be impacted by materials (largely commoditized and pretty similar costs across all your quotes), labor will be the biggest swing here. Labor costs are variable and can change based on how busy the installers are, how much of a pain they expect you or the job to be, etc. Permit costs in your area are what they are, so that will be the same across the board.

Municipality / Location – Like all things in real estate: location, location, location. The best way to understand this is to think about how your property prices compare to other areas. If you live in a high cost of living area or a town where home prices are expensive, your septic will cost more. When comparing your location to others, look at the average cost of homes, figure out the percent difference and apply that to septic costs for a rough idea.
Soil Types and Perking Tests – Soil is another major factor of cost because if you have well-draining soils, your system will have an easier time filtering the waste water. If your soil is poor, you’ll have to extend your drain lines more and more to make up the reduced capacity for the soil to filter. Basically, you make up for poor soil filtering by extending the area you filter into until it handles it properly. In some cases, soil isn’t viable or you don’t have enough room. A larger drain field equals more materials and more labor.
State Of The Economy – Simply put, when housing is booming, you’re going to pay more. If you’re in a recession, you’ll find prices to be more competitive.
How Busy They Are – The truth is installers charge more when they are busy. Much like the state of the economy, this is a supply and demand scenario. If there are enough jobs to fill their time for the next 30-90 days, they’re going to start asking for more. The trick is the good installers are often never short of work and the bad installers will pretend like they’re busy.

Try to ask around and see if there is a slow season or ask the installer if there is a time that you could wait on for a reduced price. Sometimes just being flexible and willing to wait will provide an opportunity to save some money. The installer may finish another job early, the inspector may be slow on another job or there could be a cancellation.

How Much Of A Pain You’ll Be – If you seem like you’re going to be a pain to work with, the price just went up. Be friendly and punctual, but also don’t be a push over. Sketchy contractors will try to take advantage of someone’s good nature. Realize and plan for the process taking longer than you expected it to take.
Access To Site And Terrain – It’s easiest to install a system in a flat, cleared space with a wide driveway that leads right to the land. My installer wanted to visit my site to evaluate the difficulty of the terrain and ensure it was accessible. If your lot needs cleared, is difficult to access or steep, expect prices to rise pretty quickly. That said, take the time to install a good driveway and clear the spot well. It will need accomplished anyway and it can save you money in the long run.
Permit Fees And EngineeringPermit fees are what they are. In my county they charged $350 for a septic permit and there is no way around it. Some places have much higher fees. Also, you’ll pay more if your lot requires some sort of special engineering.
Pumps And Cesspools – You ideally want your septic tank to be down hill of your house and the drain lines to be down hill of your tank. In some cases, your house might not be up hill of them. If this occurs, you’ll need to install a cesspool to collect the waste that will be pumped up to the field. These two things (cesspool and pump) are additional units to your septic tank and add extra expenses. I’d suggest avoiding lots that require this because it adds cost and complexity. It’s just one more thing to break and it has moving parts which are prone to failure.
Aerobic Vs. Anaerobic Septic Systems – In some cases, a municipality will require you to have an aerobic system. The basic difference between aerobic and anaerobic septic systems is the presence of oxygen. Traditional anaerobic septic systems operated in the relative absence of oxygen; the broken-down sewage must be able to live without oxygen. Aerobic septic tanks are also located underground, they use an aerator to add oxygen into the tank. Because of the added complexity and equipment, Aerobic systems are more expensive.
Conventional Vs. Mound Septic Systems – I don’t know too much about these other than what my realtor explained to me. Basically, in certain circumstances where the soil isn’t ideal, the water table is too high or there is a lot of rock involved, a mound system is required. This system is a pile of gravel, sand and other fillers to make an elevated septic system. They typically cost more and require extra engineering costs.

The Cost To Install My Septic

cost to install my system

My septic was a 1000-gallon cement tank with 300 feet of drain line in a well-draining soil. My permit was $350 and I spent $300 for a guy to come out with a backhoe and dig pits for my perk test. I made sure to have this done before the purchase of the land, my offer was contingent upon successfully getting a well and septic permit.

cost of a septic tank installI had the system designed for 4 bedrooms because I don’t know exactly what I want to do. Most likely I’m going to have a Master bedroom and a guest bedroom, then space to put two more bedrooms in the future (I’d finish them if I sell to increase resale value). My land is located in the mountains of NC which is pretty rural and low cost of living.

I chose this place because it had minimal building codes, no HOA or restrictions, and the county was pretty inexpensive tax wise. I say this for you to know that my scenario was the cheaper end of the spectrum. The one thing working against me was I had no contacts in the area at all, so I did my best to get multiple quotes.
In the end I think I ended up spending more than I had to, but I got very close to what others were paying at the time. I was on a time crunch as my permit expired at the end of the year, so I couldn’t delay things. After three quotes I settled on a contractor that I liked for $7,500 all in.

Cost To Install Other Systems

cost to install other systems

I took some time to get a better picture of costs by talking with several other people. Here is a breakdown of what their systems cost when they installed their septic system.

Louisiana

$7,000

  • 1,000 Gallon Tank
  • 5 Bedrooms
  • 400 Feet
  • Installed in 2015

California

$30,000

  • 1,800-Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 350 Feet
  • Installed in 2020

Tennessee

$3,500

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 230 Feet
  • Installed in 2012

Ohio

$7,000

  • 2,000 Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 500 Feet
  • Installed in 2004

Texas

$5,000

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 300 Feet
  • Installed in 2013

Oklahoma

$3,600

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 400 Feet
  • Installed in 2007

Nevada

$7,500

  • 1,250 Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 500 Feet
  • Installed in 2005

California

$8,500

  • 1,500-Gallon Tank
  • 3 Bedrooms
  • 275 Feet
  • Installed in 2019

Washington

$5,000

  • 1,000-Gallon Tank
  • 2 Bedrooms
  • 300 Feet
  • Installed in 2018

Michigan

$8,000

  • 1,500 Gallon Tank
  • 4 Bedrooms
  • 3 900-Gallon Dry Wells
  • Installed in 2019

Your State

Your Cost

  • How Many Gallons?
  • How Many Bedrooms?
  • How Many Feet of Drain Line?
  • When Was It Installed?
Let us know in the comments if you’ve had a septic installed and the details.

How To Install A Septic Tank System + My Installation Process

how to install a septic system

Installing a septic tank is pretty straight forward, they’re fairly simple systems. However, there are a lot of little details to get right and it’s often not something someone wants to attempt on their own if they’ve never done it before. Assuming you’re hiring someone to install it for you, talk with your county first to understand their process and requirements.

Talk With Your Local Officials

talk with your local officials

The nice thing about building in the countryside is code officials are much easier to work with than in the city. I’d suggest calling them and asking for details about the process, what it entails, and the order in which to complete the steps. Usually it starts with a perk test to get a septic installation permit.

They’ll come out and perform a soil drainage test called a “perk test”. The results of the perk test will let you know what size and type of system you’ll need to install. They’ll include that info on the permit.

Get Your Permits

get your permits

You’ll need to get all your paperwork done and permit in hand before you even talk with contractors. They get a lot of calls so they often won’t work with someone until you have that permit. Getting a permit can take time: between wait times, scheduling a perk test and going rounds with officials, it took me about 60 days.

One word of caution I’d offer is don’t take anyone’s word that a permit has been issued, have the county provide you an official copy of the permit directly. I learned this the hard way, another story for another day.

Talk With Local Contractors

talk with local contractors

Follow my advice about choosing a certified septic installer (I talked about this above [hop link]). You want to get at least three quotes from people who seem like they’d be good to work with and have actually come to the location.

Get Clarity On The Process

get clarity on the process

Ask your installer these questions and then reach out to the health department and verify the process.

  • When do you plan to start work?
  • How long will the work take?
  • What things would cause a delay?
  • What things could you encounter that would increase the price? (rocks etc.)
  • When will the inspection happen?
  • How and who will trigger the county to schedule the inspection?
  • What happens if we fail the inspection?
  • What happens if we pass the inspection?
  • What do I need to get from the county after this is done?

Set Expectations Up Front With Contractor

set expectations up front with contractor

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, so getting crystal clear up front with your installer is important. Have a conversation about these items below so you know what will happen, when it will happen and what happens if it all goes wrong.

  • Can you provide copies of your profession licenses, copy of your insurance policy etc.?
  • Can you provide a basic contract/warranty info ahead of time?
  • What is the best way to communicate with you?
  • What’s a reasonable turnaround time to expect a call back?
  • How much notice will I get when you’ve finalized a date to start work?
  • Do you want to be present during the work or not? Make that clear
  • When and how will payments be made?
  • Who is paying for materials? Equipment Rentals?
TIP: Some counties have systems that you can search by contractor’s name or license number. Search theirs to see how many permits are in their name and look for any liens, fines or other red flags.

Septic System Layout

septic system layout

The day of the installation should go pretty smoothly. Most of these installers are busy and they have the process down pat. Usually they’ll start by laying out the runs with a laser level, it’s technically possible to do it without one, but any professional should be using a level like this.

laser level
marking drain field

The goal here is to run the lines along the contour line of the land, so that the lines are running 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch downward slope per foot. This is all going to be oriented and placed to where you want your future home to be, so make sure you are clear on that. You usually need to be 15 feet from the house, but it varies by local codes.

Digging The Septic Tank Pit

digging septic tank pit

Next, they’re going to start digging the hole to drop your tank into, this should be above the leach field unless you have a pump or more complicated system. This hole will depend on the size of your tank, but usually about 8-10 feet deep. You want to watch the installers to make sure they check that the pit bottom is level once they’ve removed the material. The goal here is to have a reasonably level tank when they drop in the concrete or plastic tank. I think if I could do it all again, I’d ask them to have some sand or gravel to put as a base at the bottom, but that might be overkill.

digging hole for septic tank
hole for septic tank

Digging The Leach Field Trenches

digging the leech field trenches

Depending on several factors, they will either drop the tank in right then or start digging the trenches. During my installation, the tank delivery truck wasn’t coming for a few more hours so they kept digging.

digging trernches for leech field
septic tank leech field trench

This is where my contractors really showed their skill. The little backhoe they ran was a decent sized machine and the guy running it was able to get that slope of ¼ inch per foot with impressive accuracy. The other guy used the laser level and a grade rod to check the trench the entire way.

He also picked out larger rocks to prevent damage to the drain lines and used a hand shovel to smooth the bottom of the trench to be a consistent down slope.

Repeat For Each Of Your Lines

repeat for each of your lines

Next, they created additional trenches to get the required length, all the while picking out rocks, smoothing the trench floor and checking for the slope all along the length.

Install The Septic Tank

install a septic tank

At that point the delivery truck showed up with the tank and the drain lines. The truck had a built-in trestle arm that extended off the back of the truck to lower the tank into place.

delivery truck
trestle arm

They lowered the septic tank into the ground and checked the level of each corner with the laser level again.

septic tank in hole
laser level check

Installing The Drain Lines

installing the drain lines

The drain lines were an EZ-Flow or EZ-Drain style line. Basically, a corrugated drain line with perforations in it, surrounded by packing peanuts and held tight with a netting cover. After talking with a lot of people, this style has a pretty good track record and makes for quick installation. I’ve heard some bad reviews of the EZ-Flow style lines, but they were pretty few and far between, often with some other mitigating circumstances.

ez flow lines
ez flow drain line

EZFLOW drain lines – Note: remove white cover before installing

It’s important to make sure your installers put the lines in the correct way. The little sausages have a filter fabric cover the top half of the line, you want that on top so it screens dirt from getting into the lines and clogging it. The bottom half is not covered to allow for better drainage. Make sure that filter fabric is on top!

The lines come in a bundle as a set of three: a center drain line and two buffers on either side of it. This helps keep the dirt from getting in too close, allowing for increased drainage once buried.

drain lines in place
drain line coupler

This process went really fast. The sections were very light and they connected easily with the drain line couplers. Only the middle line needs to be connected because the two outside tubes are just spacers.

One final note is the importance of not driving any heavy equipment over these lines. A smaller truck or a smaller bobcat is fine, but nothing bigger or you’ll crush the lines. Make sure you know where they are and have the area fenced off during construction.

Connecting The Tank And Drain Lines

Connecting The Tank And Drain Lines

Once everything was laid out, they moved on to connecting it all up. It was a mix of semi flexible lines and PVC pipes. They again ensured the lines had the right slope to make sure the liquids flowed correctly.

connecting drain line to tank
drain line connections for a septic tank

It’s important to note that at this point everything should be totally open because the inspection requires an open pit. The inspector showed up at this point for me, so some of the photos are after the inspection and partially buried.

septic line connections
septic tank drain lines

Install The Septic Filter

install the septic filter

Inside the tank there is a hard-plastic filter that screens out solids of a certain size from entering the drain lines. You’re aiming to only have liquids flow out of the system into the lines. This should be pulled out and cleaned off each time you have your tank cleaned, roughly every 3 years.

installing a septic filter
septic tank filter

Get Inspected

get install inspected

This process was pretty painless. The inspector showed up and used the laser level to check the slope, looked at the connections, reviewed the permit and plot map, then signed off on everything. My installer informed me that the inspector doesn’t rake them over the coals as much as he used to when they first started. Your inspection might be more involved, my inspector told me he never had any issues with the systems these guys installed, even years later.

Mark The Tank Inlet

mark the septic tank location

I hadn’t thought about this, but when I build my house, I’ll need to actually connect the tank. My installer used a board to cover the opening of the tank to block dirt from getting in and also to make it really easy to find the opening when it came time to connect. This simple thing saves a lot of digging in the future.

septic tank
marking septic tank install

Fill in the Holes

fill in the holes

Next was putting all the dirt back in, but only after your inspection is complete! This part is pretty simple, but as you do it, make sure you don’t have any large rocks sitting on the lines. My installer followed the bucket and picked out rocks as they went. I was glad to see their attention to these details.

filling in holes
backfilling septic line trenches

Smooth Out And Final Grading

final grading

You most likely will have some left-over dirt, so I had them just spread it out over the space. Figuring that the soil will settle a little bit over time, I figured adding a little on top would be just about right.

grading out area
smoothing leech field dirt

Get Your Documentation From The County

documentation

The last step is to make sure you get everything you need for the septic for future use. This usually takes a few days to a few weeks, but it’s really important to get the documents.

Septic System FAQs

septic system faqs

Concrete Vs. Plastic Septic Tanks

Plastic tanks may be used in some areas and are sometimes preferred because they’re lighter. This makes them easier to install. The downside is they can be more easily damaged during installation and have been known to sometimes “float” up. Concrete tanks are heavy and stay in place. The delivery truck used for mine came with an arm to lower the tank in, so installing my concrete tank wasn’t too difficult.

How Long Will A Septic Last?

Typically, septic tanks will last 40+ years if installed correctly and properly maintained. Your mileage may vary depending on a lot of circumstances.

How Much Is A Septic Permit?

Permits typically start at $300 and can go into the thousands. Areas with high cost of living, more environmental review and tricky soils will cost more.

Will A Septic Tank Work Without Power?

In general, yes unless you have a pump as part of the system. Most systems rely on gravity, so the draining is a passive process.

Can You Use Bleach In Your Septic Tank?

In moderation, it’s possible to use bleach, but not highly recommended. A Septic tank operates on live bacteria cultures breaking things down. Bleach can kill those cultures. A small amount of bleach diluted among thousands of gallons will not be a big deal, but it should be used sparingly. Try to space out the use of bleach and use alternatives, like baking soda mixed with bleach.

How Often Should I Get my Septic Tank Pumped/Cleaned?

In general, you should get your septic tank cleaned every 2-3 years based on use and assuming proper design. If your septic tank is under sized then you should consider doing this more frequently.

How Much Does It Cost To Clean A Septic Tank?

Typically, you can expect to pay between $300 and $500 to have your tank cleaned.

Can You Install Your Own Septic Tank – DIY Options

Yes! In some cases, municipalities allow for owners to install their own, but realize you’re still subject to inspections etc. Some places will not allow it unless you’re licensed/certified. Installing your own system shouldn’t be taken lightly and speaking frankly, unless you have done them before or do similar work, I wouldn’t suggest it. Running the equipment to dig, getting the slopes just right, connecting things up and using the right materials are all important.

Your Turn!

  • How much was your system? Include size, run length, location, bedrooms, and year installed.
  • What tips do you have for getting a septic system installed?