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5 Critical Questions Before You Build That Homestead

homestead -- first stepsThe land rush is on! People across the country are once again seeking comfort in the rural landscapes of this beautiful country. Many have already realized their dreams and are living on their own homestead while others are still dreaming and planning for that day. Make no mistake though; identifying the right piece of real estate to call home is not a task to take lightly.

There are several steps prospective homesteaders should take long before they make any offer to purchase land. The first step in establishing a new homestead is to assemble a plan. There are many ways to prepare such a plan, but there are essentials to put in place to ensure any land purchase will meet the requirements. Just as in or near the city, “location, location, location” is a crucial aspect of the successful homestead. In order to determine the best location, here are some of the basic essentials to incorporate into an effective plan:

1. Will the new home be on or off the power grid?

Homes that will be connected to electric utilities are best located on land that has a readily available connection to the grid. A beautiful piece of property located dozens of miles from the nearest electric line can become cost-prohibitive if the owner is responsible for bringing power to the property. On the other hand, an off-grid home can theoretically be located just about anywhere. There are specifics to understand in the off-grid scenario however, so it is best to become educated on the use of solar, wind, water and geothermal sources of power. This information can further narrow the search for appropriate land.

2. What are your water and sewage plans?

Perhaps the most essential aspect of the homestead life is access to clean, safe, potable water. Similar to electricity, if the plan is to connect to a local water utility, it is important to understand the cost and availability of this resource.

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Rivers, streams and wells have been among the greatest resources for homesteaders over the years. Be careful, though, not to assume that a river or stream, or even an existing well, contains water that is safe for consumption. Also, do not make any assumption that property that does not have an existing well can have one dug. Because of years of drought in many areas, groundwater is becoming more difficult to reach with simple drilling methods. The best route to take is to determine which water solution is applicable and then begin to research prospective areas for that resource.

toilet homestead

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Sewage is also an essential component to health and safety on the homestead, not only for the homesteaders, but also for their neighbors and livestock or wildlife. Most homesteads are not located near sewage treatment facilities, thus the most common solution is a septic system. There are various types of these systems with their own advantages, disadvantages and associated costs. Proper research is necessary to determine which septic system to use if that is the desired solution.

Some homesteaders practice a method of human waste composting called “humanure.” If the prospect of carrying buckets of waste and processing it properly is unappealing, perhaps this is not the best solution. On the other hand, some people find this a valuable tool for their land, but again, research is crucial. Many areas with deed restrictions prohibit such activities so it is best to understand the restrictions in the area planned for.

3. What about farming activities?

Living on a homestead without some degree of food production almost seems to be an oxymoron, but it does happen. The majority of homesteaders do grow their own food to varying degrees. Some have smaller, simple gardens to supplement store-bought produce while others are full-out farming operations that recognize profits from the sale of their fruits and vegetables. Self-sustaining crops are also popular, but whatever the case may be, soil (aside from water) is the most crucial element to productive food harvests. Poor soils can sometimes be rehabilitated with essential nutrients for farming, but such solutions can take years. If immediate food production is the plan, soil testing on prospective properties is a must.

In similar fashion, geography places a large role in food production. A plan to grow water thirsty plants in an arid area will meet with almost certain disaster. Planning for food crops that favor certain geological areas takes a certain degree of research, but is not too difficult. See what others are growing in an area and follow the example of successful operations.

4. Will you have livestock?

chickens homesteadNot all farming homesteaders want to be ranchers, too, but most find it necessary (or helpful) to maintain some beneficial livestock on their property. Whether it only is a milking animal such as a cow, goat or sheep, livestock all have certain requirements of their own. Buying feed for animals is no cheap endeavor, but providing grazing for them can increase demand for larger property.

Any plan that includes livestock must be properly planned for their comfort and survival. A one acre homestead is not going to provide enough food for a cow that is not also receiving supplemental feed. However, a 20-acre property for one cow is acceptable, but not necessary.

Items to consider for healthy livestock vary from animal to animal, but each requires certain soils, forage/pasture and minerals. Sick animals can be devastating to a homestead so if the homesteader is not knowledgeable in veterinary science, local access to veterinarians is important. Reading up on desired livestock is vital, but just as important is contacting local agricultural extension agents and other farming or ranching professionals familiar with the animal(s) in question.

5. Are there deed restrictions?

Perhaps one of the most often overlooked aspects of a land purchase is the existence or lack of deed restrictions. Simply put, deed restrictions regulate certain activities that can or cannot take place on a given property. Because of this, land that isn’t covered by deed restrictions can be highly prized by many homesteaders because it gives them the freedom to do whatever they wish with the land they own.

On the other hand, some potential landowners may find aspects of deed restrictions to be appealing. Not all landowners are comfortable living next to junk yards or waste dumps. Deed restrictions can be a valuable tool to help ensure the beauty and safety of the homesteader’s land and that of their neighbors.

There is no uniform rule for deed restrictions and they can vary from area to area. It is best to know if there are restrictions in an area and if so, whether the prospective buyer is comfortable living under those rules.

Together, these components don’t constitute a complete list for a successful homestead plan, but each of them is crucial to any endeavor to purchase land for a homestead. Undesirable surprises in any of these areas after a land purchase can be difficult or impossible to overcome. A thorough plan and time invested in proper research can increase the chances of a much greater experience and a happy homestead.

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