Next Steps

So, now we’ve got our property, the title issues are resolved, everything is looking good, so now we’ve got to get started making the place functional.

There are several things that are high on the priority list so figuring out what to tackle first is going to be a challenge, especially considering the limited time I’ll have to work out there. It’s enough of a distance away from where we’re living now, that just going out for a weekend isn’t really worthwhile, we’d basically get there one evening, set up camp, have maybe a half a day to get some work done, then have to break down camp and head home to be ready for work on Monday.

Fortunately, I’m given plenty of vacation time from my employer and I’ve gotten quite a bit of time banked up so the plan is for once a month or so, take a couple of vacation days and go out there for a long weekend. As often as possible, I’ll coordinate it around holidays so we’ll have an extra day to add. That means we’ll be spending most of our holidays on the property working instead of relaxing with friends and family, but sacrifices must be made.

So the next step is figuring out priorities. There are lots of things that need to be done and there’s only one of me so I’ve got to get things prioritized correctly. I’d be happy to get some input on this from people who’ve “been there and done that”.

So, here are the priorities as I see them in broad strokes:

1. Electricity (need that for the well pump if nothing else)
2. Water (get the well running, get a pressure tank put in)
3. Security (get a fence put up along the road and gates across the access points)
4. Trash/junk/burned down house cleanup
After this is where it starts to get a bit hazy, but the above will keep us busy for a while.

We’ll still need to clear the land I plan on putting a garden/orchard in. I want to get the fruit trees (and asparagus patch…I love asparagus) planted as soon as practical because they’ll take three years to start bearing fruit. The earlier we get them in, the sooner they’ll be productive. Having a tractor would make clearing and preparing that land much easier, but I don’t want to buy a tractor until I’ve got a secure, weather protected place to keep it.

So, do I build a pole barn first, then buy a tractor, then start clearing the land for the fruit trees? Or should I try to get some land cleared for the fruit trees and get them in before worrying about the barn and tractor? Also, where’s the barn gonna go? I don’t want to build it, and then two or three years from now when it’s time to put up a house, decide it’s in the wrong place.

If anyone has any advice or alternative viewpoints for the above, I’m happy to hear them.

So, those are the broad strokes. Here’s what I plan to accomplish on my trip there next week:

High on the priority list is getting the well operational so we’ve got water and don’t have to haul it out there. We do have a small spring on the property that, with a filter system we could use for some things, but just being able to turn on a tap would be much better. That means getting the electricity turned on, so I think that should be my first priority and what I’m going to invest my upcoming trip on.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s already a pole out there with a meter and an outlet. It’s connected from the road through two power poles, one of which has a transformer mounted on it. I don’t know if the transformer’s good or not, but I assume that’s the power company’s responsibility. It’s on my property, and I know of no easements so I could be wrong…but I’d think that would be on them if the transformer’s bad. It’s not like I can buy one at Lowes.

Also, I’m not sure what amperage of service was provided before and what the existing wiring can support now. Since I want to run the well off it, as well as power tools, lighting and some other things we’ll need to run, I think I need at least 100 amp service.

Also, with just an outlet, there’s no main breaker or breaker box for adding circuits. I think I need to add a breaker box with a main and the ability to add at least 6 more breakers. One two pole for the 220v well pump. One single to run to the pump house for a light and possibly heater strip to keep the pressure tank above freezing in the winter. One single for the shed…this one will be a shed light and an outlet to plug in a router for internet that we’ll eventually get hooked up. One for an outdoor outlet near wherever we decide to put the campsite and one spare (or maybe an additional outdoor outlet somewhere else).

I could get away with a box with only 4 spots if it can support tandem breakers, but I’d rather have too much capacity than not enough.

I was also thinking about getting a single box that has the meter housing and the breakers to simplify things. I don’t need a meter housing, but it’s not that much more expensive to get a combined unit than it is to just get the breaker panel.

So, my goals for the upcoming trip. Go to the power company, find out if they can tell me what amperage of service is out there now, start my contract with them and maybe set up an appointment to get someone out there to check the transformer and wiring to the meter. Also they sell the electrical permits so I’ll buy the permits I need there.

Oh, remember when I told you that the property used to be two parcels? They had different addresses. The meter is actually on the smaller parcel that had an address that no longer exists, so the existing service that the power company has in their records is for an address that’s no longer there. I hope that doesn’t cause too much trouble to straighten out, but I won’t know until I talk to them.

At any rate, then it will be time to get to work. Either add the breaker panel to the existing meter service, or replace the meter base completely with a combination unit…I’m leaning toward the latter. Possibly upgrade the wire between the service entrance and the meter if necessary for 100 amp service. Wire the shed up and get a light and a couple of outlets installed. Run wire to the well pump (this will be an event, it’s probably about 60 feet from the pump house to the power pole and I’ll have to dig a trench for the cable(s). I could rent a trencher, but the closest equipment rental place I could find is about 45 minutes away so I’d end up paying for an hour and a half of rental just in travel time. Not sure it’s worth it. I can dig a 60 foot trench by hand, it will just take time.

Anyway, I’ll also need to decide where our “established” camp site’s going to be an run a wire to that, sink a post and put an outlet there. Once all that’s done, I can try to set up an inspection. I doubt I’ll be able to get it done that week, especially so close to Christmas, so I’ll likely have to schedule that for the next trip in a month or so, but I at least hope to have it all ready to be inspected so I can get that handled next time and hopefully get the power turned on.

I’ll take pictures as I can and update with progress after the trip.

Any thoughts, especially for things I may not be considering but should be, are welcome.


2 thoughts on “Next Steps

  1. Electricity is #1, even if it’s just a box with outlets on the pole where the meter is. 200 amps is the default today. 100 isn’t nearly enough. Anything over 200 will require providing data to the power company justifying it (>200 drives a fresh planning cycle on their end). 200 at the house, 200 at the barn isn’t too much. Maybe separate meters, depends on the power company.

    Well is #2. Drilled wells is $$$ but that’s the way to go. If you dig the trench, find out what the local frost line depth is, go AT LEAST 1 foot deeper, 2 ft deeper isn’t too much and one extreme, very much out-of-the-norm week of winter weather will make you wish you had gone 3 ft deeper. In the trench: 6″ sand, your water pipe, 12″ sand, dirt with no rocks up to grade level (no rocks is important)the “buzz line” (electric wire for a “buzz alert” current so the line can be easily found. FYI, (almost) no matter what it costs, you’ll really, really appreciate a rental trencher if you have to do 200 ft of 4 ft deep trench. Call around – there’s got to be someone local who does trenching.

    Look for sales/good prices on high quality extension cords – pure copper, and it’ll be expensive, but Chinesium “copper clad aluminum” is absolute crap. Mucho $$ but SO cord comes in 250 ft rolls, go one gauge up from what you think you’ll need (I’ve got a 125 ft SO cable 10/3 and a 125 ft SO cable 8/3, plus some commercial 100 ft 10/3 and 12/3 extensions cords and they’ve been life savers. The 8/3 will connect to the 10/3 giving me 250 ft of large gauge, and the commercial cords can connect to them. Make your own “outlet centers” with 4-gang steel boxes – 1 GFCI that also protects the duplex receptacle adjacent to it and 2 receptacles NOT GFCI protected. Label them so everyone “these are GFCI, these aren’t.” Put them on 25 ft 10/3 SO.

    FYI, again, it’s $$ but specify no electrical wire smaller than 12 gauge will be allowed anywhere. It may be a 15 amp circuit which can run on 14 gauge, but….NEC specifies no circuit to be loaded >80% of rated capacity so 15 amp circuit=12 amp max load, 20 amp = 16 amp max. Nothing but 12 gauge wire means you won’t discover an electrician’s helper ran 14G to what is supposed to be a 20A circuit. Map out your wiring (do this with your architect) and include a transfer switch as part of the build, whether you plan on generator backup or not. Put at least 2 EASILY ACCESSIBLE receptacles in each room on the transfer switch, all your ceiling fans on a transfer switch circuit, your fridge. freezer, etc. on their own circuits, emergency lighting on a transfer switch circuit (consider “night light receptacles” in strategic places – would a night light here provide for navigation and “target identification”? FYI, garden-variety night lights with red bulbs ar good – red provides light but doesn’t wreck night vision. You were Navy, “going red” occurred every sunset shipboard, didn’t it?).

    NEC specifies a duplex receptacle every 12 linear feet of wall (inear means measure around corners, etc.) so an appliance with a 6 ft cord can reach a receptacle anywhere. But that’s bare minimums and everyone I’ve ever known would “like a receptacle right THERE” and it isn’t. NEC also doesn’t specify a maximum number of receptacles per circuit, so Billy Bob the Electrician may put 11 receptacles on this circuit and 3 on that circuit because it was easier for him. More work for you and the architect during the design stage.

    I like home runs for electrical and water. PEX water pipe runs like electrical cable. It’s more $$ up front but not that much – time spent in the planning stage is really, really cheap compared to “modify it after it’s in.” Home runs means you can take a fixture (or maybe an entire bathroom) off-line to repair/replace something instead of shutting off water to the entire house for 3 hours.

    Label EVERYTHING when it goes in, pipes, valves, fixtures, receptacles, switches, etc. . Labeling each receptacle and switch to indicate which circuit breaker controls it sounds OCD and anal retentive, but it can be huge time saver (and maybe a house saver) someday. A couple of hours with a label maker will pay dividends.

    Pro Tip: Find, make, draw a DETAILED scaled to-the-foot map of the property BEFORE you do anything else (a surveryor can do this as part of a property survey). Pick a PERMANENT reference point. You may have a Coast & Geodetic Survey Benchmark on the property – that works great – if not, make your own in an accessible and convenient – but not inconvenient – spot. 5 ft deep 12″ diameter hole, use Sonotube to carry the concrete 12-18″ above grade, put non-corroding marker (brass, 316 stainless (aka marine stainless), etc.) in the center. The location of everything on the property references off that point so you know the water line begins at the well (248 ft 8 in at 168 degrees from the marker) and travels at 235 degrees for 163 ft to the house. A few years from now you’ll be wondering just where that underground water line/propane line/electrical feed/septic line runs. Map it out now. Also do whatever is under the house or barn slab or foundation.

    Related: Get a 6 ft large steel rule (you already have a compass, right?). Anything that’s going to be hidden under drywall gets measured then photographed with the rule for scale before covering it up. Include a 3×5 or 4×6 card in the pic: “south wall bedroom 3”. Document whatever else is in the wall – TV/internet cable, intercom wire, water pipe, etc.

    Play Legos on your map for house/barn/shed/orchard/chicken coop/etc. locations. Cut cardboard representations TO SCALE and slide them around. Check codes on stuff – example: locally, a 100 gallon or less propane tank can be next to a building >100 gallons must be at least 15 ft away AND at least 10 ft from any window or door on the structure and 10 ft from any electrical appliance (eg. heat pump, central A/C), >250 gallons must be 30 ft away. Meaning that 250 gallon propane tank has to be accessible for refills, not an eyesore, and requires trenching to get the line to the house (propane line in conduit is best, and deeper is better).

    Not immediate, but somewhat urgent, is “plant now.” Fruit trees first, then privacy trees, eg., spruce either inside or outside your fences. Your state will have some sort of forestry division, they’ll have seedlings cheap each spring. Mine used to do 1500 seedlings for $35, no idea what the cost is now. Don’t miss the time window and figure a full weekend of back breaking planting to get it done. Save some seedlings in a good area for “spares” – some of your privacy plantings won’t make it, a couple dozen extras as spares is handy.

    Pro Tip: If at all possible, anything buried should run inside conduit. Extra $$ up front, but makes future replacement/upgrade much, much easier. It at all possible, run 2 conduits in a trench so there’s an “empty spare”- plastic pipe is cheap, the trench is EXPENSIVE.

    Barn – call around, use the internet. You may find a generic steel building could be cheaper than you think. FYI, a concrete floor is really nice, beats lying in dirt or mud while trying to fix a tractor.

    Maybe it’s time to move this to email. I’ll check your contact info above and email you.

  2. That is some great stuff…some of it for way in the future, but I’ll bookmark this post for later reference.

    Some of it I’ve thought of, most of it not.

    My dad always said: Wise people learn from their mistakes, REALLY wise people learn from other people’s mistakes. I’ll be definitely be taking a bunch of your advice.

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