21 Mar 2015
Do you want the least expensive, smallest house? That leaves more money left over to pay off the mortgage and any other debt. You can achieve financial independence sooner without a mortgage or debt. But, will the house help you? Is there enough space for extensive food gardens and pantries? Does the house have any kind of supplemental heat like a wood burning stove? Is it heavily insulated? Will you have to do extensive renovations that will burn up the money you saved on the price? Is there a source of water nearby? Are you allowed to harvest rainwater? Do you have space for a home-based business? Will the zoning allow for small livestock like chickens or rabbits? How’s the commute? The schools? The walk ability? Local services? The neighborhood?
Do you want the biggest house? Bigger houses give more room for options like home offices, studio and workshop space for home based businesses, libraries, extensive food storage space, the renting out of rooms to bring in some money (is that legal in the neighborhood?), having relatives who can contribute to your domestic economy live with you, or taking care of elderly or challenged family members. Bigger houses also take more money to insure, to heat and cool, to furnish, to maintain, to reroof, and to pay taxes on. If you are concerned about always having money left over, the size of your house does matter.Do you want the house that is furthest out in your 20-mile radius? That means more privacy, fewer intrusive neighbors, and usually, more land to go with the house. It also means that you have to be better organized in every way, when every single item you run out of means a trip into town to get it. You either learn to do without said item, you maintain extensive storage supplies of whatever you run out of, or you keep very careful shopping lists that you continually update. Further out means more commuting time and it’s associated costs of money and wear and tear on your body and your vehicle. More commuting time means less time spent at home doing other things. Further out means fewer neighbors who can watch over your house with you and possibly help you when you need it. Further out means that every single time you need something or you have an appointment, a school or church function or you meet someone for lunch, you have to drive to do it.
Do you want the oldest house? The one with the solid red oak floors, the extensive woodwork and moldings, the solid wood doors, the slate roof and mature landscaping that cools the house in the summer, the pre-air conditioning house that has decent ventilation. This may be the house that needs to have insulation blown into all the walls, a new roof, re-wiring, and termite removal.
Do you want the newest house? It has decent insulation and up to code wiring. It may also be made of chipboard and staples and glue, with the very cheapest of everything from kitchen cabinets to carpeting. Since it is new, the assumption is that you will run either the air conditioner or the furnace to cool and heat the place. Opening all the windows won’t naturally vent the building as they weren’t lined up by the builder on opposite walls to do this. Some rooms, like bathrooms, may not even have windows. Hope you have alternative lighting for these rooms for when the power goes out.
Do you want the house with the largest yard? A larger yard means space for extensive food production areas, fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, tool sheds, bicycle storage, chicken coops and rabbit hutches and bee hives, clotheslines, compost bins, rain water storage, patios and outdoor kitchens. A larger yard means you can spare the space to run a yew hedge all around the perimeter for privacy. You have space for wilderness areas to provide habitat for predatory insects and birds. If you need to build in an outhouse, you have the room. A larger yard may have a well and a septic system, which can free you from those kinds of utility bills. Your well and septic system will give you another layer of complexity that you have to maintain. A larger yard will cost more to install a six foot chain link fence all around the perimeter, and more to buy the yews and cedars that you plant as a screening hedge just inside the fence, all around the perimeter. A larger yard takes more time to mow as it tends to have more grass areas.
Do you want the house with the smaller yard? A careful layout of almost any yard will allow space for raised beds for vegetables, some clothesline space, some compost bin space, some outdoor living space, even some space for ornamental and wilderness areas. A smaller yard is much easier to maintain and keep track off as you can see it all and walk through it quickly. But, you need to plan out the layout carefully as it isn’t that easy to change the locations of raised beds, compost bins, and patios once they are in place. Smaller yards mean saying no to some of the things you may want such as chicken coops. Smaller yards mean choosing semi dwarf fruit and nut trees. Smaller yards mean that every plant in them should be doing double duty in terms of food production, attracting pollinators, screening out the neighbors, providing wildlife habitat, and being beautiful to look at. This double or even triple duty need for each plant you choose means that you can’t just go down to the nursery and buy what looks pretty. You will have to do a lot of research, in advance, to get the best usage of your space and money with your plant selection.
Do you want a yard at all? In this case, the answer is absolutely yes. Even if you end up with some kind of duplex or row house, you need some yard space. Yard space gives some room of your own for your kids, your dogs, your laundry, your outdoor living, and your gardening. You can’t harvest rainwater or make compost without some outside space. Yes, you can sign up for a slot in the community garden and this may be your only alternative. But it is far easier to grow and use tomatoes and lettuces when they are steps away from your kitchen door, rather than when they are a fifteen minute drive away. Even a 100 square foot walled patio (ten feet by ten feet) will give you some room for vegetables, flowers, a lawn chair, and a bird bath.
You don’t have to have acres of ground for food production. A smaller set of raised beds, managed closely, can be extremely productive. A larger, traditional garden of long rows that gets away from you with its unending labor needs of weeding, watering, harvesting and preserving can produce a whole lot less usable produce. Look for books such as “Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew and “How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Though Possible” on Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons.
Next Week: Making the best of the land that you buy