Wednesday, September 09, 2009

What's the Difference Between a Home and a Homestead? Part 2

In my last post, I gave my thoughts on a traditional home, and how it consumes your time, energy, and money.  In this post I want to discuss my definition of a homestead, and how I think you can make your home into a producer instead of a consumer, even if you went the traditional route to begin with. Warning: this post is a bit long, but I think it is important to deliver these ideas all together, rather than broken into a 3rd post on this subject.

First, let me remind you what my basic definition of a homestead is.  A homestead is a producer, rather than a consumer.  It's that simple.  But let me explain a little.  Which of the consumption items I listed in my last post can be produced by your house, turning it into a homestead?  Electricity would be everyone's immediate answer, and more savvy people might answer water as well.  I argue that everything I mentioned can be replaced or produced with a well-designed homestead.  Even mortgage payments.  How is this?  Well, as I said, electricity is an obvious one, install solar panels.  Yes, they are expensive, but they will pay for themselves in the long run.  And if you shift your lifestyle focus from one of consuming to one of producing, your habits will most likely change to consuming less electricity anyway which means you don't have to produce as much, and can maybe sell a little back to the grid.  Water is another somewhat easy one, as rainwater can be harvested in a variety of ways around your property, and can be treated to be drinking water pretty easily, cheaply, and safely.  You can't sell water to produce a little money, but not having to pay for city or regional water when caring for your plants can save a lot of money off of your bill.

Those are two are examples of things that anyone can do on their path to transitioning to a homestead.  But what about things like natural gas, paying for insurance, and paying your mortgage?  These items are a little stickier, and might require that you think about homesteading before you purchase a house.  Let's start with gas, which is really about the temperature of your home.  What if instead of burning some sort of fuel to heat and cool your home, you built your home in a way that it is so efficient at using the environment around it to regulate it's temperature, you don't need a heating or cooling system in it?  Impossible you say?  Not so.  Building a home in cool climates to have many sun-facing windows that allow maximum exposure to direct sunlight in the winter will heat your house quite effectively, especially when coupled with a dense wall or floor that can capture heat energy from the sun.  But it gets too hot in the summer for that you say?  Install an awning that blocks the summer sun, which is higher in the sky, so no direct sunlight ever gets into the house during the summer.  Or plant deciduous trees in front of the windows, whose leaves block sunlight during the summer, but fall off for the winter.  Simple design ideas like this can keep your home from consuming massive amounts of energy over the course of its lifetime.  And that missing consumption is money in your pocket, as well as good for the planet.  Indirectly, that money saved is "produced" by your home, and can be used to pay off mortgages.  Of course, this might require some lifestyle changes as well.  You might have to get used to your home being in the high 70's or low 80's during the summer, or in the low-to-mid 60's during the winter.  Put on some socks and a sweater, and feel the warmth of the money, and energy, you're saving.

But what about the mortgage itself?  How can a homestead produce the income needed for that?  Well, if you're smart, your mortgage won't be the largest one you could get approved for by the bank.  Borrowing only what you need, and not everything you can, is the first step.  Second, think about what the most fundamental need in your life is.  If you said food, you are smarter than I look.  Let's say you have a quarter of an acre lot.  This is a pretty decent sized lot, but isn't completely unreasonable in some of urban/suburban areas.  You could install 12 garden beds, each 4x8 feet, plant various fruit trees, grapevines, berry patches, and strawberry beds around your property, and plant herbs patches or even an herb spiral, and a 25x50 foot patch of a single grain, like wheat or oats.  Depending on your climate, of course, from just a quarter of an acre lot planted in such a way, you could produce up to 50 pounds of wheat, 25 to 75 pounds of nuts, 600 pounds of fruit, and 2000+ lbs of vegetables.  But, you've still got room on your quarter acre.  Room enough, in fact, that if your local laws allow, you could house 12 chickens, 2 pigs, and even a couple beehives, if you wanted.  So add to your 2700+ pounds of produce 280 pounds of pork, 120 cartons of eggs, and 100 lbs of honey.  Producing this much food for yourself in your own backyard would save you a bunch of money on food costs that you could use to pay your mortgage instead.  Now, for those of you that say saving money isn't really producing money, let's say that you don't own a house yet, and instead of buying one in the suburbs, you go a little further out and get 10 acres.  Multiply the yields you got from the quarter-acre by 40 (except for the pigs and the chickens).  Plus, you can add in some cattle or goats if you want to, for milk production or meat production.  And if you do what I want to do, and buy 40 acres that you design with homesteading in mind from the ground up, you might even be able to multiply some of those yields by 160.  When you start producing that much, not only are you growing most if not all of the food you need to feed yourself, you can probably sell some of it as well.  In fact, you might be able to consider yourself a small-scale farmer.  Considering the fact that the United States, a country that used to be called the breadbasket of the world, recently became a net-importer of food, meaning we import more food than we export, we could probably use a lot more small-scale farmers, or even just backyard homesteaders, if you only have a quarter acre lot.

I know this post was long, and I thank you, as always, for reading it.  To be honest, this post probably could've been 3 times as long, and still not said everything I have to say about making your house produce for you, and not the other way around.  In my next post, I plan to write about the other side of my website's name, permaculture, and what I think it means to call my plan a permaculture homestead.

No comments:

Post a Comment