The author is a retired U.S. Army sergeant with a background in infantry, logistics and administrative and security training. He currently heads his own security firm and is an adjunct faculty member with the University of New Hampshire teaching seminars on home food production.-The editors.
WHAT is a survivalist homestead?
It is a home in which you can live in a real-world/present-time economy and social order, yet at the same time practice on a regular basis the survival skills you may need later.
All of this is accomplished while still living a normal life-style with access to work, schools, emergency services and stores, etc. But most importantly, you will not be in conflict with criminal, firearm or building codes, zoning ordinances, EPA regulations or planning board requirements.
The survivalist homestead offers one more very important option. That of helping you now to live a better quality life at a cheaper price and allowing you to shift to more severe survival plans only to the extent needed to meet emergencies.
In planning a survivalist homestead there are three concepts which must be incorporated into your thinking from the start and which must be adhered to if the goals are to be met. They are:
- Plan A and Plan B-Plan A is that part of all planning of your homestead which has to do with dealing in the present/real world time frame. Plan B is the planning for whatever emergencies you feel could threaten you. Both plans must be such that they can co-exist in the same place at the same time.
- One Effort with Multiple Results- This concept is simply "working smarter, not harder," fine tuned to an almost absolute. Every effort must result in more than just the one primary result. It allows you to accomplish more goals with less expenditure of time and money, to facilitate the first concept.
- Reduce, Re-use, Recycle- This concept is taken wholly from the environmental movement. Re-using material and recycling waste allows you to reduce expenses thus build with less cash outlay. This is also a skill you will need in any type of breakdown of social order, where normal access to stores and services will not be available.
Applying these concepts in homestead planning is not the first step. The first step is deciding what you are planning for-what emergencies or crises you might have to face.
This is subjective and no two people will feel that any one set of possible emergencies will be what they have to be ready for.
The process of thinking this through is called threat analysis. Done correctly it can give you an accurate picture of what it is you should be getting ready for.
At the end of my threat analysis I decided that the following were what I wanted to be ready for:
1. Short term cash flow problems.
2. Severe weather conditions.
3. Economic upheaval on a large scale.
4. Catastrophic world events.
The first task in establishing a homestead is to find the land. You can eliminate many present-time and cirsis-time security problems with proper site location. At the same time the property should be located so that you have reasonable access to work, entertainment, schools and emergency services.
Other important considerations are taxes, community growth plans, amount of land for your needs, zoning ordinances and building codes in the area where you plan to buy.
I chose my property because it was large enough (15 acres), had the right topography, available firewood, garden space, animal space, hunting and potential for water. Also the town has as part of its charter that the community will remain rural with little growth, no heavy industry or commerce and with farming as its main industry.
Crime, in normal times is a by product of growth and population density in urban and suburban life, and increased crime and civil disorder are the first results of cultural breakdown. My location has been chosen to avoid these to a great extent while still having reasonable contact with the real world.
Finally my location allows me to use firearms, garden, raise animals and build pretty much what I want for now and the future because of the absence of myriad zoning regulations and building codes that are found in so many other communities today.
Security was at the top of my list of priorities in planning my homestead on the land I acquired. A poorly laid out homestead will result in one that is more difficult and costly to secure in both normal and crisis times.
Just locating the house-compound on a hill went a long way in avoiding problems with criminals now -Plan A-and in possible lawless times-Plan B. The compound is hard to see from the nearest road, especially in summer. It is impossible to tell just what is on the hill unless you walk or drive at least half way up the driveway. By this time a would-be intruder or gang finds that the entire front of the compound area is blocked by a marshland to the east, extending a few hundred yards beyond my property line, and a deep dug pond connected to a series of beaver ponds that run nearly a half mile to the west beyond my property line.
This fine example of an engineer water barrier is the result of hard working beavers that moved onto the adjoining property the same year I bought my parcel. Within a few years they had backed up enough water to flood all the aforementioned area except my driveway. The total cost to me for this barrier was $600 to have the deep pond dug. This system serves as a second source of water for emergencies, irrigation , swimming, and draws a wide variety of waterfowl, mammals, reptilles and fish which can be a food supply- One Effort with Multiple Results.
The water barrier freezes in winter. To deny access to the main compound all year round I knew I would have to install some type of fence, which could be expensive. Instead, I stacked brush and tree limbs from land-clearng operations around the top edge of the hill on which my home-compound was located-Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. This created an instant barricade called an abatis. In most places it was around three feet high and as much as eight feet wide.
The next year native New Hampshire blackberries, that grow in abundance in the area, made their appearance and soon formed a living flesh-tearing barbed wire barrier where the brush had been stacked. Unlike a fence that deteriorates and has to be maintained every year, my barrier just gets thicker and stronger without me lifting a finger except to cut it back here and there it also provides a good amount of fresh fruit and attracts animals which, on occasion, end up on the dining room table-One Effort with Multiple Results.
In building my home I wanted a strong dwelling which was also aesthetically pleasing, practical for day-to-day living and would meet all the zoning and building codes and yet would meet the emergencies I plan for.
Solar Heating-I used a lot of rough-cut lumber, stucco and stone inside the house I used one-inch lumber instead of sheet rock for the walls and ceilings because of its structural strength.
The kitchen, living room, dining room and master bedroom are on the south side of the house. This side has large areas of glass windows to allow solar heating during the colder months. The colder the season gets the lower the sun is on the horizon. By Dec. 21, the sun floods almost straight through the south windows, keeping the inside temperature around 65 degrees F. By June21, the sun is now high in the sky, adding little heat to the house during warmer months.
Because solar gain heating can overheat a house in the day time, there is a need for something to absorb the excess heat during the day and radiate it back into the house later on. This is called thermal mass. It is achieved by having no basement and building instead on a concrete slab, sometimes called a floating slab or a monolith slab.
For additional mass-and protection from gunfire if the need should arise-I built a solid concrete block wall of four-inch thick blocks almost the whole length of the house.
This wall collects heat from the wood/coal stove to prevent overheating of the north side rooms and then radiates it back late at night. This stove except for the Ben Franklin stove in the master bedroom which is used only occasionally, is the only source of man-made heat we have had for the past three winters
Plans for this year call for the addition of a propane gas heating system. The gas system will be one that does not rely on electricity to function. Once again if the heating system is connected to house current the loss of electricity means no heat. The wood/coal stove will be kept for back-up, cooking and heating, and just for the pleasure of a wood fire in the winter.
The north wall of the house is just the opposite, as far as windows go, of the south wall. The smallest windows allowed by code are placed here. These are the bathrooms, toilet and bedrooms. These rooms remain empty most of the day and do not need as much light. The smaller windows reduce heat loss and restrict entry from the outside.
To further reduce heat loss the north wall is triple insulated. Standard fiberglass was installed, then one-inch rigid insulation over the studs, and 7/16-inch flake board over the insulation there are no breaks in this barrier except the windows, to allow heat to escape or cold wind to infiltrate the house if desired.
Lastly, all closet space was built into the north wall to create as much "dead space" as possible to further isolate the heat in the house from radiational cooling.
Still Room, Root cellar, Work Shed-Once the main house was up the still room, root cellar, and work shop/shed were added.
A still room was the part of a colonial home where fermentation of home made brews, "kraut" making and pickling were conducted. It was also used to store smoked foods, beverages and other preserved items. I use ours for most of the same reasons and it is also where the water pressure system, well, washer and drier are located.
The dryer is vented through the root cellar by way of a four-inch PVC pipe Part of the system is underground in the root cellar which has a sand floor. This section of pipe has holes in it so condensed moisture can drain into the sand and humidify the root cellar when the drier is used. The end of the pipe has a fixture that allows me to vent the air outside when it is too warm in the cellar or vent into the cellar when it is too cold.
Root cellars are generally constructed underground or in hillsides. Mine is above ground because, with modern insulating materials, it was just cost effective and time saving to do so. In the cellar I can store appropriate food stuffs to last until late spring when the following year's crops start to come in. This is also a good place to store jugs of water in the event we lose electricity.
The wood storage area at the entrance of the still room holds about a half cord of firewood. With this entrance facing south the sun hits the wood pile every day in the winter, melting snow left on it after it is brought in from outside storage. This means we can bring wood into the house night or day and any weather without making a mess all over the place with melting snow.
The summer kitchen is where all the initial cleaning of garden and animal products takes place. All waste can go directly to the compost heap. Waste water from the sink goes directly to garden irrigation after passing through a grease trap. The contents of the grease trap also go to the compost heap.
The Well-Most wells are outside the home and at some distance. Mine is unusual as it is in the still room of the main house.
Few people have the well in a building, other than a small pumphouse, because when the pump and pipe have to be brought up for service, equipment and often a truck have to be used to get the 150 or 200 feet of pipe-full of water- and the pump up.
My well is 700 feet deep and a truck with the proper equipment will be needed to haul everything up. For this reason, the door leading to the outside lines up with the well so the truck needs only to back up and start working.
Having the well in the still room also means there is no chance of freeze ups or busting pipes that are at least four feet underground. The well is also constantly under lock and key where it cannot be tampered with. All of this comes under Plan A should a disaster strike that is so far reaching as to reduce our culture's technology to pre-electrical days, I can remove the pump and pipe and still reach my water in comfort and safety any time of the year-Plan B. I would simply use a container just an inch or so smaller in diameter than the 8 inch pipe well shaft. The container has a flap valve on the bottom and is suspended by a rope. As it is dropped through the water, the valve is pushed open and the container fills. When pulled up the force of the water pushes the valve back down and seats it so the container stays full. Though the well is 700 feet deep, the water level is only 35 feet from the top when it is full. This gives me at 1 1/2 gallons per foot, about 800 gallons in reserve.
In New Hampshire, as in most states, you cannot get a building permit without a state approved septic system plan. I applied Plan A by putting in a normal flush toilet as the main one in the home and a composting toilet in the master bedroom for back up-Plan B.
The composting toilet needs no special hook up except for a vent through the roof. When you lose electricity that means there is no well pump either, and thus no flush toilet. But the composting one will still be functional for at least three days.
Food-The only real answer to a reliable food supply during bad times is to produce your own, or most of it, all the time.
Producing your own food on a constant basis means you not only have a constant source of reliable food, but you also have the prepared land and facilities, tools and skills to keep going. You can do it all, from planting a garden bed to sowing, raising, cleaning, butchering and preserving your produce, meats and fish.
The most common argument against the whole process of home food production is the time involved, followed by cost. While this is a subject which merits an entire article in itself and there isn't enough space in this article to go into it in depth,suffice it to say that if you have the resources and time to establish your own home food production, you will find it well worth your while.
I have to admit that the initial efforts to set up garden space and small animal facilities is time consuming though not necessarily expensive. But, the set up time is a one-shot effort.
I have used many techniques-too numerous to include here- for saving time, energy, and money in producing food.
In growing tomatoes in the garden area for example, newsprint and grass clippings have been put down in the tomato bed to prevent weeds from growing and reduce the need to water.
For a few hours work a week in home food production from late April through October, you can raise prepare and put up (store) most of your food for a year. And doing so reduces your cost of purchasing the same amounts and types of food by half or more.
In addition to this you should also know how to calculate food needs, food costs and production costs and some techniques for gardening, animal husbandry and food preservation.
The lessons learned by early homesteaders still apply today.
1. Analyze possible threats to you
2. Choose terrain that lends itself to defense.
3. Plan security around the principles of "Avoidance." "Deception" and "Denial."
4. Reduce costs and effort as well as help the environment, by following the concepts of "Plan A and Plan B, "One Effort with Multiple Results" and "Reduce, Re-use, Recycle."
5. Assure yourself good shelter, reliable water and constant food.
Think about this as you reflect on your own plans to survive... now and later.