Sunday, May 31, 2015

In the beginning...

At this point it's just a drawing, a set of plans awaiting approval by the county, and a little under five acres in the little "town" of Campo, California.  I bought land in Campo because I could afford it there, and it's not really what you'd think of as a town - it's a rural area with lots of ranches and five- or ten-acre horse plots, with the odd convenience store or cafe at road intersections here and there among the oak trees.

Altitude is about 3000 feet, on the desert side of the hill, so it can get pretty warm when the East wind we call the Santa Ana blows, but snow is not unheard of.

There is a high school, a library, a railroad museum with train rides on the weekends, and a local history museum located in an old stone store, with walls two feet thick, built in 1875 to defend against border bandits.

Nearby Camp Lockett is "a military outpost created to protect the southern frontier. It housed the horse cavalry, which was the most effective way to patrol the rocky, mountainous terrain of the back country. It also served as the last home of the Buffalo Soldiers."

Two and a half miles north of my property is Lake Morena, a reservoir owned by the city of San Diego, 60 miles away, and in these dry times, the thirsty city has unapologetically drained the lake down to 4% (that's four percent) of its capacity.  It's more like a large pond than a lake these days. And the city says that if rains raise the level beyond 4%, they will drain that excess off too, leaving the once beautiful lake at pond level for the foreseeable future.

The Land

This is a slightly enhanced Google Earth view, with the boundaries and buildings sketched in. The plot is on a nice symmetrical North-South axis, turned sideways in the photo, with North on the left.

The house will be off the grid, with solar on the roof and a bank of 16 batteries for nighttime, with a generator backup.  So I will orient the house with the solar panels facing due south.  They say the best angle for solar panels is your latitude, and the latitude of Campo is 32.6 degrees.  My roof will be pitched at 33.6.  Close enough.  More on the solar later.

The Oak Tree

When I was a boy in Illinois, we visited my cousins on their farm in Kansas in the summertime. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of that farm, with its long gravel drive with room to turn around at the barnyard end.  I have often dreamed of having a bit of land with such an arrangement - a long drive (must be gravel - there's something about the crunch of gravel under the tires) and a big tree to turn around, with buildings arranged more or less around the tree.  More than once over the years I have casually sketched my little imaginary homestead with its circle drive and outbuildings, and now, in my senior years, it looks like I'm going to have exactly what I imagined.

Here it is, actually five separate trunks, with my circle drive scratched in the dirt around it.

Progress so far

As of this writing (beginning of June, 2015) the plans have been to the county twice, and on the second time through, the inspector threw me the curve that since Campo is considered an extreme wind area, I would need to have a structural engineer do calculations to prove that my porch roof wouldn't blow away. It was an expensive requirement and caused a few more weeks delay, but the engineering is done now and I have made the necessary changes to the plans and documents, and once the engineer approves my interpretation of his redlines, I'll submit to the county for the third time, and hope they finally issue a building permit.

I've been at this since October.  I designed the house and drew the plans myself, with lots of technical assistance from an architect, who is a coworker and friend of my daughter Jami.

I haven't been idle during all this waiting.  The very first thing I did was have a well drilled, because if I didn't find water, there would be no point in carrying the project further.

They found water at 350 feet, and the well produces 10 gallons per minute - more than adequate for my little bungalow.  So far the only way I can run it is to truck my 230-pound generator out there and crank it up.  Soon I will build a little enclosure for the generator so I can leave it out there permanently.  Of course, once the solar is installed, the well, along with everything else, will run off the sun.

Next I had the 5000 gallon water storage tank built that the fire department requires (they also say I'm in an extreme fire area... poor Campo.. it's really a very pleasant place!)  Also got the pressure pump and pressure tank installed, but don't have them hooked up to the well yet.  

Last week the septic system went in, so about all I need now is a house!  

Stay tuned...

1000-gallon concrete septic tank