Monday, February 11, 2013

Does Sustainable Construction Take Longer?

the sustainable cabin has been painted
One issue that we are running into is the length of time it is taking to build our homestead.  The construction of the sustainable cabin is not what is taking so long, it's all the other systems that we are building into our complete homestead.  
Originally, our sustainable cabin was planned as a get-away retreat.  Now that we plan to live there, our overall goal is to build a working, productive homestead and ranch business. The cabin is just one part of that goal.

Yes, we have a cabin with exterior walls, windows, roof, door, and breezeway patio. We can and have camped in the cabin.  Before we can more forward on constructing the interior, we need electricity and water.  Since this is a rural property, we are responsible for building the infrastructure as well as the individual structural elements.

moving along, but it's still a construction site
We know what tasks need to be done. Sometimes there is a logical order of tasks, such as building a roof before moving in furniture. Besides a logical order of sequence, there is something else, called strategy.  Strategy is when you time the completion of tasks in an effort to produce results from one system when another system needs it. 

rain water catchment system
An example of strategy is our rainwater harvesting system, not only do we need the tanks installed and the gutter water routed to the tanks, we need this system in place during the winter rainy season so that the tanks are full of water by the time we move in.  It has to be ready to share its productivity (captured water) with other systems - the sinks and showers.

Permaculture teaches us that no one structure, system, or element of the homestead stands alone.  So, we are trying to consider each system and its related input/output.  We want to understand how they relate to the rest of the overall goal so that we can maximize our time and budget. 

So for each project, we are spending time on related tasks, taking focus away from just finishing the cabin, but in the long run we believe this is a better strategy because it allows us to stretch our budget and it allows the whole homestead to make progress. By the time our cabin is ready for move-in, the rest of the homestead/ranch will be on its way to productivity.

Here are some examples:

  • When renting heavy machinery, a better price can be negotiated for a longer rental time, so when we rented the bulldozer to make way for utility poles, we kept it a while so that we could also cut some other road paths and clear more pasture land.  While we had the trencher for trenching electrical conduit (see previous post: Electrical Trenching) , we used it to install irrigation pipe and to break up the compacted soil where our vegetable garden will be located.
  • After installing underground plumbing around the cabin, we planted rye grass and winter peas in the bare soil areas to prevent erosion. Since it costs less per pound to buy larger bags and since we wanted to overseed our pastures anyway, we bought 50 pounds of each and used the seed anywhere we had bare soil and wanted to increase the diversity and fertility. 
  • While building fences is not necessary to finishing the cabin, if we want to eat vegetables from our garden in 2013, we need to ready the garden plot.  Before we plant anything, we need a fence to keep critters from eating the seeds we sow, digging up the potatoes and onions, as well as taking our bounty. 

So, does sustainable construction take longer than conventional means?  That depends on your situation. If you already have the infrastructure in place and if you can afford to pay for products/services every time you need them, then maybe it won't take longer.

For us, it is taking longer because we want this built in a way that maximizes our budget and puts our homestead systems in place to be productive when we move in.  
Here's the trencher Casey used to dig trenches for electrical conduit and irrigation pipe.

We rented it for several days and also used it to cut in mini swales on contour (top picture), and "double digging" our new garden rows (shown above). This machine isn't cheap, but the longer you rent it, the less it costs per day. 

See this post on the Small Footprint Friday linky.

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