Of the Turbo Ranch Project
Sometime in 2010, I decided that if I was going to have any kind of a life in my retirement years, I’d have to build it now with whatever resources I could find; the future of the economy in this country is unstable to the point that even my 401(k) value would likely disappear by the time I was old enough to withdraw any of it. I also now, for the first time in my life, have a Partner who shares my desires and dreams in this area and is capable and willing to come along side me in the endeavor. She and I will, together, build the majority of this project ourselves by hand, drawing on both our experiences and skills from remodeling projects in our past.
With that in mind, I began to research locations that were geographically close enough to my current work and living as to permit me to work on the project on weekends without extreme travel inconvenience, yet far enough from the urban areas that at least some sense of security and self sufficiency could be created.
Self sufficiency means different things to different people.
For me that is:
- Off-the-grid – this is a must to be able to survive in a variety of future possible situations
- Away from civilization enough to have minimal traffic in the area
- Convenient enough to civilization for re-stocking without excessive travel needed
- Located in a part of the country where potential threat (natural, terrorist, etc) is minimized
- Sufficient Land to have respectable distance from neighbors for a level of privacy we seek
- Room for long-term storage of food and supplies
- Ability to grow my own food of some type
Driving through the San Luis valley in Southern Colorado on a working trip back from Northern New Mexico, I was taken by the scenic beauty of the landscape and I also noted a lot of signs offering land for sale in the area.
Mount Blanca and surrounding peaks – Winter view from Southern Costilla County Colorado
I began researching and found an agent with excellent reputation and references. Wolfgang Sattler, his wife Jane and daughter Karen have deeply invested in the San Luis Valley property for the sole purpose of helping others build their dream locations. Since completing my land transaction with them, I have come to know them personally as well as professionally and highly recommend them to anyone interested in the land in this same area. Their very busy and full website is at http://www.colomtland.com/index.html and is packed with useful information, as well as some very nice parcels of land for sale. I’ve met many people in the Valley who have purchased through them, and all have nothing but good things to say about their experience. I’m certain there are other great Realtors in the area, but my experience is with the Sattler’s and I can heartily recommend them to you.
When I began to research this project, I started by recognizing my own limitations. Being an Electronics Engineer, the concept of living off-the-grid is highly appealing and challenging. But the mechanics of home construction is another matter; having done a great deal of that in my childhood with my Father, as well as through my adult years on my own properties and that of my siblings, I knew what was ( and was not) the stronger points in my skills. I was confident in my ability to finish the details of the project – alternative power systems, flooring, plumbing, cabinetry – those were the simple (relatively speaking) parts. It was the “getting into the dry” part that was a bit daunting and mysterious. I needed a way to kick start the project to the point that I could manage the smaller details needed to finish.
Watching Doomsday Preppers on TV (more for humor and scientific knowledge than an endorsement of their paranoia) I observed a guy in South Texas build an entire compound out of Shipping Containers. I started researching those items and what others were doing with them; they come in a variety of sizes and are by nature solid and waterproof. People were doing all kinds of things with them it seemed:
Photos of Container Home Projects
This got my brain in a whirl, and I began to draw out possible design plans in Visio based on commonly available Container sizes. Once a few plans were made, I began shopping for Containers that would meet my needs. About that same time, I became aware of the county regulations for permanent structures on my land. The biggest issue was minimal square footage – that specifically being 600 square feet (excluding storage, garage, porch, etc.) of living space for a single-story home, or 800 square feet for a 2-story home. Well, I have sworn off of living in a dwelling that requires stairs a long time ago, so I just needed to meet that 600 square foot single level requirement. Using that as a base, I designed several options using 20 and 40 foot Containers in various configurations.
After hours of research, I went and looked as some containers in person at a couple of places, and finally found a company close by (1 hour away) that not only stocked the Containers, but could special order various sizes and had the added benefit of owning a delivery and welding service. Suddenly, the aspects of my project of which I was most uncomfortable became fulfilled and the plan was afoot. Working with Chuck Heald, owner of Healdworks, Inc. http://www.healdworks.com/index.html I special ordered a pair of 48 ft “high cubes” and arranged for them to be delivered to my land and welded together to make the ‘bones” of my house.
My two cubes as they were delivered to the Healdworks facility in Del Norte
My late father died at 64, following several years of diminished health and quality of life. He always worked very hard and was an excellent provider for my Mom and siblings; but he often spoke to me of his desires to build a home that would give him some self-sufficiency. I tend to take after my mother’s side of the family, which has a pretty good reputation of longevity in their lives – I recall my maternal great-grandparents were pushing 100 when they died, my grandparents both over 80. So I am planning to live to be 90, and want to have time to enjoy the fruits of my labors with my bride. While I’m not rushing things, she and I have both had very busy and productive careers, and mutually desire to slow that pace down with some kind of a living arrangement such as this project will yield.
I found that I could piece-meal this project along, and have it done in time for a reasonably comfortable retirement on my own schedule – that specifically being by the time I turn 55. And by “retire” I only mean leaving my day-job and moving to the Ranch and continuing my Consulting business that has been my side work for the past 20+ years. That being said, I have emptied most of my savings to buy land and get the Containers on site, and will be moving the project along now “two thousand dollars at a time” as my SDCR neighbor John related to me. His project took nearly 7 years in this manner, and he’s still an absentee owner today.
An Actual photo from the ridge up behind my house plot toward the Northwest
That means I’ll break the rest of the project in to smaller phases; or as I am fond of reminding people “you have to eat that elephant one bite at a time”. So it will be steps somewhat like this:
- Getting the land in shape enough for work to start
- Setting the cubes and welding them together
- Cut out for and install doors and windows
- Insulation and siding on the outside
- Design and build a roof over Containers, parking area and porch
- Inside sub-flooring and wall framing
- Build the porch, deck, driveway, yard, etc.
- Design and build the Solar Array
- Assemble and erect the tower and antennas
- Install Wind Turbines
- Dig Water well and install basic plumbing
- Install Septic System and finish external plumbing
- Finish internal plumbing
- Finish inside wiring
- Complete inside finish work with cabinets, trim, etc.
- …and so on.
Optimistically, this can be done in 2 years; realistically more like 4 to be comfortable in the effort needed and the finances required to pull it off.
I outline other details of how this project work on other areas of this website, and document my progress with photos and narrative. I’m happy to help others achieve what I am, and gladly share my research and experiences to aid in that endeavor. At least until I get it all finished and we move here permanently… then it is “off the grid and on the internet” and this website will go away.