California - Site

Once you own a parcel of land bigger than a city lot, you have to decide where to put the house.  We had three disturbed sites.  The one with the existing house was actually not practical due to being down a steep dirt road that the county would require us to do massive improvements on (for fire access), so building there would result in the most land disturbance.  We also ruled out the site with the phenomenal view--not only was it nearly 1/4 mile from the power and well, the house would have stood out like a sore thumb from all around.  Conveniently the remaining site was right next to the power and water,  partially protected from the wind, not on the very top, and already cleared--in fact it had a horse barn, hay barn and round pen on it.

site with barns
View of the building site taken from the hill to the west in the winter of 2006. The power pole is the tall pole behind the gray hay barn.  Over time we gave all these structures away to neighbors.

We did unfortunately need to install a new septic and leach field and due to the rocky ground the leach field was quite large--probably about 1/8 of an acre.  The future leach filed was put in the foreground of the photo above. We also had to install a new water tank because the old one was starting to leak, and chose to put it in the highest place we could find to that we'd have at least some water pressure when the power failed, and all this required digging trenches.  We used a couple of bales of straw and spread many pounds of erosion control seed mix along with a small amount of native grass seed (which is much more expensive and often fails to germinate).

The actual site is around 1/4 acre if you ignore the giant driveway required by the fire department.  This area, along with everything else within thirty feet of the house has to be kept largely free of combustible material--which means either growing plants that are kept green or weed-whacking everything down to near the ground every spring.  Since we don't want to use a lot of water, we'll use succulents as much as possible and a combination of stone, rubble concrete or even new concrete if necessary.  We hope to build a lot wall some day to demarcate the boundary between managed landscape and wild area, but given that we've already spend four years building it, its not likely to happen any time soon.  No landscaping has been done either at this point, although there is a large pre-existing lavender and we planted a rosemary.  The intent is to keep the landscaping largely drought tolerant, with just small areas on drip irrigation and maybe someday a greenhouse to grow food. 

topo of site

The above photo is a topographic view with the approximate position of the houses shown.  The driveway entry to the site is at the top, leading to the required fire truck turnaround and a proposed parking space for the guest house (essentially a way to get rid of spare dirt and get something useful out of it).  The two buildings are 40 feet apart: close enough to feel connected, but far enough to have some privacy.  The old water tank is east, and slightly south of the guest house at an elevation of around 1840', while the new tank is almost directly east of the house, at about 1860'.

For anyone curious, stewardship is notes on how we're attempting to maintain such a large parcel of fairly wild land.

Water use

We used the Kohler 1.28gal/flush toilets and have been happy with them.  The shower valves a delta with a volume control.  We kept the old washer (a Fisher Paykel) which is lower water use than conventional washers, but is not as nearly as good as the current best front loading machines.  The dishwasher is a Bosch with a good water use rating.  Given that we're on a well, we're very carful about how much water we use.