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Developing the perfect homestead layout can be tricky, but taking the time to do it right will ensure many successful and fruitful years in your home. Here are our top tips we’ve gathered from actually building our own homestead to help you design your perfect space.
Three years ago when we started getting serious about building our own homestead from scratch, we started planning out what kind of home we wanted to build. We looked at loads of designs in books, on design websites, and all over Pinterest.
What we DIDN’T realize at the time was just how much down the “homesteading” rabbit hole we were going to fall. We figured we would just build our cordwood home and then continue with our normal lives.
Boy were we wrong!
Throughout this project we have discovered just how much we value the practice of homesteading and how much we want our land to do for us. However, when we designed our floor plan we weren’t planning with much of this in mind.
Our floor plan hit the mark on some things and missed on others. And while we can certainly make our floor plan work for us, there are definitely things we’d do differently if we had to do it all over again.
We hope our story and our mistakes will help you in your planning!
9 Tips For Planning Your Perfect Homestead Layout
1. Brainstorm with your family in mind.
Don’t just think about where you are right now in this phase of life – think about where you’ll be in 5, 10, or 20+ years.
Are you single? Married? Have kids? Planning for more kids? Going to be empty nesters?
This matters because the space you design may need to accommodate a variety of needs. Even if you don’t see your family situation EVER changing, we all know that things WILL change whether we want them to or not. Not only that, but if you’re designing a strong home with the intentions of it surviving for decades or even centuries, you’ll want to design a space that is functional and appealing on a broader spectrum.
Try out these layout brainstorming ideas:
- Keep a basic graph paper notebook for logging ideas. Think of it like a homebuilding bullet journal. The graph paper makes it easy to draw floor plans to scale, and you can fill pages with lots of ideas to remember later. We also used ours as a place to store contact information for people involved in the build, as well as keep track of building tasks once we got started.
- Use a small dry erase board to create and change floor plan ideas easily. Dry erase boards make it easy to sit down together and draw and erase floor plans together, OR draw something and leave it for the other person to see when they get home. Sure you can use SketchUp or similar software, but it is much quicker and easier to collaborate this way.
Here is one of our original white board brainstorm sessions. This floor plan is very similar to the one we ended up building, and because we could draw and discuss we could easily tease out pros and cons of different designs.
2. Plan adequate pantry and storage space.
If I had known how much we were going to get into the concepts and practices of homesteading or preparedness I would have put more effort into this part of a floor plan.
One of our goals was to create a smaller home and to avoid the collection of STUFF that seems to plague us and so many people. And while we may not be diving into full-on minimalism, we have kept the floor plan pretty bare compared to others we saw. The problem with this is that we’ve had to backtrack and review our existing spaces in terms of our food storage and preparedness goals.
The goal is to plan functional spaces and avoid hoarding STUFF. Homesteaders may want to account for any of the following:
- home canned food
- dried food
- cold storage/root cellar
- bulk food
- seed banks
- oils, herbs, and medicinals
- toiletry items
- batteries, candles, or water
- storage containers, bags, tools, and related materials
3. Create a sufficient, separate space for utilities.
This is true for everyone but this is ESPECIALLY TRUE FOR OFF GRIDDERS like us.
We did not create a separate utility room and it is something we both regret to some degree. While all of our utility items have adequate spaces that let them work efficiently, they are not hidden from view.
You can see our tankless water heater and our entire radiant heat manifold the second you walk into our master bathroom. Our solar components are right out in the open in the mudroom. And our solar panels ended up blocking the view of the front of our house.
None of these things are deal-breakers and all of these things are where they are for good reasons, but you need to carefully plan where each component is going to go to get the best design quality out of them.
You may need to plan for any of the following:
- water heater
- well or cistern pump and pressure tank
- well or cistern filtration system
- propane tank
- wood-fired boiler
- wood stove
- solar panels
- electrical breaker box
- off grid battery bank, charge controller, and power inverter
4. Design a floor plan that uses clean, minimal plumbing and electrical runs.
We made a concerted effort to design a home that kept our plumbing and electrical runs to a minimum. Why?
Because it costs less!
And I’m not talking the material cost necessarily. Pipe is cheap. It’s the labor of digging trenches, fussing with calculations, and performing the installation labor that is either expensive to hire out or painful to do yourself.
We designed our kitchen and both bathrooms to use the same 6 inch stud wall for plumbing. By no means is this necessary, but it can help to reduce your material cost and save yourself some labor time.
5. Plan indoor and outdoor spaces for homesteading activities.
Gardening and raising animals are quintessential homestead activities, but what else might you do that requires a dedicated indoor or outdoor space? You may need to consider whether you currently do or plan to do any of these, and then design a space to match:
- personal or market gardening
- community sponsored agriculture (CSA)
- small livestock
- sewing, knitting, crotcheting
- home-based business
- etc. etc.!
6. Create a floor plan that will allow you to age-in-place.
Moving is terrible. We built our cordwood house and I don’t intend to move if I can avoid it. That’s why we created a floor plan with accessibility in mind.
Most people might consider these design features with aging in mind, but they can also help those who have suffered from injury, loss of mobility, illness, or similar things regardless of age.
When designing your home, try to build:
- hallways at least 42 inches wide
- doors at least 36 inches wide
- all living spaces on the first floor
- no steps in or out of the house
7. Account for things that aren’t “standard”.
If you’re building your home with an unconventional or natural method like we did, there will likely be some inconsistencies between your building method and our standards-based building world.
For example, a standard countertop depth is 25 inches. Reaching a window over a kitchen sink is no problem when you’re against a stick-framed wall, but when your cordwood wall is 16 inches thick, suddenly you can’t reach the window to open and close it without using a long hook. Whoops!
It’s hard to account for these types of things when planning your layout, and often we don’t see those types of issues until the moment of installation.
You can find creative ways around it like us, or you can try to plan in advance to avoid those issues.
8. Go with the flow.
A good homestead design considers the flow of activity through both the house and outdoor spaces. Think about the following:
- Consider permaculture concepts of Zones and Sectors, or the importance and proximity of things like gardens, foraging, and water sources from the home (see this excellent post at Tenth Acre Farm for more info on how to do this)
- Create clear and logical pathways between areas of the home and garden.
- Keep related spaces in close proximity.
- Draft floor plans and imagine yourself performing daily tasks.
- Draw or stake out a life-sized version of your floor plan and walk through it.
- Model a home in SketchUp or RoomSketcher.
9. Be flexible.
One of the nice things about our home is that it is flexible. Sure, it’s always a pain to have to move things after they’re finished rather than just installing them right the first time, BUT it’s an option we always have and can keep open.
If we want to move our water pressure tank from the mudroom to the back bathroom, we can.
If we want to move our solar panels, we can. It would be a gigantic pain in the neck, but we can do it.
If we decide in 20 years to completely redo the kitchen layout, we aren’t stuck with what we have.
While not everything about our home has this level of flexibility, the point is we aren’t stuck with our current decisions. We have the power to make changes later if we want to. Going from building to actually living in our home will tell us a lot about how our decisions in the planning process really play out. Taking the time to assess our choices once we’ve lived with them for a while is absolutely the right approach.
But even more than that…
Appreciate the space you end up with.
I guarantee that there will be things about your house that surprise you once you live there. There will be things that delight you with how they turned out and other things you wish you could take back, but at the end of the day, you’ll still have a space that is entirely yours. YOU will have poured your own blood, sweat, and tears into it and that alone will be worth it.
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