Sunday, May 16, 2021

Project triage

Don got a shock to his system this week.

He's working on a shop building, you see. This will be a building-within-a-building – a walled-in dedicated space for his tools inside our barn.

The original plan was to insulate the shop walls and install a wood stove to warm it during winter work. The ceiling would also be insulated, and it would be roofed with sturdy flooring material so it could be used as storage via a set of stairs he would build.

Now it seems none of these plans will come to fruition any time soon.

The shock came when Don started pricing insulation. Bales of insulation have tripled in price, mirroring the tripling of lumber prices. The estimated cost to insulate just the shop is $3000. The estimated cost to frame in the walls and ceiling, insulate them, and floor the ceiling to make it usable would cost something on the order of $5000. Five thousand dollars!!

Don exploded when he saw those prices, and refused to pay them. In some ways, the skyrocketing price of insulation jarred him as nothing else has done so far in this crazy year of supply shortages and lockdowns.

This means it's time for some triage – not just financial triage, but project triage as well. We need to focus on core infrastructure – livestock stuff, fencing, garden, and low-tech items to keep us going.

We started by making a list of projects we want to accomplish in the next year or so. Here's what we came up with:

• Chicken coop (build)
• Shop (build)
• Guest house (build)
• Garden (build)
• Deck (repair)
• Hot water backup (install)
• Wood cookstove (install)
• Storage units (we're renting two storage units in our old town, and we have to empty them)
• Cattle infrastructure (build)
• Fencing around pastures (install)
• Dog yard (build)
• Organize barn
• Peaches/blueberries (plant)

Then we numbered the projects in order of importance. The numbering system is based on a number of factors: immediacy of need, weather, availability of materials, amount of time it will take, amount of time we have available, and seasonal timing. We already know we won't have a garden this year, for example, so building the garden infrastructure is not critical at the moment. Here's our ordered list for projects we hope to accomplish over the next 18 months or so:

1. Dog yard
2. Plant peaches/blueberries
3. Empty storage units
4. Organize barn
5. Install wood cookstove
6. Hot water backup
7. Chicken coop
8. Fencing
9. Cattle infrastructure
10. Shop
11. Garden
12. Guest house
13. Deck

This is just a partial list; I'm sure more projects will crop up as the year progresses.

But even within this list of projects, we need to grapple with a lack of supplies – as well as a lack of affordable supplies. Instead of insulation, for example, we're thinking on packing spaces with straw. Instead of sheet rock (in the shop), we're thinking of tacking up cardboard. These solutions might also work when it comes time to build the chicken coop. No clue yet what we'll do for roofs and ceilings.

Proposed chicken coop design

We're making intensely careful use of the materials we have on hand. For example, in December – even before we moved in – Don ordered some field fence, T-posts and about 20 cattle (hog) panels to be delivered to the house. I'm so grateful he did, since all of those items have skyrocketed in cost in just the last three months. He also managed to find a good deal on a couple of almost-complete units of 2x6s and 2x4s. We're using them judiciously.

Every scrap of wood we've been able to salvage, every fragment of materials left here by the previous owners, every deal we're able to scrounge from local sellers, every iota of supplies we can salvage one way or the other – we're squirreling them away for projects. It's ironic that the pantry Don built just three months ago would now be far more expensive to construct.

We're not in dire shape financially. We're actually doing pretty well right now. But parting with too much of our reserve cash is just too scary. So, we'll just continue to do what we've done for 30 years: adapt, think outside the box, pare our expenses to the bone, and live frugally.

We'll also continue to thank God for all our blessings: health, home, family, and experience in rural living.


  1. Unfortunately, the inflation is here to stay for a while. They try to pass it off as temp, but the prices ain't going back down. And with all the excess money being printed, things are going to keep going up in price, because the Dollar is worth less and less with each new one printed. Grab what you can when you can. Food and equipment as well. You're fortunate that you have a barn you can store a lot in. If you can come up with a shipping container or two, might be another wise investment as well, for more storage. Anything you can get now might be one less headache later. Praying for you guys

    1. I've been looking for a shipping container - they are rare and expensive right now; apparently fewer new ones are being made so fewer are being retired or sold.
      But even with the price increases, they are less expensive and more secured than most sheds. Just don't forget to put in vents to avoid moisture problems.

  2. Get a SMALL sawmill, even an Alaskan mill would be a big help.

  3. Don't use straw--bugs and moisture. If you had real insulation, cardboard would still have the bugs and moisture problem, but it would not be as harmful, just would burn easily. I need small pieces of 2x6 for a crafty project, so sites/homes with construction work for me. Good luck in all this. You still have the whole summer to scrounge. Good for you in moving on and holding off a bit.

  4. Forgot to say--shredded blue jeans soaked thoroughly in boric acid/borax are one way to make insulation. Actually, this kind of stuff is sold. Look up the formula online.

  5. Wow, that is a significant price increase = and at exactly the wrong time! But what a wonderful example of the mindset of adapt and overcome.

  6. Yeah, we ordered a large polebarn 14 months ago. They are behind schedule and we're still waiting on it. At this point we are having buyer's remorse as we have no idea if we'll be able to wire it and finish it off inside. I'm really sorry you're experiencing a similar thing.

  7. Have you thought about spray foam insulation? Resists moisture and settling. Also find some demolition companies that might be removing metal studs.

    1. That's what we did with out basement (last summer) - it was less expensive and works just as well (we did it ourselves, and I was happy NOT to be working with fiberglass). This year we re-priced framing it - and discovered that it is cheaper to frame a basement with 9' ceiling with STEEL than it is with wood (because of the cost of 10' 2x4s). Shocking, but do-able, and I can actually do a lot of the work alone - rather than needing a second person to help, so that won't be all bad.

  8. In New Zealand one option you can choose is wool insulation. You can get it as "curls" I guess to put on the ceiling panels, or rolls like fiberglass. I am not sure how common sheep farming is around you, but maybe this would be an option.

  9. We had a tank house back in Ill. The walls were insulated with corn husks.

  10. I used plastic coroplast political signs to line the inside of my rabbit barn, behind the cages. It cut the wind - and stopped the urine from getting into the wooden walls. Wouldn't work with hens, they'd peck it.

  11. You might be able to find used pallets or find a building to tare down for the material. Very old single wides that are not livable have metal and some framing material.

  12. What Richard in New Zealand said! There are a lot of small sheep growers that throw away their wool due to a lack of market.

  13. Housewife OutdoorsMay 17, 2021 at 5:44 AM

    How about firewood? Is that getting more expensive? I have understood that you do not have enough woods on your property to log your own firewood, and apparently that was the case in your previous place?

    I have wondered this firewood thing for a long time. I live in Finland, and here it is an axiom that farmers get their firewood from their own forests. Traditionally no matter how small farm or homestead, some forest was included so people could have their own firewood and also some sawn timber. Nowadays city people who move to country may have an estate without enough forest for firewood, but an actual working farm -never. Buying firewood is not concidered self-sufficient at all, and no survivalist would do that. All this is of course due to the lucky fact that where norwegians have oil, we finns have trees. Our forest coverage is over 70 %(the rest is swamp and lakes), making us the most forested land in Europe.

    So, this having to buy firewood has really puzzled me over the years I have followed your blog. What I am trying to ask is: is it common in US, that people have a working farm and now forests of their own? And are forced to buy their firewood? Is there any discussion about that matter on survivalist forums? Here in Finland when survivalists move to country, they usually have two main concerns: wether the property has a good well for water, and is there enough wood.

    I really appreciate if you have time to answer me something. I find this very interesting cultural difference. Thank you so much.

    P.S. Your blog is such a great inspiration to me.

  14. Use cardboard for insulation. Some of the refrigerators in the 1930's used it as insulation. An R-Value of 3-4 per inch. Adding the boric acid to control bugs is a good idea even with batt insulation.

  15. Try to check around in your area for Alpaca farms. Right now many farms are shearing and there are farms such as ourselves that our herd is getting older and some of the fleece is not what we would use for a clothing product as many times it gets a bit coarser as they age, but the fiber is still usable. A lot of fiber gets trashed because of this and I will tell you that there was a man that did start a business using Alpaca fiber for insulation, but I do not know if he is still out there doing business or not. Alpaca is warmer than sheep's wool, light and there is not the lanolin in it as sheep's wool contains. Don't get me wrong, I love sheep's wool and it makes a super nice blend with Alpaca. Just saying! I have used it to line pet beds and put out for the birds for nesting material. It is very warm. Something to definitely check into. There are still lots of Alpaca farms in the U.S.

  16. Sometimes you can salvage materials from homes and buildings being torn down.

  17. I just saw that lumber is down 14% today, There may be an end to the madness.

  18. Hi, So glad you love your new place.
    I saw in country magazine, people used a truck canopy for the top of a chicken house. I thought it was a good idea.
    Jo in Wa

  19. Lumber was down another 5% this morning.

  20. Patrice, I’ve been meaning to ask...why did you guys move from your other homestead that was already fixed to your specifications?

  21. Patrice, why did you guys sell the other farmstead that was already up to your specifications? I feel bad that you are essentially starting over again.

  22. Patrice, why did you guys sell the other farmstead that was already up to your specifications? I feel bad that you are essentially starting over again.

  23. Patrice, why did you guys sell the other farmstead that was already up to your specifications? I feel bad that you are essentially starting over again.

    1. Three reasons: One, with the girls grown and gone, the house was too big. We wanted to downsize. Two, we wanted to be debt-free (no mortgage). And three, we wanted a bit of adventure. Ahem, we're getting a little more "adventure" than we bargained for, but I guess that's half the fun, right?

      - Patrice