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Tips For Building in Remote Locations – Part 2
All of the considerations for transportation, material, access, utilities and good design should be considered. Often future home owners buy a lot, and discover that for any of the above items, or other legal restrictions imposed by ministry or townships, are unable to build what they have planned, or even build at all. A good site has ease of access, good topography, water availability and potential for utilities. The lay of the land, or topography, often has a major impact on building design. Basically, try not to obtain lots of in low lying areas, the soil tends to be unstable, and future flooding could destroy your home. Consider the access, if water access is available, is it publicly or privately owned. Are there any fees for its use, and is it large enough to meet the needs of a barge, which you may or may not use to transport material. Is the access navigable. For instance, a lake with a multitude of floating logs, cannot be accessed by float plane. Utility considerations for weeping systems, water supply and electric generation units need to be considered.
Fresh water supply
First and most important is a ready supply of fresh drinking water, or what builders call, “potable water”.
1. Unless heavy trucks and equipment can make it into your site, the possibilities of a drilled well are very limited. There is, however, a small core drill machine available, which is portable, and capable of drilling a 2″ diameter well. One drawback to this type of well is the limited ability of pumps to bring the water to the surface. Such pumps are generally limited to a water table depth of about fifty feet. Once you include a storage “head” of 20 feet, then the well must have reached the water table at least thirty feet or less below the surface.
2. Another alternative is the dug well. This type of well usually has a lower water quality, but is much easier to install in difficult locations. They are simply a hole dug to four feet below the water table to allow storage of sufficient water.
3. Thirdly, if you are near a lake or stream, you could pump water directly from the source. Again, there is a question of water quality, and you could require the installation of filtration equipment or water treatment systems. An advantage of a stream is that you can install a water powered ram pump, which is capable of pumping water up to higher elevations. This type of pump requires a fair amount of maintenance, and a good steady flow of water to work effectively.
4. Finally, if you are fortunate, you may have a spring or artesian water well. Such sources tend to be a good, dependable source of fresh drinking water.
In any case, you must consider weather or not you will be utilizing a pumped pressure system, or gravity fed system. If a spring, artisan well or other water source is available on terrain above your building, a gravity system could possibly eliminate the need for any mechanical pumps requiring an outside energy source, at all.
Most often, builders opt for a gravity system, which utilizes a large storage tank located approximately 15′ above the highest plumbing outlet. Often they set up an installation so that the system is either self-filling from gravity water sources, or pumped only occasionally to refill the storage tank. This is the cheapest alternative, which provides very satisfactory results.
Sewer and waste systems
Disposing of waste products such as dishwater, showers or toilets must be done in accordance with the codes and laws. This may require the installation of a septic system, or certified waste handling equipment. Or you could simply build an outhouse. But the choice is yours. In the construction industry there are two types of wastewater. Grey water, which comes from dishwater, bath or shower water, and sump pumps and sanitary waste, which comes primarily from toilets.
1. If you like all the conveniences of home, then you should consider installing a septic system. This type of system is by far the most expensive. The weeping bed must be installed in conformance with environmental laws, which means importing special gravel and/or filter sand. There are plastic tanks available on the market, which can be transported, even to remote sites, or you could opt to build a tank, but it would require professional design. The advantage is an independent, reliable system, requiring little maintenance, which should operate for the life of the building and handle both grey water and sanitary waste. Secondary systems include the use of outhouses and biological or chemical toilets, combined with a grey water filtration or septic system. Grey water systems can be filtered either mechanically, or through a set of weeping pipes laid below ground (consult your local Ministry of Environment concerning the exact regulations to follow).
2. If you feel comfortable using an outhouse, and consider a separate grey water system, then this is the cheapest route to follow. Outhouses can be constructed to be both aesthetic and relatively odor free, but without secondary heat, can be rather cold in the mornings, especially during the winter months.
3. Chemical or biological toilets are waste handling equipment and must meet certain safety or environmental restrictions before being put on the market. They are a relatively cheap means of having an indoor toilet, and many guarantee to be odorless (which actually has proven itself to me). Some require the use of electric motor and fans, and some are a fully energy free mechanical. They are easy to install, and relatively maintenance free, requiring only seasonal cleaning.
4. Grey water systems, when combined with the use of biological toilets or outhouses tend to be the systems of choice. Grey water systems are generally a series of weeping pipes, lain amidst a gravel bed, which connect to the building through a distribution box. Do not, under any circumstances try to connect a toilet to such systems as they are only designed for free water, and solids will stop up the pipes. Grey water weeping systems are maintenance free, and require little cost and effort to install.
Of the three, I would suggest the use of a biological toilet and grey water system. This combines indoor service convenience, with lower costs, and performs well in future years.
Of all the creature comforts we enjoy, most require the use of electricity. Electricity plays a very important role in our modern lifestyle, so important, that we feel obligated to include it in almost all of our building ventures. We tend to forget that it powers our pumps, fans, lights, entertainment devices and other mechanicals, which run silently unobserved in our homes.
In Isolated buildings, it is used primarily to power lights, pumps and fans, necessary for the operation of the building mechanicals, as well as providing adequate power to operate televisions, radios, computers, heating pads, kitchen appliances and other comforts, not necessarily considered as part of the buildings resource needs.
There are several means of obtaining power, which include fuel fired generators for active power, and solar, wind or water powered generators for passive power. Active power is exactly that, power which is available to you, at your convenience, so long as you provide the fuel source. Passive power is available only when certain conditions, pertaining to the type of generation utilized, are met (i.e. solar collectors only work on sunny days). Passive power is primarily supplied as 12-volts, and although expensive, there are many products, appliances and mechanical equipment available for this type of power supply. As well, converters are available which can convert the 12-volt into 120 volt, thereby allowing use of normal household items and mechanicals. Finally, passive systems do not currently provide, on a continual basis, the large quantity of electricity produced from fuel fired generators. With passive supply, owners must be careful and monitor their power consumption, to ensure sufficient electricity to run any necessary mechanicals, such as furnace fans or water pumps.
1. Fuel fired generators provide a constant, stable and ample supply of electricity. They are often portable, easy to install, and most produce a standard 120/240 volt current used by almost all equipment and appliances available today. They are a dependable source of constant energy, so long as you provide fuel and maintain the generation equipment. They are generally gasoline or diesel powered. Although relatively cheap to install, the one drawback to this type of generation is the high cost of its operation. Even when this cost is considered, most isolated building owners opt to install a fuel-fired generator, mostly out of convenience in building operations and their own desire for a modern lifestyle.
2. Solar power has a rather limited number of advantages, as compared to other types of electrical generation plants. First, solar collectors only work on sunny days, which are shortened considerably during the winter months. They also require the use of deep cycle batteries, which are expensive to install, and the use of a power converting unit, if you wish to change current from the 12 volts it generates, into 120 volts which is used by easily obtainable mechanicals, equipment and appliances. Furthermore, if weather is at its worst and you do not have a sun for a few days, your batteries supply of power may run out, leaving you without electricity to run even the bare necessities associated with your building. This type of system is generally utilized in combination with other generation plants, in which the alternative system could go online on an as needed basis when battery power is low. Finally, remember that this type of system is very expensive to install, although it is almost maintenance free.
3. Wind generation units are a rather temperamental unit to install, as they work well in moderate conditions, but high winds or calm days, are a bit of a drawback. Obviously, on still days with no air movement, no power is generated. But in high wind conditions, the generator is incapable of performing properly and can suffer damage. Therefor, as with solar energy, you wont be able to obtain electricity all the time, only a portion. This type of system (which is quite expensive to install) also requires that no tall trees or hills be obstructing wind flow to it. Most are installed on elevated towers or on barren hilltops. As with solar energy, they require the use of batteries for storage, and power converters for 120-volt operation. Wind generators are relatively expensive to maintain, and are generally used in conjunction with secondary or back up power systems.
4. Water powered systems encompass a rather large scope of application possibilities. Basically they provide water by turning a water wheel or turbine, which is fed with a constant supply of gravity fed water, such as a stream, spring or artesian well. With this type of system, you would have a constant supply of electricity, but one must realize the limitations. It requires a fair amount of water to power a turbine of sufficient size to operate a residential dwelling of even the smallest size. As well, there are restrictions on how such systems are installed, many of which require prior approval of ministry’s and governing electric supply companies. Permits are difficult and expensive obtain. One application uses existing streams or rivers for a direct connection, often installing dams or sap lines to draw water directly into the turbine. Another alternative is to utilize a productive spring or artesian well to draw water from. And as a final alternative, the use of wind driven or ram pumps to pump water into a reservoir which in turn feeds the system. Ideally tapping into a spring or artesian well of considerable size would be the most economical, with ram pumps or wind pumps being the next cost effective, and the intimidating direct dam or sapping off a local stream, being the most expensive.
Effective design for isolated building includes many aspects and considerations. These considerations have a large impact on the amount of material, labour and equipment required to finish the project. There seems to always be sacrifices, whether they by the overall cost of the project, room layout or finish’s. The durability of the structure, especially if it is a summer cottage, left unattended during winter needs to be considered. And an accurate estimate of materials, combined with good planning is also essential to the completion of the project.
1. A good design reduces the amount of material required in two primary ways. First, it reduces the overall amount of material through effective designs which lessens waste. Second, the designer selects materials, which are small enough in size or weight, so that shipping is not a problem.
2. To reduce the amount of material, both in the building and waste product designers consider the standard manufactured sizes of materials. They dimension the building and rooms so that stock dimensions of materials are incorporated. A good example would be to construct a building in length and width dimensions, divisible by four, so that floor sheathing, floor joists and ceiling joists can be installed in uncut lengths. They plan for scrap off cuts to be used elsewhere in the building. Such as a 5′ wide bathroom wall panel, which comes in 4’x8′ sheets, utilizes the 3′ cut off for a closet or 11′ long wall. A good designer will also attempt to utilize material taken from the site itself to reduce the amount of imported material. Good examples would be stone, cast into foundations or logs being cut for use as posts and beams.
3. Shipping sizes and weight are always a problem, especially with fly-in building. Plane interiors are not designed for 4’x8′ sheets or 12′ long material, and weight is crucial as compared to cost. For barging, skidding or road built access, this tends not to be much of a concern, for heavy weights or large sized materials, can still be transported easily and cheaply. But it still costs. You should consider the use of small dimensioned lumber, 1×6 flooring, wall and roof sheathing instead of panels, or 6″ pine interior facings instead of gypsum board (often referred to as drywall). Aspenite sheathing is not only bulky, but also heavier in weight than pine boards. Or the use of wood posts or block pillars instead of full height wall foundations. Another consideration is the ability of the material to survive shipping and storage on site. A good example would be Drywall which damages easily from mishandling, or deteriorates when exposed to wet conditions.
4. Most of the cost of putting up a building is labour. Remote location builders tend to charge about 40% more, per hour, to construct such structures. The target in this case is to reduce labour time, on site, by incorporating the use of methods such as pre-manufacturing, pre-cutting or even fully assembled units. The point I am trying to get across is that the building should be premanufactured as much as possible. Reality plays a part in just dropping a fully assembled unit on a site, but the general idea is that the building components be cut and assembled, at a manufacturing facility, or shop, in units of a size which can easily be shipped and erected on site. Heavy equipment, such as excavators, bulldozers or cranes, unless you are building road access, is more than likely out of the question. What this means is that the foundation and possible septic system, are going to have to be dug by hand. The material you choose will also have an impact on Labour time, and again I must use drywall as an example. Drywall requires a lot of time to install, tape, fill and paint, typically two weeks to complete, as opposed to paneling which can be completed in as little as two days. Massive concrete pours are obviously not an option.
5. The equipment needed to complete the building, not only has to be brought in, but will also have to be removed after the job is completed. Larger pieces of equipment, like cement mixers, mini-excavators or portable mills could be considered, if you have any type of access other than sledding (unless you are willing to leave equipment at site for one year), or fly-in. This obviously limits the owner to portable equipment, which only handles smaller amounts of material, with increased labour times.
6.The structures durability, or ability to last long periods of time, especially if left unattended, plays a part, not in the initial construction costs, but in the maintenance and repairs to the building over the years. Because most owners will be only spending a small part of their time at the building, continued maintenance on low durability buildings could easily take up most or all of your vacation time in repair and maintenance work. Materials such as vinyl siding, prefinished paneling and melamine cupboards require little maintenance with a long material life span.
7. Because transportation costs are so extensive, having extra material, or returning for forgotten or under estimated materials will raise you buildings cost. Taking the time to do an accurate estimate of materials and equipment (called a quantity survey), required to complete the building is important. The estimate should include a description of the item, number required, and location of the item in the building. Accuracy counts, and it is a good idea to have a professional, who will guarantee the quantity survey, do the estimate for you. It is very easy to forget items like, glues, screws, spare blades for saws or even gas for generators.
8. And finally, the planning of the entire project. I cannot stress the importance of a good building plan and timeline. Accurate analysis is not something an amateur should try to accomplish. Leave it to the professionals. It is very difficult to try to time deliveries with completion steps, so if your drywall arrives before the roof is on, you could end up with damaged, unusable drywall, which not only needs to be replaced, but removed as well. A good timeline should include days and dates, of what is to be completed and by when, as well as shipping, ordering and supply dates of materials or supplies. If you will be fly-in building, this task is even more daunting, for one small item missing from a shipment, could mean extra trips to the site, or reducing other supplies.
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