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Building Our Off Grid Home July 2019

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Our journey to living off grid and self sustainably in South Africa: In our last installments, the wendy house was finally put up, and we had spent a few days in it testing out our starter solar set up. Find out how my first month in the cabin went.

Finishing the cabin

In July, we insulated the cabin with sisilation & Isotherm before cladding with 21mm recycled plywood boards. Both the cabin & the boards were not perfectly straight so we used a LOT of filler between each board. Then we gave the whole interior a coat of paint. It really needed two coats, but we only had enough paint to do the one coat. So one coat it was!

“It will do for now” continues to be popular phrase / mantra around here!

It looked nice and neat for a minute. Then we started offloading.

Our furniture arrived on time from Die Plank Fabriek. It’s a little rougher than I’d expected, and the paint colours I asked for don’t look like their catalogue images (the faded/aged look). But all in all, for what we paid, I am very happy. It won’t take much to sand it down to get the finish I want. All in all, including transport, we spent about R11,000. Kitchen wall cupboards x 2, counter with cupboards, sink table, chest of drawers, bedroom rail and shelves and outside bench. Win.

I move in

I then moved into the cabin permanently, with Russ going back to Cape Town for work. Unfortunately he wouldn’t be able to move here permanently until we had a big enough solar system that he could run his edit suite from (and space for said suite).

We still have our small house in CT, so he’ll be staying there and slowly selling off things we won’t need and boxing up everything still there.

The first two weeks were difficult.

While I didn’t mind the 18m2 space, I did find trying to sort everything out very challenging.

“Everything is chaos. Cannot move.”

I’d find a spot for something to live, then realize I needed something else, have to unpack 4 things to get to the 1 thing, then repack everything so I could move around, then unpack again to put the thing back, and so on.

It was bitterly cold and there wasn’t much I could do in those first few weeks, bar stay in the cabin and try organize. And panic a tiny bit.

Order! Order In Court!

I slowly got everything into a semblance of order. And once I could move around and reach things with relative ease, I felt a lot more comfortable. Things felt a little less overwhelming and chaotic. Although of course I was still missing Russ, and trying to wrap my head around this huge life change. He was able to come through the last weekend of the month as he wasn’t booked for any shoots, so that was wonderful!

Practicalities

Cooking & Hot Water

We’ve been using our camping gear til now. With me living here permanently, we needed to upgrade some of our equipment to make it a bit more comfortable. So our little 1 plate gas cooker that uses cannisters is upgrading to a 2 plate stove that runs on a gas bottle. Eventually I want to get a proper 4 plate gas stove/oven, and the 2 plate can be for guest use when we get to that stage.

It should have been quick and easy to set up the 2 plate. It was not. Due to the cold, the pipe was hard and unyielding, so trying to fit it to the regulator and stove took me hours (yes, I tried soaking the pipe in hot water). There were a few tears of frustration and blistered hands. It was one of many moments I’ve been humbled, realizing just how much I need to “level up” to make this new lifestyle work. Top of the list is clearly bigger muscles and tougher hands.

Drinking Water

The long term plan is a rain water tank. To get there, we need gutters, a rain tank, some sort of water filtration, piping, and a pump to pump the water inside. The pump will likely need the bigger solar system.

For now, Russ is filling up our water bottles at the spring in Tradouw’s Pass whenever he is here. The water tastes amazing, so fresh and clear.

It’s a bit tricky trying to meter out how much water I can safely use each day until Russ’s next trip, but so far it’s been ample.

Spring at Tradouw's Pass where we collect drinking water
Spring at Tradouw’s Pass where we collect drinking water

Ablutions

We haven’t built the afdak or cubicles for the shower and toilet.

Our compost toilet is now working perfectly with a slim 5l bottle attached to the urine separator. For now, we’ve set it up outside in the bush, under a little camping gazebo. Apart from the odd scorpion (I kid you not), it’s been great. (I think the scorpion was attracted to the warmth, thankfully he agreed to move on after a lengthy discussion).

To clean myself, I’m heating up water on the stove and bathing in a little metal tub, el pioneer style. It’s been really freezing cold, so I bath inside the little cabin next to the gas stove and try not to splash too much water around. I must say I feel like a real frontier woman haha!

Bush toilet

And our awesome neighbours three plots down have had me over every Sunday for a hot shower, a hearty meal and company. It is absolute pure heaven stepping into that shower once a week, topped with food and company, the outing is a wonderful balm.

Wood Fired Stove

The last thing we managed to do in July was find a small wood fired stove to get fitted in the cabin.

We got the Laduma Deluxe – a steel box with a teeny tiny oven section and a teeny tiny fire section, topped with cast iron. GAME CHANGER.

I’m still wearing several layers of clothing, but sitting in front of a little crackling fire makes me feel so soothed!

It is very small and needs constant feeding to keep going, not quite boiling the kettle but keeping it at a perfect temperature to pour a hot drink. It also works great to do a slow cook stew or soup.

About to be installed

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