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First Meetings With Local Builders


Our offer to purchase is accepted, and we meet with local builders in the area to discuss building methods to build our home.

Recap: Our Journey So Far

Our journey to living off grid and self sustainably in South Africa started with our search for the perfect piece of land. Along the way we learned a lot of lessons about budgets, and South African laws and technicalities related to buying land. Sometimes it felt like every step forward was followed by two steps back! But finally, we found a piece of land we fell instantly in love with, and put in our offer to purchase.

The Never Ending Week, Ends

Finally, the day before the deadline, we received a signed offer to purchase back! The seller had accepted our offer!

We got the property!

What an amazing feeling. I keep bursting out to Russ every few hours, “OMG! WE OWN LAND!”

Now the real planning can begin in earnest!

The Transfer Process – Buying Land in Cash

It will take a while for the transfer to go through, even though it is a cash deal. There are several steps that have to occur:

  1. First, the seller will need to get the property surveyed as we’d requested in our Offer to Purchase.
  2. We’ll need to pay all the money over to the transferring attorney.
  3. We will also need to go to the attorney’s offices to sign a whole lot of documents.
  4. The attorney will need to get information from the municipality about the rates account.
  5. Then it’ll go to the city, where the title deed and register would be changed to reflect our names as the owners.

The whole process will take 1 – 3 months. But it is going ahead, and the property is (almost, more or less) ours.

Back To Suurbraak

Once our Offer to Purchase was accepted by the seller, we couldn’t wait to get back to Suurbraak and visit our plot. We booked a weekend as soon as we could, and off to Marinda’s Se Veranda we headed.

We’d arranged to meet up with our friend in the area, Grant Jacobson, as well as Tristan from Off-The-Grid Projects, who we’d found on Facebook. I’d already filled half a book with notes, sketches, big ideas and ‘ultimate dream’ rough plans. The excitement!

On our short term list of priorities (separate to the month-to-month two year timeline I’ve already sketched out at this point, lol), meeting with Grant and Tristan had been top of my list.

I’ve been getting in quotes on building from various places to get some kind of budgeting ideas, but I want to use local – after all, that’s how communities survive and thrive.

We want to build our house in as eco-friendly and sustainable way as possible. But of course budget is tight and we have to think about that too.

Also high on the list for this visit was taking water and soil samples for testing, and measuring the property perimeter so we could get fencing quotes.

Building With Timber Frame & Zinc Cladding

Grant came over to visit first, and we chatted about building options. He introduced us to the idea of building with what he referred to as “zinc cladding” and gave us a rough idea of the cost of building materials using this method (more on this later).

He showed us lots of photos on his phone of building projects he’d been busy with in Suurbraak (including work he’d done on Marinda’s Se Veranda). I’d had no idea he was such an established carpenter!

“The A-frame zinc/timber home pictured above has a living space of about 36m2 with 18m2 (3mx6m) “afdaks” (overhang) to the front, and both sides and at the back 9m2 (3mx3m) bathroom. Costing about R450k. Price varies on specifications.”  – Grant

We had been so happy we’d have a friend in the area from the get-go, but as it turned out, Grant had just made the decision to move back to Cape Town for a while after living in Suurbraak for the last 7 years. He’d be back, he said, but he needed a change of pace for a while. Nevertheless, he might still be available to build for us, depending on how things went.

He also filled us in on who does fencing in the area (“just speak to Ballie”), how to get the municipal irrigation water connected (“I’ll wave him down next time I see him drive past”), and where exactly locals got their potable drinking water (filling up bottles at various mountain springs).

On that note, Grant and Russ headed out to Troudow’s Pass, a beautiful walk and a great drinking water source. Russ couldn’t wait to explore – he’d been itching to get out into the bush from the moment we arrived!

I decided to stay at the Veranda and work on plans with all the new information Grant had supplied. I was loving the small community vibes – everybody knows so-and-so who handles all the *insert need here*. Awesome.

Troudow’s Pass

Building With Cement Blocks

The next day we met with Tristan at the stunning high-end off grid project he’d just completed down the road from us. It’s currently on the market for R2.5million – obviously completely out of our budget, but it was very cool to see such a beautiful home.

Tristan’s off grid home

We chatted about the various building options I’d been looking into (cob vs timber vs shipping containers) plus the zinc option Grant had introduced us to, and what he thought were the best options.

In his opinion, cement blocks were the best way to go if you wanted a combination of fairly affordable and long lasting.

I hadn’t really been considering cement blocks, so this was another option to add to the research pile.

Different Building Methods

Our list of options for building our home in an eco-friendly, sustainable and affordable way now includes:

  • Cob: It takes a very long time & a lot of work. But it can be very customized and most resources to build are found rather than bought. We would need something to live in while we built it. Very eco friendly.
  • Timber: Log cabins and timber houses can go up very quickly. Long term however, it’s a lot of maintenance and upkeep. Termites and fires are a concern. Not super eco-friendly, unless you’re building using invasive trees like wattle. Most likely though, we’d have to use pine. There is a pine sawmill nearby, so that’s a bonus.
  • Shipping Container: We’ve seen a lot of these converted into awesome little off grid houses. You have to insulate really well (since it’s a metal box), but it’s a very strong, almost complete house from the get-go. Shipping containers are very narrow so you need to take that into consideration. Also, transport is extremely expensive to Suurbraak. Lots of eco points since you’re recycling an existing item.
  • Timber Frame: Very quick to build. If we clad with zinc, lots of eco friendly points. Not much upkeep. Overall a very good choice for us.
  • Cement Block: While being one of the cheaper ways to build, cement has a high carbon footprint.

Municipal Building Requirements

Tristan also informed us that the municipality would need to approve any building plans bigger than a 3x3m2 shed, and installing a septic tank was compulsory here due to the risk of the water table being contaminated.

I was pretty bummed to hear about this – I definitely want to go with a dry toilet system, since I have a huge issue with this ridiculous “pooping in our drinking water” system we currently have.

Septic tanks, when full, have to be suctioned empty by what my folks used to call a “honeysucker” – and this gets emptied into the treatment plant where all municipal water ends up. I do however fully understand the risk of contamination – waste needs to be handled correctly and carefully for it to be safe.

I decided I’d start researching and looking for ideas of how we could covert the septic tank to the dry system.

Tristan’s goal is to help people get off the grid, and to this end he charges a consultation fee, which he wasn’t charging us for in this first meeting.

It was really exciting to hear more about the community living Oorkant Rivier – far from moving to a tiny rural area and being isolated, it seemed there was an opportunity to meet many new like minded friends.

It was a great first meeting and we left feeling excited and looking forward to working with him more.

Lovely article about Suurbraak that Russ spotted in a local magazine

Visiting our plot

Of course, the highlight of the visit was visiting OUR LAND! WOO! (I cannot describe how unreal and exciting this feels).

We went every day for a little walk through the plot, chatting about plans and ideas, admiring the river, and looking at what sort of indigenous plants were currently established.

I’ve already decided that I don’t want to clear the whole plot right away. I don’t want any part of the land lying empty and exposed – top soil could wash away in heavy rains, ecosystems could be interrupted, invasive plants could take over etc. Besides, I love the feeling of this overgrown jungle! I could wander around exploring it all day.

The first clearing we’d need to do would be around the border to erect a fence – which we couldn’t do until the surveyor had put in his pegs and we could see the perimeter lines.

Once the fence was in, we’d be able to start pegging out where our initial building would go.

In case you hadn’t picked up on this yet – I am dreaming BIG.

But we have to start small, and if we never get to the full picture, that’s ok!

There’s nothing saying we have to limit our *dreams*.

Russ on a misty morning hike

Time to go

It started raining on Sunday, and by Sunday evening it was coming down quite hard. We were super cosy inside Marinda’s Se Veranda with a roaring fire going and candlelight ambiance. Both Russ & I didn’t want to leave the next morning, and I joked that it’d be great if we got flooded in and couldn’t go!

I kid you not, the next morning we woke up to find the little bridge across the river flooded! Woops!

Rein in that manifestation there, Shaz!

We weren’t sure our low suspension car would make it across, and our accommodation host messaged us to warn us it might be safer to try the other bridge further up the river.

Luckily, we were able to cross there successfully, and headed back to the rat race.





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