The Mystic Cat Logo with white strip

First Steps To Building Our Off Grid Home


Our journey to living off grid and self sustainably in South Africa continues as we move into the planning phase of our off grid home building.

In which we enlist a local draughtsman to draw up our first rudimentary building plan, think fencing and buy a bakkie 


Ok, ok, so I’m just going to come clean about this upfront: I’m not a fan of following the rules.

No, that’s not strictly accurate – I love rules, when they make sense. Rules that don’t seem beneficial, effective or sensible drive me batty. I’m not a full blown guerrilla anarchist, more of a dabbler.

And yes, I realize that you can’t have a well functioning society with individuals picking and choosing which rules they think make sense to follow or not (or worse, what’s convenient at the time).

That said, one had to take into consideration the fact that a lot of our modern systems are pretty broken.

Let me explain:

Do I pay taxes? Yes (even though it annoys me due to massive government corruption and poor service delivery, I get that if no-one paid things would be even worse).

Am I going to pay for and submit building plans to the municipality for approval? Yes (again, even though it annoys me and I’d prefer for the government to keep their nose out of my off the grid life, I understand that in principle they need to make sure we’re not building something unsafe).

Am I going to wait for said approval to start building? Nope (unless they happen to come through before we start).

Am I going to tell them its a building we’ll be living in? Also nope. I’m going to put off dealing with their requirement of a “septic tank” for as long as I possibly can.

Enter: The Shed

Grant put us in touch with a draughtswoman in Swellendam who has done a lot of plans for “Suurbraakians”. We made contact, and asked her to draw up a municipal-required professional plan of our first building on the land.

After much debating and thinking, we’ve finally (almost definitely) settled on starting with what would be the workshop/tool shed in the ‘grand Dream design’ as starting living accommodation for us while we develop the land over time.

It’s a 3m by 5m rectangle, with an additional 3m by 3m veranda that we later plan on making the chicken coop.

Coming in at a whopping 15m2 internal living space, we’ll be getting our tiny-house-living groove on.

How Long is a Piece of String?

We heard last week that the Surveyor has been to the plot and put in the pegs *hooray*!

Annoyingly, we didn’t get the actual perimeter measurements so we’re still unable to get going on fencing quotes *groan*.

Funny how little things crop up that you’d otherwise never have to think about – like, how do we measure a border that’s likely over 80m long? Clearly my trusty 3m tape measure is not going to cut it, and I don’t want to have to buy a surveyor’s tool just for this.

I’m thinking of using the 3m tape to mark out meters on a ball of cotton string I’ve got in the garden shed. One of us stands at a peg while the other walks to the next peg, counting the marks on the string as they go.

We’d have to pull the string taut at the other peg to ensure the line is straight between both pegs, which will be a challenge considering the thick brush and trees in the way, and no clear line of sight.

My desire to keep the plot as bushy as possible and only clearing where & when absolutely necessary is already complicating things.

Fencing Options

Meanwhile, I’ve been looking at different fencing options.

From our chats with Grant and Tristan, we’ve gathered that the most cost effective Suurbraakian method is to use field fencing attached to wooden poles, with a few strings of barbed wire.

Field fencing is block type agricultural graded mesh with a small aperture at the bottom increasing to larger at the top, and used mainly for farming.

Our property is a very narrow rectangular shape, with the short sides facing the road and the river respectively.

The long sides are bordered by neighbouring plots, one fenced and the other open.

So I’m thinking of going for a more expensive, secure fence along the road and river, with the cheaper option running the longer lengths on either side.

Thinking long term, our neighbouring plots will either get developed or come up for sale (in which case we have friends waiting to buy them!).

Either way, I imagine the front and back of the property will be the areas most exposed and in need of good quality fencing.

Our next door neighbour’s fence – their plot is primarily used as a paddock for their horses
An example of more costly diamond mesh fencing

Livestock Considerations

I want to have my chickens able to roam the property freely during the day, returning to their coop in the evening.

I need to think about the size of the fence apertures – will the bottom holes be small enough to keep the chooks from wandering off the property?

I’m not sure how viable completely free range will turn out to be.

It’s possible that birds of prey, snakes and other wild predators might mean a movable tractor will be necessary, making this consideration moot.

Planting Along Fence

I’m also planning on training climbers along the boundary fence, both as a screen to increase privacy, and – in the case of the thorny plants – to create an added deterrent.

Plants that make good screens and add thorny protection include bougainvillea, euphorbia, wild asparagus fern, aloe arborescens, rambling rose and num num. They are fairly fast growers (with the exception of bouganvillea) and quite hardy.

We also have the option of using the invasive wattles growing on the plot to make “latte” screens, like they’ve done at Marinda’s Se Veranda.

“Latte”, or thin wooden poles all cut to a similar length, can be used to create a screening along a wire fence for privacy.

Meet the Mystic Catmobile!

In other news, I sold my car this week and we found an awesome deal on a small bakkie the next day, for only a little more than what I got for the car!

I have christened her the “Mystic Catmobile”!

We’re going to need a bakkie for this adventure, for sure, so I’m glad that’s another big item ticked off the list.

Now I’m on the prowl for a used canopy to fit the bakkie – can’t have the doggos in the back bin for a 3 hour trip between Cape Town and Suurbraak without any cover.

Gumtree is becoming my life.

The Mystic Catmobile!