Ball Family Farmstead

Addition Build for Off Grid Trailer Living

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Since old man winter’s blanket of snow is yet to be melted away and I’ve only got dreams of warm sunshine and walking barefoot in a garden we don’t yet have, I thought it’d be a good time to share about our little trailer addition we built last fall! This is what the rear view looks like now….

This was the front view in the fall…water barrels and a boy starting a fire.

Finding the right property for our family last summer was a big deal and really exciting. But the fact that it was raw land (having zero infrastructure, water, power or a septic system) and with North Idaho’s short seasons, it was clear our main focus would be getting ready for winter- pronto.

Our first matter of business was getting an outhouse built since there wasn’t a clean out to empty our trailer tank. Uhh hello reality! I remember being ecstatic to finally get the land we’ve been praying for, but then like “whoa I guess this is our life now!” So we rolled up our sleeves and went to work.

After quickly “settling” onto the property and purchasing a very forest green 40 foot shipping container, we had it delivered right next to our camper. It would serve as storage for the belongings we moved with us from California. It blended in nicely with the forestry around us but it hadn’t dawned on me that this would also serve as one of the inside walls of our addition. Hello green interior!

The addition would be sandwiched right between the camper and shipping container! I admit there were times I couldn’t see how it was all going to work out. And while Josh has had plenty of years of construction experience we have never built anything for ourselves except chicken coops! I may have doubted the plan a little bit. All I knew was that we needed a way to incorporate wood heat into our living situation in order to improve and make another winter in the camper more tolerable than the last one. So I knew I needed to trust his plan and let him use his skills in this area, and we’d just figure out any kinks as we went along, right? And if anything this would be a good practice project for building our actual house in the future!

If you’re curious why we were needing to implement a wood stove, read on. If not scroll on through….

In order to survive our hardcore winters being off the grid (not connected to city electricity) building extra space to include a wood stove was our only logical option.

Building the addition would allow us to:

  • Use a wood stove (dry heat) rather than propane heat in the camper (wet heat)
  • Store our water (that we would be hauling weekly) indoors and from freezing outside
  • And, more living space for the six of us to move and breathe. Can I get an amen?!

Utilizing a wood stove as our main heat source would be more cost effective than refilling propane tanks, especially having a forest of lumber on our property to use. We do still use propane for cooking in the camper but not nearly as much if we were running the heater constantly. Plus we would need to run the generator more (which uses more fuel) to charge the batteries to run the heater.

It would also help keep our camper dry inside from the condensation that tends to build upon the walls in winter. Once the walls are wet they either drip and leak, and/or freeze! And then moisture turns to mold and it’s really just a mess and headache and lots of frustrated tears and chocolate therapy! We have so many stories from from last winter of our bedding freezing to the walls, clothing damp and frozen in the closets, to our door frozen shut and having to use a blow dryer to thaw it open! Great laughs now but we didn’t want to recreate that again!!

Another benefit is it’s real wood fire. Nothing compares to the actual smell of burning wood, the cozy heat radiating and glowing ambiance that naturally lift your mood and warm the soul on those painfully long winter days.

And, you just can’t help but feeling a wee bit like a pioneer brewing that morning coffee or simmering a hearty soup over a hot stove.

So the idea of building more space to make our life more comfortable and functional was hands down a no brainer.

Now finally onto the build!

Our first step would be harvesting trees to create four posts. These posts would act as a support wall butted up to the camper. We didn’t want to permanently secure anything to our actual camper in the case of fire or emergency so that we could pull it away quickly if necessary.

While harvesting firewood we selected a few trees for our posts and the boys all took turns scraping the bark off with a neat hand tool called a “draw knife”. I took a turn using it and loved it! There was something rather therapeutic about it and we all know mamas need some of that!

Next we needed to dig holes to secure the posts in the ground. The boys did this for us with their previous outhouse hole digging experience and they did great!

We set the posts with a treatment to prevent rotting and bug damage and secured them into the holes. Then we could begin building the roof.

We started with a clear story wall built onto the shipping container giving the roof pitch for rain and snow to run off.

We then measured and cut trusses for the roof. When I say we it mostly means the men/boy folk. I am mostly moral support, great encourager and meal provider. Although I did get up there to help steady and raise the beams.

Lots of cutting, measuring and nailing!

The best part of this project was having the boys work along side us. Watching them learn the how to’s, using tools and skills at their age and being able to build something physically substantial together was such a neat experience!

After the roof was up we started laying out the floor joist. This would give us space to install a good thick layer of insulation and raising the floor closer to the high entrance of our camper. Once all the trusses were in place we put in the insulation and topped it off with a 3/4″ plywood.

Right after this there was a lego explosion over the entire floor with our friends. It’s been a long time since these kids had that kind of space. Next went up the walls. I’m always amazed at house fast framing goes. One day there’s nothing and then there’s a visible structure. It was so exciting to see where the windows and doors would be placed. We added insulation and plywood and then installed the doors and windows…It was beginning to feel like a real home! 😄

Now we could install the wood stove! We were given a stove long before we had our land but we knew we’d use it some day! I scrubbed the old rust off and gave it a new coat of paint. She cleaned up pretty good! We had to purchase and install all the piping next.

Soon we added steps to the front and back doors as well as insulation in the ceiling as well and that’s all there is to it! If only that were true! Anyone who’s done any kind of construction project or remodel to their home knows what’s it like to live in a “construction zone”. No matter how short or long the project may be there’s something about all that dust that makes you want it to be over with asap! Working on the addition after Josh’s work days and on weekends ended up taking us a couple months to get everything finished, and just in time to fire up that wood burning stove before the first snow fell!

It’s still small and is filling up quickly with shelves of books, coat racks, our water barrels and couches. But it’s becoming more and more like a home the longer we dwell in it. This living space has made ALL the difference for us, giving an additional 220 sq ft to live and breathe and move. And although the build has some minor flaws, it’s been so great for our mindset for our second winter. Living this way is no easy task. There are a lot of inconveniences and challenges in it, so taking the time to build something, even something small, to keep us comfortable and warm has been so worth it!

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