Can I Successfully Homestead On 2 to 3 Acres Of Land?

Can I successfully homestead on 2-3 acres?

With careful planning and selecting a plot of land with the right amenities on it a sustainable homestead is much easier on 2-3 acres of land than on one acre of land. In a previous article we showed that it was not easy to Homestead on 1 acre of land.

Can I successfully Homestead on 2-3 acres of land? Yes, if the land has: No restrictions prohibiting buildings, A suitable source of water, Passed a percolation test, Enough relatively level land for your needs, You have the skills to build a dwelling, Or you can have a dwelling moved onto the land.

The biggest challenge to homesteading on 2-3 acres is finding land that meets the necessary requirements. Outside of the city limits of a small town there can be a 5 acre minimum lot size requirement for building a dwelling.

When you find a 2-3 acre plot of land that can be utilized for a small homestead there are steps that need to be taken before Closing the Sale of the property.

No Restrictions Prohibiting Buildings

In many areas of the U.S. there are limits to the size of lots that can be built on when you get outside of a city limits and into the country.

In the American East the lot size limits for building outside of a city limit can be as little as 1 acre.

In the American West the lot size limit for building outside a city limit can be as much as 5 acres. You need to know what the lot size limit is in the area you are considering homesteading.

You may be able to get a Variance from the County Zoning Board or Planning Commission for building on a lot smaller than the usual size. You would need to contact the Zoning Board or Planning Commission and inquire about presenting your request at the next meeting.

One common requirement is to have a specific plot of land under contract to purchase IF the Zoning Board or Planning Commission approves your request for the Lot Size Variance.

In addition to a home you should be sure of the requirements for outbuildings such as a barn or shed. You may learn that building below a set number of square feet in size does not require a building permit and does not increase property taxes.

For example; a building less that 200 square feet in size might not require a building permit and might not increase property taxes. In some Counties a building on wheels, such as a tiny house that is able to be licensed as a travel trailer, may not increase property taxes.

Property with a stream of water for homesteadingHas A Suitable Source Of Water

A suitable source of water is enough water to supply your daily homestead water needs. This water can come from a well, spring, year round creek or any source of water except a shared water source controlled by the person selling you land.

In some cases there are actions that can be taken to increase the water available for your needs.

A homestead lives and dies on the availability of water and if there is not enough water for your needs you will have to bring water in from outside the homestead. Hauling water to a homestead is expensive, tiring and in many cases back-breaking labor.

If the water available is not sufficient for the homestead needs you will not have a successful homestead and you will come to regret trying to homestead that plot of land.

A suitable source of water also involves the concept for a source of water that is potable. Potable water means the water is safe for humans to drink and cook with.

Water that has a high sulfur content, sometimes called "mineral water," can have a rotten egg smell and a taste that is definitely not pleasant. In some areas a well might have a lot of iron in it, be rusty orange colored, taste bad and discolor clothes and dishes washed in it.

Both rotten egg water and rusty orange water can be filtered and the quality of the water much improved. However there is a cost for the filters and their installation as well as an ongoing cost.

You may want to look for land elsewhere if either of these two water problems exist on the land.

The question arises, "How do I know if there is sufficient water that is potable on the land before purchasing the land?" This is the most important question there is when it comes to homestead land.

You can visit people who live around the land you are considering and talk to them about their water; the amount of flow per minute from their well and if they have to filter out any bad taste, discoloration or smell. This lessens the chances of their being unsuitable water on the land but it does not rule it out completely.

The only way to know for sure that there is good water of a sufficient quantity is to have a well drilled if there is not a good spring or other source of water available on the land. This can be expensive and there is no absolute guarantee of hitting water when a well is drilled.

Even the most experienced well drillers end up drilling a "dry hole" as much as 15% of the time. The fee for drilling is paid, even when the result is a dry hole.

One potential method for knowing ahead of time if there is sufficient water is to have the Seller develop a source of sufficient water on the land before the sale is completed.

A good source of water is defined as a minimum of at least 5 gallons per minute of flow. This is the usual minimal amount of water needed for conventional financing of land.

If a good source of water is found at Closing of the sale of the land, the Seller is reimbursed for the actual cost of developing the water source. If there is not the ability to develop at least a 5 gallon per minute source of good water, the sale is cancelled and the Seller keeps the land and you get back any earnest money deposited on the land.

A second, albeit less desirable method, is to place a clause in the Sales Contract. This clause states that if a suitable source of water, at least 5 gallons per minute, is not found within 90 days after the Closing of the Sale, the sale is cancelled.

The land returns to the Seller and you get back all money except what you spent on attempting to develop a source of water. This means you have to actively try to develop the source of water within the first 90 days after the sale is complete.

For the second method to be effective, you need to add these words into the Sales Contract after the clause about 90 days to develop a good source of water; "This clause survives the Deed." Without "this clause survives the deed", that provision is automatically cancelled when a deed passes the land from the Seller to you!

Please understand that if you buy land and there can not be found a good source of water on it, the value of that land as a homestead is ZERO Dollars!

Will It Pass A Percolation Test

A percolation test, also called a "perc test," is a test required before you obtain a permit to install a septic system. If the land does not pass the perc test you will not get the permit and you are left with only two choices.

  • Choice 1 - You have just purchased land that is suitable only as recreational land - land where you can camp or park an RV but not build a house on.
  • Choice 2 - You can attempt to get a variance allowing you to use a Composting Toilet, (Sun-Mar or Nature's Head are two brands).

Composting Toilets are made to allow for the drying of human waste within the toilet system itself and then for safe disposal of the dried wastes later. Composting toilets have been around for years but not every rural County will allow their usage if the land fails a perc test.

It would be a good idea to find out ahead of time if a Composting Toilet is a viable alternative to a septic system if the land fails to perc.

In some areas it is possible to install a grey water system and use that water on some areas on the homestead. If a County allows Composting Toilets, ask if a Grey Water System is allowed in that county. A Grey Water System is sometimes called a Green Water System.

Is There Enough Relatively Level Land For Your Needs

You want the land where the garden, berry bushes and orchard are to be relatively level. A slight slope or incline is acceptable as long as it is not enough to contribute to the washing away of top soil during a hard rain. Our garden area has about a 12" to 15" slope in its 70' width.

If the garden area has too much of a slope you can terrace it to create level areas for planting. This terracing is both time consuming and expensive. It could involve hiring someone who has the heavy equipment necessary to build the terraces.

If the terracing is not carefully done you could end up with terraces that are devoid of the good top soil needed for a garden. If that happens you will have to improve the soil or have top soil brought in from an outside location.

In a similar manner, you need fairly level land on which to build a dwelling if one is not already present. When it comes to building a house there can be much more of a slope than that described for a garden area.

If the slope is quite a bit, it may be possible to have a daylight basement built under the house where one wall of the basement is at or near ground level and the opposite wall of the house is below ground level. This is how we solved a problem when we had too much of a slope on the land when we built several years ago.

The area where the septic system field lines, also called Leach Lines, would be installed needs to be fairly level. If there is too much slope to that part of the land the effluent from the tank will settle in the lower portions of the field lines. This can create a wet smelly area in your yard.

If you plan on having stock animals they will need some level land in their area also. Chickens can have a long narrow Chicken Run easily accessible from their coop. This allows them to be placed where there is not a wide level area.

The Chicken run should be fenced to keep the chickens from wandering away. Some homesteaders will fence an area that is not suitable for larger livestock and let chickens run throughout that area. Chickens need a coop to roost in at night. 

Grazing cows or other livestock on the homesteadOn a 2 to 3 acre homestead you can have enough area to graze a cow. It takes half an acre to graze one cow. If there is a dry spell and the grass dries up and dies you will need to supply hay for the cow to eat. Hay would also need to be supplied during the wintertime. One cow will eat about a ton of hay over the winter.

Some homesteaders have purchased a "cull" milk cow from a dairy farmer. A cull milk cow is one that produces milk but not enough to make her valuable to the dairy farmer. A cow that gives a gallon of milk/day would be sufficient for a family of 4 or 5 people.

A cow will need a shed with a stall or a barn in which to stay during winter. On sunny days during winter the cow should be let outside for a while to walk around and have the benefit of fresh air.

Do You Have The Skills To Build A Dwelling

If the land is unimproved or raw land you will need a dwelling and out buildings. I know people who had no building skills who were determined to homestead.

They found used books at places like Goodwill Stores and followed the directions in them to build a house and outbuildings. If you choose to go this route, look for books by Time Life, Home Depot and Reader's Digest.

These books cost around $2 to $3 dollars each so you can build a library of them for a small amount of money. The basic construction details have changed little over the last 50 or so years so it is not necessary to purchase new books.

When it comes to wiring a house, you will want to consult an electrician unless you have previous wiring experience and are familiar with the newest electrical code. The newest code has some major changes over the previous codes and the books usually available from Goodwill or other second hand stores will not have the newest changes in them.

A viable alternative to building a home is to purchase a modular home. A modular home is a home that is stick built (regular home construction) in a factory and trucked to the location where the modules are assembled.

Modular homes appreciate in value over time just like a site built home does. Modular Home Dealers have financing sources available and can recommend crews to assemble the home on your land.

Do not confuse modular homes with manufactured homes. Manufactured homes were traditionally single wide and double wide mobile homes built on a chassis with wheels and pulled to the site and set up.

The distinction between modular and manufactured homes has become blurred the last few years. Many Realtor's do not appear to understand the difference. A manufactured home, even a double wide mobile home, does not appreciate in value over time!. A manufactured home decreases in value over time!

You Can Have A Dwelling Moved Onto The Land

Three types of dwellings that can be moved onto the land are 1) Modular Homes, 2) Manufactured Homes and 3) Tiny Houses.

Whereas modular and manufactured homes have been around for decades, Tiny Houses are a relatively new idea.

Tiny houses are built on a chassis using stick built construction but are characteristically 300 square feet in size or smaller. They look like small houses usually with wood siding instead of metal as typically found on manufactured or mobile homes.

Tiny Houses have all the necessary features of a larger house; kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living space. The Tiny House price can be quite high when looked at on a square foot basis.

It is not uncommon for a Tiny House to cost $40,000 and be 300 square feet or less in size. That works out to over $133/square foot with a portion of the square footage typically being a second level sleeping area or bedroom without stand-up head room.

Not all rural areas currently allow Tiny Houses as permanent dwellings. Tiny Houses have not been around long enough to definitely answer whether or not they appreciate in value over time or decrease in value over time.

I would first find out if a Tiny House was allowed as a dwelling before deciding to purchase one and move it to a Homestead site.

Since many Tiny Houses are licensed as Travel Trailers or considered to be mobile homes, they are titled more like vehicles than houses in many States.

When a permanent foundation is placed underneath a mobile home, (manufactured home), that home is typically taxed as a permanent structure. The usual term is "Taxed as Real Property."

However being taxed as Real Property does not mean that home appreciates in value as Real Property appreciates!

If Buying or Selling land that has a manufactured home, (mobile home and in some areas a Tiny House), there can be a deed to pass ownership of the land and a title needed to pass ownership of the manufactured home when the sale is completed.

I know couples who lived in a Travel Trailer or Mobile Home while building a house. Once the house was completed, they sold the Travel Trailer or Mobile Home and it was removed from the land.

Can I Successfully Homestead On 2 to 3 Acres Of Land

It is much easier to successfully homestead on 2 - 3 acres of land than to attempt to homestead on 1 acre of land. Having 2 to 3 acres on which to plan a garden, berry bushes, orchard and area for livestock is very doable.

On 1 acre of land in a rural area about half of that acre is taken up in area for health and safety regulations leaving insufficient space to really homestead.

If you found a 2 acre plot where a dwelling could be built, even with needing to have a well drilled, septic system installed and all the usual set backs and distances discussed in homesteading on 1 acre you are in a much better situation for homesteading.

You could even have space for a cow or two if the lot was 3 acres. Some homesteaders who only have 2 or 3 acres may prefer having goats instead of a cow or two.

If the homestead was in snow country, mountains or in an area where it was cold in the winter you would not have a sufficiently large enough wood lot to have a sustainable source of firewood.

This could be remedied if you lived close enough to a U.S. Forest Service Forest or a State Forest. Inquire with the nearest Ranger's Station about getting a permit to take downed and standing dead wood for fire wood. The permits are very reasonably priced.

If your funds are limited or you do not feel you could manage large acreage, it is possible to have a successful homestead on 2 to 3 acres and have produce left over to sell or share with friends.

 

About The Author

John Brownlee

A retired Lawyer and Health Care Provider, he teaches people how to locate, evaluate, and purchase Country and Homestead Property. He and his wife, Linda, have taught hundreds of people how to suture wounds in an emergency. He teaches both Preparedness and Health Care Classes and has been a Presenter at Sustainable Preparedness Expos. He holds a General Ham Radio Operator's License.