Mountain Timber Design, Wind River Timberframes/photo by Roger Wade
There’s no question why people are drawn to building on rural property, especially log and timber home owners. What “rural” means can vary depending on who you ask. One person might just mean “not urban” while others might be talking about dense forests or farmland. But most agree on some shared benefits: no two pieces of property are alike, there’s room to spread out without bumping into your neighbor, and you can be miles from the hassles and headaches of city life. You will likely be subject to fewer building restrictions, and getting a building permit may be as easy as walking into your town office and showing the clerk a blueprint of your home.
But the perks of rural life can also pose some building challenges.
“When people decide to build a new home in a rural area it is on purpose,” says Douglas Parsons, president of Appalachian Log Structures in Ripley, West Virginia. “Most already know that the location will require some if not a lot of utility development and road construction.” To avoid unpleasant surprises, be informed when looking for property to build on.
Start with a survey. Surveys can be a big expense, depending on your acreage and terrain, but they are an important investment. “Most rural properties you’re looking at have more acreage and sometimes it’s hard to determine if the boundaries are properly marked,” says Ron Silliboy, corporate sales for Ward Cedar Log Homes in Houlton, Maine. “Having the land surveyed is a good idea. Depending on the terrain, that can run into the thousands of dollars.”
Photo by Karl Neumann
Determine your building site. Once you stake out your home site to determine if the home design you’ve chosen will fit, you can see how much clearing is needed and determine how to orient your home on the site. Parsons advises getting fully acquainted with the house site before finalizing your plan, and of course you’ll want to solicit the contractor’s point of view as well. “I advise people to be there in the evening to see where the sun will set and where the views will be,” says Parsons. “That they envision themselves driving up the proposed driveway and see what side of the house they will be looking at and where the garage might be. This activity usually changes the direction of the plan or the driveway approach.”
Consider access to your home. It might seem obvious, but many people forget to consider year-round access. “A long drive will require a lot of initial investment and then maintaining that access adds to long-term costs,” says Parsons. “Questions to consider are who will be keeping it cleared from snow? Are the trees along the drive going to be an issue? What about drainage ditches and water runoff pipes?”
Construction access is important too. Access to the site for construction vehicles needs to be taken into account as well. “Many of our projects are rural and typically the biggest problem is getting construction materials to the site,” says Parsons. “In today’s construction, concrete and pumping trucks, lumber and log materials, cranes and other large trucks and trailers need access to the site and that adds to the access road costs.” Silliboy agrees that this is an important consideration that can make building complicated. “When you’re delivering to a rural area, make sure the roads and bridges can handle a semi, and if they can’t make sure you get the proper variances to overcome that, or you’ll have to go to Plan B and shuttle the material in with a lighter truck,” he says.
Bring in power … Now that you know how far from the road you’ll be, you can figure out the cost of running power to the building site. The cost will vary based on distance and terrain. “Overhead electric will require tree removal or you may have to have underground service, which will cost more,” says Parsons. The same is true for services like cable, telephone, and Internet.
… And water. Many rural properties don’t have access to public water service, so you’ll be looking at digging a private well. How far down you have to dig can vary widely even on the same property. “Water treatment and softeners can be costly, so it’s a good idea to invest in water testing to make sure there are no contaminants,” says Silliboy. Don’t forget septic. You’ll need a percolation test (often called a “perc test”) to determine the absorption rate of the soil on your property for a properly designed septic drain field.
Be prepared. Distance from urban areas means distance from amenities like shopping, gas stations, libraries, and medical facilities. How far you are from amenities may seem unimportant (or even a benefit). Being an hour from the grocery store is one thing, but being an hour away from medical services is another. Even the healthiest among us need to go the doctor now and then. Is there rural EMS nearby?
Keep an eye on things. If you won’t be living in your rural log home year-round, invest in an advanced security and surveillance system that will let you check on your property day and night and alert you to any uninvited guests, fire, or flooding. Modern security systems are more than just monitored alarms; they’re basically central nervous systems for the home that allow you to control everything from lights and thermostats to door locks and garage doors from your smartphone or computer. You can even set window shades to raise and lower and ceiling fans to turn on and off at certain times!
It may seem like the costs of building in a rural area will add up to a substantial bill, but often the savings on acreage, taxes, and fees will offset the additional land development costs. Of course, at the end of the day there’s no way to put a price tag on the serenity that comes with watching the sun set over your very own rural escape.
Photography by Roger Wade Studio