In this article...
With our planned return to Vermont in just 2 weeks, our attention lately has been focused on making sure we have everything in place to get to work as soon as we return.
Well, it might be cutting it a little close, but as of this week we now have all the permits in place we need to start developing our site!
If it feels like we've been talking about permits a lot lately, that's because it's been a big priority for us to get sorted!
In reality, Vermont in general has very few controls and restrictions around land use, and one of our criteria when searching for a property was to ensure that local permitting processes weren't overly arduous and wouldn't prevent us enjoying our land the way we want.
Also, we're trying to share as much detail as possible about our build process, and because we're trying to do as much of the work ourselves as we can, sometimes that means you're seeing a side of things that you might not normally be aware of.
For example, if you're working with a general contractor, they may take care of many of the permits, but in our case we're acting as our own general contractor.
At the state level, Vermont has not adopted a residential building code for single family homes, and the locality we're in does not require building inspections for residential construction. In other words, now we have these permits in place, that's it - we're good to build!
In total, there are just four permits we've had to apply for.
Road Access Permit
The first permit we had to acquire was a Road Access Permit, sometimes known as a curb cut. We needed this to construct our new driveway and allow it to join the town road.
The permitting process was straightforward - Diana and I just had to take some measurements and submit the application detailing exactly where our driveway entrance would be.
Once we had it approved, driveway construction was able to begin and we couldn't be happier with our amazing 1,000ft driveway!
Current Use Exemption
Our 40 acre property was completely raw land when we bought it - just "dirt and trees" as we like to say. It was enrolled in Vermont's Current Use Program, meaning the forest was to be preserved and actively maintained according to a legally binding Forest Management Plan.
In order to build our house, we needed to remove a portion of our property from the program, a process known as Current Use Exemption.
Once we had a rough idea of where we wanted to build, we were able to identify and measure out an area to remove, and our forestry consultants submitted the application on our behalf.
Of all the permits we've applied for, this was by far the slowest, taking 4 months to process. The State department responsible for processing these applications had not only been inundated during the pandemic, but were also suffering extreme staffing issues.
Although it certainly didn't help that our application was "misplaced" for 3 months after we submitted it - it took a lot of chasing from us to get things moving!
However we finally received confirmation this week that the application has been processed and we are clear to, erm, clear trees and start construction work!
The Wastewater Permit was perhaps the most involved of any of the permits we had to apply for. In fact, the process for this permitting started before we even bought the property, during the contingency period when we brought an engineer, state inspector and excavator to the property to dig some test pits and check the soil's suitability for a septic system.
Confident that the soil was suitable for a septic system (albeit an expensive, mound system) we closed on the purchase.
We continued working with the engineer as he developed the designs for our septic system - a back-and-forth process with our architects as we negotiated on the site plan, including surveying the property to understand the topography.
But eventually we had everything lined up to submit the application for a septic system sized for a 5-bedroom house - larger than we intend to build, but giving us some headroom for future growth on the property.
Although inviting the state inspector to that initial site visit when we dug the test pits, I think it went a long way toward our permit being approved in what I have to believe is record time once we finally submitted it in January this year!
The previous three permits are all issued by Vermont state, and there's just one permit required by our local town - the Zoning Permit. We had to wait until the Wastewater Permit had been approved before applying for the Zoning Permit as that's a prerequisite.
But the Zoning Permit itself was, for us at least, a relatively easy process. Essentially the Zoning Permit is to ensure that our construction will comply with the town's zoning requirements which, as I alluded to earlier, aren't extensive - really focusing on building height and setbacks.
Once again, the local town has been incredibly efficient and processed the permit incredibly quickly without any issues!
2022 building plans
With these four permits we have everything we need to begin work on the property as soon as we return in a couple of weeks.
So what's the plan?
Well, before I share, let me caveat the following as always - this is the first time Diana and I have ever embarked on a project like this, and our top priority is to enjoy ourselves, to have fun!
The timelines below are just estimates - they're not schedules, deadlines or anything else. If they turn out to be unrealistic, that's totally OK - we'll learn, adapt and formulate a new plan.
Before building our house in the forest, we need to clear some trees! The only trees we've cleared so far are those for the driveway, so now we need to clear more trees - a lot more trees!
Specifically, we're going to clear about an acre - somewhere in the region of 300 trees, mainly spruce. One reason we're heading back to Vermont while it's still cold is so that we can begin felling trees before the ground thaws and the trees start to fill up with water again.
Our hope is to have the trees cleared by about mid-May which is when Kolbey and his crew (the same team who built our driveway) are coming back with their big toys for some heavy duty site work!
They'll working pulling out all the stumps left over from our tree felling, grading the site, trenching for utilities, excavating for our septic system and digging foundations for our utility building....
Speaking of the utility building, that's our big project for 2022.
The utility building will be a relatively simple structure, about 32 x 12 ft, which we'll use for conditioned storage and to terminate our utilities. Far from being a shed or barn, this will be built as though it were a residential structure - including being fully insulated.
There are several reasons we're choosing to start with the utility building.
First, it's a very simple building with a couple of doors and no windows. It's a good starting point for us to learn how to build on a real project, applying the techniques that Diana learned at Yestermorrow.
But it will also immediately serve a very valuable purpose. We have no utilities on site right now, although we have fiber internet and electricity 1,000ft down the driveway at the road. The utility building will serve as the terminus for all these utilities, as well as house the solar and battery components that we'll be installing as part of our grid-tie solar system.
Until we have it in place, we'll be dry camping on our own property - look out for a series of blog posts next week on what we're doing to prepare for this!
Once we have the utility building we'll be much more comfortable. And more specifically, without that utility building we won't be able to stay on the property in our RV next winter - dry camping in our RV just isn't something we have any interest in attempting in a Vermont winter!
We'll be sharing lots of details in the coming weeks about our plans for the utility building, as well as obviously the progress we make during the year.
Sawmill & Solar Kiln
Alongside the main utility building construction, we also have a number of other projects we also want to progress this year.
Before we left Vermont for the winter in December 2021, our focus had been on milling lots of 2x4s on our Woodland Mills HM126 sawmill. It was a good project to work on as we didn't have all the necessary permits in hand back then.
The reason for milling all the 2x4s is to build our very own solar kiln, a project we started last year and are looking forward to completing this year.
While our priority is going to be keeping the utility building construction on track, but whenever we have some downtime (or just need a break from felling trees), we'll jump onto the solar kiln project. The sooner we can get it built, the sooner we can start drying lumber that we'll use for all sorts of projects around our property!
2023 and beyond
All this begs the question - when are we going to build the actual house?! The simple answer is: after we've finished the utility building.
In reality, this means we're not likely to start the main house construction until 2023 since we're expecting the work to construct the utility building to take up most of our time in 2022.
Our vision for the property does extend beyond just the utility building and house - the draft site plan we're working on with our architects includes a barn, workshop, greenhouse and more! But those are longer term plans - we have plenty on our plate to keep us busy for a while yet!