Moving over the winter holidays is not something I would recommend for anyone (seriously, just don’t do it). But now that the hustle, bustle and chaos of the holidays and the move are behind us, moments of reflection and dreams of the future are starting to seep in. While the actual move was not pleasant (for many reasons), we have much to be grateful for and so much to be happy and excited about.
The biggest change for us is that we are now officially home owners. Our previous homestead was rented and if you check out my post here, you will learn all about the pros and cons of renting your homestead. While we do not regret renting at all, we are excited that we can finally lay down permanent roots (cause this lady ain’t moving again for a LONG time) and make long term plans for both Spiraea Herbal Clinic and Snail Trails Homestead.
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As first time home buyers, there were definitely some hard lessons learned from this experience. Questions we didn’t think to ask and things we didn’t think to look for. I truly believe that all of life is a learning experience, and while some of the things we overlooked will cost us time and money, we have lessons we can take with us into the future (and pass along to our kid).
Pass the Tissue… and the Bleach
Okay being on septic I really didn’t use bleach…but man oh man was I tempted!
The biggest challenge from the get-go was trying to make this home healthy and safe for my husband (who has severe pet allergies). The previous owners were elderly and had multiple cats and birds. The place was allergen central! And it wasn’t until all of their furniture was gone (seriously how many china cabinets does one couple need?), that we realized how bad things were. The carpets were soaked in urine in many spots and covered in stains. Unfortunately, for the time being, we need to live with them because there is no money in the budget for new flooring. The walls and baseboards were covered in stains (more pee?), thick grease (in the kitchen) and cat fur. Everything got a fresh coat of paint because it was desperately needed.
After two days of scrubbing floors, walls and cabinets and steaming cleaning carpets I could still smell urine. It was infuriating knowing that all my work seemed to be doing nothing. That was until I was painting my sons room and realized his wall scone light fixtures reeked of urine. Apparently the previous owners let their birds fly freely and they used the wall scones as a toilet. So disgusting, but at least I knew where the smell was coming from.
I thought my woes were behind me until I had to clean the walls in the bathroom. My breaking point was cleaning human poop off the walls behind the toilet. My father in law found me in a puddle of tears in the bathroom. He tried to offer words of comfort, but this was not what we thought home ownership was going to be like! Having been renters for most of our lives, every single place we ever moved into was immaculate and pristine.
We’ve been here for almost three weeks now. The smell is finally gone (replaced with nag champa now … of course 😉 ).The cleaning, daily vacuuming and painting helped quite a bit, but the best decision we made was getting a Hepa Filter. This is the one we got and it’s made a HUGE difference to my husband’s allergies. He can finally breathe freely!
Baby It’s Cold Outside… and Inside
The process of buying a home was full of ups and downs. It was also something of an enigma to me. You are making the biggest purchase of your life yet there is so much secrecy and deception; at least that was our experience. Without going into too many details, suffice it to say we were unaware of the woefully inadequate heating system in this house. Right after we moved in we got a doozy of a cold snap here in Ontario. Our coldest night was -40°C and we felt it big time. We had originally planned on limping along with the current system, but that plan flies quickly out of the window when you hear your kid say he’s cold multiple times a day.
We are currently operating with a propane gas fireplace insert (with a broken blower so it’s basically a radiator at best) and space heaters. My son has a baseboard heat in his room, but the kitchen, living room and the master do not have them. We purchased the best energy efficient space heaters we could and have already set plans in motion for a heating up grade.
After consulting with an HVAC company we quickly realized that our crawl space is far too small for a furnace. Not wanting to have a furnace in our already small house, we decide ductwork and a furnace will have to be a plan for the future (when we can find space in the garage to build a room for it). There was mention of a duct-less heat pump system too, but when we discovered they have a tendency to stop working below -20°C we quickly said no to that one. The duct-less heat pump system might be something we consider in the future for the air conditioning aspect of it. We have two HUGE south facing windows which is lovely for light but it will be brutally hot in the summer.
A few days ago I had a lovely gentleman come out to the house who works with heat pumps, gas/propane systems and wood fed systems. It was wonderful talking with someone who could consult us on ALL of our options and not just some. I was also incredibly impressed with this refreshing honesty. He could have recommended the $15,000 heat pump system or the $6000 propane fireplace, but after a frank discussion about our needs and our lifestyle he immediately suggested wood.
Honestly a wood stove was always our future plan for heating our new home. Wood is fairly easy to come by out here and when compared to the cost of oil and propane, it can often be a more affordable way to heat your home. Plus it is a renewable source of heat and because I work from home, there will always be someone here to keep the fire going.
In the end we opted for a wood insert for the fireplace. We purchased an incredibly energy efficient model that would easily heat our entire home. While I had romantically hoped for a wood stove, it would have eaten up way too much square footage in our already small home. We’re already dealing with the drastic downgrade in size – we rented a three bedroom with a full basement and bought a two bedroom with a crawl space – I really don’t want to lose anymore square footage!
The final step will be to add a few more baseboards to the house so that way we have a thermostat controlled heat source for when we go away over the winter.
Now that the house is freshly painted, clean and looking like home, we have started to dream about the property. We have just shy of half an acre, which is what we had in our old place. We easily grew enough food and medicine for our family (and often friends) in that space, so I have no doubt we can do it on this property. What is a nice change is there are far fewer trees on our new property. This means that even though the majority of the property is north facing, it still gets lots of glorious sunshine.
Our front yard is a decent size and south facing. The original property actually had two driveways, one that leads to the garage and a second U-shaped one that covers most of the front yard. Thankfully the previous owners neglected the driveways big time and most of the space (including the driveway that goes to the garage) is overgrown with grass and weeds. Because we use a method of gardening called Lasagna Gardening, we are going to use that huge former driveway spot for my medicinal herb garden.
I recently added this book to my collection and I am excited to dive in. I think a medicine wheel garden out front would be glorious.
Thanks to the south facing orientation, we also hope to take advantage of that for winter growing. Some cold frames would work very nicely up against the house right under the family room window. That way we could continue to grow root vegetables and hardy greens all winter long.
Like many of the things we’ve encountered, the backyard is a problem. Our biggest issue is that the previous owners had no idea where the septic bed was. Since we hope to use every single usable inch of space back there for growing food, we need to figure out where it is. Our best bet is filing an application for a permit search and hope that the septic system is permitted.
Over the last few days we experienced an unprecedented thaw here in Ontario. About two feet of snow melted away in less than 36 hours. The result is a full out lake in my backyard. Currently we don’t know if it’s a septic problem, a land grading problem or both. At the least it’s looking like we need to have the entire yard back-filled with dirt to help bring the ground up to grade.
On the upside, we do have lots of wonderful outbuildings already on the property. We have a shed for our tools and lawn mower and three old pigeon coops. We converted the smallest one to a temporary chicken coop for our flock. We would have preferred to use one of the larger ones, but unfortunately the previous owners didn’t clean them at all and they are FULL of pigeon poop and litter. In the spring when we can get them cleaned out, we will move our gals. That leaves us lots of space to continue raising meat birds and perhaps add quails and goats in the future!
So as you can see our journey to home ownership and building our new homestead has been full of ups, downs, twists and turns. A few weeks ago I was cursing, sobbing and woeing (is that a word?) about those twists and turns. Thankfully time gives you perspective and now that the intense frustration is behind me, I’ve come to remember that all of life is full of twists and turns. Rarely do things go the way you hope they will. But often it’s the bumps, the downs and the twists that bring about the best lessons in life. I am grateful for this home and this land. I am grateful for the lessons it will teach us all and the opportunities it will afford us. I am also grateful that every penny we sink into this place will be for something that is ours.
Until next time,
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