Project triage

Project triage

Don got a shock to his system this week.

He's working on a shop building, you see. This will be a building-within-a-building – a walled-in dedicated space for his tools inside our barn.

The original plan was to insulate the shop walls and install a wood stove to warm it during winter work. The ceiling would also be insulated, and it would be roofed with sturdy flooring material so it could be used as storage via a set of stairs he would build.

Now it seems none of these plans will come to fruition any time soon.

The shock came when Don started pricing insulation. Bales of insulation have tripled in price, mirroring the tripling of lumber prices. The estimated cost to insulate just the shop is $3000. The estimated cost to frame in the walls and ceiling, insulate them, and floor the ceiling to make it usable would cost something on the order of $5000. Five thousand dollars!!

Don exploded when he saw those prices, and refused to pay them. In some ways, the skyrocketing price of insulation jarred him as nothing else has done so far in this crazy year of supply shortages and lockdowns.

This means it's time for some triage – not just financial triage, but project triage as well. We need to focus on core infrastructure – livestock stuff, fencing, garden, and low-tech items to keep us going.

We started by making a list of projects we want to accomplish in the next year or so. Here's what we came up with:

• Chicken coop (build)
• Shop (build)
• Guest house (build)
• Garden (build)
• Deck (repair)
• Hot water backup (install)
• Wood cookstove (install)
• Storage units (we're renting two storage units in our old town, and we have to empty them)
• Cattle infrastructure (build)
• Fencing around pastures (install)
• Dog yard (build)
• Organize barn
• Peaches/blueberries (plant)

Then we numbered the projects in order of importance. The numbering system is based on a number of factors: immediacy of need, weather, availability of materials, amount of time it will take, amount of time we have available, and seasonal timing. We already know we won't have a garden this year, for example, so building the garden infrastructure is not critical at the moment. Here's our ordered list for projects we hope to accomplish over the next 18 months or so:

1. Dog yard
2. Plant peaches/blueberries
3. Empty storage units
4. Organize barn
5. Install wood cookstove
6. Hot water backup
7. Chicken coop
8. Fencing
9. Cattle infrastructure
10. Shop
11. Garden
12. Guest house
13. Deck

This is just a partial list; I'm sure more projects will crop up as the year progresses.

But even within this list of projects, we need to grapple with a lack of supplies – as well as a lack of affordable supplies. Instead of insulation, for example, we're thinking on packing spaces with straw. Instead of sheet rock (in the shop), we're thinking of tacking up cardboard. These solutions might also work when it comes time to build the chicken coop. No clue yet what we'll do for roofs and ceilings.

Proposed chicken coop design

We're making intensely careful use of the materials we have on hand. For example, in December – even before we moved in – Don ordered some field fence, T-posts and about 20 cattle (hog) panels to be delivered to the house. I'm so grateful he did, since all of those items have skyrocketed in cost in just the last three months. He also managed to find a good deal on a couple of almost-complete units of 2x6s and 2x4s. We're using them judiciously.

Every scrap of wood we've been able to salvage, every fragment of materials left here by the previous owners, every deal we're able to scrounge from local sellers, every iota of supplies we can salvage one way or the other – we're squirreling them away for projects. It's ironic that the pantry Don built just three months ago would now be far more expensive to construct.

We're not in dire shape financially. We're actually doing pretty well right now. But parting with too much of our reserve cash is just too scary. So, we'll just continue to do what we've done for 30 years: adapt, think outside the box, pare our expenses to the bone, and live frugally.

We'll also continue to thank God for all our blessings: health, home, family, and experience in rural living.

Back to blog