MY DIY HOUSE-BUILDING ADVENTURE: I Have Some Mixed Feelings About Plumbing

I’d be FINE with never having plumbing, but it’s not like I haven’t fantasized about having my very own bathroom.
Publish date:
May 19, 2014
money, houses, construction, plumbing

There’s nothing quite as sad as watching someone sadly shovel the money they’ve worked for into a hole.

Last weekend, I watched as Scott morosely poured bentonite clay down our well. We were hoping we’d be able to use it, though it was drilled in the ‘70s, but just our luck, it was a rusty POS. It was a problem even money couldn’t fix: instead of getting free water forever, we had to pay about $2,000 to decommission it. We knew that the chances of the old well being salvaged were slim, but we were stupidly optimistic.

I’ve lived without running water for about 10 years; I seem to bring this up a lot, but I guess it’s because not having plumbing shapes my lifestyle a bit. I don’t have a bathroom, we have to haul our own water in jugs, and get creative with bathing and laundry. We crap in a hole in the ground, surrounded by a shack. I honestly don’t mind it at all, and I’ve even grown to love the lifestyle of living in a dry cabin. There’s a certain romantic feeling to the cycle of getting water and running out: there’s no satisfaction like having full, ice-cold water jugs sweating under your sink.

But after a decade of putting on my makeup in the car, my shampoo and conditioner freezing because I left my shower bag in the car, I think I’m ready. Rather, I’d be FINE with never having plumbing, but it’s not like I haven’t fantasized about having my very own bathroom. I’ve never in my adult life had laundry facilities, and the very idea of not lugging three peoples’ clothing back and forth to wash each week is tantalizing.

After spending more than a few nights planning out plumbing, reading the steamy, intimate details about sewage, I start to rationalize living without plumbing--if you think about it, lots of people crap in holes in the ground, right? It’s fine!

Not according to any bank that will finance a house. Time to bury a giant water tank. So there’s a few thousand dollars that we didn’t plan on spending. I hope it’s the last of the big surprises, but I’m sure there will be many more hiccups to come.

A bank won’t finance a house that doesn’t have plumbing. This seems obvious--what shanty wouldn’t have a septic system? A lot of the land we’ve got in the Interior is too frozen and swampy to put in plumbing, hence the dry cabin/outhouse situation. Here’s the catch: you CAN finance a cabin without plumbing, you just have to put down a fat down payment, usually 20%. But considering that most people looking to spend $60,000 on a cabin aren’t exactly flush with cash, it’s pretty impossible.

Just one of the many BS trip-ropes to affordable housing--of which there are many.

I’m pretty good at paperwork; I was never great at school, but since having a challenging younger life, I’m a pro at navigating corpulent beaurecratic documents. If you thought taxes were a pain in the ass, never, ever buy a house. Also, if you need any evidence that there is indeed still institutionalized sexism, go talk to a bank about a loan, while female.

Before my first meeting with the loan officer, I changed about four times. I fixed my hair, put on full makeup, and decided on a ‘capable outdoorsy’ vibe--a nice fleece and some good jeans and clogs. I wanted to project that I’m the kind of person that knows that appearance matters, but I can also get the job done. Someone who rakes leaves in the yard before her family wakes up, cup of black coffee in hand.

By the time I had hustled in, I was so shiny and nervous I might as well been there to knock over the bank. I was flustered because they told me to go to the wrong branch, and instead of early, I was a few minutes late. I was hoping they wouldn’t be able to tell the fleece was a dump score, noticing at the last minute that there was a considerable hole in the back. I even parked around the corner so they didn’t see me get out of my busted-up car. We can totally afford this, we just don’t look it.

I was waiting for about ten minutes before a younger woman came out to get me; she explained that the loan officer I was working with had forgotten about our appointment, and that she’d help me. She had just started--and knew less about the dark art of non-conforming loans than I did. All that makeup and chewed-on nails for absolutely nothing.

Instead, I was paired with a loan officer who works from home on the East Coast. Much more my style. I fill out loan applications and ask her questions while my child barks at the cats at my feet, and I’m not judged for looking like Garth Algar. It’s a good situation, except that she insists on checking with Scott to make sure I’ve gotten pertinent facts correct on paperwork. She even changed me from ‘borrower’ to ‘co-borrower’ on the loan application. When I questioned it, she used the word “traditional” to explain it to me. Harrumph.

This week I got together a materials list, and we started finalizing the placement of plumbing and appliances. In all honesty? I’m sick of planning. I just want to start ripping boards and screwing things together--though I know that’s not how you build things. And it’s properly summer in Alaska, meaning I just want to be out climbing.

When I think about my grandparents, and how they built their lives in America, I know they didn’t buy a 2,000 square foot home that someone else built. The lifestyle that’s currently shilled by most media to us is that we all need to buy homes, and that it’s perfectly normal to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt without batting an eye. But next week, I get to operate a mini-excavator for the first time, so there’s that.