Long Term Project in NY's SouthernTier

Started by SouthernTier, April 23, 2010, 08:11:58 PM

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I'll come out of semi-lurkerhood and start my owner-builder topic like I keep threatening to.  I don't really have the time to either build my projects, nor post here, but I love the commentary here and embarking on my long term country project, well just say I think about it a lot.

I'm not very far along in the process, but I'll at least start with the simple stuff and add on as I go.  This first post is really just to test out using picassaweb to host pictures in a reasonable web-friendly size without me resizing them first.

The southern tier of New York is some beautiful country and I always wanted a place there.  Even though I already have thousands of acres of state land to enjoy, I wanted a small place of my own.  When the opportunity arose (note, opportunities never really arise, they come to the people that prepare for them) to purchase 11 acres right next to 6,000 acres of state forest that I frequented, I couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Here are some pictures of the property.

It's about half overgrown field, and half young woods.  Here's a view across the fields in full goldenrod growth in the fall.  The hilltop across the valley is state land.

There's a seasonal creek that comes out of the woods and then hangs a left down the valley.  I mow a small section between the creek and the woods.

Here's a view looking back towards the small mowed area.

I spend most of the time in the woods part, though, although pictures of that don't show much.  You'll see plenty with posts to come as I get to my projects.  The property slopes down with the woods on the uphill side, and the old field down by the road.  My projects will be pretty much right in the middle of the property, just inside the woods line.

This last image shows the differences between the tax map lines (pink) and the true property line (red) which I drew in GIS from the metes and bounds description.  I was able to tie it into the state land boundary (green) which I got from the state electronically from a just-completed full survey.

I really really like this piece of property.


I haven't even paid off the land yet, and I've got kids starting college, so building the cabin right away is out of the question!  That's why I gave this topic the title "Long term project" :)

But of course, the first thing I needed, especially if I wanted visitors down to visit for any length of time, was the privy.  I am a by-the-book kind of guy so I checked in with the county health department and these were allowed.  I think I was probably the only one who actually sent in a permit application though, since they cashed my check but never send me anything back.  They probably didn't have a privy permit form laying around since most people just go build them.

I got my by-the-book ways partially be being an engineer by trade.  So of course I had to design the thing on CAD:

I found this to be very helpful in that it allowed me to have just about no wasted materials, and everything fit together well.  I didn't have to spend much time scratching my head in the field and recutting wood that didn't fit the first time.  I realize this approach isn't everybody's cup of tea, but it works for me.

I had to start with the hole of course, which took lots of days to dig, since I did it by hand.  Because the hole was 4' deep, but only 3x4 feet opening, I could only use a pick and shovel the first foot or so, the rest was by hand.  And there were lots of rocks.  This took a lot more work than I though it would.  Here's a shot of the hole (it's bigger than it looks there) just as I was starting the foundation:

As you can see, I don't have the foundation down to frost line (hey, this is already fancier than most outhouses!), but I did dig down around the hole to mineral soil.  I leveled it out well and put down one bag's worth of concrete to provide an even more level surface for the first of two concrete block courses.

Even with just two courses of blocks on a tiny building, this was a lot of material to carry into the woods (since I can't drive across the creek).  It made me wonder what it's like when I start larger projects.

Note, I did fill in the voids with mortar, something you wouldn't normally do.  This was just to provide more strength against frost heave.  I also drove some rebar through the mortar into the soil for extra anchoring.  Here's the finished foundation (was getting dark by the time my son and I finished, which made the cell phone camera pic not so good).

I don't have any pictures of me building it, and only a few when I was done.  Here's a picture of it the first winter:

I originally constructed it just with T-111 siding, but after two years, the porcupines found it and started eating it fast

So I had to put up some wood siding on it and restain.

It works well and doesn't stink!


Hi there - great pics and what a nice job on the outhouse...  kind of sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the project :)   we are in northeastern pa - maybe not too far away, depending on which end of NY!    I think that it is great that NY allows outhouses.  A long time ago I picked up a small book on septic design, and the first point that the author made is that an outhouse is the best design possible ! 

I understand your by-the-book approach.  there is enough stress in life today - no sense in adding more by worrying if the code enforcement officer is going to show up and make a scene..  I tend to believe that most of the codes in place make sense and are a means of learning from the mistakes that other folks have made in the past..  of course, there are some that appear to be just silly.    I am not sure that I am in agreement with the proposed code that will require a sprinkler system in residential housing beginning next year in PA - the cynical side of me suspects that that one serves the insurance companies at the homeowner's expense...

good luck with your project.  I look forward to seeing more!


Of course, it's easy to be by the book when they actually allow stuff  ;)  I believe the privy-allowance is county-by-county.

The shed I started (pictures/narrative later this week) is a 10x10 which I did go through the building inspector who said no permit was needed for that size.  Since I eventually want to build a larger cabin, I don't want unapproved smaller structures sitting there when he comes out to to inspect later.

I'm actually the other end of the Southern Tier from you.  All that snow is good old Lake Erie lake effect.


I'm actually making more progress on my shed than on my posting, but I guess that is a good thing.  Here is the next part of the saga, still not up to date.

As I mentioned, I am starting with a shed.  I am not sure what the exact dimensions are for not having to get a permit in my town, but I proposed a 10 x 10 to the inspector and he said no permit was needed.  So I stuck with what I proposed.

Being in cold winter country, I needed to go down at least 3.5 feet for the foundation.  I decided to go with four sonotubes installed using a two-man power auger (the kind you have to pick up and run).  With all the rocks, this was a lot of work, but after the better part of a day, my son and I had the four holes dug.  It took much of the following day to mix the dozens of bags of concrete to fill them all.  I had some pictures of this but I lost them. 

I leveled the tops of the tubes using a home made water level (water jug and 15 feet of tube) which worked real well.  As for getting the brackets square, I recently made a post about my technique:


One of the pictures from that post shows the end result quite well:

Although I used the 6x6 beams on the ends rather than on the bottoms, I thought the recent pictures from Soomb over at http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=8956.msg115418#msg115418 looked quite familar!  I had 16-inch spacing as did he, which means you have one set of 8-inch spacing over 10 feet.  I put mine 4 feet from one edge, based on my design.  Once again, I designed it on CAD first:

As you can see, I am not even going to have the full 10 x 10 interior to use as I am making a notch in one corner.  While this looks like a "porch", the actual reason is that in the future, after the real cabin is built, I want to turn this shed into a sauna.  For that, you also need a place to rinse off afterward (some may call that a shower, but I won't because that probably has code implications), and that's what this will be.  This corner is over the edge of a drainage swale, so any rinse water has a place to go.  I put the close-spaced joists where that half wall is going to go for greater support.  The whole future-sauna thing is also why I spec'ed out 6-inch walls on three of the sides for future insulation (the fourth wall will be a part that will remain just storage)

Although this is already in the ground, feel free to comment on the design of the foundation.  I see people usually going with more than four foundation posts for something like this, but I thought it was sufficient with only an 8-foot span.  Note, the sonotubes are 10-inches in diameter and have rebar in them.  They are also sunk more than three feet below ground surface.  So far no problem.

Another feature of the design is that I have the roof peak splitting the gable end 60/40.  This gives me a larger overhang on one side.  It also leaves me with a normal roof pitch using 8-foot rafters on either side which is nice for 8-foot metal panels.  This means one wall is taller than the other.  It's things like that where doing the CAD design first really helps when going into the field.

Another shot:


Living in the southern tier you have to accept it will be slow hard work digging holes. 

I look at some of these sandy soils and it just doesn't seem fair... where are all the big rocks?

Looks good


Looks like a great project.  Awesome land!  I grew up in north-central PA and went to college in the finger lakes region of New York - such pretty country.  Best fall foliage on the planet.  Being from that neck of the woods I always took public lands for granted.  In Maine there is almost no public lands. 
"They don't grow trees so close together that you can't ski between them"


I've done some digging in PA all that rock, red clay.

Check this out, this is my soil in Maine.  It's like beach sand!  When we dug out for the leech field we struck a vein of gravel.  

"They don't grow trees so close together that you can't ski between them"



Yeah, I spent three summers working at a camp on Lake Ossipee NH, not far from the Maine border.  Nothing but sand everywhere.  The soil here in Western NY isn't "rocky" as in, say, parts of New England (where I grew up; I ended up in WNY after I, too went to school in the Finger Lakes area) where there's lots of granite and metamorphic boulders lying around everywhere above and below the surface.  Rather, here the soil has lots of chunks of sedimentary rocks broken off by the glaciers and mixed up with clay and silt into a nice unsorted till. 

They say it's hard to build a septic here without bringing in sand.  My creek soaks into the ground pretty well, so I am hoping the spot I have picked out for the leach field perks well.


I graduated from Elmira College in 95'.  I grew up in PA, but both my parents are from Lockport NY.  I hope your septic goes well.  Have you had an engineer look at your soil yet?  My septic went great, but my well did not.  420' and a hydro-frac ($$$$).  Good luck!   :D
"They don't grow trees so close together that you can't ski between them"


I'm actually an engineer.  Although not a civil engineer, there's every breed of engineer in my office, so I have plenty of resources.  Plus I do a lot of environmental work, haz waste investigation and cleanup, so I know soils.  It's going to be tough to perk, but you never know.  But I'm in luck for water.  Probably won't even have do drill, just develop a spring on the uphill part of the property.

OK, time for more updates:

First of all, this is definitely just a shed, since I already have a place to sleep when I'm there:   :)

That was still last summer before I decided to lay off (except for getting the plywood floor down, sorry, I forgot to do the jig) until spring.  As spring was approaching, I decided to hit Buffalo Reuse for deals on pre-used lumber. 


It's hit or miss, but I got some great lumber, mostly long 2x6's, for a real good deal.  Since I had the long 2x6's, I got the ridge beam (plus the doorway to the rinse-off place/porch) up first.  Since it's just a 10x10, I figured I wouldn't be able to tip this up after I had walls.

I supplemented the cheap stuff with an order from the lumber yard who delivered it last month.  It was a workout and a half carrying this all (basically the whole cabin, including the sheathing, two doors, and wood siding) a couple hundred feet uphill by myself.  Here's what it looked like piled on and under the platform:

It was good to see that my floor could handle the weight of just about everything except the doors and sheathing without complaining.  If I squint, I might discern a slight bow in the 6x6 beam, but basically, the foundation and floor seems stout enough.

I had it all tarped over, but a huge front came through on Sat. before Mother's day, blew off the tarps, and left this view:

Yes, we had snow in May this year.  The previous weekend was sweltering hot.  Go figure.

As long as I was down there to get the wood covered up, I at least started putting up the walls:

Same view a few hours later (snow's gone already):


camp on lake ossipee?   how neat..  i spent 16 or so years in wolfeboro before moving back down to PA ..  we took my step daughters up to King Pine the last two winters , and they love it..    that whole area is one big sand pit.. we had a cottage out near ossipee  - no need to drill a well there - they just drove a well point down around 20 feet with a hammer and got plenty of water. 

your shed is going to be great... i like the choice of siding!   looking forward to more pics...


Well, making some progress over the last couple of weekends.

First of all, my buddy came over with another pair of hands, as well as some more tools including an air nailer, which is awesome.  Without the help and the air nailer, and not to mention his very nice long ladder, I don't see how I could have gotten up the rafters:

He also helped me get the first half of the roof plywood on

But I had to do the other half myself.

Now, with last weekend being a three-day, I figured I'd get a lot done.  But then there was also the Memorial Day party over at the cabin of the guy lending me the generator, not to mention some swims in the lake and some bike rides.  But I still managed to get the metal roof on:

I put 15# felt down, aluminum drip edges (over the felt on the rakes, under the felt on the eaves), then the panels.

Now, the first side (the side further off the ground) was actually easy because I put some cleats at the bottom (with kerfs to go over the drip edges) and just slid the panels down from the other side of the roof (at a hair over 8 on 12, this could be walked on still).  I then fastened the panels either from a ladder below or hanging over the ridge from the top.

But the other side had me scratching my head. 

Once I put the paper down, I couldn't walk on it (the paper slid, ripping out the staples).  In hindsight, I guess the technique is to do one panel at a time while moving nailed-in boards to stand on until you get to the end.  I guess that's why this is a good learning experience.  I was not prepared to do one panel at a time because even though I allowed more than 12 feet of roof top to account for the extra overlap from the last panel, I still couldn't get the panels to not overhang the rakes until I futzed around with all four on there at once.  The lesson learned is to leave even more wiggle room (width) than just an extra inch+ when laying down the plywood.  Just a hint out of square can really throw things off, too.

And I still don't have the ridge cap on.  No idea how to do that.  I think I will have to borrow my buddy's long ladder again and go straight to the ridge and just straddle that to put that on.  Unless anyone has a better way.

Picture looking from uphill (had to find at least one new angle to photo):

And pocono_couple: my family when I was growing up spent every summer vacation (2-3 weeks) at a rented cabin on Lake Winnepesaukee (other end from Wolfeboro).  Cabin was built in 1912.  It was quite nice, although it's not there any more  :-[.  Been addicted to the outdoors ever since.


Quote from: SouthernTier on June 01, 2010, 09:08:43 PM
And I still don't have the ridge cap on.  No idea how to do that.  I think I will have to borrow my buddy's long ladder again and go straight to the ridge and just straddle that to put that on.  Unless anyone has a better way.

I should have known, this has been covered before in a couple of places.




And more good, up to the minute advice:


Hope to try to get the ridge cap on this weekend.  Have had a lot of rain since the metal went on, so I am concerned about how much got through the crack at the ridge (about a 2-inch gap).  There's two layers of felt across the ridge (under the metal), but that will just allow the water to run down under the metal.  Hopefully with a couple-few days of dry weather, anything under gets vaporized off from solar heating before I put the ridge cap on with the foam sealing.

Does anyone else think that they put the sticky stuff on the wrong side of those foam sealings (inside closures and outside closures?)


No posts for a while, but with spring here now, getting that old cabin itch again.

First of all, I finished most, but not all the shed.  Got about 90% of the siding up before up (just) before the first snow.  We had a long consistently cold winter this year, with basically no thaws.  I think I am still snowed in down there (won't check until next week).

I visited during one thaw, New Year's Eve to snap this picture and drag the tools in on a sled to do some minor stuff:

I thought the "novelty" siding came out pretty nice.  I was getting real worried since it was under a tarp all winter sitting on just a couple of PT boards, but only a few pieces got mildewed too bad.

As you can see, it really wasn't much of a real thaw, although it did make an interesting pattern on the edge of the roof:

Both sides slid off while I was working that day.  Noise was pretty startling.

As you can see, I still have the uphill side to finish with the siding.  And a couple of other small things, too.

Toying with the idea of putting in a deck, since the downhill side looks kind of barren.  Note, the sonotube isn't tipping over as it looks.  It was that way since I put it in.  Guess I need more practice on that.  Not worried about it tipping over, since the other three have much less stick-up, including one that is in the ground all the way.

A deck would hide that sonotube, and give me a place for an awning for when it rains (otherwise I just sit down at the campfire circle).

I'll get some more pictures next weekend.  But now it is off to thinking about the next projects.

First project at hand - I need your input!!

I need to stain the wood, and was thinking of spraying it with a clear sealer.  I really hate painting, an dI figure the best way would be to rent a paint sprayer and seal it up that way (after taping up the windows and doors).  Any pluses or minuses about that?  Type of equipment to use (I see Home Depot rents sprayers).  What sealant to use?  Was thinking something like Thompson's water seal, but I really don't know.  Any suggestions welcome.

After that, I want to work on the water idea that I posted about here:

That would be a season's worth of work, especially if I dig the spring out by hand.

And of course, the main cabin someday.  I plan on soliciting lots of input on that design here over the next year or so.


Really starting to get serious about the cabin.  Will be posting plans soon for public comment.

In the meantime, a more recent finished-shed picture:


Shed looks great! :)  Now what are your plans for the cabin? ???



Oh, I've got plans.  That what happens when you don't have the money... you substitute with plans, lots of plans  :)

I keep waiting to get them "perfect" before I post them up here, but actually that doesn't make sense, because all the experts here will tell me what I've done wrong and I'll be back to the drawing board anyway.

I'll get something up this weekend, starting from the top following Mountain Don's advice.


Nice shed and land!  Backing to forest makes for a great "back yard."  I also spent quite a bit of time in NH as a child and young adult.  Definitely makes one a lover of the woods and spending as much time as possible outdoors.  It took a while, but now I actually live in the woods on a chunk of acreage and appreciate every day of it.  Enjoy your place and all the future projects!
If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy. (Red Green)


Fellow NYer, Your location has tranquility writtien all over it!  Well played to have the state land readily available - are you a hunter?   Great job on your current buildings, I look forward to your cabin project.


We've got a few CNY/WNY/southern tier folks (plus adirondacks and catskills) here on the forum.  jboss33's place is only a couple towns from me.  speedfunk an squirl are in CNY/southern tier, and of course it is easy to figure where adirondoc is.  nysono is up in tug hill.  And others I have missed.

You are right on the "tranquility" part.  My teenage daughter, who is amazingly perceptive (it will serve her well in life, she an see through BS like thin air), was down on the property with my wife and I a year or so ago and said "Dad, you just seem so relaxed here!".  She was right.  But I'll tell you, my wife would come to the property a lot more if I had a lake in front of it like you do!

I don't hunt but maybe someday.  I already have way too many hobbies to add another.  The property right now is mainly a base for mountain biking and skiing (and relaxing).  But I let my friends hunt it and I don't have it posted so others can hunt there, too.  Have seen a few friendly locals hunting there and they appreciate that.  Nothing worse than a suburbanite buying some country property and then plastering posted signs every 15 feet even though he isn't even there 95% of the time.


Nice project and land. MY cabin and land is in Steuben County. I had a local Amish carpenter build my cabin from my specifications. Project came out great. Good luck.


Wow.  Your a rare breed of landowner now days - thank you.  As a sportsman, I really appreciate your viewpoint of allowing others to hunt.  In our area we have a major deer problem.  So much so that the DEC opened a first time ever special January hunting season in a specific area in Tompkins county.  IMHO the root of the problem is that too few land owners here allow hunting on their property or if they do it's for one person that fills one or two tags.

Your land / cabin plan reminds me of a friend of a friends cabin that I used to freaquent year's ago.  On the way there we would always stop at the Burger King and load up of fat pills.  We would also swipe a salt and pepper shaker as we left.  The last time we were at that cabin there were at least a 100 salt and pepper shakers - just a quirky memory.  They also had a journal entry book.  Every time we visited the cabin we would have a good laugh at old entries and try and top it with that visits entry - good times!

Thanks for the tips on  he other NYers on here, I'll check'em out.  It's great that the rest of the country thinks NY is concrete and buildings - we both have a piece of the hidden jem.


nope, definately not all concrete and buildings.