Whether you are looking for an acreage to call your own or want to live the homestead life on a piece of property that’s already developed, it can be challenging to know how much land is necessary for successful homesteading.
There are several things to consider when trying to determine what size of the property will work best for your plans including, but not limited to: the size and type of structure you want, the amount of non-homed production you wish to maintain (gardening/farming), family size, zoning laws in your county/state, etc.
While there is no set number of acres required for homesteaders by any governmental agency or agricultural board, this article will explore some general guidelines that can be helpful when buying land for homesteading.
Listed below are a few variables to consider when purchasing property for your homestead:
- The number of people in your family who will be living on the homestead and their ages
- Whether there is enough flat, level land for building a home or shelter that can withstand weather extremes (the further north you live, the more snow you’re likely to have) as well as how much rainfall your location receives annually (if too little rainfall, irrigation systems must be installed)
- If you plan on having livestock such as pigs, goats, chickens, cattle/horses – how many and what type do you plan to have?
- You may also want to consider whether your property is located in an area where the animal(s) you’re planning will do well (such as pigs can be raised anywhere but thrive best in warmer climates).
- How much area do you need for non-homed production? This could include wild edibles, hunting/trapping, gardening, etc.
- What type of shelter would work best for your family’s needs? From traditional stick-built homes to Earthships, there are numerous ideas available today so it’s important to figure out how big or small you want your structure to be and what kind of climate you’ll be living in before deciding on anything.
As far as how many acres are required for homesteading – this is a subjective answer. If you’re looking to live off the land and don’t want/need any additional income from your property, purchasing 5-10 acres could be sufficient for your needs. However, if you’ve got a family at home and plan on keeping animals such as chickens, goats or cows – it’s important to make sure there is enough room for them to graze daily in addition to having adequate shelter from cold or inclement weather.
What type of acreage might work best given different criteria
- How many people are in the family? The rule of thumb used by most homesteaders today when determining how much land to purchase is 1/2 an acre per person in the family. If there are 4 people in your family, you should think about buying at least 2 acres minimum.
- Will the property be used for additional sources of income? While it’s possible to homestead on land that isn’t zoned for commercial farming or ranching, you may find yourself in a bit of trouble if certain aspects of your homesteading lifestyle (livestock) are not adhering to local laws.
If you plan on using your property for both homestead purposes and perhaps starting a small business as an organic market garden or pick-your-own type operation (either produce or berries), then 10+ acres could be necessary depending upon how many other individuals will be living off this land as well as the amount of commercial acreage you’re intending to maintain.
For example, a small market garden with a few greenhouses and a couple of acres for producing veggies may not need more than 5 or so acres to be successful – but if you were planning on starting a farm with animals, it could require upwards of 15+ acres per livestock type depending upon how many animals would be grazed daily.
- Do you want enough land for an additional source of income? If you plan to have some non-homed production going on such as wild edibles, hunting/trapping, etc., 10+ acres will ensure that there’s plenty of room for these activities in addition to having adequate shelter from weather extremes and protection from wildlife that may be sharing or living on your property.
- Is self-reliance a top priority? If you’re going off-grid and using solar, wind, water power or other sources of green energy to keep the lights on along with heating/cooling your home, 10+ acres could be necessary to make sure that there’s enough land for all production needed in addition to having adequate shelter from weather extremes and protection from wildlife that may be sharing or living on your property).
Keep in mind that while purchasing rural property is often the ideal scenario when buying for homestead purposes (further away from neighbours and therefore less chance of noise complaints, smells and the like), not everyone has the means to buy such properties.
There are still things you can do to spread out such as buying an additional small acreage (1/4 to 1/2) in addition to renting a rural lot for gardening and other activities. Plus, even if you own an urban or suburban home, there’s no reason why you cannot maintain a greenhouse in your backyard and raise some plants for food and medicinal purposes year-round.
When looking at properties for building your homestead, it’s helpful to categorize each aspect of the property into one or more “factors.” Each factor can be given a weight based on how important you think it is to meeting your needs, and this helps determine which properties will rank higher than others.
Each factor has its own characteristics below:
- Accessibility – How easily can you get people or large items onto the property?
- Water – Is there a source of water on the property, and if so, how easily accessible is it?
- Shelter – Do you have shelter from prevailing winds? How much sun does the land receive per day, and how intense is this sunlight during certain times of the year? Are there any natural shelters or shade available?
- Area – What’s the total square footage of your property. Are there any large structures already on-site such as old barns or farm equipment which could be used for storage or housing for animals/livestock?
- Soil Quality – Is your soil fertile enough to sustain most crops grown in your area that don’t require specialized care (like citrus trees)? If not, do you have access to fertile land nearby?
- Price – How much are you willing to spend on the property? How important is buying cheap or buying expensive while still meeting your needs?
- Convenience – Is there anything else about the property that makes it more convenient than others, such as being only a few minutes away from schools, stores, veterinarian clinics, etc.?
You can rank each of these factors in order of importance by assigning weights. For example, if building shelter is most important for your homestead plans but accessibility is least important, you might assign “building shelter” an 8 out of 10 weighting and “accessibility” a 1 out of 10 weighting. This would mean it’s 8 times more important to have shelter than it is to have access to the property, and therefore properties that meet your shelter needs but not your accessibility needs would rank higher than those that don’t.
You can also assign each factor a sub-weighting based on how important it is to your sub-needs. For example, if building shelter is most important for your homestead plans but you’d like that shelter to double as storage space, then buildings would obviously be an extremely high priority. How much space do you need? How many people need the storage space? These are good things to think about when deciding which property will best fit your needs.
This factor concerns how easily people (especially equipment & machinery) and items (such as groceries & supplies) can be brought onto the property. Do you have road access via plowed roads year round? Can heavy equipment such as tractors get onto the land during all seasons or when the ground is wet? Are there any stream crossings in the area which would make access a pain during certain seasons, and how easy are they to ford? Many areas will have seasonal road closures due to snowfall or flooding, so it’s important to account for these in your plans.
Depending on where you live, water may be an extremely scarce resource. Most homesteaders rely heavily on rainwater catchment systems , but sometimes you need something a bit more reliable. Check if this property has well access or if it relies on surface water run-off from creeks & rivers passing through the land. If it doesn’t have its own source of running water, can you drill a well with a decent area of land in which you’d like to drill? Do you have easy access to a creek or river with enough water flow for irrigation needs, and is it clean water from the source?
This factor concerns how much shelter your property offers. There are two types of shelter that need to be addressed: physical shelters such as barns & pole buildings (which can double as housing if necessary), and ambient physical conditions like prevailing winds, sunlight, shade, etc. The first type of shelter is usually more important than the second type because these structures will provide shelter irrespective of weather patterns; but given that one man’s coldest winter might be another man’s mild summer, both factors should still be considered when for properties.
Depending on how many people will be living on your homestead, how long they’ll spend outdoors every day, what you plan to do for shelter (will you have a dedicated home or build an A-frame farmhouse?), and if you have any special requirements like needing wheelchair access or room to store large equipment, this could have a major impact on the property you choose.
If there are buildings already existing on the property that can be used as makeshift homes, don’t forget to consider factors like whether they are in good repair or not. If there are no existing structures but there are trees & rocks available for building materials, how easy would it be to transport these materials? Will labor costs be reasonable? Even though buying cheap land is usually preferable over buying expensive land, you should still keep an eye on your bottom line and not bite off more than you can chew (literally).
How much will it cost to maintain this property? Will it be difficult to get supplies like lumber & appliances onto the site for repairs & upkeep? Are there any environmental factors that could cause excessive wear and tear (thunderstorm-prone areas, flood zones or fires in the area)? Is it near a town with affordable services and shopping opportunities? Is there enough access to public utilities such as water, sewer & power if these are important to you? These expenses don’t need to be ranked too highly because there’s likely little you can do about them. If they’re high, consider buying cheaper land or only building the parts of your homestead you absolutely need to survive.
This factor doesn’t apply much to people who are buying land for off-grid use, but even so there may still be some value in this factor depending on how much value you place on being able to interact with others. How close is it to neighbors? How far away is the nearest town or city?
Keep in mind that the closer you are to towns & cities, the higher your property taxes will likely be. Is it near any other properties which might cause noise pollution during certain times of year (i.e. if you’re buying farm country, this might become an issue at certain seasons)? Can your septic system handle a larger population’s sewage?
The further away from public utilities you are, the more expensive it will be to build them yourself. So if that’s a possibility you want to pursue later on, then don’t rule out properties too far from towns/cities which would require this. Where there is a will, there is a way! Sometimes people end up needing to move anyway and find themselves with an opportunity for a bare land buy.
Consider any environmental factors on the property that might make living there difficult or expensive. Is it downstream of any industrial areas which produce toxic runoff? Is it very windy & exposed, making it hard to heat in winter etc.? Will severe weather result in regular damage to your structures or crops? Where do the wild animals go in the winter if they come across your property line?
If you’re buying land with existing homes on it, think about how much work will be involved in making these livable again. If the buildings are in poor repair & need too much work or are not up to code at all, this might make buying less land more sensible, even though it would mean having to build a new home from scratch.
Will you have enough space for the crops that are important to you? Keep in mind that plots of usable ground can vary widely based on soil conditions and slope of the land. While some people prefer broad sweeping views from atop a hill, others find these views can be distracting and prefer to work with flatter land. If you want to build a house on top of the highest point around, this drastically increases costs due to heightened drainage requirements (see below).
Keep in mind that high elevation requires more energy for heating & cooling. While it’s true that warmer climates are generally flatter because they’re closer to sea level meaning the air heats up faster , colder climates require much more height above sea level. The higher your property is above sea-level, the harder it will be to heat or keep cool in winter or summer respectively.
This also means increased costs to do things like dig wells or install septic systems because water flows at slower rates at greater heights. It also means your buildings must be built more sturdily to avoid flooding in the event of a heavy rain.
Flat, well drained land is generally cheaper to develop & maintain than land with steep slopes or which has poor drainage. Keep in mind that building on a slope will necessitate greater foundations and additional fill soil for landscaping purposes.
Drainage is important if you’re buying farmland because it affects how easy it will be to work with the soil & where water & mud will go after rainfall events. In general, flat areas drain better than sloped areas, but having poorly drained areas can still present difficulties depending on the crops being grown and how much rainfall you get each year.
The overall shape of the property can also affect how it drains after rainfall events. Beware of buying a property with little natural drainage like a bog or pocosin . These areas don’t drain well and it could cost you a fortune to do so artificially (more on this later).
If your land is adjacent to other properties, consider how they might affect yours. How will one neighbor’s agricultural runoff effect your own water supply? How much noise will be coming from neighboring properties during different seasons? Is the area private enough to suit you and prevent conflicts between neighbors over things that might arise?
Buying Your Dream Homestead
Some people buy their dream homestead first and then build, while others decide where they’d prefer to live first and buy land accordingly. Those who buy land first often end up changing their minds about where they’d like to live and then have to go through the whole buying process again.
If you’re buying for a family, determine how many bedrooms each person in your family will need and add 1 extra. Children grow up fast and you might find yourself moving soon after buying if there’s not enough space for your growing family! Keep in mind that while it’s great to have a guest room or two so you can share your homestead with friends & family, some people never use their guest rooms because of how inconvenient it is to get to the main house from the outbuildings.
If this describes your household, think very carefully before choosing whether or not to include guest rooms/housing.
Housing and Other Structures
Be mindful of how far away your outbuildings (storage, barns, workshops) need to be from the house for safety and practicality reasons. If you intend on buying livestock or machinery that requires fuel or lubricants to run, where will these things be stored?
How much room will they take up? Is there enough space in any of the outbuildings for storing this equipment? Will this start a fire risk near your hay bales or fuel tanks? Are there trees or brush which might catch on fire and spread rapidly if something goes wrong with your refueling equipment?
If you’re building structures yourself, keep in mind how much lumber & other materials it takes to build an average sized room. How many trees will you need to cut down? What’s the most efficient way to get them down, bucked up and transported off the property? Can you access enough lumber with your equipment or would it be cheaper (or more enjoyable) to hire someone else with surplus equipment like skidders & log splitters that they’re not using?
What states offer free land for homesteading?
Unfortunately, no state offers you free land. The closest would be the Alaska Homestead Act of 1868, which gives 160 acres (or one-quarter section) of surveyed and unreserved federal public domain to individuals who homestead and reside on the land for 5 years
Do homesteaders buy their land?
Absolutely! There are many options for buying land. Buying is not always required; sometimes it’s possible to lease or homestead on public lands.
Public lands include national forests, state parks, game preserves and other public areas that allow homesteading with varying degrees of restrictions. If you’re interested in this option, contact the area authority (usually the state forestry department).
How do I find land for homestead?
First, determine how much land you need to homestead. Remember that you can always grow more food on a small plot of land, but it is difficult to start out with too little land. You will have to pay rent or mortgage regardless of the size of your lot. If your goal is to become self-sufficient, owning at least an acre per person in your family seems reasonable for providing for most needs including growing nutrient dense foods and raising livestock .
Also consider how far away from neighbors you want your place. Planning space for gardens, fruit trees , pasture, ponds , water catchment systems , buildings, roads and firebreaks are all important factors in how much land you need.