Looking For Land

July 15th, 2020

Dear Readers,

While William and I are getting pretty good at designing and constructing this home of ours in our heads, we do eventually need to actually build it on a real piece of land. 

Hence, the looking. 

It began with searching on Zillow. Then it proceeded to simply driving around our rural county looking for “For Sale” signs on either entirely untouched pieces of property, or on properties with dilapidated homes disintegrating into the earth. 

No luck, not really. 

After speaking with the matriarch and patriarch of the Aldrich Family, we discovered that they purchased their property by directly asking the owner if they were willing to sell. 


Our hunt expanded ten fold as we began looking for beautiful pieces of untouched properties that weren’t for sale, but could be if we asked.

Now, typically, ‘back in the day,’ one had to go to the local courthouse to find property lines, deeds, and contact information of property owners. Due to the rise of The All Knowing Internet, William and I have not had to take one step into our county courthouse. Rather, we have been looking at a locally provided, public, property database of our county. It is a GIS (geographic information system) map that gives the property lines and the mailing addresses of the owners. 

I emphasize public due to the easily perceived creepiness of our method…I, myself, thought it was kinda weird at first. But it is turning out to be a really neat, and honest, way to connect with total strangers about their beautiful pieces of property…

Pretty trees on my parents’ property. Lucky ducks.

Because the only contact information provided on GIS is a mailing address, I have been handwriting and mailing over a dozen letters to property owners. Talk about hand cramps. We thought the digital age was going to give us carpal tunnel? 

I kid. I have been honestly really enjoying sitting down and writing all of these letters. There is something hopeful, fulfilling, and exciting about physically writing on a piece of paper, and then experiencing the anticipation of the reader’s response. 

The letters at first went out to property owners who own pieces of land that William and I grew up passing by and always admiring. For example, there is one piece of property I pass by all the time on my runs. I always slow down when I get to that wooded, quiet, shaded, part of the road…it makes me feel as if I am in Middle Earth from Lord of the Rings~ something ancient, that smells like rich earth and soft moss and clear streams and abundant ferns and wide, wise trees…Those property owners were quite understandably not willing to sell. A fact I accept and, quite frankly, admire. They love their land and wish to preserve it. Which is also wonderful, because it helps keep my runs shaded and inspirational. 

The letters then began to expand their horizons, and go out to owners of property that William and I found while exploring. I swear, I never knew our county had so many secret nooks and beautiful hollows. It also has some nearly impassable roads that would completely destroy William’s little sports car.

We love it. 

Now, because we do want to build a net zero (maybe even net positive), small footprint home with a pier foundation system, we do need to be slightly strategic. Some things we are keeping in mind as we drive our back roads and look at expansive stretches of forest: 

Exposure to the sun. Is the property on the southern or northern side of a mountain? We would like to use solar panels and have a garden, but we do not want to cut down trees just to give our home sun exposure. Being naturally placed on a southern facing hill would be helpful. 

Creeks. I love creeks. I grew up catching crayfish and playing barefoot in a creek right on my parents’ property…but I also witnessed their destruction in heavy rain storms. My parents watched the driveway bridge be totally wiped out, resulting in us carrying groceries to the home across a make-shift sketchy foot bridge until it could be repaired. If there is a creek on the property, the home and driveway are going to need to be placed strategically. 

Soil type. We have loads of breathtaking hills and hollows here, but that also means we have loads of shale. Shale can be a problem with some pier foundation systems….

The list of ‘things to keep in mind’ grows as we look at more and more properties. It also grows as we learn the physical limitations to certain design elements we want to incorporate into our home. And then it grows even more as we are adamant about having as little of an environmental footprint as possible in the construction of this home. So. Many. Things.

But, ‘tis an adventure…An experience encouraging William and I to learn and grow. 

Thank you for learning and growing with us! Stay tuned for more updates, research, and ponderings.


Shelby Aldrich

Searching Pennsylvania’s vast, wooded wilderness for the location of our future home

1 Comment

  1. Love the photo but that’s a big creek to have on your property


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© 2020 Sustaining Tree

© 2020 Sustaining Tree