Post by Lisa Petrison on Nov 9, 2011 11:26:03 GMT -5
Here is a post that I wrote early on in my recovery. This was March 2009, and I had been living mostly in a tent (along with a few nights' stays each week at the local Hampton Inn) in Las Cruces, NM, for about a month.
My reactivity was really high at the time, and my preferences were slanted accordingly. As I got less reactive, places like KOA's started to feel much more appealing. And, as it turned out, getting an RV was a terrific idea!
The first question is whether you're doing RV camping or tent camping. I've only done tent camping.
In general, the best tent campgrounds are ones that are impractical for RV's or that restrict them to one part of the campground. If you're going to pitch a tent, you want it to be a bit out of the way.
I've also only done "car camping," where you park the car and then set up the tent within just a few yards of the car. Some people who want to get really into the wilderness do backpacking, but that seems to me unnecessary. I don't think that the air is better if you walk a while away from the car. It's just a more "back-to-nature" experience.
Tent campgrounds generally have a picnic table, a fire ring and (maybe) a barbeque grill for each site. Fees generally range from free (the Gila Cliff Dwelling campground) to $20. I heard of one campground near Santa Fe that has a variety of different hot springs (e.g. with different minerals in each) and cost $40, but that's extremely unusual. I've also heard that campgrounds in more crowded areas, like the East Coast, can be more expensive.
Campgrounds often have stay limits...for instance, 14 days within a certain period. This seems to be just to keep people from living there permanently.
One issue that I've found is that not all campgrounds have flat spaces to pitch tents. Here in New Mexico, the ground can be pretty hard too. This is an important factor to look for when choosing a particular campsite in a campground.
Some campgrounds take reservations in advance. Most are first-come- first-served. If camping during prime season, getting there at the right time or making reservations may be important, especially on weekends. New Mexico in the winter does not count as prime season, so I've not worried about that.
A pretty high percentage of campgrounds have "comfort stations" with warm-water showers. Sometimes these are fine (City of Rocks) with regard to mold, sometimes not. Don't step inside until you know you have a way to decontaminate if it's bad! Trying to camp while "carrying the response" is worse than staying at home, provided that home is relatively clear.
I am suspicious of shelters with toilets with plumbing, though these seem less likely to be bad than buildings with showers. Vault (chemical) toilets usually are fine (no plumbing), but I ran into a very bad one here in NM. NM gets about 4 inches of rain per year, so that really surprised me. Again, be cautious! Don't choose the middle of the night to try out the toilet, no matter what kind it is.
I've yet to stay at a KOA campground. Maybe I would do it in a pinch, but I'd prefer not. They tend to be located in towns, which means that neither air quality nor ambience is very good.
Bookstores have a couple of big books listing campgrounds. "Woodalls" is one of them." These books claim to be about RV and tent camping, but they're extremely heavily slanted to commercial RV campgrounds. These are primarily advertiser-driven. The best campgrounds for tents tend to be national or state parks, which often aren't listed in these books at all. I see no reason to even buy the books, therefore.
Thus far, I've only sought out campgrounds in NM. I was using the Frommer's guide to New Mexico for a while, because it listed brief mentions of different campgrounds. Their recommendations were fine.
My recent discovery is a series of books called "The Best in Tent Camping." They list various quiet campgrounds for "Car Campers Who Hate RV's, Concrete Slabs and Loud Portable Stereos." This is precisely what I'm looking for now. The NM campgrounds listed have had great air quality and are really lovely. The book also gives a good idea of what to expect when you get there and how to make the most of experience (e.g. which sites to choose). There are separate books for most states, with about 40-50 campgrounds described in each book.
And yes, I've decided that I hate RV's. The only thing appealing about them is that if I had a little trailer, I could fit more stuff in it. Contemplating going on long distance travel with just what I can fit in the SUV is getting a bit daunting. I was doing okay until I added a cooler, shower-in-a-box, shower shelter, some vaguely decent clothes (will I ever wear them though?) and some non-perishables. I'm going to have to put some thought into how to streamline.
Following is what I've been carrying in the car:
* Tent (moderate size, would fit four people really tightly squeezed together; I can just barely stand up in the tallest part) * Mallet to pound tent stakes into the ground. * Two warm sleeping bags, two fleece sleeping bag liners/sheets (all put to use on cold nights!) * Silk sleeping bag liner/sheet * Self-inflating sleeping bag pad and a fleece blanket to put over it (prevent slipping and sliding) * Washable/compressible pillows * Shower-in-a-box * Privacy shelter for showering * Foldable camping chair, foldable stool for carrying long distances, foldable little chair for use in tent * "Dual Fuel" lantern (uses white gas or gasoline), various battery- operated lamps and headlamps * Propane grill-stove (works as two burners or grill) * Little propane tanks and white gas * A bunch of pans and dishes * Thermos carafe for warm beverages at night * Foldable basin to wash dishes, biodegradable soap * Cooler * Clothes and shoes (maybe too many even for a mold warrior) * Camping towels (small and fast-drying) * Ceiling fan (to improve air circulation) * A few books (tourist/campground guides, a few novels, "Mold Warriors"), passport, blank notebooks, a few miscellaneous papers * A very few cosmetics/toiletries * Tiny little purse, keys * One pair of earrings, one necklace, two super-expensive watches (the latter obviously was a mistake, and now I have to make sure I don't lose one....all the other jewelry is in a safe-deposit box) * Glasses, contact lenses * Cell phone, regular and car chargers * Supplements/drugs * Rag rug for tent * Lots of bottled water * Collapsible 5-gallon water container * Food * Laptop computer (an inverter allows me to charge through the cigarette lighter while on the road) * iPod adapter (to play through car stereo) * Plastic hangers (for drying clothes in hotel rooms) * Hiking staff (I just ordered this from LL Bean) * Collapsible backpack * Supply of garbage bags, paper towels and handy wipes * Firewood (sometimes)
This is a lot of stuff, and upon reflection I'm surprised that it fits in the SUV. My packing skills are really good. Unfortunately, I use ALL of this stuff on every trip. So I'm not sure what I'm going to do. It fits now, but barely.
Of course, what I'd really like is the option to sleep in the SUV when it's rainy or cold or windy. In theory, I could set up the tent and put all the stuff in it. This would work in cold or rain. So far the tent has not blown away in wind, but tonight may be a good test! I really should get out of NM during windy season, if I can figure out what kinds of things I can leave behind.
Sleeping in the front seat of the SUV is possible in a pinch but hardly optimal. I'd rather sleep in the tent regardless of the weather....I've done so in cold (down to 15 degrees at night), wind (30 mph) and rain (drenched with the Midwest monsoon from last September), but having an option is a good thing. Wind is the biggest tent problem, at least insofar as one stays in vaguely temperate climates.
Someone recommended recently that I set the tent up as a storage shelter and then sleep in the SUV. The smaller items all are in plastic bins, so this would be possible. Thus far this has seemed unnecessary though. If I can pitch the tent, I'm inclined to sleep in it for the air quality. Otherwise why am I doing this?
None of this camping stuff is particularly cheap, by the way. Starting over due to unexpected contamination would be a bad thing. Once in a while cars go really bad (I think maybe from the air conditioning?), but this seems pretty rare.
I suppose I could survive fine without some of this stuff. People I meet on the road all do. It's hard to imagine doing this long-term without it though. A few creature comforts seem an important thing, if I'm not going to give up on this venture/adventure. Buying a little tiny trailer just to tote stuff in seems stupid. Maybe I could get a carrier for the top of the SUV, to put sleeping bags in. That would help a lot! Overkill maybe though.
Honestly, tent camping isn't very hard. And it doesn't feel like "roughing it" with all these toys. The people at REI are excellent with recommendations. Both REI (for members) and LL Bean will take stuff back for infinity with barely any questions asked, so I recommend buying stuff only from these places.
RV camping seems much more difficult. There are lots of things to maintain and that can go bad. Not just mold, but all kinds of operational stuff. And I'd be afraid of getting into an accident, due to difficulty maneuvering. I wouldn't know how to judge a used one, and new ones have chemical problems. And anyway.....I like the idea of this journey feeling like it's getting back to nature. That makes it feel less like it's all about avoiding mold.
Online and through telephone calls, I asked for advice from others with this illness who had explored camping as an intermediate step. I took into account many of their recommendations. One was to get a portable car refrigerator/freezer. That took several days of research, since I didn’t know anything about them and couldn’t go into a store to see one. I discarded models with bad reviews, those that produced a lot of heat, and those which could only lower food to 30 or 40 degrees below the outdoor temperature since I remembered the 100 degree summer heat and wanted my food colder than 60 degrees! I compared the power consumption of these machines since mine would be running on my car battery while I drive and, if I ended up at a campsite without electric power, on a portable 12 volt battery. The brand everyone recommends as the most reliable and energy efficient is Engel.
Engle has an awesome video of two frustrated bears trying to break into one of their coolers. They stomp on it and claw at it to no avail. But what sold me on Engel – since I don’t plan to go into bear country and if I did, would not leave my cooler out on a deserted field--was the Engel model with a freezer setting. One of the biggest nuisances of camping this summer was having to buy ice, drain the melting ice from the cooler, stuff it in and keep rearranging the food. Instead, with my little freezer, I’ll rotate freezer packs in and out of the cooler. A little thermostat with a probe inserts in the cooler with a digital readout of the temperature to tell me when it gets too warm inside. My food and refrigerated meds will be a whole lot safer, and when I use up all the frozen food I bought, I can set the Engel on refrigerate and dispense with ice packs and cooler if I keep my food plan simple.
My second purchase was a gel battery to charge the refrigerator and my laptop when AC power is not available, since both work either on AC or 12 volt DC current. A friend and my husband hooked up the socket that looks like a cigarette lighter to the battery.
Next on the list was a solar charger. A friend recommended a nifty, 80 watt portable solar panel that comes in an aluminum case made by Solarland. I found it online for under $500. I was glad my birthday was coming in a few days because I knew I could expect a nice check to help cover these expenses.
Last was a Targus 12 volt charger for my laptop in the hope that I could use my time alone at a campsite to write, read, blog, e-mail, and skype friends and family even if AC current was not available.
I think I flipped a bit on having DC current because our summer experience in Colorado took us to one primitive campground after another. (A primitive campground has only composting toilets and a cold water pump.) I didn’t know where I’d end up when spirit started guiding me.
As the process of going through all my belongings dragged on (and this was not helped by the 2-3 day periods of recuperation from exposures), I finally wised up. On July 5 I went out and purchased a tent. See the picture of Big Agnes House 4 at bigagnes.com/Products/Detail/Tent/BigHouse4 Big Agnes advertises “All seams taped with waterproof, solvent-free polyurethane (No PVC or VOC's) tape.”
We were fortunate to get the tent on sale at a local store where we could set it up and I could smell it. The waterproofed fly smelled a bit. We set up the tent and aired it out for hours, then slept in it with the fly rolled up on the sides, and aired it out more the next day. By the 3rd night, when the weather turned rainy, there was no detectable odor from the fly, even with it snapped snuggly down.
Post by Lisa Petrison on Nov 20, 2011 10:14:27 GMT -5
Following is a blog that an extreme avoider suggested to me. She said she's had good experiences with truck stop showers. I checked out a few and agreed that they felt pretty good, mold-wise. The cost is about $10, but one alternative is to ask truckers to give you their coupons (since they get a free shower with every fill-up).
Post by Lisa Petrison on Mar 10, 2012 10:22:42 GMT -5
Here is an easy, portable sun shelter for use while camping suggested to me by Jen, an experienced mold avoider with MCS issues. She writes:
Here is an easy shade shelter. It uses a 4 by 6 urethane coated tarp from Equinox, two kelty adjustable poles that are sturdy in high winds, and bungee cords, as well as four stakes. Stake down the bottom of the tarp, put the poles through the grommets in the top. Stretch 2 or 3 bungee cords out and stake them down. The line/angle of the bungee cords and the tarp should be like a very steeply pitched roof. It is that pitch and tautness that will keep the awning steady in the wind.
If you want to make a lean to over your picnic table, which will also shade you and protect you from light rain (not windy thunderstorms), buy four kelty poles, and make the lean to sloping in height. Therefore two kelty poles will be higher than the other two. Once again, guy out all four corners.
If you want to make an a-line roof I think you'll need trees but I'm not sure.
Equinox makes silicone coated tarps and urethane coated tarps. The silicone are softer and more rain resilient and are good for shelters, over hammocks, and over tents to really keep out rain. This urethane coated tarp is cheaper, and doesnt' scrunch up quite as small. But it's great for this purpose and seemed to have virtually no odor at all. I find these tarps nontoxic. They also don't make crinkly horrible noise like Walmart and Home Depot blue or silver tarps. They also fold up really small. They last a long time.
The kelty poles fold up small, sort of like tent poles do.
Of course, you can also buy a walmart awning and screen sides or cloth sides. It's just big even when put away, and is much heavier. This is for someone who likes to go light, and maybe just has a car at this point, or not a lot of room to store a ton of stuff.
If Your Home Makes You Sick, And You Have to Leave With Nowhere To Go
by J. Camphill
Many people with severe chemical or electrical sensitivity have to leave their homes, with no good place to go to. Various degrees of homelessness are common among the environmentally ill, as it is very difficult to find housing.
Sometimes temporary housing is needed while modifying an existing home, or building a new one.
There is also the problem of what to do with all our worldly belongings, while we are trying to find a permanent place to live.
When catastrophe strikes, we often have to rely on other people to help us — friends, family and strangers. Many of us get very surprised by how people react in this situation. People we think are reliable, who will be there for us when we are down, are often the ones who step away. And sometimes people we hardly know step forward. Be prepared for rude surprises and do not rely on just one person — it is not fair to that person and people do get tired of helping after weeks or months.
People who have never experienced a personal catastrophe — and most have not — may have a hard time relating to what is happening. This is especially so if they cannot see the problem with their own eyes. It is very easy to close the eyes, shrug that there really isn’t much that can be done, and get on with something else.
What to do with your stuff
Think deeply about what to do with your belongings before taking off. It often takes years to arrive at a stable situation where we can have a place to keep our things.
I have met people who simply had to send their key to a realtor, asking them to sell the house and everything in it. In my own case, I expected to be back from treatments in Texas after two to three months, but I never came back. After three months, I got friends in the Midwest to empty my apartment and store my things in their basement. I gave them all my nice furniture, the expensive stereo, TV etc. It took years before I was in a stable situation again, and asked to get my stuff shipped out. If I had rented a commercial storage space, there was the risk of contamination from the frequent pesticide spraying most such places do. Also, I could not afford paying rent for years — at that time I only had a couple months left before I no longer had any income.
Other EIs have used commercial storage units and had good luck eventually finding ones that are not sprayed. The ones that open directly to the outside are usually preferable.
Before you take off, I would suggest you throw away a lot of stuff. Then pack the rest in plastic crates (available from Target, K-Mart and Wal-Mart) or steel trash cans (from hardware stores, make sure to wash them in hot, soapy water first) so they are easy to move around and can be stacked. Do not use cardboard boxes, they can more easily break or get wet, and those who store your things may not be as concerned as you would be. Pesticides and other fumes can also get through cardboard more easily.
When you are able to take the things back, you may not be able to go get them yourself. If the things can simply be put on a pallet, a trucking company can pick it up, which is much cheaper than a moving company.
Use crates that are NOT transparent. If the people who handle or store your things cannot easily see what is inside, it is less tempting to borrow it. And once people start to borrow your things, they may become contaminated, lost or simply be absorbed by the household.
Try to limit the time someone has to store your things. People might start getting irritated after a year or so.
If you store in someone’s basement, make sure they understand that it could be years before you can come back or send for it. Of course, it is a hard thing to admit that possibility ourselves. Perhaps divide the things between a couple of people.
Packing is not a fun thing to do when one is too sick to even live there any more. Think about whether it is worth the exposures. A complete loss of one’s possessions is not as bad as it sounds, a lot can be replaced and they really are just things. This illness makes many of us unmaterialistic anyway, and we often end up throwing most of the things out once we do get them back, especially books and clothing. Focus on the things that are really important, like family pictures and grandmother’s heirloom needlepoint.
Where to go
There are a number of places in Florida and around Dallas, Texas, that rent rooms to EIs on a weekly or monthly basis, but their rents are very high. None of the places seem very suitable for the severely electrically sensitive. These expensive places can drain you dry of money, and once you are out of money your options are much more limited. So don’t stay too long in those places in the hope that you’ll be better in another couple of months. It rarely happens.
When looking for a more permanent place to settle, it is best to try a variety of settings to see what works best. Some EIs do best in the mountains, others on a lake or by the ocean, or in the dry desert. Some people who are extremely sensitive to vegetation do better in cities with less vegetation, though some cities have extremely high pollen counts in the spring, due to non-native plants people have imported. Tucson is one example.
It is best to try out places at different times of the year. Maybe the winter is too cold or the summer too hot, or the spring has too much pollen.
If you have great support where you are, consider staying there, but be realistic whether this support can be depended on next year, too.
The mobile homeless usually live in their car, van or truck. It is a hard way to live and should be avoided whenever possible. Don’t expect to recover while living in a car.
Most EIs drive older vehicles, as time makes the interior more tolerable. But it rarely becomes really good, especially in hot summers. But over time we get used to the smell and do not notice it, even though it is not so good for us. Older cars also tend to have worse exhaust and leak oil. Combined with the traffic fumes, daily exposures do take their toll.
A car is not a good place to sleep, as only short people can stretch out. That makes for a less restful sleep, which is essential for getting better. People sleeping in awkward positions for longer periods of time also tend to get back problems.
A van or a truck can be much more comfortable, and also may have more room to store belongings and food. A pickup truck can be outfitted with a shell to cover the bed, which can then hold a mattress. Such shells are usually made of fiberglass and can often be bought used so they are off-gassed, but may have been pesticided. A used shell can sometimes benefit from being washed. A few places will custom build a shell from welded aluminum, which should need minimal off-gassing, unless sensitive to aluminum.
A cargo van has less upholstery and already has a big open space to sleep in the back, so it may be a good type to look for.
Old vehicles have breakdowns, sometimes requiring being in the shop for days, and then where to sleep in the meantime is a real problem.
Obtaining a usable tent is very difficult. New ones are very toxic and take years to off gas. Old ones tend to be moldy. Canvas tents are available, but they tend to be bulky, smelly and get moldy fast, even in the desert. Some people have bought untreated nylon and sewn their own tent.
Camping trailers are also very difficult. It takes at least a decade to off-gas the formaldehyde and other chemicals in a new one, and by then they are usually leaky, moldy and generally falling apart. The Airstream and Avion vintage trailers hold up well, but they are invariably moldy.
It is an enormous job to clean up a moldy Airstream. It includes removing the inner walls, which is a very labor-intensive process, taking months of work. Some people have had reasonable good luck by totally stripping a trailer, including the inner walls, and only use the hollow shell as a movable room, without any plumbing.
Homeless in the city
Being a mobile homeless is a very stressful living situation, as one often will have to hide from security guards and the police, and may be awakened several times at night by activities outside. It is also difficult to maintain a good diet.
Some are able to arrange with a friend or a family member that they can come in during the day to take a shower, eat and do laundry. For those who are not so lucky, it is a huge problem to get clean clothes and a decent shower. One usually has to use restrooms in fast food restaurants, hospitals and shopping malls. As fragrances and other airborne pollution from the stores and restrooms cling to the clothes, there are a lot of chronic exposures in this way of living.
The mobile homeless are constantly having to move around, unable to stay permanently in one place. Especially so in a city, where the police will often be called to chase one away. It is important to be inconspicuous while sleeping in the vehicle. In a city, people have better luck staying in parking ramps, large shopping malls, hospitals and by all-night restaurants. One EI has spent a lot of time watching TV in hospital waiting areas.
Cops can be friendly and helpful. Ask if they know of a suitable place to park for the night. You may get surprised. Some charities help the homeless and may offer a place to sleep in the car.
One EI slept in front of a K-Mart in Chicago for two years before being thrown out. He then put an ad in the newspaper looking for a driveway to rent at night — it’s perfectly legal to sleep in a car in a private driveway. He did find one, but it only worked until they started doing aerial spraying for mosquitoes.
Downtown areas may have less spraying and lawn chemicals than in the suburbs, simply because there is less vegetation. The air pollution is often much less in evenings and on weekends.
Homeless in the country
Others prefer to stay in the country, where the air is cleaner and the EMF exposures are much lower. But it can be extremely lonely and boring being out there all alone.
Options for country homelessness include staying in campgrounds, at truck stops, around rural highway exits and on public lands. It is generally permitted to camp anywhere in national forests, as long as it is largely out of sight. Camping in national parks, national monuments and state parks is by permit only, and usually only in campgrounds.
Campgrounds can be expensive and the restrooms may not be usable. The activities of the other campers can often be a problem, such as their use of bug spray, fragrances, barbecues and campfires. Don’t expect any willingness to accommodate your needs, but expect to have to go for walks sometimes, until the air clears. Choose a campsite carefully, and best late in the day, when most people have arrived.
Parks may also use pesticides to control mosquitoes, invasive plants and lawn care, and the staff is rarely able to answer questions about their recent and future use of these chemicals.
Some campgrounds can have high levels of ground currents from poorly installed and maintained electrical pedestals at their campsites, or even their sewage plant. In non-electric campgrounds, RV-campers may use generators, which are noisy and perhaps stinky.
Some campgrounds will not allow people to just sleep in their car, to discourage homeless people from staying there. This could be circumvented by using a “decoy tent”, i.e. a tiny tent put up just for show.
Most campgrounds will only allow campers to stay for two weeks at a time, but may not enforce it if the place is not running full. One EI woman was able to stay at the same campground for 11/2 years with her little trailer.
Make sure to camp so people cannot run into you with their cars during the darkness. Place your car between you and any access.
Primitive camping is generally safe, especially when staying where nobody can find you. One EI woman was murdered in New Mexico in 1998, while camping on empty land next to a development. Neighbors heard the gunshots, but it didn’t save her. A pepper spray is a good non-lethal weapon to keep with you. If you decide to pack a gun, learn how to use one, or it will be no help at all, possibly even being used against you.
Truck stops may be usable, if parking upwind from the many idling diesel engines. Be aware that the wind often changes around sunset.
In agricultural areas, look out for sprayings of the fields, both from tractors and airplanes.
Primitive camping also means no access to a restroom nearby. It is often possible to find a usable one at a rest stop or fast food outlet, and drive there once a day to wash up in a sink. Some truck stops have showers, which often have private rooms with their own ventilation duct, so other people’s fragrant shampoos are not such a problem. Of course, it is a lot of driving to get to a bathroom — learning to squat is a very valuable skill.
Mobile homeless EIs tend to migrate south to warmer climates. Such places as low elevations in southern Arizona and around Big Bend in Texas are good choices. Others have stayed around lake Mead near Las Vegas and in the towns along the lower Colorado River. BLM has many primitive RV sites available for winter use around Blythe and Quartzsite. Some EIs head south into Mexico.
These places are great most of the year, but they are very hot during four months of the year. Heat stroke is a very real possibility, especially when living outside in these areas where shade is hard to find. Migrating north may be a good idea for the summer, either to the mountains in northern Arizona and New Mexico, or further north.
It may be possible to maintain a decent diet by using a “5-day” cooler and a small propane camp stove, if camping outside a city. Using a camp stove could attract attention in a city parking lot. A “five-day” cooler really only works well for two or three days in the summer, so it is necessary to find a place nearby to get fresh ice and food. Dried fruits and nuts are good camping foods and delicious meals can be made in a single pot by first cooking a batch of grain and then adding a can of beans or chili, for example. Our individual food needs vary, but with some thought and creativity, a lot can be done.
Laundry is also a big problem in the country. See if you can make an arrangement with a friend or a fellow EI. Some EIs wash their clothes while taking a shower, simply by stomping on them. Clothes can also be washed in a bucket.
A clothesline can be strung between two trees, or your car and a picnic table. A clothes dryer is really unnecessary for most of the year, and those at a laundromat are bound to be contaminated by dryer sheets.
If you can find a permanent place to hang out, things can get a lot more comfortable. This can be outside the house you can no longer live in, an empty lot you lease or purchase, or the yard of a good friend.
Be careful jumping at the “good friend” solution right away. Even the best friendships can tear after a year in the same place. It is impossible to know in advance how an old relationship will handle a totally new situation. There are often surprises.
If staying on somebody else’s property, be aware that ANY fixed improvements you pay for belong to the property owner.
A common method is to simply live on the porch of a house, and only go inside to use the bathroom and for various chores. Perhaps also when the weather is really bad. This may not work with other people living in the house, especially if you are electrically sensitive (EMF is not stopped by walls).
A porch can be improved in various ways. If it is an open porch, it can be enclosed to better protect against rain and storms, while maintaining good ventilation. But do not make it so tight that it really inhibits ventilation. A fancy method to do this is to mount big windows, using metal framing that does not need to be painted.
Cheaper and more temporary setups can be done with cotton windbreaks on simple wooden poles (unless it’s a windy climate), or purchase about a hundred concrete blocks and stack them up as a wall. If stacking concrete blocks, be aware that they are very heavy, this will probably only work on a concrete slab, not a wooden porch. It is also very important to make sure the stacked wall is stable and will not tip over, possibly injuring someone. This is done by not making it higher than about five feet and also not having any straight runs longer than five feet. The wall must have at least two ninety-degree turns for stability. There must be one at each end to make it stable. You may also have to smooth them a bit. Test the setup by pushing on it, before trusting it.
Another option is to purchase a steel garden shed and put it up to sleep in, or to spend time in during the day. These sheds seem fine with most EIs after a week or two out of the box, though it can take months for extremely sensitive people. It may help to wash them inside and outside with hot, soapy water. They are available as kits from many building supply stores and hardware stores and can be erected in two to three days by a good handyman. It is best to put them on a concrete slab, but it is possible to do a simpler setup with a foundation made from a ring of concrete blocks filled with cement. The floor could then be bricks, concrete blocks on their sides or similar. Expect to pay about $1,000 for such a project.
These kits are somewhat flimsy. It is absolutely imperative to anchor them well to a foundation, and also to brace the walls with a horizontal piece of lumber (a 2x4 works well). Several people have seen their shed take off like a tumbleweed or have the walls severely damaged by high winds. These all-important measures should be done as part of the erection of the shed.
A garden shed can be somewhat insulated with Reflectix or Astro Foil, which is “bubble wrap” encapsulated in aluminum foil (mylar), that most EIs do well with. Available from many building supply places. Don’t expect it to be a cozy place in hot summers and cold winters.
A car port can be purchased as a kit and erected in a day or two. They tend to be larger than the garden sheds, but do not give much protection against wind and driving rain, even though some can be bought with optional steel sides. Some models are also available with a shed in the end. Car ports are very hot in the summer, with the sun baking down on the steel roof, and they are very difficult to insulate as the wind would tear down the insulation. Steel car ports are available from many building supply places, as well as Wal-Mart. The stores often offer to send a crew out to erect the kit in a single day.
For a more elaborate setup, one can combine the porch, shed and car port with sleeping in a van, truck, car or trailer.
If one does not have the luck of having a house available as a service building, there are other options.
An old not-too-moldy trailer could be purchased, somewhat inexpensively, and only be used as a bathroom. Most of us can tolerate a moldy place for a few minutes at a time.
Do not use such a moldy trailer for storage of clothes or other things that can get moldy. Some EIs have brought moldy clothes into a new home or a safe vehicle, and then contaminated the space with mold spores.
It is also not realistic to remove the mold, or any fragrances. Also, be aware that many trailers have been pesticided. It can help some to cover contaminated areas with aluminum foil or Tu-Tuff plastic, held in place by aluminum tape, but it’ll very rarely be good enough to live in.
It would be necessary to have a septic system, or other approved sewage system. These are expensive to install, and take time, including inspection. If there is a septic system close by, a special sewage tank on wheels can be purchased from many RV stores. One then has to empty the camping trailer’s holding tank into the sewage trailer, roll it to the septic tank and dump the contents into it. This is fairly simple and does not involve pumps or anything fancy. It is used by many RV’ers who like to stay at the same campground for many days, and do not want to have to move their whole rig when their sewage tank gets full.
In many cases, it is possible to drain the water from the shower directly to the outside, so there is longer time between having to empty the sewage tank. This is called a gray-water system.
A septic system costs around $4,000 or so, while an old-but-working trailer may be possible to find for a couple thousand (look for “hunter’s specials”).
There are water-less composting toilets available, which do not require electricity. I have never used one of the household models, but I’m told that they do not like cold weather, they need to be in heated space. I would not want one to be in my living space. But they would probably work well for a separate shed, which had a heater inside. The electric models have a heating element inside the commode, which can be turned off before entering. A composting toilet is cheaper than a septic tank, but still costs around a thousand dollars.
Then there is the basic outhouse, which is still used around the country, and is actually legal in some western counties of the United States. A simpler and more temporary version is the sawdust toilet, which is a bucket one covers with sawdust, wood chips or sand after each use, and then empties onto a compost pile when full. An excellent book about this method is The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins. Some stores sell a portable camping commode (sometimes called a “hassock toilet”) for around $25, which is very suitable.
We all hope such a primitive setup is temporary and short, but some of us are not so lucky and it stretches out into years. It is hard to make a decision on whether to shell out real money for a more comfortable setup. Some of these things could be combined with a building project, or whatever makes sense in the situation. I’ve seen various ways people have gotten by until things can improve.
There are healthy people who live that way to get away from it all, and not needing a steady job. There are several books about such a lifestyle. One very entertaining one is Rancho Costa Nada by Phil Garlington.
Astro Foil (“bubble wrap”/aluminum insulation): Heartland (316) 265-6712 Many building supply stores
Tu-Tuff (very tolerable plastic in rolls) Sto-Cote (262) 279-6000
Untreated nylon: Seattle Fabrics (206) 525-0670
The author wishes to thank the five people who commented on the draft of this article, drawing on their experience of being homeless for an extended period of time.