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Q: Buying land in the mountains ( Answered,   2 Comments )
Subject: Buying land in the mountains
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: mickieh-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 15 Aug 2002 14:48 PDT
Expires: 14 Sep 2002 14:48 PDT
Question ID: 54999
We are considering purchasing a lot (1.7 acres) in the mountains of
Colorado.  What important things should you consider?  For example:
1. How do you find out if drilling a well for water is a problem?
2. How do you find out if the soil is solid for future home building?
Subject: Re: Buying land in the mountains
Answered By: alienintelligence-ga on 16 Aug 2002 01:56 PDT
Hi there mickieh

Let me start with this:
Land is considered typically an investment.
That means it involves money/finances. While is an excellent research source,
all of the information you gather from us should
be used as a guide only. You should seek some
type of professional when you finally decide
to invest. Just want you to be safe, you'll 
see why in my answer.

I'm glad I got to research this for you. I
will include general land buying info and
also any specific Colorado info I can get.

Such as this nice document:


It mentions Septic, Water, Utilities, Grading and Soil.
You need to determine if you are on a central sewer
system or if you will need to install a private
septic system. 
Make sure you have some! Again, if you are on a central
system you should determine if the metro district
serving your property is in good shape. You should find
out rates and if there are any restrictions during the
year, such as limits on watering the yard.
Find out what utilities are available and how close
they are to your lot. If you have to bring utilities
a long way in to a lot it can be expensive. If you
know the footage it should be fairly easy to find a
contractor or excavator who can give you a rough idea
of the cost of bringing the utilities to the building
site. It is important to realize that this can be
dramatically more if you are in a rocky area.
This is perhaps the hardest area for the potential
buyer to evaluate. A perfectly flat site is always
cheaper to build on than a steep one, but there
aren’t very many perfectly flat sites in the Rocky
Mountains. As a rule of thumb, a house site that has
an elevation difference of three to five feet is
pretty average.
There are many types of soils in Southwest Colorado.
They can range from silty loamy to clayey to solid
shale or rock. Each of these types of soils have their
own characteristics that will affect the foundation
design and construction of a home. Always perform a
Soils Investigation prior to foundation design. This
provides the necessary information to make the
appropriate design decisions.

Some more nice pages relative to Colorado, mountain,
and lot purchasing:

Web Hints for buying a vacant land in the mountains
[ ]

Buying Rural Land: The Pleasures and Pitfalls
[ ]

Water Rights Considerations and Constraints,
Land Acquisition Cost Analysis, and Conversion
of Fee Simple Farmland
[ ]

What Buyers Should Know about Land
[ ]

What about Zoning Restrictions?
[ ]

Land Assessment

Vacant Land
[ ]


You didn't mention what the land will be used
for. That would be one of the main items to 
take into account when purchasing the land. Are
you going to purchase and hold as an investment? 
Are you going to build a dream home on it? Maybe 
a farm? Wanting livestock or horses? The answers
will help determine what you need to test and check


This page has alot of good points to follow:
I left it as a google cache document so it would
highlight "buying land"

"We have just ended (I hope) the search for our place. (Submitted
a contract). The thing that helped us the most was getting a 
copy of the soil survey for the counties we were looking at.
The Federal Soil Conservation people publish them. So I would 
think that all counties would have them available. We saved ourself
several wasted trips by knowing about soil type, pipelines and 
transmission lines. 

Oh that's another thing. Worry about easements. Public easements
can be widened without your consent. They can do what ever they
want with your property in the easement.  Especially avoid easements
that go all the way thru your property.

If you are looking at truely rural area, keep in mind that farmers
make noise. Dogs make noise. Crops get sprayed. That sort of thing."


"Also. If you ever want to get a loan, buy land with access on a
county rd.
Veterans and FHA no longer do loans on land which is not on a public
Period. You can get conventional financing, but you need a road
agreement. These are new rules, at a national level. Don't let anyone
you different. We lost one piece of property over it. And it makes
more difficult."


"You might need an environmental site assesment.  You need at least a
check of the ownership for the last 100 years to see if the site might
have been used for any industrial use which would have produced
hazardous wastes.  Also, you would need an expert to do an visual
inspection/walkthrough of the site.  Doing this seems to be the
Doing more, like actual sample testing will get very expensive.
Even farms need to be checked, for things like old gas tanks. 
a tank is now quite expensive, requiring an EPA certified remover,
hauling the soil to a hazardous waste site, etc., about $25000.
The current laws are that the current owner of a site is responsible
for any prior hazardous wastes, so you want to make sure it is clean.
Generally, you can put passing the inspection as a condition in the
purchase contract."


1. Verify the land meet zoning requirements to build.

        a. set-back 
        b. minimum acreage.
        c. minimum frontage.
        d. what is it zoned for (if its zoned)
2. Find out what utilities are available.

        a. Electric     
        b. Gas
        c. water
        d. sewer

3. Is the land suitable for a normal septic system.

4. Is the well water acceptable and at what cost. (how deep?)

5. Is the soil suitable for a foundation. (bedrock?, humus clay?)


"All possible advice to you can best be summarized thusly:
Get a good lawyer. ( End of Advice )   

Seriously.  Realtors are incompetent, especially when
it comes to buying raw land, land which is in no way guaranteed
for human habitation, and they ( the realtors ) cannot conceive of any
thing more complicated than their next commission check."

That's just an abstract of the good info on that page.


The first point you brought up was water. This
is DEFINITELY one of the top things to concern
yourself with. Not only with your particular
piece of property, but also for regional concerns.
I have seen on TV that there are water restrictions
throughout the state of Colorado.
[ ]
[ ]

Also the place where your waste is going to go. Is the
land plot far away from city resources? Rural property
will require a well to be dug, a septic system to be
installed, and the land able to support water drainage.
So one of the first tests you want is a percolation test

[ ]

How to do a "perc test": Soil percolation tests require
that you dig three (3) holes minimum, 36 inches deep and
four (4) to twelve (12) inches in diameter in the last
18 inches of each hole. The holes need to be spaced six
(6) to eight (8) feet apart in the general center of the
proposed absorption area. Fill the holes with 18 inches
water 8 to 24 hours before the scheduled perc test. You
will need to have three (3) five (5) gallon buckets of
water available for the perc test. The profile hole is
one (1) hole in the general center of the absorption
area eight (8) feet deep (dug with a backhoe). Stop
digging if you hit ground water or bedrock before eight
(8) feet. This hole will need to be at least eight (8)
feet from the perc holes. -from INDIVIDUAL SEWAGE
Environmental Health Office
[ ]

This document also states, after the perc and profile
tests are done, the Environmental Health Specialist 
will calculate the size and type of system necessary.

Some more soil info:
Slow loading, but good info, from Malaysia, but
they have soil there too ;-)
[ ]

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Guides / Subjects Natural resources and environment
[ ]


If you don't have access to water utilities, then this
well info is for you.
[ ]
"One of the most common concerns involving a home's water
well is the water's potability. Water that is not potable
may pose serious health hazards."

-Types of Wells-

Irrigation wells
Community wells 

Some of the things that dictate the depth of the well
-The level that the aquifers are located in the ground.
-The amount of storage that the well contractor
 calculates is necessary.
-The type of soil and the level of activity that the
 aquifer exhibits.
-The depth  that the casing is embedding into bedrock (5
 to 10 feet, depending on the municipality).


At least one county in Colorado has a septic permit
application that costs $175 (Custer County)
[ ]
More fees:
[ ] mentioned
Another Colorado application

And here I just learned something... septic
systems at altitude can be a problem sometimes:

[ ]

"I have a cabin with a septic system. The cabin is in
Colorado at 9,400 ft. elevation. The cabin is built on
and the septic tank is set in rock tailings jutting out
over the side of the mountain. The septic tank froze. It
is only a 1000 gal tank. The tank it turns out was set
only under four inches of this loose rock and only a
foot away from the slope of the edge of the tailings
exposing it to the penetrating strength of our often 100
mph winds. The installer tells me that it froze because
it is new and because it is a weekend cabin doesn't have
enought decomposing matter to create enought heat. The
septic service guy to thawed it out tells me given the
elevation and exposure it will continue to freeze up no
matter how much use it gets. He tells me it should have
been set much deeper given the location."

Wow, huh?

Some general septic info here:
[ ]

A FAQ here:
[ ]
"I’m considering building a new house in the mountains, how much
property do I need to install an septic system and well? It depends
on the zoning of the area and when the lot was subdivided."
"Can I install my own system? Yes, however you must demonstrate your
knowledge of the Individual Sewage Disposal System Regulations to
the satisfaction of the inspector."
"How do I obtain a permit to replace/install a septic system?
You will need to obtain an engineered design from a registered
professional engineer and then submit an application for a permit.
Currently the fee is $600.  You will need to obtain an engineered
design from a registered professional engineer and then submit an
application for a permit. Currently the fee is $600.  Jefferson
County Application for ISDS Permit"

<< more good info on the site >>


You will have to consider the CCR's (Covenants,
Conditions and Restrictions) and any federal or
state restrictions to the property you are
interested in. CCR's are items that not only
restrict your use of land but they protect
you from abuse or land by neighbors.

<<What exactly are Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions?>>
Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CCR’s) are
actually a set of "rules" that attach to the land to
protect your property from unwanted use. They let you
know how you can use your property and, more
importantly, how your neighbors can use theirs. CCR’s
are especially important when buying vacant land
since, in most cases, the parcels around you are
vacant as well. You would otherwise have no idea of
the type of neighborhood you are buying into. For this
reason, properties with CCR’s tend to hold their value
much better than properties without. CCR’s can vary
quite a bit and should be reviewed before you decide
to purchase your property.

[ ]
but if you try to read it, the background
will make you crosseyed.

You may encounter land use and development rules
such as this, where you wish to live...
[ ]


This brings us to the actual land. I found an article
that references Expansive Soils and mentioned Colorado.

[ ]
"Expansive soil expands and contracts due to changes in
the moisture content of the soil, causing structural
problems through differential movement of the structure.
If the moisture content and or soil type differs at
various locations under the foundation, localized or
non-uniform movement may occur in the structure. This
isolated movement of sections of the structure can cause
damage to the foundation and framing, evidenced by
cracking of the slab or foundation, cracking in the
exterior or interior wall covering (indicating movement
of the framing)"

You will have to take into consideration contaminants
that are either natural or preexisting, such as
[ p ]

Water-quality samples were collected in the summer of
1997 from 45 sites (43 wells and 2 springs) in selected
alluvial aquifers throughout the Southern Rocky
Mountains physiographic province of the Upper Colorado
River Basin study unit as part of the U.S. Geological
Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program. The
objective of this study was to assess the water-quality
conditions in selected alluvial aquifers in the Southern
Rocky Mountains physiographic province. Alluvial
aquifers are productive aquifers in the Southern Rocky
Mountains physiographic province and provide for easily
developed wells. Water-quality samples were collected
from areas where ground water is used predominantly for
domestic or public water supply. Twenty-three of the 45
sites sampled were located in or near mining districts.
No statistical differences were observed between the
mining sites and sites not associated with mining
activities for the majority of the constituents
analyzed. Water samples were analyzed for major ions,
nutrients, dissolved organic carbon, trace elements,
radon-222, pesticides, volatile organic compounds,
bacteria, and methylene blue active substances. In
addition, field parameters consisting of water
temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH,
turbidity, and alkalinity were measured at all sites.

Specific conductance for the ground-water sites ranged
from 57 to 6,650 microsiemens per centimeter and had
higher concentrations measured in areas such as the
northwestern part of the study unit. Dissolved oxygen
ranged from 0.1 to 6.0 mg/L (milligrams per liter) and
had a median concentration of 2.9 mg/L. The pH field
values ranged from 6.1 to 8.1; about 4 percent of the
sites (2 of 45) had pH values outside the range of 6.5
to 8.5 and so did not meet the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency secondary maximum contaminant level
standard for drinking water. About 5 percent (2 of 43)
of the samples exceeded the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency recommended turbidity value of 5
nephelometric turbidity units; one of these samples was
from a monitoring well.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary
maximum contaminant levels for dissolved solids,
sulfate, iron, and manganese were exceeded at some of
the sites. Higher dissolved-solids concentrations were
detected where sedimentary rocks are exposed, such as in
the northwestern part of the Southern Rocky Mountains
physiographic province. The dominant water compositions
for the sites sampled are calcium, magnesium, and
bicarbonate. However, sites in areas where sedimentary
rocks are exposed and sites located in or near mining
areas show more sulfate-dominated waters."

I really love the info you can find on the net...

Selfbuild Foundations
[ ]
"It is important to investigate the ground quality of a
plot before you purchase. Check records and ask around
locally to make sure that it doesn’t have an unsavoury
history. For example, an infill site may be an expensive
option because it is like that it will require piles. A
proper survey with test bores holes - to assess the type
and quality of the ground - is sensible precaution and
should ensure that there are no surprises when the
digging starts.
As you think about the subsoil you should also look at
the landscape of the plot. Trees close to a substructure
can affect foundations, while a slope may mean
additional work in levelling off the site, or a decision
to build with more expensive stepped foundations. Tree
roots may damage foundations as they grow. Certain
species are potentially worse than others. The enormous
amount of water that a tree takes out of the land around
it can change  the balance of the subsoil. If it is
necessary to fell a large tree before you build, you
should allow at least one year for the land to settle
before you start work on the foundations. Where
possible, try not to remove established trees and shrubs
- they will add enormously to the character of your
garden once the house is complete. You may find that you
are not allowed to remove them anyway, as many are
protected by Tree Preservation Orders controlled by your
local planners.
Don’t forget to plan access for your services - water,
waste  (foul and surface) gas, electric and telephone
ducts - before you start work."

"The first thing you can do is clear the plot. After
all, you don't have to have much expertise to tidy
up the site.
Before felling any large trees, make sure it is okay
with the local planners. Some are protected. Also try
to understand some of the "locals around your plot".
If you upset them or they find out that you are going
to cut down some of the trees, there will be a Tree
Preservation Order TPO on them very quickly."

This site is ¿interesting?
[ ]

The American Institute of Architects
Denver Chapter
Committee on the Environment
Architects, Designers, and Planners for
Social Responsibility
Colorado Chapter

[ ]

This gives an environmental perspective to
site preparation.

"The preparation and development of a building
site creates numerous adverse environmental
impacts. Large projects or those in an environmentally
sensitive area generally require an Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS). Smaller and medium-sized
projects don’t generally require an EIS unless they
are located on environmentally sensitive areas such
as wetlands."

-Preserve and protect the natural condition of the site as much as
-Specify native vegetation to conserve water. 
-Use trees, shrubs and earth to protect the building from sun, wind
and noise.
-Test for Radon gas. 
-Use local materials for site improvements. 
-Specify site furnishings (benches, etc.) that are made from recycled
-Re-use concrete as backfill, road base, or aggregate. 
-Recycle demolition debris (refer to Division 1 for further

A land purchase checklist (for a cedar home company)
[ ]

This is something you might have to sign?
[ ]
for Exclusion from CDPS Stormwater Permitting
This Rainfall Erosivity Waiver Form is for use by all Small
Construction Projects regulated under the
Stormwater Program where the project “R” Factor is less than 5, as
determined using the State approved
method. This includes sites otherwise required to apply for, or
maintain, coverage under CDPS general
permit COR-030000, but only if they meet the definition of Small
Constructions Projects given below.
Small construction projects are projects that result in land
disturbance of equal to or greater than one acre
and less than five acres. Small construction activity also includes
the disturbance of any area less than five
acres of total land area that is part of a larger common plan of
development or sale, if the larger common
plan will ultimately disturb equal to or greater than one and less
than five acres.

Boulder County Comprehensive Plan Geology
Goals, Policies, & Maps Element
[ ]
"  In view of the geologic diversity of Boulder County as described
in the Geology Element and the multiplicity of existing and
land uses, it is intended that the land use policies presented here
shall provide clear direction in the formulation and implementation
of the county Land Use decisions so far as geological factors are

Landslide info:

Frisco, Colo.: Zoning Code, Chapter 180-20-O Development on Steep
[ ]


More links regarding landslides and land 

Alphabetical Listing of WRP Publications on Management, Planning, Land
Use and Resources
[ ]

Ultimately the suitability for building and
land inprovements will depend on the results
of the site inspection. A thourough study
of the property will provide all you need
to know about development on the property.
It's a requirement for them to tell you as
part of the inspection.


This company lists all the different inspection
services for potential buyers the provide:
home inspections, radon testing, termite
inspections, structural inspections, septic
inspections, specialty inspections, reserve
[ ]


-search techniques-
"buying land"
[ ://
"buying land" colorado
[ ://
radon land colorado
[ ://
"buying land" tests
[ ://
important info buying land
[ ://

There is alot of information, I hope I
gave you what you were looking for. Just
ask if you need a clarification on something.

Subject: Re: Buying land in the mountains
From: huntsman-ga on 16 Aug 2002 16:46 PDT

We have purchased two small mountain acreages in Colorado, and have
built a home on one of them. Some the things that we have learned so
far are offered in the sections below.

First of all, some basic questions for you:

1. Where is your prospective lot in Colorado? What county is it in and
what city/town is it closest to?
2. Have you actually visited this property and walked on it? 
3. Are you planning a vacation home or a permanent home?

The single most important thing to know about purchasing mountain land
and building a home is this: it WILL take more money and time than you
think. Be ready to spend plenty of each.

It's a great way to spend them, though.

Good Luck,


Being There -

Don't try to do this long distance: be there in person as much as
possible. Never, ever buy any piece of property that you have not seen
and walked on repeatedly.

The primary people that you want to talk before buying a lot include:

- Neighbors.
- The head of the homeowner's association (if there is one)*. 
- Local real estate agents. Visit several and pick their brains.
- The owner of the property. Why are they selling?

*Get a copy of the association's covenants, read them thoroughly, and
share a copy with your lawyer. Is there an architectural control
committee that has to approve your building plans?

Do you know what the area is like throughout the year: spring, summer,
fall, and winter?

Take time to explore the surrounding areas and home developments. How
does your area compare? Do the homes look nice? Are they
well-maintained? If things look old and run-down, chances are no one
likes to live there very much.

What is the altitude? Does anyone in your family have health problems
that might prevent then from being this high?

Can you access the property year-round? It may be easy in July, but
can you get to it in the middle of snowy February, or in wet and muddy
May? What kind of main roads lead in to your property (dirt or paved)?
Who plows these roads in the winter and repairs them in the


Long and Winding Roads -

If you have not been in Colorado or any of the larger mountain states
very much, daily travel becomes more of a concern because facilities
are spread out more. Unless you're a crow, the geography may require
you to take a long, roundabout path to your desired destination.

In miles and/or time, how far away is your lot from grocery stores,
gas stations, restaurants, and other shopping? It's hard to satisfy
that Twinkie urge when it's a half-hour drive (one way) to the nearest

One other word of advice about those long grocery runs: get a good
insulated cooler. Ice cream melts, and you will spoil your dinner
trying to eat it on the way home.

Are schools necessary? How far away is the school and the nearest bus
stop? We lived near one Colorado mountain town where it was 60 miles
(one way) to the nearest schools.


Those Last Few Feet -

A driveway is a small thing, easily taken for granted in the city, but
it can be a major pain in the mountains.

How long, steep, and wide will your driveway be? Can construction
trucks (think cement) easily make it into (and out of) your building

Will rain make your driveway too muddy and slippery in the spring and

Who will clear your driveway of those billions of beautiful little
snowflakes in winter? Can sunshine melt snow off of your driveway
easily, or will it be shaded by evergreen trees and turn into a
skating rink?

I used to love snowfalls until we got several of them in a single
week. One back-saving construction note: make sure the roof lines on
your house don't dump a load of snow in front of your garage doors,
and try to lay out your driveway so it can be easily plowed.

Put enough money in your building budget to pave your driveway.
Concrete is harder, lasts longer, looks better, but is more expensive.
Black asphalt is cheaper and melts snow faster. Both are easy to plow
snow off of, although you do get better traction on gravel.

In addition to its lower cost, another advantage to a gravel driveway
is that it absorbs snow melt and rainfall. Runoff from long stretches
of concrete or asphalt can cause erosion problems.


Doing It In The Dirt -

How do you know that you can build a house on your lot without
actually testing the soil?

If there are homes on adjacent lots, chances are pretty good that your
lot is buildable also. Local conditions over the span of a few acres
or so usually do not vary that much. Talk to your neighbors, the
building department, or local soil engineers.

Rocks are generally a bigger problem, particularly on higher mountain
slopes. I always had nightmares, never realized, about an "iceberg
rock" right in the center of the spot we picked for the house. This
appears to be a small rock on the surface, but it's really the upper
tip of a house-sized boulder buried deep in the ground. Time for a
suitable application of high explosive...

Soil tests (for the foundation) and percolation tests (for the septic
system) are required by the County and must be done before the house
can be built, but there's little point in doing this before it's
necessary. Let the general contractor for your house take care of
these arrangements.


Building the Dream House -

In my opinion, don't even think about building your house yourself,
particularly if you want to stay married. There is no glory in
concrete, shingles, or drywall, and you will not do as a good of a job
as quickly as a professional builder.

While driving around, you will see many Colorado mountain dreams that
were started by homeowners with great enthusiasm, but remain
unfinished after years of work, with many barefooted children running
around. Save your marriage, your thumbs, and your back by making money
at your regular job, then give that money to deserving local builders.

You can still do the fun stuff: designing, planning, picking out
fixtures, go-fering, etc. Find and hire a local builder to act as a
general contractor and let keep herd on all of the sub-contractors.

While planning your house and searching for a builder, look for homes
in the area that appeal to you. Stop and talk to the owners: find out
who put in their driveway, drilled their well, excavated their septic
system, built their house, and so on.

If you see a house under construction, and there are people working on
it, stop and strike up a friendly conversation. You may end up meeting
your future builder.

Visit the County's building department, find out which inspector
covers your area, and introduce yourself. Ask if they know of any
particular problems in your area, or of any good builders. Get their
business card and email address for future reference.

Buy a copy of the local newspaper: most local builders will advertise
in it. Order a copy of the local phone book (in Colorado, call
QwestDex at 303-636-8000).

When it come time to finance your home construction, try to do it
through a local bank. They will probably know the builders and
contractors you will be working with.

Only use local builders and contractors that are familiar with the
area. Get references and talk to their previous customers. In smaller
mountain communities, builders may be jacks-of-all trades that do can
several things for you. They will also know contractors (good and bad)
that they have worked with in the past.

Use a written building contract. Even if your builder doesn't use
normally use one, insist upon it. Your lawyer can write up a
straightforward one for you, and you might want to put in a cash
incentive to get the builder to finish your house early.

Find a builder that you are comfortable with and listen to their
advice. Consider yourself married to them for the duration of the
construction. Talk to them often. Review the work on your house during
(and immediately after) every stage of construction: ask dumb
questions of your builder at every opportunity.

If at all possible, show up at the end of every day, just before the
subcontractors go home. Let them know you're the owner. Stay out of
their way, but poke around a bit and inspect things.

Unless someone is about to about to drop a tree on your car, don't
order subcontractors around while you're on site. Make a note of the
problem and call your general contractor ASAP: it's his job to keep
everyone in line.

Be very familiar with your home plans and measurements, and carry a
decent measuring tape. One day after the interior framers left, I
checked the clearance between two bathroom stud walls and discovered
that it was too narrow by about an inch. There was no way the bathtub
would have fit, and no one would have noticed this until after the
walls had been permanently set (and the plumber started roughing in).
I called my general contractor, he spoke to the framers, and the
problem was fixed the next day.

In the Colorado mountains, summers are short (very beautiful, though)
and winters are long, long, long. Most building occurs in warm weather
between May and September, and local contractors are very busy with
several projects during this time. Be patient: they will get your work
done, but they do like to go home once in a while.

There will be long pauses when nothing is being done on your house.
Stay calm.

Unless you have money to burn (or if you're a wealthy art collector,
Monets to burn), don't do anything exotic when building your house.
Stick to standard, time-tested building materials and techniques that
local builders and contractors are familiar with. Use lights, plumbing
fixtures, furnaces, water heaters, and other hardware that are locally
available and easily serviced. Don't buy that great-looking European
shower head from outer Elbonia: it will break and you will get shtinky
waiting for a replacement.


Energy Slaves Are We -

Is electrical power already in your area? How close is the nearest
power pole to your lot? Are power lines underground?

Find out where the rural electrical company is, visit their office and
talk to them. If power is not close to your lot, it may take several
months (and much money) to get it installed. You should do this before
any construction starts on your home.

Ditto for your phone line. Can you get a decent cell phone signal? Can
you access the Internet easily/quickly on your land line? Talk to your

On more remote mountain lots, I have seen owners set up a sturdy,
lockable garden shed containing a few tools, lawn chairs, a folding
table, a phone, and an extension cord that can be run to the power
pole. This works well as a temporary office before your house gets
dried in.

If you don't have city natural gas available for heating, you will
need to use propane. Visit your local suppliers for price comparisons:
the size of tank you need depends upon how many people will be in your
house, and how long they will be there. In your house plans, be sure
to locate the propane tank where it can be easily refilled.


Water, Water, Everywhere? -

Talk to your neighbors about their wells. Ask for a drink so you can
sample the water. Does their water flow at the same rate all year
round? How hard/soft is it? Have they noticed any problems with
drinking, bathing, or washing dishes/clothes?

Local well drillers (check the phone book and county newspaper) should
be able to tell you the average depth, flow rate, and cost per foot
for wells in your area. Whatever they say, expect to go deeper and
spend more: you won't know how much more until they actually hit water
(see "Mr. Blandings" below).

The driller may offer a complete well package including drilling,
testing, and a pump, but you may have to get some of these items from
other suppliers.

When the time comes to actually drill the well on your lot, be there
in person. Unless you strike oil, it's not very exciting, so bring
lunch, cold drinks (no beers for the driller!), a book or two, and a
lawn chair so you can sit in the shade.

Local excavators will install your septic system. Talk to your
neighbors and get their recommendations. The same guy will usually do
your driveway and home excavation.


Shock Therapy -

Be prepared. 

Remember that nice little meadow where you so carefully staked out
your home site, the one with the long grass, nice little aspen trees,
and lovely wild flowers? Well, it will look like a bunker-buster bomb
has exploded a crater in the middle it after the excavator has
finished digging your foundation. Fortunately, dirt can be pushed
around and natural grasses come back the following spring.

If your lot has trees (something you pay extra for on mountain lots),
you will probably lose many of them in order to clear a space for your
house. We took out about 30. It's impressive, but sad, to watch them
being felled: I sure hope it doesn't hurt. If you can have campfires
on your lot, save a few cut logs for seats and benches around the

For better fire safety, You should also talk to your local fire
department for advice on thinning trees and brush around your house.

It is amazing what an incredible mess home construction is.
Electricians and drywallers are the worst. Keep a sturdy push broom,
shovel, and trash can around and clean things up after the
subcontractors have left. In a small but obvious way, this lets
everyone know that you care about your house. It is also safer for all
concerned, and makes the building inspector's job easier.

Ask your general contractor to keep the lot picked up and as clean as
possible: hopefully this message will get passed along to his


Emergencies -

Bad things happen. Where is the nearest doctor, ambulance, sheriff,
and fire department? What will you do until they can get your house?

Our neighbors were out of state one night when they got a call (on
their cell phone) from their security company. Their house alarm had
gone off, possibly indicating a break-in. The neighbor called our
county sheriff, then called and asked me to check their house out. I
did so immediately, but a sheriff's deputy didn't get there for about
a half-hour.

At the time, we were the only two homes on the "block", and there are
no street lights. Without moonlight (or starlight, if it's overcast)
it gets DARK. Have several good, heavy flashlights around.

To protect yourself or your family members , would you be willing to
own (and to learn to properly use) a gun? Although most crime takes
place in large metropolitan areas -- one reason why we all want to
move away -- bad guys have cars and like a nice drive in the
mountains, too.

If there is a forest fire, as almost happened to us this June, can you
evacuate quickly and easily? What are you willing to leave behind? Are
you prepared for the increased possibility that your mountain home
might burn to the ground? We are fortunate to have fire hydrants, but
they would be of little help if the whole forest was on fire and
coming over our ridge.

I'll admit this threat took some of the romance out of our mountain
retreat. No small risk remains: this continues to be the driest summer
Colorado has had in many decades, and our surrounding Ponderosa Pine
forest is tinder-dry.


Lions & Tigers & Bears -

You will see many animals in the Colorado mountains, and perhaps some
of them a little closer than you prefer. We live in a well-developed
subdivision of wooded one acre lots, and we regularly see birds (over
40 species: hummingbirds are the best), chipmunks, squirrels,
raccoons, skunks, porcupines, many deer, some elk, and a few brown

The bear part is disturbing, though. Right now they are looking to
fatten up before they hibernate in mid-October, and there is a lot of
scrub oak (with acorns) in our area. Many residents, ourselves
included, have feeders and water dishes out for birds and smaller
animals, and these attract bears also.

Only yesterday -- no kidding -- a young brown bear, looking for lunch,
tried to come in through one of our open front windows. He had torn
the screen halfway off when I heard the noise from a back room and
came out to investigate. I yelled, he took off, and I called the
Colorado Division of Wildlife. It turns out they received several
other complaints about li'l Smokey and will try to trap him. Although
they can move a pesky bear to another location, if it becomes too
curious or aggressive doing what comes naturally, it will be killed.

Just before we moved in, a mountain lion killed a deer and left the
half-eaten carcass on an empty lot about a block away. Pet cats and
dogs often disappear in our area, although I don't know of any attacks
on children or adults. The possibility exists, however.

A neighbor found a timber rattlesnake sunning itself in his driveway a
few weeks ago.

Until we all move off-planet, animal-human encounters, not all of them
pleasant, will continue.


For More Information -

If you need more answers, just post lots of new questions on Google
Answers! ;-)

You can also visit your local library and book store. The most
practical book I have found about selecting land and building a house

   Your Engineered House
   by Rex Roberts
   M. Evans & Company, New York (1964, 1987)

If you can't find it locally, search for it online at:

   Book Search   

To see what life is really like for home builders and contractors,
read the Fine Homebuilding "Breaktime" discussion forums available on
the following Web site:

   Taunton Forums
   Fine Homebuilding - Breaktime

And for a few good laughs, rent or buy the 1948 movie, "Mr. Blandings
Builds His Dream House", starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy
( It's the closest and most
entertaining thing I've seen about building a country home.

The 1986 film "The Money Pit", starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long
(, makes a great second feature.

Have fun!
Subject: Re: Buying land in the mountains
From: alienintelligence-ga on 16 Aug 2002 16:58 PDT
Thanks for the additions huntsman.
That's what I meant by there is ALOT
of information out there. It's rather
hard to find a stopping point for its


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