The Art of Clearing Land For Your Tiny House

Oddly, the conversation about procuring land for one’s tiny house typically begins and ends with a statement along the lines of “I want to find some land that I can park my tiny house on, have a small garden, maybe get a few chickens, and be unfettered by the powers that be.”  If you ‘hear’ that conversation online you oftentimes don’t hear a follow-up; successful or not. A number of tiny housers are meeting with success though and are finding small plots of land to build on, park on, or otherwise, live and let live on. The unfortunate thing though is much of this land is plausible because it has been passed over for almost everything else. Developers don’t want it because it is too far removed from the urban marketplace. Farmers don’t want it because it needs to be cleared. Heck, lottery winners don’t want it because it doesn’t already have a former NFL stars mansion sitting on it. That leaves it to those who have a dream, a desire, and some sweat equity to leave at the plot markers.

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When we first found our land in eastern North Carolina it was buried beneath decades of underbrush, young oaks and pines, mature pines, and a lot of spider roots. Just to get a sense of where we might put the house, we had to cave a path from one side to the other using primarily machetes. From there we were able to move up to a bush axe which led to a 14″ chainsaw and ultimately a 21″ chainsaw. It was no overnight job though. In fact, from the time we cut the first switch away to the time we were able to clear our house site and level it for pavement nearly eight months had passed. At month six we had to hire a friend with a backhoe to come in a pull a number of root systems and give us a good burn pile right in the middle of the lot. That burn pile – once ignited – went on for about 9 days and left us with the majority of our soil (which had been dried and clumped to the roots) and a nice pile of pot ash to start feeding the ground. Since those early days we have cleared other spots of land for other uses. We have purchased different land and set about clearing some of it. What we have learned leaves us with an understanding and appreciation for only clearing what is necessary, re-feeding the earth, cultivating cleared land with new growth or crops, and the tools to find that can help make you prep your new tiny house spot for the “big guys” to come in and finish her off!

BRUSH MOWER. A lot of land is relatively clear and has just underbrush or overgrowth on it. It is too much for a lawn mower but not enough for a backhoe. That is when a brush mower truly comes in to play. They either come as a walk-behind (referred to as ‘self-propelled’) or a tow-behind (we call them a ‘bush hog’). Of course, to use a bush hog you need a tractor of some sort to tote it and spin the rotary arm. A tow-behind is best saved for a large field or meadow. Brush mowers of any kind are great though because they will chop through pesky saplings and young growth up to about 3″ thick without so much as a pause. For the money, I suggest reviewing the DR Brush Mower line of products. They offer both styles, walk-behind and tow-behind.

BRUSH GRUBBER. I have only used a brush grubber one time and it was a rather cheap model sold at Harbor Freight so I can’t honestly say I fully understand the overall usefulness of this tool. However, with that one use I was able to do just what I wanted without having to get out a bunch of tools or go fill up a gas tank. That much felt like a complete victory! I only had to remove one small sapling. I didn’t need a brush mower and the chainsaw wouldn’t have worked optimally either. Enter the brush grubber. It is, in essence, a set of metal jaws with spikes that dig into the small tree (or stump, even). It then has a chain, which I attached to our quad (four-wheeler if you’re a Carolinian). I jumped on, gave it some throttle and in about 6 seconds had pulled the tree out of the ground. What is so cool is that the harder you pull, the harder the jaws bite down. Root be gone! Northern Tool has a great brush grubber for right around $100.

EDGE TRIMMER WITH BLADE. This is perhaps my personal favorite method of removing underbrush. It is effective from a tool standpoint but is also a great workout as you are constantly rotating your torso in a cario-fitness way. The standard trimmer has a string wheel. You use it for trimming sidewalks or cement cracks or any pesky spot of grass. If you’re lucky, the commercial string will allow you to take care of some small briers and such. However, for heavier-duty clearing, the string falls short. That is when you purchase a blade kit and beef up your ‘weed wacker.’ With the right kit (and I prefer the STIHL brush knife) you can slice through brush up to 4″ thick without hardly breaking a sweat. I have used this method on a regular basis when clearing out land that has all saplings and young growth. While it doesn’t remove the root it does knock stuff down so you can get a better vantage point of your land.

STUMP GRINDER. The worst part of taking down a tree? Leaving the stump. It is frustrating, exhausting, and leaves the job looking incomplete. If the goal is to completely clear land these stumps must go. They quickest, easiest way to remove them, as I have found, is to hire a stump grinder to come in and grind the root to about 18″ below ground level and leave the wood ship pile behind for garden mulch. Fortunately you can also rent a small stump grinder if need be. Yes, there are chemical solutions, burn solutions, and even back breaking solutions (think axe, pick axe, 14″ chainsaw, round point shovel, and a combination of the four). But for the money, a good stump grinder is most successful.

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Are you going to be clearing land for your tiny house? If so, what method are you planning to employ? Do you have any tips for others who may be contemplating the same process? 

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

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Brian - November 21, 2016 Reply

Looks like quite the undertaking but you seem to have all the correct tools for the job. Tiny house construction is great because it doesn’t require nearly as much clearing to be done. Thanks for sharing! Hope the construction went well!

Heather - October 11, 2017 Reply

May have less to clear with a smaller home footprint but it is still a lot of work! For maintenance / routine landscaping etc, try to buy versatile tools for clearing that you can use later rather than renting..

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