By: Marlene Affeld
Many mining claims are located in remote or limited access areas. Often terrain or climate conditions impact building designs in ways that are not anticipated in urban construction. Depending on the type of mining claim you own, building on the land may be prohibited. If you plan to build on a mining claim, research and be aware of the restrictions and design modifications required. Living off the grid is a fun and rewarding challenge. With a bit of research and pre-planning, building a cabin on your mining claim is an achievable goal.
Research the property title. Understand the rules. There are two types of federal mining claims; patented and non-patented. A patented claim coveys land ownership and the owner is allowed to build upon or improve the land; the U.S. Government has passed title to the claimant, making it private land. A mining patent provides the protection and certainty that is conveyed by a fee simple title. If the claim is patented, you can build on the land. If it is not patented, structure construction is prohibited by law. (Mining claims on state lands are not patented. Prior to building on a state owned claim, a proposal must be made to the governing state agency and written permission granted. Only structures integral to the mining operations are approved.)
Determine access to the mining claim and building site. Most patented claims are surrounded by public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Roads that service these areas are often very narrow or non-maintained; accessible by four wheel, all terrain vehicles only. Plan how you will transport building materials to the construction site. Can a truck navigate the road? Determine if special permits are required to drive heavier trucks or equipment on the public road that accesses your building site. Many U.S.F.S. administered roads have seasonal or fire restrictions.
Determine what building materials are available on your mining claim. If the property is timbered, will you harvest the trees, age and process them on site? Rocks from the stream bed or mining tailing piles are useful for building foundations, fireplaces and floors.
Determine if any local or state building restrictions apply to the building site. The majority of patented claims are not restricted as they do not fall under local or state jurisdiction. Water rights or sewer or septic tank installation may require state permits. Determine the availability of electrical service. If public power is not available, determine the size of generator required to serve the needs of the cabin. Propane delivery is not available to many remote mining claim sites. Plan to install a generator system that is fueled by several small propane tanks that you can easily transport for filling. Consider solar or wind generators. (Construction work will most likely require a portable generator (35 kilowatt or larger) on site to supply power for hand tools and saws.)
Choose a contractor, with all around abilities, to do all portions of the construction that you are unable to do your self. Remote locations create difficulties in moving contractors and workers to the site. If you have to have hire separate plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers or concrete workers, anticipate how you will manage the logistics of moving the craftsmen and their tools and materials to the site.
Determine how will you meet your water needs. If you plan to drill a well, can well digging equipment reach the site? If water from a stream is available on the building site, determine how you will divert it for cabin usage. Will you filter creek water or haul your drinking water? Plan to install a water tank for storage and fire fighting availability.
Examine the land. Many mining claims are in locations high in the mountains, subject to heavy snows. Locate a site on the claim that will not be subject to snow slides, avalanches or spring flooding. Cabins built in areas of heavy snow will require very steep roofs built to heavy snow load specifications. (Metal roofing allows snow to slide off, preventing weight build-up. A metal roof also provides a degree of protection from forest fire. The bottom 4 feet of the foundation should be constructed of concrete, rock or covered with metal sheeting to prevent rodent entry and protect against grass fires. Plan to install reinforced, heavy wood shutters to cover all windows. Heavy snow accumulation around a cabin can crush windows or doors. Mountain locations often receive 20 feet or more of snow accumulation per year. (Heavy doors and window shutters are a good idea, even if you do not have heavy snows. Shuttered windows will prevent human intruders or wildlife from entering the cabin. Bears have been known to use remote cabins as winter dens.) Cabins constructed in desert locations should be placed out of all danger of sudden flash floods. Consult your district U.S. Forest Service ranger to determine the history of past snow or flood events at your locale.
Design all chimneys or roof vents to be removed and capped prior to snow accumulation. Vents or chimneys that project above the roof line can be torn off or severally damaged as heavy snow accumulations slide off of the roof. Cabins built in less severe weather locations should have all vents and chimneys covered with heavy screening to prevent mice, squirrels and pack rats from making the cabin their home.
Consider insurance coverage. The majority of cabins built in remote areas can not be fully insured as fire and police protection are not available. Consider removing al grasses, brush and trees in close proximity to the building site. Trees often fall under heavy snow or mountain winds. If a tree falls on the roof when you can not access the cabin, considerable weather damage can occur. Tree removal around the cabin is important in fire prevention.