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Everyone needs a home, right? Well so do I ... as a kid I grew up in Zonhoven in Belgium and my first move away from home was to Leuven in 2008, at the time I was working at Brussels Airport so I bought a small studio apartment in Leuven. Changes in my life saw me renting the place out for a while and eventually sell it. In all my intermedium periods I always moved back to my home with my parents. In 2013 I moved with my partner to Genk and at the time I was working at Liége Airport. This didn't last long and we moved back to my parents as we were preparing to move overseas. So in February 2014 we moved to Singapore, in 2015 to Cairo (Egypt) and then back to my parents home again.

Home base in Zonhoven

In 2017 it was time I found my own place that would be my permanent home ... or so I believed at the time. So I found a house very close to my parents house in Zonhoven and did some basic renovations to make it suitable for my travel and photography as well as my daily life. I implemented some minor details like a wood burning stove for heat, a switch that could completely turn off the central heating system and luckily the place had an electric water heater in the kitchen for doing the dishes, all these things made me save a lot of money!


However, by early 2022 it was clear that the house needed a major renovation of certain interior spaces, but most importantly ... new windows and doors, as well as a renovation of the edges and gutters of the roof. I also suffered from the fact that the place didn't really have a garden and the small space that was available would not be sufficient for all the projects I had in mind. On top of all that, the road was getting more and more busy and if ever one of my cats would escape, it would certainly get killed by the cars. The decision was made ... I was going to sell the house!


Project in Diest (Molenstede)

Plan B! Or should I call it the original plan A? Well ... I 'll let you decide!
I found a building plot in a dead-end street right next to the railway, all the other houses in the street are normal open plan family homes, the street is narrow and the area very calm. Opposite the road is the railway and opposite the railway is a wide open area of fields that are situated in the natural floodplain, so ... no future housing development! I bought the land that is 2.5 times larger than my previous housing plot and started making plans on what to do with it.

So next thing on my mind is budget and plan ... I always wanted to build my own place in an alternative way and mostly off-grid, not that I 'm a so-called prepper but I do like the idea of being independent and with everything that is happening in the world recently, I don't think that's a bad idea and you can actually learn a lot from preppers. So after thinking my brains out and keeping in mind that paperwork in Belgium can be a pain in the butt, I came up with a plan. I needed to visit companies and collect information, visit banks and call some government agencies, only then could I actually decide on the exact plan and start putting things in motion.

My previous house was sold and I needed a temporary home for me and my 4 cats, not keen on paying a lot of money for storage, temporary rental home and more moving work and costs, I decided to move as follows:

Problem 1: Temporary home!

I went looking for a cheap alternative for a temporary place to live with my 4 cats, and found an older but still decent "stacaravan", basically what Americans would call a trailer in a trailer park. The company that sold it to me was specialized in the transport of these things and they installed it on my plot as I ordered (Lambrechts Koen). First step completed!
Next would be to provide the caravan with all the needed amenities as the building plot didn't have anything yet, I also knew that not all of my stuff could fit in the caravan.


Problem 2: Storage of all my stuff!

I have a pretty big collection of interesting things as most people that know me can confirm, the caravan however is designed to be a holiday home basically, so nowhere near big enough to house an office, book collection and half museum inside, certainly not combined with 4 cats and their stuff! I didn't want to rent a storage unit and have to move the stuff out again when the house is finished, so I got a different idea.


I found a local company that specializes in shipping containers (HC containers), they come in long 40 ft or shorter 20 ft versions, for a relatively low price I could buy a 20 ft container and have it delivered on my building plot next to the caravan, this proved to be perfect for storing all my furniture and other stuff that I can't put in the caravan and actually don't even need in the temporary home. An added bonus is that once the house is finished, this container can become my garden shed, wood storage, chicken coop and workshop.
The container was placed conveniently next to the caravan but leaving enough space for moving around and parking one or more cars. Step 2 ... done!

Problem 3: Power for the caravan?

Belgium is a mess when it comes to paperwork and I knew this wasn't going to be easy, nevertheless I put in a request for a power-connection ... and noticed that this wasn't the right thing for me to do, ridiculously high prices and way too much preparation work made me decide to find an alternative. My overall plan for the house was by this stage already decided and the offer was signed, the house will be off-grid in terms of power supply (more about this later), so I made a phonecall and ordered a 3 kW portable battery with a 300 W solar panel that was designed for travel and camping purposes. The battery arrived a few days later and after I connected a new power line to the main power inlet of the caravan ... and let the battery charge for 10 hours to be fully charged, I tested it out for the first time ... success! Now the caravan had power!

The caravan has a gas connection for heating, hot water and cooking, so I connected a new gas line to the inlet with a new universal screw head and I installed a full gas can, I also needed some insulation foam to fix a few holes and gaps and once this was done, the next thing to do was cleaning and removing some clutter left by the previous owner. Now I was ready to start emptying and re-organizing some of the boxes.

Problem 4: Planning!

Now that all immediate issues are solved, I found out that Belgium in 2023 is a bureaucratic nightmare! But more about that later, first of all I signed an agreement with the Belgian company Addhome group to build me a home made out of shipping containers, this is a professional company so I 'm not just buying some old containers and transforming them myself, this company will transform the containers and bring them on trucks to my plot once they are completely finished, it will all become clear in the next stages of this page. Catrolle architects would be doing the design of the house and the paperwork for the building permit ... and that's where the problems started! The local government decided to make things very difficult by showing how bad they are at communicating, replying to simple questions, common sense and most of all ... that they don't know anything about building an actual house ... thus delaying my plans for about 6 months. I got so fed up with all this that I actually went to the planning office at city hall in Diest and straighten things out so the architect could adapt the plan.

Eventually I had sort of an agreement and the plan was adapted to the final version before submission. In early December the plan was at last officially submitted to the local government office. Although this isn't yet approved and it can take another 5 months before I can go ahead, this is more or less what the house will look like.

Schermafbeelding 2023-12-09 om 21.37.06 kopie.png

First milestone reached!

Well, the fact that I have a ... VERY SLOW !! ... architect that is constantly later than promised, and the problems with local government made sure that the whole project is delayed and delayed and ... delayed! ... BUT ... at last on May 25th I was finally able to display the yellow building permit on the grounds, this document needs to be displayed for 30 days and in this period basically anyone can file a complaint to my building plan ... although it rarely is a problem for simple houses ... so the permit isn't in its final approval yet but it's at least another step forward.


Second milestone ... On the 25th of June 2024, the display document came down and 5 days later the official complaint period resulted in ... no complaints at all! Thus giving the project the final go-ahead. As this means that the final details can be planned, I am now in the process of determining the contractors and dates of works to be started. Of course more about this will follow in the next chapter. I am also deciding on the last details like color of the floor, height of power sockets, sliding doors and regular doors, mosquito nets, cat door etc.

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