>Site Evaluation Checklist
determine if a retreat site is suitable, you might find the
following criteria useful.
No single criterium determines the suitability of a
site for a survival retreat - it is the
combination of them, especially the critical ones. The
following items cannot all weigh equally in your decision to
accept or reject a site. Decide which ones are more critical
and evaluate a site with those at the top of your priority
list. The top three: Location, location, location.
1. Distance to nearest major city (probable flow of
refugees) - farther is better. Not a theory, it
happens, so it's history. When a major disaster or
disturbance threatens a major city, people try to leave
(evacuate), either because they were told/asked to or because
they want to avoid being around when disaster strikes. Many
people leaving at the same time create gridlock on roads and
highways - the linear parking lot. Those who do escape often
don't have a clear destination and may have had little time to
prepare for their trip, so they will need food, water, fuel and
rest and may not have enough money to sustain themselves on the
road for a long time. Oh, and they might be armed. Some of
them, when deprived of food, water and rest, may forget to ask
before taking what they need - they become looters or
The first days after a disaster, most people are able to
cope with hardship and even help others, but as supplies
dwindle and hope of normalcy wanes, people who usually behave
well may be unable to resist becoming antisocial, as they tend
more to think of themselves first and not care about the
welfare of others. You don't want to be on the lines of drift
from major cities, as towns along these roads will be hit hard
by hordes of people, some of whom might not be friendly.
2. Distance to nearest town (for supplies)
- Your retreat is stocked, but you may still need some
3. Distance to nearest medical facility (if
required) - If you are diabetic or have any condition
which requires regular medical attention or medications,
consider the proximity to a medical facility or pharmacy, and
you may not be driving. If fuel becomes scarce, consider a
4. Minimum size of land met? (Five acres,
10 acres... you decide what you need) - Even though you will
probably not occupy much land with your actual retreat
facilities, you may want a buffer zone around you, to keep some
distance between you and neighbors. Or, you may just want to
have control over that zone, to design it for security.
5. Slope/exposure. Mostly south-facing
best, west acceptable, east marginal (poor), north cold. If you
want solar exposure for your shelter, you want south-sloping
land, or at least part of it where you plan to build.
West-facing is better than east for growing food, because the
half of the day you will have exposure is warmer (afternoon).
North-facing land is cold, period.
6. Soil - can you grow food there? Make
Adobe? Depth of soil? (Build underground?) - Examine
your soil carefully, do the 'adobe test', and see if it will
suit your needs. Can you make it work? Can you import soil, in
case you have to?
7. Water. Well, spring, river or creek;
seasonal or continuous; drinkable? Salinity, minerals? Your
water source is among the most critical features you will
examine. No well? Water table too deep? Don't give up on that
land, until you learn about the potential of rainwater collection (see my web site
have installed a pair of systems at my retreat in the desert
where rainfall averages about 7 inches, and right now I have
4000 gallons of water stored. As with any limited system, like
solar electricity, the place to begin your deign is
conservation - how can I reduce my demands on this system? How
can I re-use water (see Graywater)?
How far down to drill, and the cost? Power requirements? Too
deep for solar or wind power?
Is area suitable for rainwater catchment's (minimal slope,
mostly even or level) plus storage tanks?
8. Trees/vegetation -- local or imported?
Types suggest water table depth. Shade, windbreak. Make a note
of the kinds of trees and shrubs you have. Some of them may
have uses you didn't know about, edible, medicinal or
otherwise. How deep are their roots? Where do they get
9. Wildlife friendly? Carnivores? Deer?
(fenced in vegetable garden required) - You want to know what
kinds of animals live on and around your property. Do they
threaten your safety? If you have small children, this will be
a critical evaluation - coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears,
rattle snakes - you must know your wildest 'neighbors'.
10. Neighbors, how close? Friendly? Noise
level (chainsaws?) - Neighbors can be a blessing or a curse.
Like-minded, hospitable and survival-ready neighbors might be
candidates for a 'neighborhood watch' or other type of security
arrangement. Strength in numbers, 24-hour watch - you might
need them. Other neighbors can be trouble. Find out who you
might have as neighbors before you decide to settle. If they
are far away anyway, it may not be a concern.
11. Air quality; traffic nearby? Factories?
Smog drift from a distant city? - Constant exposure to even
low-level pollution can destroy your health over time. Does
your land lie downwind of any factories or commercial
agriculture (chemicals), or a coal-fired power plant? Major
12. Gun friendly state? Can you defend your
retreat (if attacked) with the firearms allowed in
your state? You can safely assume that looters and other
unfriendlies will be armed, possibly armed well, and possibly
in groups. Are you equipped to handle that? Does your state
allow you to own the weapons you will need to defend your
13. Local economy, food producing?
Self-sufficiency part of local culture? - Location, location...
If you can have everything you want in a location, being part
of a farming community might appeal to you. After all, the
local economy has a future - food will always be in demand. If
you don't plan to raise much food, this could be a real plus.
Even if you do produce food, you could probably barter your
goods for others locally.
14. Local building codes apply? Will you be
inspected, forced to comply? Prefer to build what you
want? - For me, this is huge and an absolute top-of-the-list
item. I have my own ideas about what will work and what I want
to build, and I don't want any nosy inspectors telling me I
can't do this or that, or that I have to file a plan or pay
fees. To my relief, other homes in the area have never been
inspected, and they all have access roads, and all are built by
15. Do you like it? Can you make it work for
you? Meditate there. Good vibes? - Seriously, sit down
comfortably on your potential property and close your eyes.
Listen, inside. How do you feel there? Instead of thinking
about the slope, the soil or any single feature, try to just
feel the land you're sitting on. With your eyes closed, let
your mind merge with the land. Does it feel friendly, inviting?
If it does, then consider the strengths and weaknesses, and
decide if you can make it work for you. It won't pass all tests
- soil, location, security, water, building materials - but
weigh the pros and cons and see if you can make it work for
16. Security/exposure to public. Vast topic
- can it be made secure? see Security - Your biggest threat will
probably be people who want what you have (unless you have big
carnivores roaming your area, they might just want you). So
consider how invisible your retreat is or can be made. If
people can't see or find you, they will probably not bother
17 Climate/rainfall/altitude, can you make these
work for you? The fact is, weather is everywhere, and
if you can adjust with your weather, you have one less issue to
bother you, but one you still have to deal with. I have spent
considerable time making a desert climate work for me. Why? 1)
Property in the desert is cheap. 2) Refugees escaping major
cities, in search of food and water, will probably not venture
into the desert on rough, dirt roads, trying to find what the
desert, by its nature, lacks. 3) Privacy - I have several
square miles to myself. They are not mine, but nobody lives out
there or even visits. 4) Freedom - I build what I want, the way
I want, no matter how outrageous, creative or non-conforming.
5) Security - My property is not visible from any road. These
all count big for me, so I accept the climate and landscape to
get what I want.
18. Natural disaster prone? Earthquake,
tornado, hurricane, flood, acceptable risk? Check this out to
your satisfaction, then accept whatever risk you have, or look
19 House/barn/shelter present? Usable? If
your land already has structures on it, examine them well. Are
they well-made? How long will they last? Will they stop an
attack, or do they need some 'help'? Do they add value or need
to be torn down?
20. Amenities? Gold Mine, coal or natural
gas, forest, deer (fun to watch), view, pond, lake.
These features may not be high on your list of priorities, but
they might add considerably to your property's value and
enjoyment, possibly to your survival potential.
It's probably not perfect, for one or more reasons. Expect
that. Can you make it work for you? Here are some thoughts to
1. You can create soil on barren land. It's
hard work, but it can be done. (see Manure Harvesting) Creating water
is challenging, but if there is regular rainfall, a rainwater
harvesting system can be built. (see Water Supply) If I can make this work
in the desert, you can.
2. No access road is an obstacle that might have a
solution - you might be able to build a road. However,
a road invites visitors, inspectors, possibly looters and more.
Consider whether you absolutely need a road, or perhaps the
road ends far from the house and you shuttle supplies in with
an ATV, possibly through a locking gate. see Access Path
If the access road already exists and goes to the
house, consider obstacles you can install to stop or
slow traffic, even foot traffic, to the house. Consider using
the existing access road during construction and for stocking
supplies, then remove the part closest to the house and create
obstacles to traffic: trees, shrubs, boulders, gates, fences,
pits, mounds, walls, etc.
3. Property located on or near probable lines of
escape from major cities could be inundated with
refugees. However, if the property is invisible or difficult to
reach, or if it is only reached by dirt roads in an area that
appears lacking in water and food, refugees will probably go
right on by and not risk ambush or car trouble or getting stuck
on a 4WD road in the desert or other barren landscape. This is
not a promise or a guarantee, but if it feels right to you, it
makes a lot of cheap land near major highways usable for
retreats. But towns on these lines of escape could be hit
4. If a property is visible from an existing
road, visitors intent on looting or other trouble, if
determined, will find a way into all but the most formidable
defences. So aim for invisibility, by planting vegetation,
creating false boulder walls or by making the place
unattractive to others. One way is to erect false walls around
a house and then burn them to look like the house was torched.
Or disguise the actual walls to look like that - looted and
These are strategies for dealing with an imperfect
retreat site. Whether or not they apply to your
situation only you can decide. Approach your prospective site
from all possible directions, so you know what lies beyond your
boundaries and what visitors from those directions will
encounter. If your property is visible from a direction where
there is no road, don't assume that people will only use a road
- they may walk in, if they see something they need. Get a copy
of Holding Your Ground for ideas on making your
retreat invisible or uninviting (burned out, looted).