The ‘Triangle of Construction’ on a Homestead

I sat down with a friend the other night who has operated a local timber-framing company for nearly twenty years now. His words of wisdom will serve me well on my growing homestead – and maybe you, too.

I am currently working on developing a farm, adding electricity, a well, a greenhouse, a living space, and more to what used to be just a hayfield.

So while his timber-framing expertise isn’t something I’m seeking right now, his knowledge about construction and design is hugely valuable for me. Sitting down next to Dale, expecting a nice social chat, I found myself gratefully absorbing a little bit of wisdom.

After we discussed my plans and thoughts and Dale’s unique idea of putting a tiny house inside a greenhouse to provide an “outdoor” space that buffers against the weather, Dale told me about The Triangle. He always reminds his clients, “You can do things fast, or cheap, or right… but you can only choose two of those three. You can never have all three.”

This means that in my situation, needing to get a greenhouse up before springtime hits and all my energy needs to be spent planting and weeding in the field, I know I need to do it fast. Also, I feel that it is important to do it right — I want my infrastructure to last many years, even decades, before I have to replace it. That automatically means I will be sacrificing cheapness: I’ll be hiring people to do good work, and I’ll be spending extra on quality materials.

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It’s funny because, as a Mennonite, I value doing things “simply,” which often implies doing it cheaply, or doing it myself. Make no mistake: there are a lot of things in the development of this farm that I will be doing myself, putting together from ramshackle materials and gradually developing into something that works smoothly. But “simple” is not at all a way to describe what it means to get a farm up and running. If I were to refuse to do non-simple things, nothing would happen on the land, at least within the next decade!

Slowly I will build my farm, but in order to take the first step, I’m coming to terms with doing things quickly, and well. I’ll be spending some extra money in the short term, but in the long term I’ll have a bit of a simpler life.

It’s useful to think of now: every time I choose to build something, I have to let go of having it done either fast, or cheap, or right. I only get to choose 2 sides of that triangle.