Gas-powered vs. human-powered
To some extent, your site may decide this for you. Where we’re putting the cabin is about a quarter-mile from the road, along a dirt trail, with no access to electricity.
But humans are formidable beasts, and I could certainly overcome these barriers to power tools if I really wanted to, by lugging gasoline and a generator up the trail, or getting a gas-powered bush-hog or weed whacker. But despite being slower, I find human-powered work to be more error-proof. The noise, smell, speed, and vibration of a generator and power tools are dissociating from the natural environment, which can be a danger to both the builder and to that environment. Whereas if I’m raking and using a handsaw, I can be aware of what’s happening around me, and I have complete control over how my tools are behaving.
Doing the work by hand may seem ascetic at best and masochistic at worst, but in reality I’ve found it much more defensible than going the gas-powered machine route.
Keep your eyes peeled
One of the benefits of human-powered construction is that you’ll likely injure fewer plants and animals and cause less soil disturbance and runoff.
Unfortunately, whenever you set out to build something, there’s a baseline of havoc you’ll inevitably wreak: worms will be hurt, plants will be pulled, and saplings will be cut. If I’m going to cause harm, I feel like it’s my responsibility to do it as strategically and thoughtfully as possible to minimize that harm. So I keep my eyes peeled as I’m working for any particularly sensitive or rare plants and critters, and give them a wide berth. If I end up disturbing an anthill, I work on another spot for a while, and I’ll see the ants carrying their eggs to a new location — it’s definitely an inconvenience for them, but with a small amount of effort I can prevent it from being a massacre.
Some animals will benefit from your havoc, so I make sure to watch for them, too. A very bold hermit thrush developed a habit of following me around while I was raking, nibbling the insects and berries that I disturbed along the way. One animal’s havoc is another animal’s bounty.