Tuesday, 25 March 2014 00:00

Homesteads and Weather Part 5

off grid, homestead, survival, self sufficientThis is the last in a series about how Ed Essex - Washington, and Bruce McElmurray - Colorado, have dealt with weather conditions throughout the years they have lived in their respective mountain ranges. This last and final part is about how they would change their homesteads considering weather considerations, how big is their ongoing weather challenge and advice they have for those who would choose lifestyles similar to theirs. This series has been written to hopefully be of some benefit to those who would homestead in the mountains and provide situations and solutions they may not have previously considered which Ed and Bruce have learned through experience.
 
Would you change the way you developed your property based upon what you now know about the weather?
 
Ed Essex: There is only one thing I would change on my property after being here four years. I wouldn’t put the cisterns right next to the house and barn. I would have put them further away which would have made room for me to get the snow plow along the house.
Whenever the sun shines after a snowfall the snow on the roof starts to melt. Some of that goes into the gutters and into the cisterns. The rest goes over the side of the gutter onto the ground. When that snow piles up it creates a void right next to the house. When the temperature warms up and that snow melts it creates a pond of water between the snow pile and the house. It can cause problems so I like to get the snow out of there. Right now I do it by hand with a shovel. It would be a lot easier to just run the plow next to the house and barn and be done with it because it happens all winter long.
 
Bruce McElmurray: I’m not sure I would change much in the way our property was developed. Usually you build during the summer in the mountains and I would suggest that you envision large quantities of snow as you lay out your lot. If you build an A-Frame like we did snow will accumulate where it comes off the steep roof. If you can get a snow thrower to that area then you have no worries. If not you will either have to re-contour your terrain or shovel it by hand like we do. Does the contour of the terrain direct the rain and snow melt away from your structure? If you are going to heat with firewood I suggest you locate your woodshed far enough from the house where it poses no fire hazard but is still convenient to shovel to in order to access your firewood. Also look around where your house will situated and calculate if trees pose a hazard. Construction equipment will damage trees and they may die later. Will they fall on your home? Having a home nestled in the woods is nostalgic but is it practical? These are all things we took into consideration when building and should be serious considerations.
 
How big a challenge is the weather?
 
Ed Essex: Weather affects everything you do on a homestead. Most of our activities take place outside. Our animals are outside along with the woodpile and garden. When I used to go from my condo to the office I only had to figure out which coat I was going to wear. Now I have to decide on footwear, underwear, regular wear and outer wear.
 
Another way you might answer this question is by looking at all the design features and expense we put into our home and barn in order to keep them safe from extreme weather.
 
Bruce McElmurray: Weather will be the biggest challenge you will probably face and it will test you at every development and turn of your homesteading experience. I will not soft play the challenges of dealing with all types of weather in the mountains. It is difficult, strenuous and often hard but the benefits that it provides include far better conditioning than going to a gym, plus you are breathing fresh air while you are working with or around the weather. If you don’t want to spend hours shoveling snow or grooming your gravel driveway post heavy rain storm then you have to make a decision if this is the lifestyle for you.
 
What advice would you give anyone who plans to live like you do about the weather?
 
Ed Essex and Bruce McElmurray: Both Ed and Bruce are in general agreement with this question irrespective of their separate locations. When it comes to giving advice to anyone about anything we recognize that we all come from different backgrounds and approach problems in different ways but we still have some things in common like the weather and what it means to live on a mountain homestead.
 
The best advice Ed and Bruce can give is to do your homework. Talk to neighbors who have lived in your area for a while. Consider the weather patterns for your area and the terrain you wish to settle on. Consider things like extreme rain, snow, drought, wind and what you might have to do to mitigate those with the resources you have. Listen to others that have “been there and done that”. Your decisions will affect your family, your animals, your happiness and even the food types you intend to grow.
 
It has been the intent of Ed and Bruce to describe some of the circumstances directly related to the weather in their respective mountain homesteads so that readers who may be considering a similar lifestyle can make more informed decisions. It is our hope that this series has provided some food for thought to those readers willing to embark on mountain homesteading or homesteading anywhere.  
 

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

For more on Bruce and Carol visit them at Bruce and Carols Cabin Blog spot

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  • Homesteads and Weather Part 3
    off grid, homestead, weather, survival, self sufficientPart one and two of this brief series is about how Ed Essex - Washington, and Bruce McElmurray - Colorado experience and cope with the mountain weather at 4,200’ and 9750’ elevation. Part three is about their greatest weather fear. Their answers are below:
     
    What is your greatest weather fear.
     
    Ed Essex: There are four situations that can cause us some grief.
     
    1. Snow - if we were to get a really deep snowfall we might get stuck here on the mountain. No one is going to come and get us. I keep the road plowed with a good size tractor and 8’ snowplow with all four wheels chained but if it is several feet deep all at once it may not be big enough to clear the snow. This summer we bought a 45 year old dozer that will help with that situation. Next year we are going to get a snowmobile. We can’t leave here in a big snow because of the house and animals but our plans are to have friends bring groceries to the bottom of the hill and use the snowmobile to go get them. We also have a pantry full of preserved food and a chest freezer.
     
    2. Fire - We had a wildfire here our first year. We had taken precautions for such an event and got tested right away. The walls of our house are made of concrete. The siding is Hardiplank, which is a non combustible material and our roof is metal. We also put slotted metal soffits in our eaves so there are no bird hole vents for embers to get into the attic. We cleared the land 100’ all around the house and keep it mowed. We installed water cisterns that capture water off our roof and store it. We have over 6000 gallons on the property between the cisterns and domestic holding tanks from water we pump from the well. When the fire crews showed up they were so impressed they pulled all of their trucks off except one and took them to other dwellings (neighbors) that were more at risk. They also thanked us for our foresight and efforts.
     
    3. Torrential rains - As stated earlier our access road is just a dirt and gravel road 3 miles long with a 1000’ vertical climb. When it rains really hard here the road can wash out. The dozer we got this year should be able to help with repairs we need from now on.
     
    4. Earthquake - We’ve already had a 4.6 earthquake here. We are in a high risk area. I had my house engineered to withstand most earthquakes.
     
    Bottom line is that we are on our own and need to plan and prepare for the worst circumstance because no one is going to come to the rescue. Add to that all of the weather records being broken worldwide and it seemed prudent to prepare for extreme weather the best we could. Most weather conditions can be mitigated with proper planning and foresight. All in all our extra weather precautions were not a large line item in our budget.
     
    Bruce McElmurray:
     
    I believe our greatest weather fear is drought increasing our wildfire hazard. Our mountains are very wooded and as such we rely on snowfall for enough moisture to prevent dry conditions that facilitate a wildfire. Colorado is a semi arid state; therefore snowfall and rain are essential for our safety and well being. We have installed natural stone siding on our exterior and have a metal roof. There is no external source of fuel that could warm our stone exterior to ignite the under laying material. Our home is an A frame so the roof is very steep. We have cleared double the normal requirement out from the house to allow a defensible space. We have thinned trees to exceed the required Forest Service recommendations. We cut limbs up to 18-22’ high. Our only exposure is our front deck where we have a low pressure misting system to keep it wet if a wildfire threatens. We formulated an evacuation plan and what to do if evacuation is not possible. Our community is approximately 15 miles long and 6 miles wide with one road in and one road out. It is important to have an individual survival plan in case we were unable to evacuate. We store water under the house which is below grade. In a recent Forest Service audit we scored 10 points better than excellent and have since taken additional precautions which would increase our score further. It is essential that we have our own plan in place even though we live in a gated community that has its own water truck and fire truck.
     
    Our other concern is snow. We have had as much as 6 feet of snow at one time which is rare but a reality. Two or three foot storms are not that uncommon. Our community also has a road grader and front end loader to keep our roads open and maintained. We have a small 4WD diesel Kubota tractor with a blade on the rear and a snow thrower on the front to keep our 300’ driveway clear and open. We maintain a well stocked pantry and also a chest freezer in case of equipment breakdown where excessive snowfall could strand us for a few days. We keep an ample supply of dog food for our pets in emergencies. While snow is a concern our community is capable of handling the annual snowfall properly and therefore not a major concern for us.
     
    Our last concern is summer lightning storms. The thunder and lightning displays can be intimidating when you live at this elevation. They do not bother us as much as they sometimes scare our dogs who seek a place to hide in the house. How do you fit a 80+ pound dog in a space the size of a shoe box. Visit us when we have a lightning storm to see this impossible task first hand. Thunder echoes off the mountains and can be scary to pets. We have only had one lightning strike that caused any damage and that was to our deep well and washing machine. Seeing the intricate lightning flashes is awesome to watch but our dogs do not appreciate the natural display of beauty.
     
    Beyond that our weather concerns are no more that what others experience at lower elevations and not as severe as many.
     

    Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

    For more on Bruce and Carol visit them at Bruce and Carols Cabin Blog spot

  • Homesteads and Weather Part 2

    off grid, homestead, survival, self sufficient, snow plowPart one of the joint collaboration between Ed Essex and Bruce McElmurray dealt with the question how does the weather impact your life and homestead. Ed and Laurie live in Washington state and Bruce and Carol live in Colorado. Both live remotely in the mountains with Ed living at 4,200’ elevation and Bruce living at 9,750’ elevation. While they live several states apart and at different elevations they both share similar weather experiences along with a few variances as well.

    In this the second part they will answer what is their most difficult weather season and what their greatest weather experience has been. Both Ed and Bruce living at different elevations and different western locations have similar but slightly different concerns with the weather they experience. Their respective answers appear below.

    What is the most difficult season you face each year?

    Ed Essex:Winter has to be the hardest season for us. We’ve already mentioned the extra work taking care of the animals and our road. We also spend more time indoors. To combat cabin fever we built one extra room just for Laurie and one for Ed. If either one of us needs to “get away” we can go to our special hideouts.

    Laurie uses her room for her many crafts. Sewing quilts, weaving and felting. She even has a tapestry loom in there. Ed built a typical man cave complete with sports, martial arts, outdoor sporting equipment and a TV.

    Due to passive design features in our home we don’t heat or cool the house from July through mid September but all of the other months we heat with wood. We heat with a masonry heater. When the temperatures get below 15 F we also fire up the custom masonry kitchen stove. Maintaining a fire for that many months can be a lot of work. The masonry heater helps with that a lot because you don’t have to tend it all day and all night long. You just build a fire every 12 hours. It will burn for about two hours and you shut it down and enjoy the radiated heat for the rest of the 12 hour shift.

    Even though winter is the hardest we are most physically active from April to October. Property maintenance, gathering wood and gardening are quite time consuming.

    Bruce McElmurray:While winter is 7-8 months long and we are involved with an average of 264” of snowfall per year I believe the other three seasons are more labor intensive. In the winter we plow and throw snow with our small Kubota tractor coupled with considerable shoveling. We heat our small cabin with a Yotul wood stove and while we carry in firewood each day the more intense physical activity is the cutting, splitting and stacking the 9-11 cords of firewood required to see us through the winter season. As soon as the snow melts we initiate cutting firewood and usually stop around the first of September.

    Between doing house/property maintenance, growing a garden, walking our three German Shepherd dogs and working in some recreation the other three seasons are far more physically intense than winter. Winter is actually quite pleasant with the low humidity and temperatures between 0 and 30 degrees F. Our cabin is pretty small so we spend a lot of out time outside comfortably. We live pretty close to nature and Carol makes most of our meals from scratch and what we have grown during the summer.

    Since we live where wild predatory animals also live we have our back yard fenced with a 6’ high fence. Therefore much of our time is “let the dogs out, bring the dogs in, let the dogs out, etc” While we have never had a serious close encounter we prefer to err on the side of caution and keep our fur friends as safe as possible. Summer thunder storms can be loud and intimidating for our fur friends even though they are indoor most of the time. Thunder echos though out mountains and can even intimidate us. The Winter is a quiet time of the year for the most part and the quiet can be daunting but we have TV, books to read and enough outside activity to keep us busy plus we get along together very well.

    What is the most difficult weather you have experienced since living in the mountains?

    Ed Essex: In our four years here we’ve had a wildfire, an earthquake and record wind and rain storms. The fire was the scariest. If we had not taken all the precautions we did we would have lost our home and everything else.

    Bruce McElmurray:In the 16+ years we have lived here we have had unusually heavy snow storms (6 feet in one storm), a 4.7 magnitude earthquake, a lightning strike very near our home, and several micro bursts that broke off several trees about half way up. We also had a wildfire that came within about 15 miles from our home. Other than that our weather is usually very nice and with low humidity it is easy to be outside without feeling chilled to the bone in the winter. We have a lot of sunshine and our temperatures range between 50 degrees F in the summer to 80 degrees. The earthquake was the first one anyone recalled in the past 100+ years and the micro bursts have been very rare. While the weather controls much of what we do and can regulate our outside time for the most part it is mild and pleasurable weather.

     

    In the next parts Ed and Bruce will discuss their greatest weather fear, how they would change their homesteads differently due to the weather, how often they deal with bad weather and being self reliant considering the challenge of mountain weather and what they have learned dealing with the weather in the mountains.

     

    Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

    For more on Bruce and Carol visit them at Bruce and Carols Cabin Blog spot

     

     
  • Homestead - Where to Start?

    Off grid, homestead, good ideas for lifeWe all have a picture in our mind of what a homestead is and each one of our pictures will be different. Some of us will picture a little cabin in a meadow by a stream. Many of you will picture gardens, chickens and goats. Barns, greenhouses, and orchards will weigh in. All in all there are many different factors to be considered when deciding what your homestead will look like, so many in fact it can be difficult just figuring out where to start.

    One tool you can use to help organize your thoughts is something I learned years ago in a beginning journalism class – Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How?

    Who – Are you doing this alone or will there be others? If there are others, what considerations will they require? If there are children involved then schooling will be a factor. If some of you are in the elder category then health care can be a factor.
    Another consideration will be friends and family. How (if at all) do they factor in? An example of this is when Laurie and I built our homestead it was 250 miles from friends and family and that certainly became a factor, especially during Holidays.
    Just try to think of all the people who will be impacted by your decision to create your little piece of paradise.

    What – What are some of the things you want to accomplish on your homestead? Animal husbandry, fresh vegetables, going off grid, and becoming more self sufficient are just a few of the reasons people create homesteads.
    We wanted to live a more active and healthier lifestyle and have a more positive impact on our environment and we have accomplished that with our current homestead living. We’ve learned to be more conservative with our resources and grow and preserve our own food. Decide what your own goals are before you even look for property.

    Where – Some of the things to consider in deciding where to build your homestead are growing zones, climate, the local real estate market, neighbors, and local regulations. If you are going to have chickens, you need to make sure you can. If you are going to capture rainwater for your personal use or garden you need to make sure you can. Different government jurisdictions have different rules so once you figure out what you want to do on your homestead, make sure you can do it legally. Typical regulations include building codes, water, sewer, and yes, even whether you can have a rooster or not. Do you want a compost toilet and gray water system? In many jurisdictions anything considered “alternative” can be difficult to accomplish. Houses such as straw bale, cordwood, and other less common construction practices can be difficult to achieve in some jurisdictions.

    Why – Why do you want a homestead? It’s important to ask this question because if there is more than one person involved it is good to answer this question with similar goals. You need to be on the same page as your partner. It will be best if you both want a garden and want to preserve your own food, want to heat with wood. A homestead requires a lot of teamwork and cross training. You probably won’t be in a situation where one person can just push a button and get food or heat or even water. Homesteads require a lot of physical work and commitment. It is imperative that everyone directly involved is on the same page and has the same goals.

    When – Shall we do this while we are young? Should we wait until the kids are gone? Shall we wait until we are established financially? These are all normal questions people ask themselves about homesteading.
    We waited until we were in our mid fifties because that is what life threw at us. Only you can decide when the best timing is. Other than your personal circumstances I don’t think there is a right or wrong time. We know people from between the ages of 20 and 65 who are just starting their homesteads. The only thing to add here from experience is “the sooner the better”.

    How – And finally we get to the big question of how to go about creating your own homestead. My suggestion is to start reading and talking to those who have already been successful. We started in our local library checking out books. Today the Internet is full of information. We also subscribed to three different magazines like Mother Earth News to get our knowledge firsthand from those who have “been there and done that”. On my own website Off Grid Works there is a ton of information from planning to property use to building tips and all kinds of gardening and animal articles. You don’t have to BE experienced. You have to GET experienced.

    Laurie and I made our move in 2010 and have never looked back. We have made a few mistakes but not very many due to the amount of research we did before we took our first step. There is no set formula for the perfect homestead. The perfect homestead is the one you create for your own reasons.

    Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com and Off Grid works.

     

     
  • Create A Backyard Homestead

    backyard garden, small garden, off grid, homesteadA few years ago we sold our condo and built an off grid homestead on 40 acres in the mountains. Pretty extreme. Surprisingly it turns out that many of you would like to do the same thing.
    I’ve been contacted by hundreds of people the past few years who would like to do something similar. We’ve discussed everything from a “modern homestead” like ours to a yurt in the woods. Just recently I was contacted by a group of young ex-military folks from California looking to buy the property next to us and start out in a large canvas tent with a woodstove building everything else from the land as they could afford it. They also planned on two greenhouses, rabbits, and goats to start with. They actually had things pretty well thought out and could probably make a successful go of it. Now that’s extreme!

    What about those of you who would like to do something similar but can’t due to the circumstances you currently find yourself in? Work, family, and financial obligations are just a few of the distractions we all face going through life. If that sounds familiar, don’t despair! There are a lot of things you can do right now to experience the homestead lifestyle right in your backyard.

    None of the ideas mentioned here are new but good ideas are always worth repeating.  I’m talking about things you can do in your own back yard to help you become healthier and more self sufficient even if you live in the city. You don’t even need a lot of room.

    Growing your own fresh vegetables is a good place to start and it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Convert an old flower bed into a vegetable garden. Replace some of your flowered pots with vegetable plants. Convert some of that lawn to beans, carrots, potatoes, squash, broccoli, and cauliflower. Section off a piece of ground for tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and other summer salad items. You don’t need a rototiller. A broad fork, shovel, and hoe will do just fine. Grow your own pumpkins for Halloween and pumpkin pie. Grow your own herbs and spices.

    chickens coop, chicken tractor, homestead, backyard homesteadIn previous blogs we’ve talked about all of the ways you can grow food at home all year long. There simply isn’t any reason you can’t. Some of the products out there are hands free! Gardens are a little different. They do take some time and effort but the rewards are worth it. HOME GROWN FOOD IS SAFER, HEALTHIER, AND TASTES BETTER THAN WHAT YOU CAN BUY IN THE STORE. Growing your own food also creates a certain amount of pride and satisfaction - old fashioned ideals that are good for you.

    Somehow the word homestead conjures up pictures in my mind of chickens. I had chickens as a kid in the city. Now I have them again. They are a source of grand entertainment and nutritious and delicious eggs. Our chickens are free range. That won’t work in your backyard but that’s okay. There are a huge variety of small backyard coops you can get. I prefer the “chicken tractor” or any coop that is mobile so you can move them around the yard. You don‘t need a rooster to get eggs to eat. Happy chickens are pretty quiet. They make a soft cooing sound when happy.
    I hope the recent trend of city chickens isn’t a fad. They are a diet staple for most of us and again – there are some old fashioned benefits from taking care of animals.

    Another thing you can do is capture rainwater from your gutters to water your garden. Using what Nature provides to survive is an essential ingredient to self sufficiency. So far this summer we haven’t had to pump any water from our well to water our garden. We have cisterns that store water from our roof every time it rains. Even though yours may be on a smaller scale (one or two downspouts) you can accomplish the same thing in your own backyard!

    These are just a few ideas anyone can do to become more self sufficient no matter where you live. Grow your own food, raise a few chickens, and harvest water naturally to experience a little bit of country in your urban setting. The benefits are worth it and if you ever decide to “go all the way” your backyard experiences will give you a running head start.

    Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.

     

     
  • The Right Time To Homestead

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableIn one of my earlier blogs I mentioned that in the mid seventies I just about wore out the rental video called the Wilderness Family and its sequels. It was a story about a family of four that moved to a remote place in Colorado, built a log cabin and had a lot of wilderness adventures.

    Right around the same time I checked into the Homestead Act at the library and found out it had just ended in 1976 with the exception of Alaska which was open until 1986. It took me another thirty four years to fulfill that dream. In 2010, Laurie and I moved to the mountains of Eastern Washington State and created our little modern homestead.

    We don’t live completely off the land and we don’t have a log cabin. We do however live off grid, grow and harvest most of our own food, and live a fairly independent lifestyle. We are both in our late fifties.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableI just met a couple online who live just a few miles from us and they started their adventure in their mid sixties. We met another couple who are doing the same thing near here in their early thirties with three small children. I’m sure we all have our different circumstances that dictate when and how we do things.

    I am contacted on a regular basis by people who want to do what we have done. They all seem to have a timeline based on their own life experiences and circumstances. We met Maya through our Off Grid Works website who worked on a cruise ship for many years until she had enough money saved up to start her own homestead in South Africa all by herself! We’ve met people from Canada, the East coast, the Missouri Ozarks and everywhere in between. They come in all ages, genders and backgrounds. All have a common dream of someday wanting to homestead.

    off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableIt has been painful at times to listen to the stories of people who want to homestead but have been stopped by personal tragedies – divorce, injuries, death of a partner. Our next door property owners started their lifestyle change here but had to stop due to a tragic accident their son had and now they are tasked with taking care of him for the rest of his life.

    Anyone who lives this lifestyle knows it isn’t for everyone but if you have a desire to homestead I would urge you to re-examine all of the reasons that are keeping you from making your move. I had reasons for thirty four years. Looking back I can’t honestly say that it had to be the way it was. Sometimes you just have to re-prioritize and a healthy, productive, and meaningful lifestyle should always be at the top of your list. So when is it time to homestead? The answer is easy – as soon as possible.

    Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website goodideasforlife.com  and Off Grid Works.