Wednesday, 30 May 2012 17:00

Spring To Do List

We might have called this blog “after the snow leaves” instead of spring. At elevation 4200’ spring is a pretty short season. We don’t see the end of snow until the end of April and then it seems spring is only visible during the day for another month because it still freezes at night. It’s not just the snow. We have to wait for the ground to thaw as well. In short we really don’t get to go to work outside until sometime in May and by that time the “to do” list is pretty long.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableAs you can see by previous blogs we are already growing vegetables before spring even gets here.

We need to get the boat and gear ready for trout fishing because they only seem to bite in late May and early June and then again in the fall. We rely on those fish for part of our pressure canned food supplies we stock our pantry with the year round. Besides fishing is fun and after a long winter being cooped up it is time for something different.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableThe garden has to get re-leveled and roto tilled. That takes two different days before it is ready to plant. We got ours done May 15 and 16 this year. After that it is time to plant. Our garden is pretty good sized so planting is an ongoing process throughout May and June.

There always seems to be fence to repair. The deep snows tend to do the most damage to our fences every year.

We clean our chimneys of creosote and the masonry heater as well. Then we shut it down until October. We have to clean the stone face with vinegar and water.

When the ground freezes deep enough some of our gutter tight line drains freeze as well. We have to take the downspouts off and hook up temporary drains for when the snow melts off the roof all winter long. So once the ground is thawed we have to remove the temporary drains and put the downspouts back on so we can catch rainwater for our cisterns.

It’s a good time to run vinegar through the tankless hot water lines to get any mineral deposit buildup out of those lines.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe can’t forget one of our bigger tasks is wood cutting. I cut the trees down in the fall to get them to start curing and in May we start cut, split, and stack the wood. All six cords. We may not burn that much but I like to have extra just in case. You really want to get this work done before it gets too hot.

The horses, cats, and dog all need extra grooming because they are all shedding their winter coats.

Much of the equipment has been sitting all winter and the tires need to be refilled with air. I maintain all of my equipment in the fall before winter so it is ready to go on the spring but the tires still need air from sitting so long.

The winter hay area needs to be cleaned and organized. Mouse traps set in the barn when it warms up. For that matter we also usually clean the barn.

I spend about two days repairing our three mile long road from the winter thaw damage. That work is a timing issue. It has to be done after the thaw but while it is still damp and before it dries out and turns to moon dust.

It’s a good time to clean and rearrange the pantry. Take inventory of what is left over and what we will need to replenish our supplies.

This year we have to make arrangements to leave for a few days to attend the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, WA on June 2, and 3rd. That only adds to our hectic spring schedule but we will find a way because we really want to go to the Fair.

All in all it is a pretty busy time for us. We have these things to do as well as our “day jobs” and running our two websites. It’s a lot of work but it’s what we chose. Why is a whole ‘nother blog.

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.

 

Related items

  • Off Grid Comparison Costs

    energy costs, alternative energy, alternative energy costs, off gridDoes living off grid cost more?

    I’ve been wondering how all of these off grid lifestyle changes add up for costs compared to how I lived before. By lifestyle changes, I mean living off the grid compared to living on the grid.
    Remember I define living off grid as supplying my own sewer, water, and power. It may mean other things as well but those three things are the most common criteria. Did I save money by switching from on grid to off grid or not?

    First of all, let me be clear - we can’t make a perfect comparison. That would be impossible. Just take solar power vs. public power for instance. Every single power jurisdiction in the US charges a different rate for their product so my comparison would vary according to what part of the country I lived in. The same goes for sewer and water costs around the country. They vary considerably depending on where you live.
    It also depends on what kind of home you build and the size of it. Propane or natural gas costs also vary depending on your location.

    So how can I make a cost comparison between on grid and off grid living? I can look at my own circumstances in a very simple way and at least get an idea about the above question of costs. I am a professional estimator by trade so I know the difference between exact comparisons and simple comparisons. I’m not doing this exercise for accounting purposes but rather just to get an idea of what MY circumstances are and how WE came out cost wise by making this change in our lifestyle.

    I live in a well insulated home in the Eastern part of the state at an elevation of 4200’. A relative of mine lives in a similar size home in the western part of the state at sea level. So already we have a discrepancy in elevation which is a big factor in this exercise. That’s okay, just take that into consideration when reviewing the numbers I am about to share with you.

    Both on grid and off grid homes are 1400 square feet.

    Here is a simple list of MONTHLY COSTS:

    OFF GRID                                                                                             ON GRID
    Solar Power  $73.00                                                                         Public Power  $48.00
    Propane  $46.00                                                                                Natural Gas   $88.00
    Water  $38.00                                                                                    Public Water  $37.00
    Sewer  $21.00                                                                                    Public Sewer  $40.00
    TOTAL  $178.00                                                                                  TOTAL  $213.00

    This is not an exact comparison. It does however give me an idea of where I stand cost-wise by going off grid. Even though this is not an exact comparison there is a lot we can learn from it.
    My deductions from this simple comparison:
    1. It would not have been economically feasible to go with solar power without the 30% Federal credit.
    2. The reason propane is so much less than natural gas is because I heat with wood and the other house uses a furnace so this cost difference makes sense. It will also vary either way for either home depending on where you live and what your fuel costs are. We heat more than the other home due to our elevation so I think this cost would triple if we also heated with a furnace.
    3. The water is comparable but if you get into a deep well (over 250’) the off grid cost is going to go way up.
    4. I have a very simple septic system which is about 5 years old. The new regulations have already raised septic system costs for three bedroom homes by about 25% so these costs are closer than they look here.

     Over all it probably cost more to go off grid with modern sewer, water, and power systems but it is nice to know that by going off grid we didn’t spend much more money and these two columns of costs will vary a great deal depending on where you live. If I have these same off grid costs in an area that charges more money for power, fuel, sewer or water, then it could easily be more cost effective to be off grid.
    There is one other thing I like to consider in this exercise. We know that by going off grid we have cut our use of natural resources considerably. It just seems to be a natural byproduct of the off grid lifestyle so if we can stay in the “ballpark” cost wise and at the same time lower our need for natural resources. I would have to declare that “cost effective”.

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

     

  • 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 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

  • 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.

     

     
  • What We Gave Up By Going Off Grid

    Four years ago we moved from our cozy convenient condominium to a custom off grid home in the mountains of Eastern Washington State. We are located 20 miles from the nearest small town and 40 miles from something larger.

    Our new home is at 4200’ elevation and is a homestead of sorts with goats, chickens, and horses. We grow much of our own food and have learned to garden the year ‘round.

    I’ve always defined off grid as providing your own water, septic, and power. So what DID we give up by going off grid?

    off grid, survival, septic field, gravity septic system, self sufficientSeptic/Sewer – We installed a larger than needed septic system on our property. It is designed in the simplest form. It is gravity flow down the hill from our house and consists of two 60’ lines and a 1000 gallon two compartment tank. 
    The only maintenance required is to have the tank pumped out periodically. Recommendation is once a year but with only two of us using an oversize system it won’t be necessary to do it that often.
    We are now responsible if anything goes wrong but with this simple gravity system it should last for years to come trouble free. If there is an issue we have 40 acres to choose from on where to relocate our present system.
    Once installed the only thing we have given up to provide our own waste management system is the monthly bill (from the local government sewer provider) which always seems to go up.

    well, deep water well, pure water, off grid, survival, self sufficiency

    Water – We get our water from our 300’ deep well. It has two sources, one at 118’ and another at 200’. Our well has been in operation for about 10 years and has never run dry. The water is clean and delicious.

    We have to maintain our well, pump, and waterlines. With a public water source you don’t have to maintain anything except for maybe the waterlines on your own property. As a tradeoff for assuming full responsibility for our own water we had to give up the following:
    Rising costs on a yearly basis or the threat of rising costs due to a “less than average snowfall” each year. Water additives like chlorine and fluoride. Agencies fighting over control of the water. Private and public fighting over the use of water from lakes, rivers and streams. Where I came from there was always a discussion or battle concerning water control and use.

     

    living off grid, solar panels, solar, solar power, solar energy, self suffcient

    Power: We get all of our power from our solar panels and battery backup system. We have all of the conveniences and appliances that any modern household has but since many of you find that hard to believe I will list them here specifically: microwave oven, TV, computer, washer and dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, freezer, and vacuum cleaner. Our water pump is ¾ HP 240V. I can plug in a 240V welder and use it if I want to. Solar power has come a long way in the past 10 years. We are now in our fourth season with solar power. Again, as in the two examples above, we have to maintain our systems. No one is going to do it for us.

    What have we given up for the use of the sun? To date our system has been operational 24/7 since we made the final connection. No more worries about outages due to downed power lines from wind and ice storms or someone taking out a power pole with their car. No more unsightly power poles and lines. No more monthly bills or threats of rising costs, in fact solar costs have been going down.

    All in all we haven’t really had to give up anything except convenience for producing our own sewer, water, and power and the maintenance and repairs do fall on our shoulders.
    Public services are more convenient but come with a list of negatives from rising costs to battles over jurisdictions and what we should or shouldn’t add to the water or whether we should or shouldn’t have dams and on and on and on. I’ll take off grid anytime now that I’ve lived both ways because self reliance generates more old fashioned values and benefits than the alternative.

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