Tuesday, 25 March 2014 00:00

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

Published in Life Style
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

Published in Life Style
Monday, 10 February 2014 00:00

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.


Published in Life Style
Friday, 01 November 2013 08:34

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.


Published in Life Style
Sunday, 21 April 2013 17:00

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.

Published in Life Style
Tuesday, 02 October 2012 17:00

Learning Curve - Homesteading

Bruce and Carol McElmurray live in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado at an elevation of 9,750′.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State at an elevation of 4200’.

Bruce and Ed, bloggers for the Happy Homesteader at Mother Earth News, have decided to collaborate on a blog about the learning curve one experiences when making a major change in lifestyle by living where they do.


What are some of the less obvious differences between living an urban lifestyle versus a rural homestead lifestyle? Things you didn’t expect or had to learn the hard way?

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableBruce: One of the major differences is not having services at your disposal. You need to be more self reliant and be able to do things yourself. Having internet access is a bonus because you can research how to do things yourself.

Ed: Even though we did a lot of research before we moved I don’t think we realized the full depth of what we were going to have to do. Not only did we move from a condo to a homestead but we had to learn how to manage our solar power, raise chickens, grow a large garden, pressure can and many other things. We knew we would be doing those things but it turned out there was more to it than we thought.

Are you glad you made the change?

Bruce: I am very glad that I made the change.

Ed: We love what we are doing even though it is more demanding than our previous condo lifestyle.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableName one thing that turned out to be a pleasant surprise!

Bruce: The most pleasant surprise is the pure air, pure water, healthy living and quiet with no siren’s or city noises. Being able to live in harmony with the animals and realizing they are not as aggressive as I would have imagined. More curious than anything.

Ed: That our research paid off and we CAN do the things we are doing. We can grow a garden, produce our own power and be successful in this lifestyle, and we can get out to the highway in the winter with 3’ or more of snow. We expected to do these things and more but it is really satisfying to be successful after the fact.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to your readers who are contemplating a similar move?

Bruce: My advice is that if you are reliant on services that you might want to think long and hard about contemplating a move like this. Repairman doesn’t always show up when they have to drive 45 miles one way, and services can be limited. Again, you have to be self reliant and at our elevation you may have to wait a long time due to snow or other conditions for service. If you are unable to do things yourself this may not be the lifestyle for you.

Ed: Do your home work! There is so much information out there. Anything can be researched. You don’t have to go into anything blindly. We have people touring our home and property and utility systems all the time so they can see for themselves and hear from us how they work.  You will have to be willing to make changes to your lifestyle.

What are some of the things that you need to consider before moving to such a high altitude?

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableBruce: One important thing to consider is that you are not prone to altitude sickness. If you are you need to make sure it is only temporary. It is not good to be sick all the time due to altitude.

Ed: Most people up here have propane appliances. They need to be adjusted for altitude and the supply pipe may have to be increased in size for those appliances. They simply aren’t as efficient at higher altitudes and that needs to be taken into consideration at the design stage.

Also – the more severe weather. Are you prepared to have longer winters, shovel mountains of snow, and drive in the ice and snow for months and spend more resources (time or money) to heat your home?

What are some of the factors you encountered that you did not expect?

Bruce: Two things we did not expect were all the rocks. We can hardly dig a hole in the ground without hitting rocks. Also, that it takes longer to do things like cutting firewood because of the thinner air. If you work like you would at a lower elevation you will be panting and gasping very fast so you really have to pace yourself. Also we knew the snowfall was heavy at our location but it has exceeded our average a few times and we have had up to 6 feet in one storm. It does not always come in equal storms.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableEd: The growing season was even shorter than we thought. The snow and cold stays longer than we expected. It takes a fair amount of fuel to run our tractor, snowplow, and chainsaws etc.

How difficult was it to adjust to living higher up?

Bruce: For us it was not difficult at all. You just slow down and take longer to do tasks. When Carol visits relatives in Florida she says her energy level is almost at superwoman levels having come from the high altitude.

Ed: It only takes about two weeks to adjust your lungs and body to this altitude. Other than that and our appliances it wasn’t a big deal. We are not that high up compared to others. 4200’ is enough to make a difference but not enough to be a problem.


Talk about some of the challenges of living remote?

Bruce: There are numerous challenges. Our nearest incorporated town is 42 miles one way. You need to plan your trips carefully or you will burn a lot of gas making numerous trips. You don’t have immediate access to entertainment, emergency services, and shopping. If these things are a top priority to you it might be time to adjust your attitude or reconsider living remote. Much of what we purchase is on line but we have to drive 8 miles to pick it up.

Ed: Remoteness may be the biggest challenge for some. Think long and hard about this one before you make your move. It can get lonely at times. It can seem as if nobody cares about you anymore. Some people in your circle of friends and family may feel betrayed by your move because you are no longer accessible to them. Be prepared to stay in touch via phone and internet. You will have less human contact than you did before.

More planning is required for everything. You don’t just get in your car and “run” to the store which can be a 100 mile round trip. Tasks need to be combined. If you forget one thing on your list you are done with that project until you go to town again so you need to be very organized.

Some people consider it risky to live so far away from basic services like hospitals, firemen, and law enforcement. How do you deal with those types of issues?

Bruce: Again being self reliant is essential. If we get injured it is a one hour drive to emergency services. Therefore we keep a comprehensive first aid kit on hand for us and our dogs. When we have been injured or need treatment we call ahead so they know we are coming and what to expect. If we have a major health issue we will either get there on time or not. You have to accept that possibility or you will worry yourself sick.

Ed: If you feel the need for instant access to the emergency services, don’t move away from them. I don’t really want to live my life that way so we take an entirely different approach. We minimize our risks. For instance, for $150.00 for three years for both of us we belong to an emergency helicopter/transport service. They will come to our home and pick us up and transport us to a major metropolitan hospital. We are self reliant for protection and have a very good guard dog. I built my house and barn out of non combustible materials so that fire would not be a very big risk.

The odds of our remoteness being the cause of death are so minute, they just aren’t a factor. Most traffic accidents happen within 5 miles of your home. In the city you are on the road every day. We only go out once a week so who is really more at risk? Just a thought on perspective.

Is there anything you regret about living so far out?

Bruce: There is nothing I regret. The advantages so far outweigh the disadvantages that are not even a factor to us.

Ed: I miss family gatherings like birthdays and seeing more of my friends. I miss not being there for my elderly mother when she needs something. Some days I miss the convenience of living next to everything – until I look out the window.

What about the positives of living so far out?

Bruce: Being by yourself much of the time, having a good relationship with your partner is essential. The quiet nights, the darkness, not having to lock your doors at night, having the company of canine companions, fresh air, pure water, healthy living all make this a great lifestyle. Communing with the wild animals and being able to enjoy the outdoors is a large part of life here. Having miles on end to hike, snowshoe, mountain bike and standing on top of the mountain are all positives. The warmth of a wood stove on a cold night. What’s not to like about living like we do?

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray go to www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com.

Ed: Even though I have some regrets, the benefits far outweigh those. The air is cleaner.  You are less involved in family and friend squabbles. We almost always have peace and quiet. We have some distance from our neighbors which is usually a good thing. We have to be more self reliant. You automatically become more intertwined with nature and the weather. You become more independent. We can walk out our back door and into the National Forest where you can hike, hunt, fish, ride horses, and even pan for gold! We can have an outdoor fire most of the year long. I can target practice on my own property. Seeing local wildlife is fun. Mostly, it is the peace and quiet.

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.

Published in Life Style
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.

Published in Off Grid - Misc
Sunday, 05 February 2012 16:00

What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableNovember 2011 – My wife Laurie and I have been in our off grid home for exactly one year now. We live in the Okanogan Highlands of Eastern Washington State at an elevation of 4200′. We are both in our late fifties. This past year has not been anything like the condo lifestyle we came from. Although our backgrounds have well prepared us for our late life adventure I could still fill a book with brand new experiences.

Most of our friends and relatives seem to think we have lost a marble or two but that’s okay, we moved so far away we won’t see them for a while anyway.

This past year we have experienced building a home and moving 250 miles away, living off grid with all new unfamiliar systems, record rainfalls, sub zero temperatures, a 4.6 magnitude earthquake, and a forest fire. Our property is almost three miles from the nearest paved road and no neighbors. Well, there is one neighbor, sort of, but he doesn’t talk to us. I don’t think he likes having neighbors. What in the world did we get ourselves into?

We love it here. We have a “view to die for.” We are surrounded by National Forests, lakes, pine, fir, tamarack trees, green grass and sagebrush. It is beautiful the year ’round.

So what about Off Grid? Simply put, off grid means that you are responsible for your own power, water, and sewage disposal. In our case we chose solar power with a backup generator, water from a drilled well, water cisterns, and an onsite septic system.

Each of these three off grid requirements has multiple methods to choose from. For power, you could choose to go without. Some people in this area live with only a small generator for electricity. The three main sources for off grid power are solar (AC or DC), wind power, and hydro power.

For water we chose a drilled well as our main water source with a 220V pump. That’s right. Our solar AC power is both 110v (regular household) and 220v for the pump. We also put three 1200 gallon underground water cisterns in, one at the barn and two at the house. We use the barn cistern to water the horses year round and the two cisterns at the house are for the garden in the summer time. That puts a lot less strain on our solar power to pump water. It only takes about 1 inch of rain to fill the cisterns off our metal roofs.

For sewage disposal we chose an onsite septic system which is the most common. We use it for both gray and brown water. Some people separate the two types of water. The brown water goes to the septic system and gray water may be used to water landscaping, trees, plants, and even gardens. Others get by with a gray system and an outhouse, chemical, or compost toilet. There are many options to choose from for all of these systems. Of course your local Health Department will have something to say about it and you may even have to educate them.

So how do you learn about all of these things and where do you start? I will talk about all of them and more in follow-up blogs in a step by step process that we went through but I can give you a hint right now on where to start………. Commitment. Making a commitment is the first step.

Laurie and I made a decision to change the way we live. There may be others who are “greener” or more “sustainable” than we are but ANY change you make that is better for your health and the planet is worth committing to.

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.

Published in Life Style