Ed Essex

Ed Essex

Monday, 20 November 2017 00:00

I Built My House for Extreme Weather

I went to work in the family commercial construction company in the early 1980's and by the end of the decade had worked my way into the office as a project manager. Commercial construction is entirely different than residential construction. For one thing, everything is engineered - structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers all take a part in the design of commercial buildings. It wasn't long before I discovered the term "100 year storm".

Many structural designs and mechanical designs were based on the 100 year storm (I'm over simplifying for the purpose of this article).  Things like concrete foundation design and building structures were based on the worst earthquakes and windstorms of the last 100 years or maybe storm systems/drains were sized according to the worst rainfalls of the past century. You get the idea.

Throughout the nineties I realized we were getting these "100 year storms" with more frequency. After the year 2000 these storms were setting all time records and the discussion heated up about warming trends and climate change. In 2010 Laurie and I decided to build a new off grid home and I included many design features to address the more severe weather conditions we were experiencing in our part of the world. The costs were minimal compared to (after storm) damage costs and we've never regretted our decision to spend a little more money up front.
These features were over and above current International Residential Building codes used by most jurisdictions at the time. Our design features addressed Earthquakes, Wind Storms, Snow Loads on the roof, and Wildfires. In order to keep this article brief I won't go into details on any of the design upgrades but just want to highlight some of the things we did.

Engineering - We hired a structural engineer for $1,000 to help us with code plus all of the following:

Earthquakes - Our house is an ICF house so that means we have 8" concrete walls. Instead of the typical post and beam wood foundation we decided to go with a slab on grade so now we had concrete walls and floors. The Engineer added more rebar to tie the walls and slab together so that it would act as one unit in case of an earthquake. Our roof is a hip roof and he also beefed up the "ties and hold downs" for the roof structure to the top of the concrete walls. Total cost was less than $1,200.
To see my related article on our ICF experience go to ICF Construction

Wind Storms - We chose to have a metal roof for a lot of reasons. Most roofs in this area are metal. That allows the snow to slide off easier than a BUR but more importantly it is non combustible. We had a wildfire here on the property our very first year! We decided to go with a standing seam metal roof, again for multiple reasons one of which is superior wind load. As near as I can tell from my research, our roof will withstand winds over 135 to 150 MPH. The cost was substantial - over $8,000 but keep in mind our roof covers not only the house but a huge attached garage, attached woodshed, attached carport and covered porch. The end result is a roof that is over twice the size of the house itself.

Snow Loads - We average over 60" a year in annual snowfall. No big deal typically but we decided to address two additional things - A. Unexpected large snowfall of several feet or more or B. Heavy snowfall and then rain. Rain makes snow really heavy and if it is stuck good enough to the roof you can get into trouble. The Engineer simply required stronger trusses which equates to more materials at the truss company but labor doesn't really change. Cost was about $2,500. I also chose to use exterior plywood (no OSB on my house) with a thicker core than code required. Cost for materials was about $600.

Wildfires - We cleared the land around us of trees and I keep the surrounding grass mowed. Our roof is non combustible metal and our siding is Hardi Plank which is not completely non combustible but it is fire resistant. Under the siding our ICF form is 3 hour fire treated foam next to the concrete walls. The only added expense for fire resistance is the metal we used on the underside of the soffit and carport and covered porch ceilings. Most residential fires caused by     wildfires occur when embers are sucked into the attic vent holes (bird blocking) and eventually set the roof structure on fire from inside. The total added cost to cover the exposed underside of the carport and covered porch and soffits was $2,100. For a full description on fire prevention measures we used click on this link - Wildfires

It's been pretty well established that building for the extremes in your area have been successful. In Florida they've added stricter measures for hurricanes that have proven to work. In our area storm detention systems are being upsized to hold more water. All along the west coast earthquake standards are enforced. I did a lot of insurance reparation work as a contractor, repairing wind damage, fire damage, and water damage. I believe you will spend a lot less money preventing damage than reacting to it. I went above and beyond "code" because I haven't seen any decrease in severe weather patterns. New "severe weather event" records are being set every year. You can't stop everything Mother Nature may throw at you but you can sure minimize it in most situations. Where you draw the line is up to you, just know there are preventative measures everyone can take to minimize severe weather storm damage.

Ed and Laurie Essex live in the Okanogan Highlands of Eastern Washington State where they operate their two websites - Good Ideas For Life and Off Grid Works.


40 Acre Off Grid Home

 This contractor owned and custom built home is located in the heart of one of Eastern  Washington's most treasured recreational areas for outdoor activities. Fishing is close  by and you can hunt and snowmobile from the property. Wildlife is abundant and the  view is spectacular.

 You can be completely self sufficient with this property. We produce and manage our  own power, water, and septic systems. Our modern home is designed with multiple  backup systems i.e. you can choose to cook and heat with either propane or wood.  Power is by solar with backup generator. You can grow food the year round in our  garden, orchard, and insulated cold frames. The house is loaded with passive heating  and cooling features eliminating the need for expensive heating and cooling systems. If  you want to be safe, independent, and self sustainable this is the property for you.


Our 40 acre property is located in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State, 20 miles from the nearest town. We are at the end of the road, 3 miles from pavement with an  elevation of 4200'. We currently only have one full time neighbor over a mile away.

The house is 1400 SF with ICF walls, a metal roof, and hardi plank siding. The walls are 8" thick concrete with fire treated rigid insulation on both sides. The house is structurally engineered to withstand earthquakes and is virtually fireproof. The roof is a hidden fastener metal roof and over engineered for heavy snow loads. Wood shed, oversize garage, carport, and covered porch are all attached to the house and under the same hip roof system. You never have to go outside to run the generator or get wood in the winter.

 If you infill the garage door and the woodshed opening , it will more than double the size of the insulated house. All of the structure, insulation, and frost free footings are in place to do that.

The house is 3 bedrooms with 1.75 baths and an insulated extra space in the attic. It has a commanding view of the access road and valley below. The property is 15 - 20 degree slope and is all south facing for excellent solar exposure.

The well is 300' deep with a 3/4 HP pump. It has two separate water sources and produces 2.7 gpm. We have never run out of water or had the pump go dry. Water is pumped up to a 1900 gallon holding tank and gravity flows to the house. The pressure is 63 psi at the house. There is an extra 1500 gallon backup tank at the well. We also have gutters on the house that keep our 2800 gallon cisterns full for the garden and orchard. There is another 1400 gallon cistern at the barn that is filled from the barn gutters. The gutters were specially designed to withstand the snow and ice. We've never had a problem with them.

 We have a 6600 watt solar system with charge controller and a Xantrex inverter and 24  volt Solar One battery system. There is a built in 12000 watt backup generator under  cover in the woodshed.. The solar and generator power is 120/240volts. It operates the  house, barn and water pump. We have outlet switches for all of the outlets to kill the  phantom power. All of our appliances are energy efficient. There are 5 solar tubes in  the house for more light so you don't have to use overhead lights as often.

 The house is wood heat from a masonry heater and backup propane wall heaters. In  the kitchen we have a custom built wood burning masonry stove and oven as well as a  regular propane stove and oven. If you choose to go without propane you can cook and  heat with wood. We burn an average of 4.5 to 5.25 cords of wood each year. We get  most of our wood from our property. For $12.00 you can get a permit to cut 4 cords of  wood in the nearby National forest.

There are numerous passive heating and cooling features built into the house.

On the south end of the house we have 20' of built in insulated raised bed cold frames. You can grow green vegetables all year long with this setup. No artificial heat required. We also have a fenced garden and orchard.

The 40 acres are fenced into two 20 acre parcels and the house is fully fenced to keep animals away. So you can have animals on the upper 20 acres or the lower 20 acres for rotation. The property is about 50% open grass field and 50% forested. The area around the house and barn are cleared for fire prevention.

There is a 3 bedroom septic system in place. Everything on the property - house, solar, septic, and well is legal, inspected and permitted.

There is a 36' x 36' x 16'H barn with 12' x 36' roof overhangs on two sides. There are three horse stalls in the barn and it has a concrete floor. It is also insulated. The sliding door opening is 24' clear.

The house also has a built in cell phone system. There are no land lines here. We use satellite services for TV and computer and our VOIP phone.

 Wildlife consists of deer, elk, moose, bear, wolves, turkey, grouse, cougar, and many  other small animals and birds. We are located in the heart of Washington's outdoor  recreational area for fishing, hunting, and camping and there is a small ski area just a  few miles away. We can ride horses or snowmobile for miles and miles right from our  property on groomed trails and roads and the view from here is spectacular. We border  state land with national forest beyond that. It is really peaceful here.





We have decided to make our equipment available for an additional cost.
55 HP Diesel 4x4 Tractor
Polaris AWD Side x Side ATV w/ front and rear winch
DR Log Splitter
8' Quick Attach Snow Plow
8' Rear Blade
6' Quick Attach Snow Blower     
Brush Hog, Honda Trail Bikes, Riding Lawn Mower, 2 Seater Snowmobile, Agric Roto Tiller, Forks, and much more.

Serious inquiries only please. $350,000 for the house and land plus $45,000 for all of the equipment (OPTIONAL).


Tuesday, 04 October 2016 00:00

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Friday, 06 February 2015 00:00

Home Generator Repair

off grid, homestead, good ideas for life, generator repairGenerators are an important aspect of most homesteads and off grid living.  Our smallest generator is a 3500 watt portable unit that we use to top off our batteries or haul around the property for projects that might be a little out of range for our battery operated power tools.

I have no idea how many hours we have on it but it was purchased in 2008 and used extensively to build our house, keep our batteries charged on cloudy days and most importantly to run our 240 volt deep well water pump. The water pump maxed out the generator capacity. This past year it finally gave out and could no longer produce electricity the way it was supposed to. It would work erratically on and off and anywhere from 50% voltage to 100%.

We live over 100 miles (200 miles round trip) from the nearest generator repair shop. By the time you take it there, pay the repair bill, and go back to pick it up you might as well buy a new one with ALL new parts.

I am the least mechanically inclined person I know and electrical is way out of my league but with nothing to lose I decided to do what I could to get this necessary piece of equipment up and running again.

I went online to You Tube and searched for a video that described my generator problems and ended up with a video from the Generator Guru. This video described how to remove the cover plate to expose the electrical wiring and parts that were directly responsible for generating power. It then goes on to lay out a step by step series of tests you can do with a voltage meter or multi meter to diagnose which part is not working properly. It also gives you the voltage parameters you will be looking for on each test.

off grid, homestead, generator repair, generator, good ideas for lifeThese are the steps I took to diagnose my generators problem:

1. Disconnect the AVR (automatic voltage regulator) - this is so you can get raw real voltage data on steps 2-5.
2. Test the voltage for the brushes - this might tell you if you need new brushes or not.
3. Test the voltage on L1 and L2 - these might tell you if you need new windings or not
4. Test the voltage on RI and R2 - these will tell you if the rotor is bad or not.
5. Test L1 and R1 - this test has to do with the 240V option my generator has.

I did my tests and wrote the voltages down for each of the above items and called the National Support Hotline for my brand of generator. I described how the generator was behaving and gave them the voltage test results. (It should be noted that even though some of my results were outside the parameters given in the video it didn't mean those parts were bad - i.e. the video said the voltage for brushes should be between 5v and 10v. Mine was 19v but my support hotline said that was okay for my generator).

The support person immediately diagnosed that the AVR was bad and I needed a new one. I purchased it right there on the phone for $31.00 including shipping. The AVR arrived at the post office box a few days later. It only took about 10 minutes to install and my generator once again performs perfectly. I virtually saved myself the cost of a new generator which would run around $350.00.

I would like to caution you that there are many more things that can go wrong with a generator, including bad spark plugs,  bad outlets, bad switches, and more. This article is not intended to cover all of the bases but it might just be a good place to start. It worked for me and I can guarantee you one thing - if I can do it, so can you.

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.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014 00:00

Homestead Expense List

homestead, off grid, expense list, good ideas for life, sustainable, survivalMany people have contacted us the past few years asking about how to get started planning their own new homesteads. I have written numerous articles about how we went about building ours. They include articles like ‘Homestead - Where To Start? What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?, Lessons Learned Parts 1 and 2’, and many others found here at Off Grid Works.

For this article I have created a checklist of potential expenses to consider when planning your own homestead. It is by no means comprehensive and most of the items you are already aware of as typical living expenses. The list is based on the probability that you will be living in a rural area although homesteading in the city is certainly possible. See (Create a Backyard Homestead).

As you may know, homesteads can vary hugely in cost depending on the level of comfort and convenience you choose. Some people may choose to live in a tepee and others like us will choose a more traditional structure. You may choose to have satellite services or not.

The list below is intended to get you thinking about your own expenses you may choose to afford and others you may not have considered. An “oops” moment later on can be expensive. Your own similar list can help you make choices on when to start your homestead, how much money you may choose to borrow, or what you are willing to live without to get started.

The List:


Realtor Fees
Road Building
House Construction
Barn or Out Buildings
Septic System or Other
Well or Water Source
Moving Costs


Pens and Fencing
Vet Care
Garden Supplies and Fencing
Farm Equipment
Craft Supplies
Food Prep Supplies

Monthly Bills

Homeowners Insurance
Medical Insurance
Fuel for vehicles, generators, farm vehicles, and equipment
Property Taxes
Other taxes (income tax, sales tax, etc)
Vehicle Licensing
Other licensing (hunting and fishing)
Clothing etc
Satellite for TV
Satellite for computer
Phone service
Propane or other heat and cool fuel expense


Repairs and Maintenance

homestead, goat, angora goat, good ideas for life, survivalist, sustainable, off gridIf you are thinking of starting your own new homestead, start by making a comprehensive list similar to the one above. Don’t be overwhelmed. Consider each item one at a time. Decide which items are necessities and which are conveniences and go from there. It’s better to be prepared and aware than not! Always keep your goals realistic.

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.

Thursday, 04 September 2014 00:00

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..


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

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 00:00

Homesteads and Weather Part 4

off grid, solar power, weather, survival, Ed and Laurie Essex and Bruce and Carol McElmurray both live in different states (Washington & Colorado respectively) and both deal and contend with the weather at their mountain homesteads. They both have learned to work with the weather and adjust their lives around their respective weather. There is much to be learned from their experiences at their homesteads. This is part 4 of a series of 5 regarding their experience and advice on living remotely and dealing with the weather. They answer how often they experience bad weather and self reliance and the weather.
How Often Do You Experience Bad Weather:
Ed Essex: This is our fourth winter. To date we have had a 4.6 earthquake, a record breaking wind storm, at least three torrential rainstorms that did a lot of damage around the area including flooding further down the valley, a wildfire and a lot of wet snow last year which is difficult to plow and because we got so much. It really piled up alongside the road and caused a lot of road damage when it melted. Cold snow doesn’t do that and mostly just seems to disappear when it warms up.
The scary thing about weather comes from watching national and world news. Nasty record breaking weather is no longer unusual. If you are thinking about building you really need to consider the weather extremes.
We added earthquake reinforcement to our concrete walls. We installed drainage around our house which no one else does in this area. We beefed up our roof structure to handle extra weight for record snowfall amounts. We virtually fireproofed our home. We installed a more expensive metal roof system to help combat high winds. It all cost more but is certainly less expensive than damage repairs or replacement.
Bruce McElmurray: This is our 17th winter here. We experience a variety of weather at our elevation. Mostly we have to deal with lots of snow. We receive an average of 264” a winter and occasionally that comes 24-36” at a time. While it is labor intensive it is something accepted and dealt with when living in the high country. We have experienced one earthquake of moderate severity but no one recalls having one before or since in our community. It is a rare occurrence for our area. The most scary part was the noise it created which sounded like a sonic boom. Our mountain area is mostly rock and it was those rocks grating together that made the noise. We have experienced a micro burst and several gusty windstorms. Our only damage was a few trees that we put to good use by making lumber and firewood from them.
Our greatest concern is wildfire. We have installed a metal roof and have real native stone exterior along with a mist system that keeps our exposed wood wet and operates off a low pressure system. We have cut trees beyond the required distance from the house and trimmed tree limbs up to 20’ high. We cleared away undergrowth to eliminate a potential fuel source. We have had one near miss but residents who live in the mountains spend a lot of time preparing for wildfires. Our association has a fire truck and a water truck to assist fire fighters. We are prepared but nothing is ever certain when dealing with a wildfire. All these increase our chance of survival in case we are unable to evacuate for some reason.
Self Reliance and Weather:
Ed Essex: Fire and snow are always going to be our nemesis in mountain weather. Prevention is going to be key.
You can’t stop a forest fire from starting but you can take steps to assure your survival and the survival of your dwelling. Some of the fire prevention steps I took are listed previously in this article.
You can’t affect how deep the snow is going to get but you can be prepared for it. Make sure you have more than one good snow shovel. I have two methods for plowing our road so we can get out. Next year I will add a snowmobile for a third option. I still have to make sure my machines are well maintained and there is plenty of fuel for them, in other words they need to be ready to go when the time comes. Make sure your vehicle has the proper chains. Try them on to make sure they fit. All of these things go toward prevention. Prevention is always less expensive than reaction.
Bruce McElmurray: Being self reliant is one of the most essential elements of living remotely in the mountains. If the weather controls your lifestyle - and it does - you need to be prepared for the numerous contingencies it will throw at you. Whether it be high wind, hail, lightning, power outage, heavy snow or whatever you have to be prepared to deal with it yourself in most instances. We have the equipment to deal with most weather instances but mother nature can also be unpredictable. When we are forecast to receive 2” of snow we could receive 2’ or more. Being self reliant also means being flexible when the unexpected happens. When a chain saw won’t start, or when the snow exceeds what is predicted you need to be capable of dealing with that situation. We have shoveled our way out when the temperatures were too low to start the tractor. It helps if you possess some mechanical, plumbing, electrical and carpentry skills.
Mountain winds sometimes blow trees over and they always fall in the most unlikely and inconvenient places. You need equipment that you can count on when the unexpected occurs. Some of the well maintained equipment we use has to be properly maintained so when it is needed it is in working order and available. Being self reliant is an important aspect of living where repairman or service companies may be located 40 miles away. Many times you have to be capable of making the repairs yourself until a proper repairer can be dispatched or reach to you.
The next and final part of this series of dealing with mountain weather will cover changes in property development to accommodate weather. How big is the challenge of mountain weather and what advice would Ed and Bruce give new homesteaders.

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

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

Monday, 03 March 2014 00:00

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


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