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

 

 

Related items

  • 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

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