Ed Essex

Ed Essex

Friday, 12 October 2012 17:00

Free Range Chickens?

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableSo you want to have fresh eggs and the more adventurous of you might even think you want fresh meat! Of course, to be totally in vogue these are going to have to be free range chickens or it’s just not cool.

Like most things there is another side to the story. This blog is about some of the less attractive side of free range chickens.

We currently have 15 free range chickens, all different varieties. Buff Orpingtons, Dominique’s, and Rhode Island Reds and some kind of cross in between those three breeds. We don’t just let them out in a tiny pen for an hour a day to qualify them as “free range” like so many commercial growers do. We let our chickens out of the coop at first light and they go back in at dusk. All day long they have the full run of our 40 acre property.

While most people might think that is the ultimate in chicken raising it isn’t all that clean of an issue. There are some problems that you should consider before you turn the little ones loose to do as they please.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableThis summer Laurie worked very hard to put a little flower bed next to our main entry door. She dug up local plants to display and even shopped around the woods for some decorative wood to put in the bed. She then wrapped the whole thing in chicken wire to keep the dog, chickens, and cats out to give the new plants a chance to get rooted and grow.

The fence was unsightly and we finally took it down last week. Within three days the chickens had destroyed the planter, turning it into a chicken spa to relax out of the sun and bath in its fine soil. I’ve shooed them and even sprayed them with water but they keep coming back.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOne of my jobs outside is to keep all of our concrete slabs clean which I think helps keep the inside of the house clean. It was all easy enough to do until we got free range chickens. Now I have to scrape the concrete before I sweep it and even that doesn’t erase all of the little round markings. That also goes for anything outside they might sit or roost on during the day.

If that isn’t enough to make you question the whole free range concept let me add one more.  Free ranging chickens are going to look really good to a variety of predators. This past year we have had to deal with coyotes, weasels, and too many hawks to list.

Thanks to our Anatolian Shepherd livestock guardian dog and me we still have all 15 chickens but only just barely. The dog has chased coyotes, the weasel, and at least one hawk off the property. The hawk was 3’ above one of the chickens when the dog just exploded into action and chased it away. I took care of the rest. At times it seemed like a full time job, like when the family of hawks came to visit – mom, dad, and baby hawk. They were trying to teach the little one how to hunt and using our chickens to do it with.

They do keep the bugs down. We literally don’t have grasshoppers in our immediate area anymore and I have to admit our chickens seem to be very happy. They also can be very entertaining. All that being said they are fodder for any and all predators and very messy to boot.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe managed to keep our chickens safe this year but how are you going to feel if you let one predator slip in and steal one of your little bug pecking munchkins? Is it really in their best interest to free range if it also exposes them to being killed by any number of different predators? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. I just want you to be able to make an informed decision.

We’re still free ranging here but I am considering a large pen with a wire lid on it for the future. The jury is still out. One thing that is encouraging is that with each generation of new ones they seem to be getting wilder and more wary than the original chickens we started with. Something else to consider.

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, 23 October 2012 17:00

End Of A Season - Change

The garden is done except carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower. It’s time to rototill.

Our Mountain Salmon are spawning now but the smaller ones they planted in the spring are really nice size to eat.

It hasn’t rained here for three months. Nothing but dust. Rain is in the forecast next week. We are going to have to celebrate when it does.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableAnother water leak. We have over 1325’ of waterline and this time we don’t know where it is.

When we bought this place we inherited the existing well and pump. The pump was undersized. Because of that it hasn’t ever worked the way it should. It is drawing 44 Amps of solar power. The new one we are putting in will only draw 15 Amps and get the job done three times faster!

The hunters will be moving in this weekend for a week. Probably should paint the horses bright orange.

Almost done with the equipment maintenance. Checked the tire inflation pressure and changed oil and lubed all of the grease fittings. Getting ready for winter use.

Headed out to friends to cut free wood to bring home for next year. Part of the down trees from the July 20, 2012 Big Storm. We can always use more wood.

Winterized our outdoor sink this week. This time I remembered to dump RV antifreeze down the drain.

Pretty soon I will be up on the roof plugging vent holes before the real cold sets in.


off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe also need to get the insulated cold frames planted – SOON! We still have a few fresh veggies like spinach and Swiss chard in the garden but we need to plant those kinds of foods in the cold frame as well.

We’ve been heating our home this fall with our masonry kitchen stove but I will need to fire up the masonry heater in a week or so. We have to build a few small fires first to make sure all of the moisture is out of it so it doesn’t blow up from a steam explosion. I wonder what the odds of that happening really are?

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableTime to harvest a few chickens. No need to feed them all over the winter. We had a good batch of young ones this year. I may take some of them as well. Never a fun thing but it’s why we have them.

Made a trip to town to stock up for a while.

Last batch of tomatoes to can this week. One more batch of fish as well. Laurie has been grating zucchini for the freezer to be used in zucchini bread this winter.

On the way to cut wood tomorrow we will stop by a friend’s house and get some apples off his tree. That will be the last of the canning, freezing, and preserving for the year.

Our neighbors will all be moving their RV’s off the mountain for the winter. We probably won’t see them until next spring.

This is my favorite time of the year for some reason although I don’t look forward to the snows again. I wonder how much snow we will have?  I guess it doesn’t really matter as long as we have lots of wood to burn and food to eat.

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, 16 February 2012 16:00

Convenience vs Sustainability

Green living, off grid, and sustainability are words that are often mentioned in a way that would make them interconnected. This isn’t a blog about semantics but rather an analysis of our own progress towards these three terms in the pursuit of our off grid adventure.

It’s not my intention to have a discussion with anyone about what is right or wrong, how far we should go to clean up our act concerning the environment, or where to draw the line between things like pipelines vs. wildlife and other hot topics that headline national and local news. Many of these issues need to be decided on a case by case basis and considerations given to both need and effect.

This blog is more about the choices Laurie and I have made between convenience vs. sustainability in our pursuit to go off grid.

I’m not sure we ever intended to become “green” but rather chose to utilize better practices in some areas of our lives that just made sense. I’m also pretty sure that if you went around asking everyone what “green” meant you would get as many different answers as the number of people you talked to.

I think anything you can do to improve the quality of the world we live in or lessen your impact should be considered green and I would hope that most people would consider that to be just good common sense.

It makes sense to recycle and reduce waste. It makes sense to use less fossil fuel or emit less smoke, exhaust, or other unhealthy toxins into the air we breathe. How could anyone argue against that?

Laurie has managed to drag me into the recycling world at least to the extent that I now pay attention and participate for the most part. We pay attention to the things we do that would cause pollution or other harm to theenvironment and try to keep our impact to a minimum.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe’ve installed a heating system that utilizes the trees we grow on our own property and the emissions from our masonry heater are 95% efficient. We can grow more trees than we need for heat so I consider that to be a plus in the green department.

We’ve become much more efficient and less wasteful in how we purchase goods, use fossil fuels, and how far we go before we replace an item. Many things now get repaired and reused instead of throwing them away.

Over all, I would have to say we’ve made improvements in the green category.

We’ve definitely managed to go off the grid. We manufacture our own solar power, are independent in our waste management with a septic system, and we have our own water source and power to access it.

Sustainability is a whole different animal. We are not 100% sustainable but our off grid experience has put us much closer to sustainable bragging rights than before we moved in here.

We still use propane in our living system. We use it for our stove, dryer, tankless hot water heater, wall heaters, and backup generator.

We can eliminate the dryer if we want to and often do dry our clothes on a clothes rack inside or outside. Did you know you can save over $285.00 per year by drying your clothes naturally?

We could go without the backup generator if we had to. Just quit using electricity when the sun disappears for days at a time as it often does in our area.

Our wall heaters don’t really count because the only reason they are there is if we want to leave the house in the winter unattended and don’t want it to freeze. They are for backup use only.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOur propane stove also doesn’t really count because we had a custom made wood burning masonry stove put in our kitchen that works quite well. So if we REALLY WANTED TO, we could be sustainable with the exception of convenient hot water. Of course we could heat water on our wood fired kitchen stove if we had to. The only reason we don’t have solar hot water is because I wasn’t convinced the current systems available would perform the way we wanted to in the really cold weather and when the sun isn’t available.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableFor true sustainability you also have to grow your own food. We do have a big garden in the summer and pressure can and freeze a lot of vegetables. We can grow veggies almost all year long in our attached insulated cold frame/ raised beds. We pressure can much of the trout we catch in the local lakes. We have chickens for eggs and meat. We even have horses for transportation in a worst case event.

So at this point we are not sustainable but only by choice. We chose the more convenient propane stove, dryer, and hot water appliances over true sustainability.  We chose to draw that line in a different place than others might have but I can still say we are a lot closer to sustainability than we were and we could be sustainable if we truly wanted to be.

I feel good about what we’ve done because I know we have made improvements and are a lot better off than we were. We are greener, more sustainable and we definitely live off grid. I think those are all good things.

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.

Sunday, 28 October 2012 17:00

Company and Visitors

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe had a lot of company this summer. As many as 18 different people in one month. Some stayed and some just visited for a few hours.

Many are just curious about our lifestyle. Some came to see our home and design features and get ideas for their own new home. Most are curious about our solar power.

We live in an area that is considered a vacation paradise for most people. Camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, and gold panning. We also have snowmobiling, skiing, and ice fishing in the winter.

They stayed anywhere from a few hours to five days. We love our friends and family and we get excited when total strangers want to come and see what we have done with our house and property but 18 people in one month can be a challenge for us to keep up with all of our chores and work.

It takes a lot to run our little homestead. We have a big garden in the summer that gets hand watered in order to save water. When veggies are ready for canning then they are ready. They won’t wait for company to leave. Chickens, horses, dogs, and cats have to be fed every day. Cleanup after the same has to occur every day. Wood has to be cut and fences maintained. We maintain all of our equipment. We only have a certain window of opportunity to catch the kind of fish we need for canning. We monitor our solar charging and water pumping systems. It’s all a timing thing and won’t wait for company.

We used to go three blocks for food. Now any trip we make to town is anywhere from 50 to 100 mile round trip and one half to a whole day.

Add to that we own a full time business. Both Laurie and I work there. It is our website Good Ideas For Life located on a computer in our home. It is a new business and takes a lot of work to build it up. Between our work on the website and homestead chores, it is easily full time for both of us seven days a week and between 10 and 12 hours per day.

I’m writing this blog because I want something to show people who want to come and visit. I want them to understand that we love having them but at the same time we have a lot to do and can’t stop to entertain as much as we would like to. We really do want to visit with friends and family and we want them to understand that we are willing to make time for that but it isn’t always possible.

I guess that’s what happens when you live in a small corner of Paradise. Poor us!

Please do come to see us. Just understand we are limited in our hospitality by necessity, not by choice.

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.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012 17:00

Chickenship - (humor)

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableLiving off grid – well we just had to have chickens right?

When I was a kid we had a couple of bantam chickens. They were named Popeye and Oliveoil, or maybe it was Oliveoyle. Anyway we only kept them for their eggs. I’m not sure why we wanted such small eggs. We could have just raided a robin’s nest or two and not had to buy any feed. I still remember those two chickens. When the rooster was after the hen (which was often) she would run into the doghouse and hide behind the dog to get away from him. It must have been one of those forced marriages. Of course, as a child I just thought they were playing hide and seek.

I’d like to say I remember that we enjoyed the eggs but sometimes my mother thought the eggs should be soft boiled and I did not enjoy those at all. Who came up with that idea anyway? Why not just eat them raw? Did she think I wanted to grow up and be Rocky Balboa? What was the point in wasting the energy to almost cook them? Just saying……

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableSo when Laurie and I moved out of the city we just had to have chickens. We fixed up an old storage shed and made a chicken condo out of it. We had all the chickens sign papers that they would live in harmony, lay lots and lots of eggs and the rooster would never crow before 9:00 a.m. and only on weekdays. Well, the chickens do seem to live in harmony.

We have one Rooster and eight Hens. I think they are happy, well I KNOW the rooster is happy.

The condo is insulated, has a lot of roosts which they don’t use much.  We put four nest boxes in it. Guess how many they use? Usually just one. I guess they don’t like cold boxes. When it is time to lay an egg, the hens should just go to a nest box and lay one. Not ours, they get in line to use THE box. No one wants to be first because the box is cold. They are not patient either. Once they are in line, they want the laying hen to hurry. They stand there and scold each other if they are not fast enough. Then when they are done and get out of the box they brag about what they just accomplished. They are not at all sportsman like about it. There is a lot of trash talk. It can be very noisy in the henhouse.

All of our chickens are “free range”, I guess because they didn’t have to pay for it. They get store bought feed twice a day and the rest of the day they spend on their free range foraging for bugs and things. You can’t believe what chickens eat. I can’t believe we eat chickens and eggs, not after what I’ve seen. These chickens (I am not making this up) will sometimes stand under a horse tail and wait………I’m from the city remember? I am not farm hardened. That is disgusting.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableIt’s still cold and wet here even though it is May. I guess there are not as many bugs and things for them to eat. After dinner last night I went outside and almost got ran over by the whole herd of chickens. Flocks fly, herds rumble. This was definitely a herd.Have you ever stood in one spot and witnessed eight chickens running straight at you full bore? It is a sight to behold. Full speed they came. Waddling side to side, some flapping their wings for more speed. I thought I was a goner. I guess they were just extra hungry. Maybe the horses weren’t around. I went back into the house and got some scraps (pay dirt for a chicken). I can’t tell you how happy they were. I was happy they didn’t trample me to death.

These guys are smart too. We haven‘t lost one chicken to a predator. Well okay, we do have an Anatolian shepherd livestock guardian dog but that’s not the only reason. We had a coyote come to within about 50 yards of the flock one day. The hens all bunched up and froze and the rooster went out about 15yards toward the coyote. He actually put himself between the coyote and his hens! I guess eight hens to yourself is worth dying for. I was impressed! I thought he was all about the love. This rooster actually finds food and gives it to his hens or calls them over to eat what he found. He’s a real smoothie. I think he’s from Europe. Excellent technique.

But here he was actually putting his life on the line defending his loved ones. The standoff finally came to an end when I went outside and scared the coyote away. Of course the hens all gathered around the rooster, like he was the hero. Go figure. I have to admit, he is dashing in his feathered costume, but there is a little substance there as well.

It wouldn’t be the same here without our chickens. Fresh healthy eggs are wonderful but the entertainment value is priceless.

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.


Monday, 17 December 2012 16:00

An Average Winter Day

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOur winter lifestyle here is different from where we came from so we thought we should share what a typical day is like. When I say winter, I really mean sometime in October to sometime in April, that’s how long we have snow.

We typically have snow here that averages about 3’ deep once it builds up to that. We don’t usually get more than a few inches at a time. It settles and then snows a little more but it stays around 3’ deep.

Like summer time, Laurie and I work from 7AM to 5PM seven days a week.

Animals: Laurie does most of the animal work. She takes care of the dog, cats, chickens, and horses. The horses graze on our acreage in the summer but need hay in the winter. We have some beautiful and affordable river bottom hay from a friend of ours. Plus the water needs to have the ice broken twice a day so they can drink.

Laurie goes the extra mile for the chickens. You won’t believe what I’ve seen going out the door to feed them in their nice warm chicken coop. They get hot meals. I kid you not. Our chickens get rice dishes, heated leftovers, and the occasional hot cereal. Me – I just throw the door open and they can come out and eat mash or not on the frozen ground I have shoveled clean for them.

She takes care of them all twice a day no matter what the weather.

I get up in the morning and get the coffee and tea going. It’s also my job to fire up the masonry heater.  We burn it twice a day so bringing wood in from the woodshed is also one of the things I do daily.

We both work on the computer an average of four hours per day. Laurie handles most of the packaging and shipping, invoicing, book keeping, and deals with a few of our vendors. I get the rest of the vendors and handle all of the website operation which includes uploading and updating all of the products. I also do the product blogs on the website and blogging for Mother Earth News and therefore Off Grid Works as well. I handle all of the maintenance, advertising and SEO for the websites. We go to the Post Office / UPS shipping place three times a week. In the winter that can be a real challenge on our road.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableAs most of you know we grow fresh food in the winter. We started experimenting with our insulated cold frames last year. They are going full bore this winter. Inside the house Laurie has started on a new hydroponic system we are trying out. If it works we will add it to our “growing list of food growing products” on our web store Good Ideas For Life. We like to use the products we sell so we can answer any questions from customers. Because of that some of our time goes to experimentation.

Laurie handles most dinners and most housework. I love to cook breakfast and eat all the things we aren’t supposed to. We both clean up.

I take care of the garbage. It has to go 3 miles down the icy road every other week. I also take care of all of the generators, solar equipment, and battery charging and maintenance.

You might get the idea we are the Cleavers with traditional roles but the truth is that I’m pretty good with an apron on whether it be cooking or cleaning and when I get stuck mechanically or need some extra muscle with a shovel or wood cutting, I call my best mechanic, logger, and laborer – Laurie (mans best friend).

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableLaurie does craftwork. She makes things for people and for us. So far this winter she finished a quilt for her niece’s new baby and a wool rug for our living room. She also sews shopping bags for people to use that don’t prefer plastic.

I shovel most of the snow from around the house and barn and plow our property roads and the 3 mile long access road we use to get to the highway.

We both do odd jobs for other people to bring in extra money and stay busy.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableWe don’t leave much except to go to town for fresh supplies. We do manage to have some fun in the winters. We visit friends and even go ice fishing when it’s nice. We also go for walks from our house. We live next to National Forest land. When the snow gets  too deep we switch to snowshoes. It’s almost magical walking through a snow covered winter forest.

We like our winters but I’m sure we would both say they could be a little shorter.

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.

Sunday, 26 August 2012 17:00

An Average Summer Day

We get out of bed about 6:00. I know, you thought we would be up before first light. Well we are in the winter but not in the summer. 6:00 a.m. is a nice average.

While I start the coffee and tea brewing, Laurie heads outside to turn the animals loose and get their breakfast ready.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableLaurie then heads for the garden to hand water all of the veggies and I go to the computer for my morning computer chores. I have a routine I follow every day to keep our websites up and running, checking on Google Analytics and our Facebook page.

After that we generally do our household chores. Laurie does the typical inside duties like dusting, vacuum, dishwasher, wash clothes etc, and I head outside to clean. I scrape the “free range” chicken pooh off the concrete and then blow that and the dust off with my gasoline powered leaf blower or just use a broom. Then it is off to bait traps. We keep traps in our barn, garden, and exterior house area. All critters are welcome to live as they please otherwise. Have a raised eyebrow do you? I will explain in detail the thousands of dollars in damage they can do in another blog, just for your education. I’ve already received mine.



off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableThe rest of the day could be anything. You just prioritize as issues come up. I could be working on our three mile long access road. Working on our websites. Cutting wood for the winter. Cleaning up the wood cutting mess. Hauling and loading hay for the winter. Maintaining vehicles by replacing fluids and keeping tires inflated etc. Repairing fences, mowing, and weed eating to keep the grass down around the house during fire season. Pumping water and maintaining our solar power system. We do these things seven days a week. There are no weekends except I usually cook a big breakfast on weekends and eat all the things we aren’t supposed to.

Laurie works on the garden(s), taking care of the animals, grooming, watering, feeding, and administering medicine if required. She handles the bill paying, shipping and much of the shopping and household indoor chores. She also helps me outside a lot. She does most of the food prep like canning, freezing, drying etc. She taught me how to do fencing and drive a tractor.

We both cross train. We don’t have a “set in concrete” list of chores. We help each other as needed or just because we feel like it. If she has been cooking a lot I will step in and give her a break. She does the same for me. It works out great.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableThe thing I would like to stress the most about this lifestyle is that it does require more effort than most other living situations. I have lived in the city in a house on a lot. I have also lived in a condo. Both were easier than living on a modern homestead like we are. I like having a tractor to do the heavy work but just needing a tractor should tell you something about the extra requirements of living as we do. We also own a chainsaw, roto tiller, and snowplow blade. We have a solar power system to maintain and even our own cell phone tower and signal boosters. All of these items require attention in one form or another. They all mean extra work.

One other item to note is that because you are a little more intertwined with Mother Nature in this lifestyle, your needs and responsibilities change as the year progresses. I like it that my winter chores vary from our summer ones.



off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableI’ve read many clever things others have said about why they do it. Why they live this way if you don’t have to. It usually comes with comments about “healthier lifestyle”, “it’s more satisfying “or “I like being independent”.

All of those things are true I guess. I can’t really put my thoughts into words but it has something to do with the above statements and my own personal conviction that we have gone too far in the way of convenient living. As a result our food is lacking in safety and nutrition, we have a national concern over obesity and a multitude of health problems, many of which are avoidable by simply changing our lifestyles. We don’t have all of the answers but I think we are on the right track. I think we are more right than wrong.

Laurie – she just likes it here and enjoys doing the things we do. Hers is a simplified outlook.

When we aren’t working, we are riding our 49cc scooters on the National Forest roads, fishing just down the road, riding horses from our property into the National Forest, hiking directly from our property, panning for gold, and enjoying the local wildlife, our own animals, cooking over a live fire, and just in general – enjoying the outdoors. It’s like taking a vacation in your own backyard.  “You can’t beat that” as Dick Proeneke would often say.

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.

Thursday, 28 June 2012 17:00

Insulated Curtains Part II

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableEd: Well, when I read this I got confused before I even got to the second paragraph. I think I will go stack wood……………….

Laurie: The first step is to measure your window. You will need to estimate how much fabric you are going to need. It will be worthwhile for you to sit down and figure how many windows you are going to do and their sizes. The Warm Windows fabric comes in 2 widths so you may be able to use that to your advantage. Next step is to gather your supplies. My list was pretty simple. Fabric, thread and all those kinds of things and I bought a bag of ½ inch brass rings, a bag of orbs and a supply of rib slides. All the drapery supplies you could ever want you can get through Textol Systems online.

When you are hanging your shades inside the window frame it’s really important to get your measurements right, you won’t have much wiggle room.  You will measure from side to side of the framed window opening, not the window itself.  I cut the Warm Windows fabrics to that width plus ½ to ¾ inch for the wider windows, and depending on how you decide to hang your curtain from the top of the window frame you will need to add length to your curtain measurement, a little more about that later. My next step was to serge the whole outside edge of the Warm Windows fabric. Because of all the layers it’s just way easier to work with if it is serged or zig zagged around the outside edges. Next step is to sew your cover fabric onto the curtain. Your covering fabric will be wider and longer than your Warm Windows fabric for hems and seams. I use the width of the Warm Windows fabric and add 3 inches, and for the length I use the length measurement and add 9 inches. It is a good idea to use a square to square off the fabric for marking and cutting when you are using these large pieces of fabric.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableNext step is to create your seams and hems. Lay your Warm Windows fabric drapery lining side up and place your cover fabric face down matching the cover fabric edges to the Warm Windows fabric edges. Your cover fabric will not lay flat because it’s wider than the Warm Windows fabric, but that excess is taken up when you turn your shades right side out.  I sewed my seams with a ½ inch seam and once that was done went back and surged  those seams again. I know that seems like a lot of serging, but it sure makes these shades nice and no loose ends. I love my serger. Turn the shade right side out and press your side seams. Be careful not to use too hot of an iron.

Then tackle the bottom hem. For the bottom hem lay your shade front side down and fold the excess cover fabric in half to the bottom of the shade and press to set your crease, and then fold up again to cover the first 4 inch channel of the Warm Windows fabric. Pin and then hand stitch the hem and close the sides with a slip stitch.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableNext step is to attach your rib slides. Turn your shade inside out and lay flat with the Warm window fabric face up.  At this point you will be gluing the rib slides to every other channel of your shade. I use Aileen’s Tacky Glue.  Start with your bottom channel, apply the glue along the whole length of channel and cut your rib to exactly the width of the shade, and glue the rib directly onto the channel.  Do the same for every other channel on the Warm Windows fabric. You will need to find something to weigh the ribs down while the glue dries. Once the glue dries carefully turn the shade right side out. Don’t be too concerned if parts of the ribs come loose, this is an extra step to help keep the ribs in place until you secure them in place by tacking them in by hand.  The next step is to sew the top of the shade closed, again, if you have a serger I would use that. Otherwise sew a ½ inch seam and zig zag the seam. Once you have that done you will be sewing the brass rings for the cords onto the back of your shade.  Lay your shade down drapery lining side up. You will have to decide how many rings to use. For wider curtains you may want to use 3 or 4 rings across the width of your shade. Narrower shades you may be able to get away with 2. On each of the channels that you glued the ribs onto you will be sewing 2, 3 or 4 brass rings. These rings will have to be tacked on by hand. You want to sew through the Warm Windows fabric catch the cover fabric and the rib slide plus the ring. So you are securing the shade fabrics, the rib slide and the ring all at once.  When you use the slide ribs these help to make your shades to fold up properly when you pull your shades up without any extra help. It seems like I was always having to help fold the curtains by hand while I was pulling them up, but these ribs help to make the curtains fold where they are suppose to.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOnce your shade is made you will need to install it. And rather than attach my shade to the support strip and then attaching the support strip to the window sill I simplified that process by having my husband install a ½ inch X 1 inch strip of finish trim to the inside of the window frame that has the screw eyes fixed into it (these are for your draw cords to go through). These need to be in line with the rings on your shades. Decide which side you want the pull cord to hang, and fix the last screw eye on this end of the wood strip about ¾ inch from the end.  Then I folded the top seam of my shade over about an inch and stapled front side of this lip to the front of the support strip. This was the only tricky thing in the whole process, and is probably a two man project, someone to hold the shade up while the other person gets up under to staple. One of the reasons I did mine this way was so that if I wanted to take my shades down in the summer time for the view I didn’t have to install and uninstall the support strip. We have 12 inch wide walls because our house is made with insulated concrete forms and this makes for beautiful wide window sills. I wanted to make these support strips as inconspicuous as possible so if I took the shades down you wouldn’t see them. Having said all that it turns out that I wouldn’t take those shades down during the summer anyway, they make really good shades for keeping the house cool in the hot summer months.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOnce your shades are up you will thread your cord through the rings, starting with the bottom ring on the pull cord side up through each ring, and then through the two screw eyes, and out to the side.  Thread the second and third cords the same way taking the ends through the screw eyes and cutting them to the same length.  I use orbs instead of tying the cord to the bottom ring on the shades. This way you can easily adjust them if you need to. I use orbs for the end of the draw cords as well which eliminates having to install cord locks. I just slide the orb up the cord to hold the curtain open.

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.

Thursday, 28 June 2012 17:00

Insulated Curtains Part 1

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableOne of the items on our “off grid checklist” was insulated curtains. At elevation 4200 feet and temperatures below zero degrees every winter, it just made sense to have them. The actual R factor isn’t all that much, (claims are from R-2 to R-5), but every little bit helps and I can assure you that in spite of the low R values these curtains make a huge difference in both comfort level and heat retention.

We burn about 5 cords of wood each year. After two winters I am going to say that these curtains save us as much as ½ cord per year and when they are in full use they make a difference of about 2 degrees warmer in the house. You begin to feel the difference in temperature almost immediately when you lower them.

My wife Laurie made our curtains so I asked her if she would write down instructions for everyone to read. This is Part 1 and next week we will finish up with Part II. The reason we are posting this in the summertime is to give everyone plenty of time to absorb and make plans for fabrication before the next cold season.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableLaurie – I started my shades with the Warm Windows Insulated Windows Shade System. Warm Windows has manufactured the shade system so that all you have to do basically is to add a decorative cover fabric to match your interior decorating. The system they have produced is 5 layers thick, with a drapery lining on the outside, and the layer that will be the backside of your curtains. The next layer is the high density hollow polyester fiber, then there is a vapor barrier layer, next is the metalized film needled with another layer of the poly fiber, and finally you add the final layer of cover fabric. I know that all the components of this curtain system is available separately, and is totally feasible to build your own system but I think you will find its much simpler, tidy and easier to purchase the pre made system.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableThe Warm Windows website has instructions on how to make several different types of curtains with their products. I chose to start with the Roman Shade instructions and make some major changes to simplify the installation of the finished curtains, plus a few changes in the production of the curtain itself. I used a different hanging and measuring system than the Warm Windows folks suggest.  I measured the inside of the window and hung the curtains inside each window frame. Instead of using the magnetic tape I sewed ribs inside the curtain where the curtain folds when you pull the shade up. This works really well to keep the curtain right up against the window frame and make that air seal that is very important with the insulated curtains. The air pocket between the window and the curtain is not as deep as it would be if you installed your curtain on the outside of the window frame, but I like the look of the shades on the inside better, plus you are not using the magnetic strips on the inside of the curtain and on your window frame. I did try using that system some time ago on a different house and I could never get it to work properly. Lots of fiddling with trying to make the magnetic strips stick and it just never seemed to work, plus the tape is pretty expensive.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableI always read and research a lot of resources before I start a project like this. This is a pretty expensive project and time and effort on your part too, so you want to put some research of your own into a project like this. The Warm Windows website has very easy instructions on making curtains with their product. I just took their information and tweaked it to fit into what we wanted. Making these curtains is not rocket science and you don’t need to be an expert sewer to put these curtains together and make them look really nice,  although a sewing machine that is working properly with the proper tension will make this job go way easier! I chose a small window in one of the bathrooms to use as an experiment to make my first shade. This way you can tweak the product your way to fit what you need. And if it doesn’t work out the way you had planned its not a large amount of fabric and work that went into it if you don’t like the finished product.

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.


Thursday, 31 May 2012 17:00

Insulated Concrete Forms

A lot has been written about insulated concrete forms (ICF’S) the past few years but mostly by manufacturers. We have two winters and one summer under our belts now and it’s time to weigh in from a home owners point of view.

Our temperature extremes run from 105F in the summer to -9F (so far) in the winter so we have a pretty good idea of how well this insulated building system has performed.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableICF’S are usually 2’ long x 1’ high x 2 1/4” wide Expanded Polystyrene panels that are stackable and fit together like Lego’s. Plastic inserts hold the inside and outside panels together creating a space to be filled with concrete. The end result is a concrete wall with 2 ¼” insulation on both the inside and outside.

I’m not going to get into a lot of the selling points for ICF’S in this blog. I’ll let the marketing departments and you or your contractor figure out what is and isn’t true about the so called advantages for using this system to build the walls of your home. I will say there are some advantages for sure but not all of their marketing claims are accurate.

I would rather speak to my own experiences as a home owner and general contractor about the results we got in our home.

There is no question this is a good building system over all but as with any system there are items in both the Plus and the Minus columns. Those are what I would like to focus on for this article.


  • ICF’S are fairly easy to work with and I would put more emphasis on labor than skill for their assembly. That’s good news for people who may want to do the work themselves or for contractors who are not familiar with this system. However, the marketing claims of “fast and easy erection” will only be realized by experienced installers.
  • ICF’S are great for soundproofing. Our home is very quiet but keep in mind that part of the reason is the large amount of insulation we had blown in our attic, not just the ICF walls.
  • Properly braced they work just fine as concrete forms.
  • VOC free – no contaminants are released into the air we breathe inside our home and that is more important than ever before with the new energy codes that require our homes to be sealed.
  • More resistant to mold and rot than traditional wood framing
  • The insulation is more continuous than wood stud framing with insulation between the studs.
  • Electrical and plumbing turned out to work pretty well with this system.


  • Even though the EP insulation is insect resistant, it has been discovered that ants sometimes like to remove the foam beads and haul them away for nest building elsewhere.
  • You will have wide or “thick” walls. If you trim out your doors and windows with wood like we did you will pay more for your millwork. Our window sills are 12” wide. Nice to set plants on but more expensive.
  • The GWB fastened okay on the inside but the siding was more difficult to fasten on the exterior than traditional wood framing.
  • When you pour the walls 8’ high all the way around your house like we did you eliminate all further access to the inside except through doors and windows. Plumbing lines will have to be backfilled by hand. Sand and gravel will have to spread by hand. Remember you are not going to have a foundation wall. Your ICF wall will go from the footing to the top plate.

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableoff grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableMy biggest gripe: This is the kicker for me – In all exterior building walls there is a hot/cold line, the place where the inside and outside temperatures meet and even out. That usually occurs somewhere towards the outside of the insulation. In this wall system it occurs somewhere in the middle of the concrete wall.

That doesn’t work in colder climates. We should be heating the concrete mass from the inside and the concrete will help hold that heat and reflect it back into the house, but with this system we have 2” of foam between your heating source and the concrete. What you end up with is an extremely even inside temperature that rarely fluctuates which would be fine in a more moderate climate but not so good in a cold climate. You end up using more heat than you should have to in order to push the cold line back to the outside.

In the hot summer months our house stays in the lower 70’s no matter what which is good, but in the winter months you really have to pour the heat on if you want to raise the temperatures and keep them there.

I believe it would be better to have poured the concrete walls and put 4” of insulation on the outside or purchased the ICF’S that are 2” of insulation on the inside and 4” on the outside. If I had it to do over, that’s what I would have done.

What we have works and is acceptable but one of the two options above would have been better.

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.

Page 6 of 9


  • Our Home Design Features Part 1

    Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. Since I seem to struggle with my memory more and more I thought it would be nice to list them out along with a little explanation of them. Most of them are explained in detail on prior Blogs. Roof overhangs – our eave length is calculated to keep the sun out of the windows in the summer which helps with natural cooling, and let the sun in during Read More
  • Our Home Design Features Part 2

    Our off grid home has many design features you don’t normally find in most houses. Many people come here to see what some of these features look like or how they operate. This is the second installment of features. Part 1 was published last week. See Part 1 Insulated cold frames – on the south side of the house we put in raised bed insulated cold frames. We have grown fresh cold weather type vegetables as cold as 18F with nothing to heat them but the sun. They are attached to the side of the house which never freezes. Plug Read More
  • 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 Read More
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