Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
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.