Remote-Homesteading Drawbacks

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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We have homesteaded for 18 years, and perhaps if this lifestyle is something you also long for, maybe our experience will help you decide if it is right for you or not. We live semi-remotely in the mountains at 9,870 feet elevation. In the past, I have written blog posts about various aspects of homesteading in a semi-remote location, but this post is more geared to the macro aspect of this type of lifestyle, illustrating  some of the otherwise unforeseen drawbacks.

Most homesteaders like to write about the positive aspect of homesteading and there clearly are an abundance of positive aspects in living like we do. In fact, there are too many positive aspects to cover in a single blog post.

Mountain Homesteading

To start with, it is important to know exactly how we live. We have a small cabin, which is slightly over 850 square feet of living space, and our home is situated in a heavily wooded part of the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Southern Colorado. Our winters are long and often harsh with over 250 inches of annual snowfall. We heat our cabin with a wood stove and with the lengthy winters, we burn about 9 to 11 cords of firewood per winter.

One drawback is that it is unwise for both of us to be gone at the same time during the winter. When the fire in the wood stove goes out the temperature starts to drop inside the house even though our home is very well insulated and gets full sun during the day. If we both were delayed in town, such as during a long wait for a doctor/dentist visit or if the road was closed due to an accident and the fire in the stove went out, the lowered temperature inside the house could present a problem.

Therefore, one of us goes shopping and the other one stays home to keep the wood stove burning. Because our home is on the east side of the mountain, it also tends to get dark earlier because the sun sets on the other side of the mountain. Of course, when the sun sets on the opposite side of the mountain, our temperatures fall rapidly.

Proper Wood Stove Size

Initially we were sold a wood stove that would burn longer, which allowed us more time to make all the stops needed in our nearby town, which is a one-hour drive one way. The problem was it would not reach its optimum burn temperature, and hence the chimney cap would creosote and soot up. Because we have an ‘A Frame’ home, climbing up that steep roof to clear the chimney in the winter with the snow and wind was dangerous.

We finally replaced the stove with one better suited to our living space, and we no longer have the chimney problem but we do have to keep the stove going to maintain heat inside the house more frequently. Hence, since the stove must be fed at regular intervals, one of us usually has to remain home to keep it going. Wood stoves are not like more conventional heating devices where a thermostat is simply adjusted. It takes a few hours to get the heat back up to a comfortable level. This time of year, we can’t go to a sit down restaurant or schedule doctors appointments together because the two-hour (round trip) drive plus stops can take too long. If this is important to you, then maybe you would want to consider a different source of heat.

The other situation that can keep one of us home is when a wildfire alert has been issued. Because our community only has one road in and one road out, there is the possibility if we are both out at same time that we could get cut off from our home by a wildfire. In those situations, one of us will stay at home so our canine family members will be safe with someone to evacuate them. I would not recommend homesteading in a community that only has one escape route.  

Other Drawbacks

There are other drawbacks as well but mostly all occur during the winter. The wind is frequent in the mountains during the winter and trips to town require caution. Our dirt roads are maintained by the community where we live, but when we have fresh snow and wind, we often can’t get out to the paved road that takes us into town because our mountain roads can drift in quickly, prohibiting safe travel.

Therefore, we have to carefully plan our trips even with four-wheel-drive vehicles. Our roads can drift in while we are gone, so it is just better to have one person stay home. Getting out to go to town can be a problem but so can getting home when snow is drifting. As the winter wears on, cabin fever can also be a residual problem from too much staying at home.

Being Self-Reliant

Homesteading in a semi-remote location can present its own unique set of challenges. If something breaks, getting repairs can be prolonged and difficult, so we often need to “make do” ourselves, especially during winter. Local repairmen are aware of the above hazards and don’t want to put themselves at risk, either. Even though our roads are maintained, when heavy snow or drifting occurs it can be days until roads can be properly cleared for safe use, because they often drift in as fast as they are plowed. Factor in coming down steep mountain snow-packed dirt roads during the winter, and it can be exciting to say the least.

Also, dirt roads have a tendency to become very muddy in the spring season and can inhibit travel, especially when there is frozen ground under that mud. It then becomes extremely hazardous especially when going down the mountain. If considering semi-remote living, it is best to weigh all the factors, because this lifestyle can have inconveniences, dangers and plus it encompasses a lot of very hard work and self reliance. The positive aspects clearly outweigh the negative aspects, but success is more assured it both aspects are considered beforehand.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and semi-remote living go to to their website, McElmurray’s Mountain Retreat. You can read all of Bruce’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

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