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Dreaming Big Living Small

Learning to live through winter in a different climate

When our family moved to north Idaho, we knew that there would be interesting challenges as winter approached. But no matter how hard we prepared, this winter has thrown us a few curve balls we did not prepare enough for. We all live and learn. So, let’s look at a few of the areas we thought we had ready but failed miserably.

Planning for loss of power

As winter began to set in, we knew there was a very real chance of losing power. We have a small generator, and it has enough power to run the key items that we need and provide some warmth.

When we lost power in early November, we quickly realized that there were a few flaws in that plan. The power went out right as one of the kids finished their shower. Evening had already fallen, it was dark outside, and since we were in the basement at the time, this left that child in total darkness.

Having enough light to function
Having enough light to function

We have flashlights, and when we lived in our RV the flashlights were spaced through the entire thing, with each person having one accessible. But since we moved and things were still packed, only Ashley and I had flashlights inside. And since we had been using mine for construction projects, the batteries were low.

After a quick regroup, we got all the kids together and in bed. But it left us also needing to find ways to illuminate the stairs so people could go up to use the bathroom. No power meant no sump pump.

As you set yourself up for future power failures, think about all the ways you use power. Sure, it’s obvious that your computer won’t work. But everyday things are sometimes the easiest to overlook. Such as light in a dark bathroom. Or keeping extra batteries handy for quick changes.

Water does not flow at negative temperatures

As we prepared for winter, we set up heaters in the well house to keep things from freezing up. And we assumed the pipes were buried far enough to handle the expected cold in this area. This was absolutely not the case.

What was not accounted for was that the pipes had to come out of the ground in the well house. And while we heated the key rooms in the tiny home while it has been under construction, negative temperatures will quickly burn out an electric heater.

When the outside temperatures reached -15 degrees, we lost water. Despite faucets running, and a warm well house, the water stopped. After a quick examination in the early morning light, we found the pipe in the space between the ground and the floor of the well house was frozen solid.

A run to the hardware store got us a heat tape to apply to the pipe. However due to the position of the pipes, we could not get it on the pipe. The frozen pipe was so stiff it was impossible to move and wrap a line around, not to mention you would need 5 ft long arms to reach.

In the end, we came up with a solution involving random scraps of PVC pipe and some electrical tape. And patiently waiting for two and a half days for the frozen water to melt enough that we could slowly add pressure from the pressure tank to clear the blockage without breaking any pipes.

We spent that time packing water from the well house a gallon at a time and hand-washing dishes. Since our goal is to eventually move entirely off-grid, this gave us a great insight into how we should handle our water usage differently. It also gave us a good idea of areas that need attention, such as a small non-insulated space between the floor of the well house and the ground. Or storing an adequate supply of water inside.

This is something you can simulate yourself. Plan a day and turn off your own water supply. Then operate without access to the water and see where your shortfalls are. Do you have enough water stored for a day? How about a weekend?

Vehicle mechanical failures

This one is kind of broad but equally as important. As a homesteader, most of us have livestock animals. Thankfully this winter, we did not have animals that needed our attention. But we did have a few failures that would stop us from taking care of some animals if we did have them.

The first issue took our smaller pickup out of commission. That pickup uses a clutch fan for cooling. As the temperatures started falling, the clutch portion started failing and locking the fan in an always-on position. The extra resistance on the engine started to put strain on every other part. It is the perfect recipe for costly engine damage.

Servicing vehicle in the rain or snow is not fun
Servicing a vehicle in the rain or snow is not fun

I had replaced the part before since this is not its first failure on the 2005 vehicle. But it was a laborious process because you needed to take so much apart. On a warm summer day, this is not horrible. Laying in a pile of snow in freezing weather is a whole other ball of wax. Since we have a second vehicle, I opted to just run the vehicle a couple of times a month not moving to keep everything in good shape until I could replace it come spring.

But if we needed it to haul materials for animals, this would have been a much larger problem. And with the cost of the part, not one I had budgeted for either.

Our second failure was not thinking ahead when purchasing a previous part for our Yukon. Shortly after purchasing it, we ended up replacing the battery. At the time, I settled on a battery that would be good enough where we were living. I failed to account for the future in hopes of saving a buck back then. We all do it. Save a little now without thinking of the benefits of going for a little extra to save tomorrow.

With a battery that had less cold cranking amps, and was not rated for sub-zero temperatures, it took a lot of effort and prayer to turn over the Yukon during the cold snap. My vehicle, while outwardly seeming prepared, failed to perform as expected because I cut that corner on a battery.

The point here is you never know when the unexpected will take your abilities away. If I had taken a little time or thought to plan what the worst-case scenario could be, I could have planned. Be it spending a little more money on a battery or thinking about a covered space to work on failures. Or even making friends with a local mechanic before we needed them so I could trust them with the repairs.

Of course, we have a family mechanic somewhat nearby who can help with vehicle problems, but that is not always the case. And with a broken clutch fan, I had no means to get that vehicle to them.

Mental health

This last one is probably the hardest for me to write about. I never would have expected to deal with some of the problems we have been through. And it’s taken a toll on our mental health.

Life is always full of problems, and how you handle those problems can raise you up or tear you down. Yet there are outside factors involved in how you handle and how your body will handle these problems.

Choosing the right vitamins to support your health
Choosing the right vitamins to support your health

Being this far north, spending so much time inside left my ability to generate certain vitamins from spending time outside at a low. And then the worst case happened. Our whole family ended up sick. Not just runny nose sick, but food poisoning and then stomach flu. Weeks of downtime, at Christmas nonetheless.

This severe downturn sent my mental health into free fall. I started questioning everything. Thankfully I have the support of my family and we all work together to overcome challenges.

Monitoring your mental health and that of your family is critical. Your kids will likely not say anything or may just shut down and not know how to voice what’s going on with them. When Skyler goes over his limit, he shifts into rocking violently. Each of our children has tell-tale signs that allow us to see there is something wrong. But it is pulling teeth to get them to say what it is at times. And that’s if they can even figure it out themselves.

As you go through the winter months, monitor what your family is taking in for vitamins. Track if they are getting enough sunlight exposure. Find ways to combat shortfalls. While off-the-shelf vitamins are never the best, sometimes a quick fix to help raise a level up to where it should be is needed. Especially after someone has been sick.

When you can, find a natural solution. When you can’t, do what it takes to ensure your whole family is getting the things they need. It could be food, family play time, or a walk in the snow. Even a conversation with a loved one to help take your mind off the mess. Take the time to take care of your family’s mental health. Everything else can come in time.

Conclusion

We all have good times and bad. Homesteading is not just buying property and boom, you know everything. It’s a process of learning and growing. It’s finding the skills our ancestors used daily and has been lost to time.

I hope by sharing some of our pitfalls this first year in a new area, I can help you prepare and avoid those same pitfalls.

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Alex
Husband to Ashley & father to our four children. I love hiking, camping, and working on small hobby projects. I also spend my days running our web design business.

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