Cold Snap

Winter is coming, and that means that life around the off-grid homestead is about to get pretty darn interesting.

When the weather gets chilly, it means the work is about to begin. The next couple of days are going to be bringing in some pretty frosty temps that drop below the freezing point nightly.

Obviously, the question that pops up too frequently is heat. Yes, it’s important not to freeze to death, but that also means that a lot of prep gets done in this regard at the sacrifice of other tasks. I have about two cords of wood still put up, so there should be plenty to keep the kitties and I warm as the weather goes through.

But the biggest concern for the winter around here isn’t fire; it’s water.


Everything needs water to survive, but too often that little fact is forgotten about as most people have it fresh at the turn of a knob. My house is plumbed, true enough, but my water supply is anything but the ordinary.

Outside, four big plastic totes can hold around 1000 gallons of pure hydro, but getting it into the house is another matter. Two tanks near the house feed my whole system, while the other two catch rainwater off the pole barn. If the hoses are frozen (as the transfer hose is tonight) then I can’t use the pump in the house to draw the water over, or I risk damaging my filter.

As temps draw colder, more and more often I completely disconnect the main line into the house, and drain it to prevent water freezing in the brittle PVC piping. Typically I’ll do this when I expect temperatures to drop into the low 20’s (Fahrenheit), as the warmth from the plumbing inside will keep that water from freezing even if it’s quite chilly outside.

Once I’m cut off from that water supply, I have a few five-gallon buckets kept in the house for drinking, cooking, and anything else that requires water. These can be topped up even if the hoses are frozen, though it takes longer because of residual ice blocking the flow. I have another 4-5 gallons in the pressure tank in the house, which won’t keep the faucets flowing for long. Water conservation is a big thing around here.

Another concern is my EcoTemp on-demand water heater, which is drained any time freezing temps are expected. Because it vents immediately to the outside, cold air can freeze the radiator inside and cause it to burst.

Nearly all of these problems could be solved more easily with an in-ground tank, but I can’t afford the expense at the moment, so I make do with what I have. It works out well for me, as I use the buckets for drinking water even in the summertime, and I’m accustomed to that. It tastes better before being run through steel pipes (but don’t tell the kitties, they need their iron, hehe).

I even have shutdown procedures in place to keep from having mishaps. First, the breaker for the pump is opened to prevent it turning on. Then a valve at the wall inside the house is closed, the outside tanks are shut off, and the line between the two is fully drained. The water heater has it’s own procedure as well.

But There’s More

Washing clothing becomes a chore when it’s chilly. The stuff I normally take outside to do it is transferred to the tub, and if it’s above freezing I can even get hot water from the house to wash.

That ringing and drying though. Clothes are typically taken outside, even when it’s cold, to drip dry on the line before hanging them on a small rack near the wood stove. This is problematic as frosty turns to frozen solid, and I don’t have it completely figured out yet. Good thing I don’t sweat much in the winter.

All-night burns on the wood stove can be tricky as well. My fire box is a touch over two square feet, paltry compared to what my wood-burning neighbors have. But I manage. I can usually get a full 8-10 hour burn out of the thing and still have hot coals in the morning or when I get home from work. At a minimum, the brick cladding retains a lot of heat, and moderates the output into the house to keep us from roasting without opening a window. (Yes, I’ve had the windows open when it’s below freezing outside)

An older pic, but the basic design of my “central heating” unit.

The trick is to toss in a good-sized wet or slightly green log right before going to sleep or work, but make sure the fire is hot enough to dry it out, otherwise it’ll smother the fire and you wake up cold.

All-in-all, that Vogelzang Durango isn’t really rated for long burns, but I manage to stretch them out just fine. I get similar burn times to a neighbor up the road, who has 2-4 times as much wood stove. And I use less wood. Score!

Then there’s the chimney cleaning. As I’m sure I’ve said before, I’m not yet caught up on my winter firewood production, so I’m burning logs that were cut this year, and most of it was live wood as part of my forest management, thinning, etc. It’s really at this, the coldest part of the winter, when I begin hunting dead fallen trees to butcher up. The chimney collects a little bit of crinkly stuff that knocks loose easily enough, but that soot collects at the bottom of the stove and needs to be removed. This means the stove will need to be completely shut down for a couple of hours. Here’s hoping for a warm afternoon to get it done. I try to scrape the pipe and clean the stove at least once in December and again in the spring. This involves climbing on the aluminum roof, which is also not fun this time of year. Speaking of, I need to get a new rope for that project.

Collecting wood for next year means a lot of chopping, and I’m trying to get some piles started drying for that, which will serve as back-ups if I run out of wood again this year. Because I’m comfortable with the pile I have, however, I’m going to focus more on dead-falls for the moment due to the reduced seasoning time. The more I can put up, the cleaner and warmer the fires that I can make. So days off are chopping days in the forest.

Combine all this with days short on sunlight, and it means that I have to really focus every day on getting it done, whatever it happens to be that day. There’s little time to squeeze in extra stuff, and the chores come first. When I can, I’ll shoot out a blog post or a video for you, though 😉

Thanks for visiting.

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