Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Winterizing and Heater Woes

Posted by: Rick

This post really has two related topics. I'll start with winterization.

It gets cold at the cabin. It is not unusual to see a day or two where the temperatures are -30°F, and that is without the wind chill. So, if we don't keep the cabin heated in the winter, it is wise to winterize it so we don't suffer from broken water pipes. (We actually do try to keep it heated in winter, but not always with success. But, that is the second part of this story.)

Winterizing is not really that difficult. Here are the steps:

  1. Turn off the water pump at the electrical panel
  2. Open all the faucets and run water until there is no more pressure, flush the toilet until the tank does not fill any more
  3. In the crawlspace, open a faucet that drains the pressure tank
  4. Also, open the two faucets that drain the hot and cold water lines that feed the sinks, tub and toilet
  5. Pour RV antifreeze into the drains and toilet
  6. Turn the hot water heater to the "Pilot" setting

It seems there should be some risk of the peanut butter and jelly (and other liquid-ish food items) freezing, but that has never happened.

I don't drain the hot water heater. I used to. But, nowadays I just leave the pilot running with the thermostat turned down. I think the small amount of heat from the pilot light keeps the tank warm enough to prevent freezing. I hope so. It has so far.

One could argue that we don't really need to winterize since we have a propane forced-air heater that we set to 45°F when we are gone. That is meant to provide enough heat to keep the cabin from freezing, which is not only good for the plumbing, but for everything else from the logs to the furniture. However, I still winterize just in case the heater doesn't work.

The heater could "not work" for a variety of reasons, most notable is the loss of electricity. Since the house is powered by the sun, if we lose the sun for several days or if snow accumulates on the solar panels preventing them from working for a few days, it is possible to drain the batteries to the point where the inverter shuts down and stops providing AC power. In that case, the heater won't work, of course.

But, we've been suffering from a greater heater woe for a couple of years. The pre-ignition blower will come on to evacuate any accumulated gasses and equalize pressure in the system, then a pressure switch activates and allows the burner to ignite and the main blower to come on. The problem is that the pressure switch never activates, so the heater never comes on. And, in the meantime, the pre-ignition blower just blows and blows and blows until it drains the batteries.

Last year, Grant from Laramie Heating came up and cleaned everything and got it working. And, he left me with a replacement pressure switch in case it acted up again -- which it did. So, I replaced the pressure switch and everything was working when we left last September. A neighbor has checked on the cabin once a week since then, and this week discovered the pre-ignition blower blowing. And, blowing. And, blowing. It could have been going as much as eight days! So, he turned off the heater.

I am sure glad the cabin is winterized!

I'll call Grant and see what he thinks. It may be time for some new heater guts or even a new heater because we can't have it not working next winter! I'll keep you posted via comments or additions to this post.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Slash Piles are Burned

Posted by: Rick

Several years ago, we had about 200 beetle-killed trees cut from our property. Beetle-killed trees are a fire hazard and we wanted to create a defensible space to the west and southwest of the cabin. (The wind almost always blows from that direction, and any wildfire would be highly likely to come from that way.) I'll likely talk more about the pine beetle infestation and the damage it has caused in Colorado forests in a future post.

The logging company we hired to do the job did cut the trees and hauled them away. But, they left a huge mess behind. There were stumps and slash that they refused to clean up. Also, some dead trees that were not cut have subsequently fallen. In short, our "meadow" was pretty ugly.

Last year we found a forest management company in Wyoming--Tiger Tree--whom we hired to clean up the site. They did a great job in trimming all stumps near the ground, cutting up fallen trees, and collecting all the trimmings into piles of "slash". Here is a photo of one of the four slash piles:

These piles are created so they can subsequently be burned. It is legal to burn these at our location subject to some rules. There must be at least 3" of snow on the ground and the wind must be 10 mph or less. And, I had to submit a request for a burn permit (easy to do online). Several agencies have to approve the request. Then, on the day of the burn the sheriff's office must be notified. 

Here is a wider view of the meadow after clean-up. You can see several of the slash piles, ready for ignition. Just need to wait for winter, snow, and no wind (along with access to the property).

We waited several months before everything lined up to make burning possible, but this week the job got done!

And, the result:

(Photo taken by a neighbor.) We'll rake this around and plant native grass and wildflower seeds!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Drive-by Appraisal

Posted by: Rick

In preparation for the upcoming retirement, we recently went through a financial planning exercise. I figured before I quit work and had no further salary coming in, we'd better damn well make sure that we have sufficient savings along with a realistic spending plan to have a good standard of living for the next 30 years. (We do.)

One of the suggestions from the financial planner was to secure a home equity line-of-credit from our bank, secured by the cabin, as a source for emergency funds. You know "just in case". And, she suggested it was best to do this now while I am still employed. (Obviously, we can't secure the line-of-credit with our NJ house, since we will sell it before moving.)

So, I contacted our current bank (which has branches in Fort Collins and Laramie) about such a loan. I went through the whole application process and even spoke at length with a loan officer. We were conditionally approved for the loan. The only condition was that they needed an appraisal for the cabin. They hired a Fort Collins appraiser to do a "drive by" appraisal.

Well, the loan application has now been cancelled and I am invited to reapply when the roads aren't closed by massive amounts of snow along County Road 80C. I guess the appraiser did not want to go through Laramie and then chain-up at the state line.

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