When you live in a building that is still under construction and where some of the systems are atypical, and you have an iterative design process (rather than planning a project out and executing it; you build it, try it, then build it again with improvements on the first design) there will be times when you have to drop what you are doing and fix what you’ve already done.
When we designed the cabin, we wanted it to be easily winterized and relatively freeze proof. That way we could leave for two weeks, on short notice, and quickly shut the cabin down and not worry about pipes freezing and the house falling apart. For the most part, we accomplished that. When we left for Kalamazoo a few weeks ago, we drained the interior pipes and packed out our canned goods, shut off the propane, and we were done. Easy-peasy.
However, this week, I’ve had a few unexpected problems I have had to deal with on an emergency basis. Neither of which are attributable to our vacancy, but simply devices choosing an inconveniently synchronized time to fail.
The first was our battery charger, a PowerMax PM3-55. It is the backbone of our battery charging system and one of the only parts that are not redundant (we have two generators, two battery bank sets, a wood and gas cook stove, etc). Our house mainly runs on a deep cycle battery bank charged by the PowerMax when the generator is running. The generator runs for a few hours and tops the batteries off then we are good for a day or two (someday we will add solar). On Monday evening the PowerMax died. I called the company and they are sending a new one. It’s more inconvenient than anything else.
The second was that our water stopped flowing. We have a very shallow well with a small submersed pump that fills a 30 gallon cistern in the house and our pressure pump takes it from there. The supply lines are all pitched so that when the well pump shuts off, the water in the exterior line flows back into the well. That way there is no water being held in lines that might freeze. Well, a line did freeze. With the deep freezes we have had lately, the ground swelled where the supply line vertically drops from under the cabin and goes underground to the well. This pushed the pipe up a little bit and changed its angle and leveled it out, which prevented it from draining when the water shut off. So, we had about a foot-long section of pipe that froze. Nothing burst or was permanently damaged. It just required the application of heat and a little adjustment of the pipe. It was an easy fix, but took several hours of rolling around in the dirt and snow under the cabin, in the dark, in a windy 9°F to find it. In the end, I set up our little propane space heater while Marci melted snow and boiled water to pour down the line.
A couple of things that I have decided.
- If you live in a place without electricity, get yourself a little propane space heater. We have a “Buddy” by Mr Heater. It is affordable and has saved our bacon on several occasions. With the freezing pipes, I just set it under the cabin near the frozen line and let it do its work. I find myself reaching for it a lot more than I would’ve thought. It takes easy to find 1lb cylinders, it is approved for use indoors, it has a bunch of safety features, and it puts out a lot of heat.
- Own a decent headlamp. Once you have one, you will wonder how you lived life without one. I have a mediocre headlamp, but a decent one would be better.
- Redundancy is a good thing. Especially when you are off the grid.
- Dealing with small companies is nice sometimes. PowerMax is a small company with two direct phone numbers to two real people listed on the front page of their website. I called Graham and he sent out a new charger that day while I sent my dead one back to be looked at.
- An Excellent Wife is a blessing. Marci fits the bill in every way.
- A good sense of humor and positive attitude is vital. Living off the grid isn’t easy, and it is important to take pleasure in the hardships whenever possible. Yes my pipes froze, yes my battery charger died, yes I need to empty my composting toilet, yes I need to wander into the snow bank and to get firewood a several times a day, but as Clark Griswold said “It’s all part of the experience honey.”