Last winter snuck up on us quicker than we could say “winter”! Part of that isn’t really our fault considering 2015 was a crazy year and we arrived on our property in September. We had so much work to do once we arrived that we barely had time to get ourselves protected from the elements before the first snowflakes flew… and we are determined to be prepared this upcoming winter, so we’ve started prepping for the cold months long in advance!
Last fall, we were so busy installing our septic system, paving our driveway, demolishing a building for free materials and building a cabin that we had no firewood when our first light snow struck. Crazy – but there wasn’t much we could do about it.
Luckily, we were able to get about four cords of mill end wood from someone local but even that was about 50% bark in a wood stove that wasn’t ideal, so we had a less-than-ideal winter even though we did survive which was the only goal! That said, we do have some winter living tips to share with anyone who is interested in embarking on a similar lifestyle.
They say that in harsher climates such as we are in, that winters are spent trying to survive, and summers are spent trying to get ready for winter! There is some truth to that.
The mentally hard part is that there is so much we want to get done on the development on our homestead, especially in the warmer months, that it’s easy to not think about winter, especially when prepping for winter makes us feel like we’re not making progress on the homestead.
Even while we want to continue to work on plans for our barn / apartment, continue foraging in the woods for wild wood, working on our new solar power setup, canning endless amounts of apricots and cherries, or working on our businesses to continue to chip away at debt, winter is coming whether we like it or not!
In this post, we want to share some of the ways we have to mindfully prepare for winter even during the hottest of months. Yes, as I write this, it’s averaged over 90 degrees this week and the inside of our travel trailer has been about 85 degrees in the heat of the day!
Gathering Quality Firewood
One of the obvious things to do to get ready for winter is to collect firewood. We actually want to use wood heat because although it may be a pain sometimes, we also like the idea of not being dependent on utility heat (gas, electric, propane, etc.).
As mentioned earlier, last year we paid $50/cord for a neighbor’s mill ends (leftovers from milling your own lumber) which was great because we got to pull right up to their leftover lumber pile and go crazy with the chainsaw, but since that wood was 50% bark, it’s more ideal that we go into the forest for our wood. It is possible to find quality wood other places (sometimes it’s listed for free on Craigslist), but since we are just miles from the forest, that’s what makes the most sense.
Although we have a small amount of wood leftover from last winter, as well as the pallet of firelogs we picked up for $50, we started beefing up our supply about a week ago. We ended up getting a permit for four cords of firewood (the maximum amount is 12 cords) that we can gather on our own time.
For those that may not know, you can collect firewood on forest service land with a permit, but there are a few rules. You can only cut down fully-dead trees. You also can’t cut down cedar, pacific yew or birch (for us at least). You also can’t take home sections larger than six feet in length because the permit really is for firewood, not for taking home trees to make lumber or timber out of. There are a few more rules, but inquire at your local forest service office for more details.
So far, getting our firewood has had varying degrees of difficulty. Today, we were able to drop a tree right on the road, and then use a tow chain to pull the tree to a convenient place to do our work. The tree was large without our sections being too heavy to lift. This is probably as good as it gets!
Our other trees were more difficult. Three trees we fell and cut downhill from our truck, which means we had to haul each section of tree (we cut them into 16″ sections which is standard firewood length) up to the car. We try to NOT use our backs to do this but to carry strategically, leaning towards the side of extra trips rather than carrying too much weight.
While firewood getting is quite dirty, sweaty, and tree sappy (don’t wear clothes you care about!), we enjoy the experience for a couple of reasons.
One, it’s a great workout but unlike something like running or weight lifting, we have something to show for our work! It’s exercise that will keep us warm throughout winter without having a high electricity bill.
Two, we are learning how to go into our big backyard to get fuel to keep us warm. Most people are completely dependent on electricity and wouldn’t know how to drag tree out of the woods if their life depended on it. No judgement passed on these people… we are just happy to be making our firewood-getting skills more efficient!
We have quite the pile already but have a bit more wood to collect before winter. We hope to wrap this up within the next week or so, and if we have extra wood for next winter, then that would be fantastic!
Winter / Snow Tires for The Subaru
One thing we didn’t have last winter but wish we did was a set of winter tires for the Subaru. Our non-winter tires got us by just fine, but we’d really rather be prepared for driving on icy roads.
We didn’t want to buy new tires because we estimated a set would be around $900 (tires, wheels, installation, etc.), and we also don’t know how long until we will desire a vehicle upgrade. However, we also knew that there wouldn’t be an abundant number of good deals on used winter tires on Craigslist that would fit our Forester.
Setting up saved Craigslist searches is one way we find great deals on tools and materials, and we finally had a notification of a listing that matched our specifications. We are very well aware of how the Craigslist game works, so we dropped everything we were doing to go get the tires.
In short, we paid $300 for 2-year-old winter tires (came off a similar Forester) that were in excellent condition. This again wasn’t money we were really looking forward to spending, but it really is something we should have had last winter so we’re really just playing catch-up.
Refurbishing a Quality Wood Stove
We already shared this in our month 8 to 10 roundup, but the other thing we’ve already done to prepare for winter is upgrade our wood stove. When we arrived on our property, we bought what we thought was a decent wood stove in a pinch, but it turns out we didn’t like it at all.
A couple of months back, we became aware of a moving sale where there was a Fisher wood stove for $100. These wood stoves often sell for $800+ if I did my research correctly. The design of this stove is more efficient for our needs and should give us a more pleasant winter.
The catch of this stove was that it was in pretty poor condition and needed refurbishing. Jesse was confident enough to take on the project, and I’m happy he was!
All we needed to do was run a wire brush drill attachment over the stove for a bit to remove oxidation and rust, spray paint the stove with a stove paint, and it was as good as new!
The last thing we need to do is switch out the old stove for the new, sell the three stoves that won’t be in use (yes, we have a total of four wood stoves right now… don’t ask!), buy some new stove pipe, and we’ll be ready to rock and roll!
Don’t Be Caught With Your Pants Down in Winter – Be Proactive
The last thing we want to share to anyone who may be new to this type of lifestyle, or who thinks they may want to try out this lifestyle in the future, is to be proactive about winter. If you’re living in the city, there’s really not much to do to plan for winter, especially if you’re in a warm climate. Country-living in a cold, snowy winter climate is much, much different than living in Southern California, so act accordingly.
We are trying to weave winter preparation in with our life this year and even when we want to be doing other things, if there is an opportunity to prep for winter we go ahead and take it. Whether it’s refurbishing a wood stove or scouting for firewood, we try to make these activities enjoyable, knowing that working now will save us from having to bust our butts later! Nobody wants to be caught with their pants down when the snow arrives… brr! Nobody likes this kind of stress!
Do you have any winter preparation tips? Lessons learned? Any great firewood-getting strategies? We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!
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