Vulnerable But Prepared: Off Grid Living & Winter Storms

Fall is in the air and that means that winter is on the horizon as well as storms. Last year, shortly after arriving on our property, we had our world rocked by a 100-year windstorm and it caught us completely off guard. That storm alone, combined with other smaller storms, has taught us a lot and some of those things we wish to share.

Stay Informed & Connected

First, it’s obvious to some people but it’s helpful to stay connected and on top of regional and local weather. Because we were so distracted when we got here with installing our septic, taking down buildings for materials and even cutting down our first trees that paying attention to the weather slipped our minds. Sounds crazy, but it did.

Even though we spend little time “connected”, we spend most of our days outdoors working on the property, here are some things we do to keep abreast of what’s happening.

National Weather Service Smartphone App – If you have a smartphone, this is a great way to see what’s happening in your general area. For us, the forecast is frequently wrong or doesn’t include the full story, so by looking at the radar or satellite images ourselves, we can better see what’s moving in to our area that we may need to prepare for. It’s easy to install… just click on the link and follow the instructions.

winter storm preparedness

US National Weather Service for (Closest Big City) on Facebook – This is another great online source. We follow this page for a couple of different cities and we find it to be both up-to-date and helpful. Probably more real-time than any news station.

Local Independent Weather Sources – There is one guy we follow specifically in the Southern Oregon area (not really relevant to us but we have family in the area so we still like to know what’s going on). We find that independent sources give yet an even different view of the weather so between all sources, we feel we can make great judgements on what is to come or how to get ready.

The News – If you have a television and a way to access the news, that’s better than nothing!

Talking to People – If all else fails, chat it up with neighbors and others in the community. Last year during the big wind storm, we honestly thought it was just our property that had gusts of winds, but we found out that the entire town had lost power and that generators were flying off the shelves. The things you learn when you get out, or off your “island”!

Radio Communications – We have two different radios that work whether or not we have an internet or phone connection. The first are these Cobra walkie talkies (our review here). We bought these for our trip up here so that we could communicate between cars but it also provides NOAA weather and alerts. We also just picked up a Baofeng HAM radio after seeing my dad’s, and we find that we can easily tap into local communications which can also be helpful if we are disconnected in other ways. Great to have options.

dsc_0166-mov-00_00_01_15-still001

The Basics

Next, we always try to have our basic needs met but especially if the weather is threatening and there is a chance we’ll want to stay indoors or be forced to stay on the property for a while, such as in the event of a big snow. Luckily, we have no negative experiences with this yet but time and time again I think we’re all reminded how important it to have these needs met in abundance.

Food

This goes without saying, but we try to have food on hand and not have to go to the grocery store daily. While we do visit the store 1-2x/week, we do have a small stash of non-perishables available such as canned goods.

While we hope to have a flourishing pantry one day, we’re not there yet, but we did get a good start on it this summer when we started foraging for wild and urban fruit such as thimbleberries, apricots and cherries. We hope to do more canning next year including vegetables as well as meat if we can start hunting.

If you’re new to canning, take a look at this book. It helped us to get off the ground in no time at all and now we’re canning maniacs when we have something to can.

canned-goods

Water

We keep our water in a 600+ gallon cistern at the top of our hill and it’s gravity fed. We fill this by taking a smaller cistern to town where we have access to a community water source. If a storm is coming, we top this off for good measure, even though we rarely let it get below halfway empty just so that we always have some water on hand. 600 gallons could last us easily a month, but two months if it has to.

Here is our progression on our off grid water system. We hope to have a larger cistern buried by winter, but we’re unsure if that’ll happen yet.

625 gallon water cistern

Power

Our primary source of power is a small solar panel setup but we have this generator as a backup for cloudy days. If bad weather is scheduled to hit, we take our fuel can into town and top it off so that we have at least 5 gallons on hand.

This generator saved our life during the big windstorm. Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to use many of our critical homestead tools, as well as work lights, to put ourselves and our home back together late at night in the pouring rain.

Honda EU3000i Handi Generator

Heat

Nobody wants to be cold during a storm and for us, keeping our RV from freezing is critical! We have a pretty cool shelter that keeps critical RV components from freezing (septic tank, anyone?) but this year we also tried to get our firewood collected for the season ahead of schedule.

Last year, we had no time to get firewood so we picked up some mill ends from a neighbor. At the time of the first snow we had just under a cord of wood. This year, we have about eight cords of quality wood.

getting your own firewood
We can’t split and stack our GOOD firewood until the hot tub firewood is out of the way!

Warmth

In addition to keeping our shelter warm, we also try to keep our bodies warm. I just wrote up a solid post on how I dress to stay warm in winter, but in a nutshell, we don’t want to rely on wood or propane to be comfortable. Having quality, warm clothing allows us to happily go outside in the storm to take care of business.

warm-clothing-winter-storm

Build Well to Start Even If Temporary

What we learned in the 2015 Pacific Northwest windstorm is that it’s critical to build and develop a property in  a way that can tolerate  strong winds. It turns out that the cabin we built was able to survive 100 mph or so winds, much to our surprise. Our RV garage on the other hand, despite being secured down to a pierblock foundation, got a good shove and got a little mangled. We were able to get it back in position but now if heavy winds come, out come the ratchet straps for good measure. We’ve been known to secure this to both the RV itself as well as vehicles.

We’ve thought about putting a roof on our hot tub deck but last year’s windstorm was a great wakeup call, and we’re unsure if the roof we have in mind will tolerate such winds so we’re holding off for now. That, and we want to be able to see the stars when we soak in the hot tub.

our-home

Make Sure Things Are Buttoned Down

Before strong winds approach we take a walk around the property to see what objects would be inclined to take flight. Some of the things we try to secure include patio furniture, building materials such as sheets of roofing, outdoor cooking stoves, and maybe even tarps on materials or our firewood.

Last year, we went outside one morning only to find much of our roofing displaced – it was in the road! We had to carry the sheets back up one by one and secure them with weights of any sorts including trees and bricks.

winter-storm

Design Property So That Mud Isn’t an Issue

Lastly, when we arrived on our property, it was a huge dustball. It didn’t even occur to me what the living area would look like after a big rain, but luckily, Jesse thought about it on day one! Immediately, we ordered a load or three of 3/4″ minus rock to pave the driveway and living area with. While I thought this was an potentially unnecessary expense at the time, I was appreciative after the first rain when we had a clean surface to walk on. While other parts of the property are muddy after moisture, we’re able to walk to and from the cars and firewood pile without making a mess.

muddy-driveway paving-driveway

Turn a Windstorm Into Money

It's never too early to get ready for winter storms (or any storm for that matter)! And very last, is it possible to not only survive a storm but thrive in the aftermath? We think yes!

One secret we learned is that storms can cause a lot of damage and disruption, especially in the terms of windfall. If you’re prepared (we weren’t last year), you can offer to do tree cleanup for folks in exchange for keeping the wood for either firewood or turning into usable lumber!

We collected windfall off our property this year and turned it into usable lumber for our hot tub deck among other uses. Get creative!

Get Involved!

Do you have any special tips that you’ve learned first-hand on preparing for a storm? I know there are loads that I didn’t cover, just wanted to share the ones we are passionate about first-hand. Let us know in the comments below, and stay safe this winter season!

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

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Comments

  1. peewee henson says

    GLAD TO SEE YOUR NOT HAVING A FIRST TIME EVERY TIME, ALL THE TIME AT EVERYTHING YOU DO. LEARNING AND IMPROVING NEVER STOPS, NO MATTER HOW MUCH TIME GOD ALLOWS

  2. Melody Joyce says

    Hello! My husband & I live in Bonney Lake, Wa, right underneath Mt. Rainer. We just became empty nesters. We moved daughter #4 into University dorm life. We are in our early 50’s. Our Dream us to move away from the famous mountain and closer to his work, yet we want to be very near the cascade mountains. We have not yet officially started looking yet, partially due to my husband’s fear of what we want we probably can’t get due to today’s cost. Let alone the cost of septic fees, water, building a log house etc. (I want out of nosey, tight neighborhoods & out of a manufactured home & into privacy space, so I can grow fruit & veggie garden) Q? What would be the first step to trying to find & afford cash out, land, then what is the next step etc…. we do not want a mortgage.

  3. Barbara says

    I’m watching your video and the trees colors are starting to turn and it is so beautiful there :) Very helpful information about how to prepare for storms. I’m starting to work on simplifying our lifestyle and your blog is so helpful!

  4. Bryce's Lazy Porch Garden says

    Have you ever woke up in the morning and it was downright cold I mean really cold and the blankets just didn’t warm you up enough and you didn’t want to get out of bed well they have these things called DC sleeping pads and they use less than a hundred watts and since you have those batteries that would be an ideal thing to put on your bed sleep right on top of it and has an adjustable thermostat and you would never have that cold feeling when you first get up again yep I love mine it can be mentally warm or it can be toasty either way I’m a happy morning sleeper

  5. Dan says

    Alyssa, I have to say I am amazed at all your hard work and devotion on your homestead. You two are awesome together. My next purchases from amazon will be through you guys. I want you guys to succeed!

  6. Paula says

    If you cant bury the cistern in time, maybe look into getting some hay bales to put around & over it as some insulation you can recycle / compost in spring. poss also cover the tubes with hay &/or leaves, pine straw. anything better than nothing! every little bit helps.

    • says

      The problem isn’t with the cistern… it’s with the pipes! We already had them freeze up on us on a cold night :-/ The challenge is getting them buried on the hillside and he hope to elaborate on why in an upcoming video. Wish us luck, hah! Or it’s back to water jugs for the winter which is okay!

  7. says

    Hi,
    Nice job getting prepared for the winter!

    Re:frozen pipes

    If you can keep the main water tank on the hill from freezing, would it work to just fill the RV tank from it on semi warm days and then drain those lines in between uses? Or maybe you’re planning on getting everything buried still this fall…

    Keep up the good work!

    • says

      This is actually a consideration. We can at least fill our jugs up at the house and refill from there. We are hoping to get things buried but having one heck of a time trying to find a tool for the job OR contractors to call us back. One contractor suggested we put in a road across our hill to get to the top of the tank and then we can bury the pipe, but while it is an option we’re not looking to spend $3,000 on a road that we don’t need to the top of the hill just to put plumbing underground. At this point, reverting back to a more simple system is looking appealing.

  8. Bill says

    I saw on the news about the storms in Oregon. Are you ok? I know you have work so hard and I am proud of you for what you have accomplished thus far. You seem to be so isolated. Do any neighbors come around to check on you? I hope so.

    • says

      We are located in Idaho but yes we’re okay! We thought we’d feel some of the storm but we really didn’t. We’ve just had lots of rain the past couple of weeks which is awesome… the area needs it BAD. Thanks for checking in on us. We do have neighbors that check on us on occasion to make sure we’re still alive, HAHAHA!

  9. Larry says

    It is great watching you both learn about the off grid homesteading life. We recently purchased some vacant property in MT with my wife’s brother and wife and will be starting our own adventure next year. I have learned quite a lot about what we can come to expect and appreciate your sharing. Best of luck this winter! Stay warm and toasty

  10. says

    Living off grid, homesteading is not all glamorous but rich and rewarding because you decide you can do this. Just in what order, with what you have and together to tame nature. Excellent run down of the issues, the order of what you do and when, why! Love your blog posts!

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