the first week of winter
|December 17, 2013||Posted by Mama under homestead, off-grid living|
With temps below zero at night and breaking in the snow blower, winter has arrived. This coming Saturday may be the official first day of winter, but weather patterns have their own ideas about how to behave, and based on the past week I have to wonder if the Farmer’s Almanac might be right predicting a very cold, and very snowy winter.
Also based on the past week, I hope they are wrong.
(Papa reworking the plumbing with a couple helpers)
The fact that this is only my second post in the past week is not due to a lack of interest in writing. To the contrary, things have been so crazy around here the past several days that even though I have been jotting down plenty of ideas to write about, there has been little time to write down anything other than the ideas themselves.
The craziness began about one week ago when the temperature suddenly dropped from seasonably average to far below average for this time of year.
We knew cold temps were coming, and we knew we would have to deal with pipes freezing, piles of snow, and blasting through the kerosene on a regular basis. We were just hoping to make it to January before the winter ordeal began. Not only did we have each of these things to contend with, but our grey water tank froze for (arguably) the first time, the water pump froze, both the bathroom and kitchen drains froze, all of us got sick (culminating Sunday night and all day Monday), and this morning Papa’s alternator decided to quit.
Yeah. It hasn’t been pretty.
(Determining the cause of the pump not working… answer, a chunk of ice lodged inside)
Well, Papa did thaw out the pump, and managed to thaw out the grey water tank by drilling holes in it (at this point we’re not worried about resale value) and placing our convection kerosene heater underneath the camper. Assuming that the tickle in Papa’s throat doesn’t get worse we are all on the mend, and we now have a new alternator to replace the old one when the truck decides not to start up at all.
And, while the temperature did drop to about 10 below zero last night, we are staying warm. Each night we let the fire burn out around 10 or 11pm and the kerosene heater tides us over till somewhere between 4 and 7am, when we let the heater die out and start up the stove, depending on how cold it is (if it’s too chilly for our liking we get a fire going before getting up for the day). Within a short time of starting up the stove it averages 80 degrees inside, and sometimes it’s much warmer – a perk of heating a small home.
Over the past couple of winters we have tried to prevent frozen pipes, but because the walls and floor are so thin, it doesn’t take much to freeze them. All we have to do is leave the cupboard doors shut (the water pipes run underneath them) and wah-la! we have frozen pipes. Actually, if it were simply a matter of leaving the cupboard doors open we wouldn’t have a problem, but it is true that blocking off the room temperature from the pipes on the inside of the camper can and does cause them to freeze.
We’ve come to believe, as sad as it sounds, that thawing out pipes when the temp falls below the zero to 5 degree range is to be expected.
One things Papa has done to help avoid freezing is to attach the water pump to the underside of the living room bench instead of letting it sit on the floor beside the hidden water tank. He also redid the pipes again to move them closer to the inside of the room instead of against the wall. You can see this in the picture above, where the cold water runs from the tank hidden to the right, underneath the edge of the couch, and under the cupboards to the left, to the hot water heater.
Even after making these changes the water still freezes, even in the pump, but by wiggling the pipes in the morning we can tell whether or not there is a frozen spot. If there is a freeze up, we turn the pump on and move the heater around the room, following the path of the pipe until the water starts flowing through the faucet. Then the heater gets shut off for the day to save a few dollars.
On sunny days (or at night if we run the generator) we can also run the small fan seen below, aimed at the exposed bathtub/shower plumping. This draws warm room temperature, not only into that particular area, but also at the plumbing below. In the end, by focusing on where the heat is actually needed and not leaving the heater in one place, we can usually get the water running again within a couple of hours.
It seems like we have this rough patch at the beginning of each winter season where we need to adjust to the demands of the winter. That adjustment process is not easy, and often involves halfhearted discussions about moving out of state. The truth is that there will be challenges to face no matter what part of the country a family lives in, but when folks who don’t particularly like the snow to begin with are faced with a long, bitterly cold, overly snowy winter, it somehow makes us feel better to dream about someday moving to someplace warmer. That’s what today looked like.
But… this too shall pass. Snow is snow. Cold is cold. The days are going to start getting longer now. Papa has no more mandatory overtime on the schedule that he is aware of. And with Christmas almost here, it won’t be long before we are spending evenings planning our 2014 garden and thinking about what breed of layers to invest in.
Before we know it, spring will be here and we will be laying our foundation.
It’s snowing right now, and we’re supposed to get a few inches – less than the original prediction for tonight. They also say we may reach the upper 40′s for temps later this week. Really, considering this past week is the average experience for mid-winter, the hardest part now will be persevering through longer periods just like it.
It hasn’t been easy the past couple of years. It won’t be easy this winter either. But who said we moved to Easy Street? A little hard work now, an investment into the future. Holding onto that promise through the rough patches will see us through.