Saturday Morning Ramble: Homesteading In Winter

DSCN2632Happy Saturday, my frugal homesteading friends!!!  The Farmer’s Almanac tells us we’re due for another Polar Vortex hell of a winter again, so here at the Frugal Farmer homestead, we’re busily planning what we can do this winter to stay warm and not go broke.  🙂

Winter in the country, at least here in the northern Midwest, is, well, cold.  Last winter, our first taste of the evil Polar Vortex, was, well, horrible.  We had weeks on end of subzero temperatures, and several days in a row where it wasn’t even safe for us to leave the house.  In the homesteading world, when you live in the country, things can get a bit tricky when it comes to handling weather extremes.  Neighbors aren’t situated a few feet away, and the local power companies aren’t as easily accessible as they would be if you live in the city and thousands of customers call complaining.  Our power company is pretty darned efficient, but I’m sure there’s a bit of a lag on priorities when you’re deciding whether to service the “thousands of complaining customers” area vs. the “tens of complaining customers” area.  And who can blame them?  As such, we’ve learned the importance of being prepared and taking our care into our own hands as we prepare for winter on a homestead.

As much as we would’ve liked to see it happen, the wood stove didn’t get installed this year yet, and it likely won’t.  The issues are several-fold.  First, we couldn’t decide whether we should go out the roof or out the side of the house with the stove pipe.  Rick was concerned about potential roof leakage if we went out the roof, and going out the side presented other problems due to the roof line on our house.  After hemming, hawing and getting a few different opinions, we decided to go out the roof.  So we called the heating company we’d gotten quoted from last year, and they basically told us that the quote was laughably cheap, that the manager that gave us the quote no longer worked there, and that they’d have to come and give us a new quote. They came, and they left, asking for $1800 (labor only) to put a hole in our roof and install our wood stove.

Thus, we called #2 quote guy and asked him to install, but he’s booked six weeks out, and unless we can nab ourselves an Indian summer the first part of November, we’re S-O-L until next year.  Which is fine, in a way, because $1800 guy also said that we had to have some other thing-a-ma-jig installed in the basement or we were at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.  We don’t know whether this guy is full of crap or what, so we’re going to do more research before we get that install done.  Any HVAC/woodstove experts out there?  We’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

SO, that leaves us looking to prepare for winter in a number of ways:

1. Financially.  We surely don’t want another 3k in heating bills winter this year, so we’re planning on really bucking up regarding heat and propane usage.  We are lucky to have a tri-heating system: a combo of electric heat, a heat pump and propane heat. We are lucky in that this gives us options for managing our heat usage to the best of our ability: something we didn’t have last year due to ridiculously high propane prices.  And, we were a bit wimpy about the cold last year, so we’re committed to keeping the heat turned down much lower this year.

Also, this year we planned ahead, filled the propane tank in July for $1.99 a gallon, and reserved another 1,000 gallons for ourselves at the same price.  This should help to get us through the really cold snaps, when the heat pump and electric heat simply are not cost-efficient.  We are also working to preserve propane by using crockpot recipes as opposed to cooking on the stove as much as we can.

We’re also going to try and keep travel and errands to a minimum to save on gasoline costs.  We like being at home, so we’ve got that going for us, but it also gets a bit claustrophobic in the country at times, so we’ll have to work and find a balance there.

Saving on gas means we’ll also have to work hard to plan ahead to make sure we have a good supply of all necessities in the house so that we don’t have to leave if we don’t want to.  To do that we’re making a list of what we absolutely need to have in the house every day, and stocking up on those products.

2. Entertainment-wise.  With friends a good 20-minute drive away at the closest, we’re planning on making a list of ways to keep ourselves entertained should we have one of those winters where travel is not advised a large part of the winter season.  We’ll be picking up more playing cards, some 500-piece puzzles, some puzzle and word-find books, and so on and so forth.

The kids also asked if we could do more baking this year of breads and the like, so we’ll stock up big on flour and other baking essentials, and use our lockdown days as cooking lesson days.

Also, we’re committed to keep the trail out to the lake plowed and the lake itself shoveled so we can do more ice skating than we did last year, weather permitting.  The first year we were here we did lots of skating, but last year it was too cold to even go out and shovel the path many days, and it’s a good two city blocks back to the lake.  This year we’ll work harder to keep the path and the lake clear so we can ice skate more.

3. Psychologically.  I’ve lived in MN for 44 of my 47 years, but I’m a summer girl at heart.  I absolutely love the change in seasons here, but really, winter is not my favorite.  And in the country, winter is definitely magnified x10, especially if you live in a colder region like we do.

By the end of last year’s incredibly long, unbearably cold winter, I was on the verge of losing it, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest style.  🙂  Seriously though, it was tough.  This year we’re planning on forcing ourselves out into the winter sun to get some Vitamin D, doing indoor exercise challenges with the kids, taking a quality D vitamin supplement, and having plenty of entertainment modes on hand (see above) to combat boredom and cabin fever.   We’ll also work to spend some of our entertainment money to let the kids swim at a local hotel pool so they can at least pretend it’s not 8 million degrees below zero. 🙂

In other news, I wanted to share with you a new series that my dear friend over at Prudence Debtfree and I are working on.  Prudence wrote the first post today in a series of posts that we’ll be doing on what we’ve defined as “Fruclassity”.  Being that we are not nearly as cool as MMM and his Badassity concept, we’ve come up with our own definition of what we call debt reduction the not-so-badass way.

Don’t misunderstand: we completely admire MMM and his mission: he is a constant inspiration to both of our families on a regular basis.  Badassity, however, is just too extreme for us, we wanted to figure out a way that we could pay off our debts without living on Ramen Noodles for five years, much as we admire those who have the psychological stamina to do so.

In a few days I’ll be sharing our September recap, along with our October goals.  I hope you’ll peek in and see how we’re doing.  Until then, may you have a blessed and highly-favored kind of a weekend.  🙂

52 comments

  1. Kathy says:

    I remember when we were in the country and on two different occasions were without power for nearly a week. First one was a tornado that fortunately missed our house but took out power poles nearby. The second was a huge ice storm. You’re right, the power company attends to the city folk first and then get to us later. The thing that was most difficult for us was not having a bathroom. City people don’t realize that when you have a well, you have no water since there is no electricity to run the well pump. So we have a one word solution to that predicament….generator. In the country we had a portable one which we had to cycle things like using water, running the furnace, etc. In our current home we installed a whole house generator and the sheer peace of mind is worth it. Our installation cost $5000 and we do a maintenance contract each year. The nice thing is that the company will send out a technician any time, day or night, if the generator fails to come on within 30 seconds of the power going out. For us, it is well worth that expense.

    • Laurie says:

      Kath, who did you get your generator through and who installed it? I’d be interested in learning more about that. Maybe I should google it? Thanks for your constant wisdom and encouragement – I always learn so much from you!

      • Kathy says:

        Hi Lauri, Happy to help. You blog is always one of the first I look at. You always have something interesting. Anyhoo….our generator is a Generac. There is also a brand called Guardian but I know Generac is made in the U.S. (don’t know about Guardian) and we bought ours through a local electrician who is an authorized Generac dealer. His electricians are required by Generac to go to their specialized training classes so the installation and service will be at the highest of standards. Our dealer offers a service agreement where they come out twice a year to check out and tune up the equipment. Other dealers may or may not offer this. I don’t mean to sound like an advertisement for this company but we are just so very satisfied and happy with the product. If you look in your yellow pages under generator or electrician, you can probably find dealers in your area. Good luck.

  2. I’m really hoping the winter isn’t as bad as they are predicting, still, it’s great to see you taking as many precautions as you can. I can’t wait to hear more about this “fruclassity” project. I’m pretty sure I’m on board with that one! 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, I think it’s going to go over well. The Fruclassity concept has, so far, been wonderful for us and for Prudence Debtfree. 🙂

  3. Wow that sounds pretty tough Laurie! Here in the UK, overall it seems that winters have been getting lighter and lighter (apart from the flooding) so I can’t imagine how tough it must be with winters that are so extreme!

    So glad to see that you’re planning ahead and getting ready. Buying all that fuel early on sounds like a marvelous idea!

    Just off to Prudence Debt Free as recommended to read the article; it sounds very exciting 🙂

  4. I hope your winter isn’t too horrendous this year! We were snowed in a few times last winter, but certainly much easier to manage being in the city. If you’re looking for more card games, our absolute favorite is “Canasta.” It’s played with two regular decks of cards and is perfect for 4 or 6 people since you play in pairs.

    • Laurie says:

      Ha!!! We LOVE Canasta! My mom plays every week with the group we kiddingly call her “old lady friends” and she taught us to play. It’s one of our all time favorites. 🙂

  5. Mackenzie says:

    I love hearing about how you are getting ready for the winter, Laurie. I am living vicariously through you 😉 I’ll have to check out your “fruclassity” project; sounds interesting!

  6. Hi Laurie. Loved this post! My hubby is an expert HVAC guy (in the biz for 35 years). As soon as he gets home I’ll have him read your post and let you know what he says about your situation. In the meantime, it’s over to Fruclassity for me! 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, man!!!! Wish you guys lived up here!!! We need an honest and knowledgeable expert to come out here! The estimates and type of work we’re told we need to do is ALL over the board! Thanks so much for sharing this with your hubby – we appreciate it!

      • kay ~ frugalvoices.com says:

        This is hubby’s take on it. The ‘six weeks out guy’ sounds like he’s in high demand, which means he probably does good work. As far as the thingamajig in the basement, without knowing what it is he’s putting in there, Jay has no clue whether it should be in there or not. The only thing he can think of is maybe it’s an air-to-air exchanger, which brings fresh air from outside and changes it with air from inside, which he really can’t see any reason that a wood stove would cause carbon monoxide in a house. That’s what the smoke pipe is for. As far as $1800 just for labor, it depends on the going rate. We live in New York State, and the average rate where we live is $90 – $100 per hour. So if the job would take anywhere from 18 – 20 hours, it sounds reasonable. However, it is a different state, so, that is a consideration. He says that putting a free standing wood stove in a house would usually only take a day to do it, maybe 6 – 7 hours, for two guys. So probably twice as long for one guy. So to summarize, that ‘six weeks out guy’ is probably your best bet, seriously, so let’s all pray for that Indian Summer! 🙂 (If you have any more questions, please E me at frugalvoices@yahoo.com, anytime.)

  7. It’s never easy to put a plan in action, but who knew it was so hard to install a wood stove?! Your patience is admirable, and it’s a real testimony to what you’ve learned in your efforts to eliminate debt: ‘Don’t spend under pressure. Know what you want, and wait for the right circumstances.’ You are doing it! Like you, I had a tough, tough time last winter. I will be following along to see how you manage this winter – maybe pick up some tips. I hope you get a chance to see the finished product for our first “Fruclassity” post. Check out that crêpe breakfast!

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, I’m much more comfy at least knowing what to expect here, and we’re prepared to live in a colder house, as last year we really wimped out and had the heat higher than we would’ve liked. This year we’re ready to buck up. 🙂

  8. Kara says:

    I love how prepared you are for winter. I’m in VT and we can have tough long winters as well. You list some good ideas to combat cabin fever!
    Have a nice weekend!

  9. Kassandra says:

    Well done on buying the 1000 gallons of propane at $1.99! I’m very curious about the fruclassity initiative you have brewing so I’ll mosey on over to check it out!

  10. Nicola says:

    I can’t imagine living somewhere where the weather is that extreme! I feel lucky at the moment 🙂 I’m hoping it doesn’t snow at all this winter as I hate having to battle to work in it.

  11. Myles Money says:

    I don’t know how you do it. Winter is my least favourite season too, but I’m lucky because we live in a relatively mild climate so we don’t feel the misery of full-on winter temperatures.

    Good luck keeping mind and body together. Soul food helps me, and hot OJ too… just stick a mug of orange juice in the microwave for a couple of minutes till it’s piping hot. It sounds gross, but it’s wonderful. Try it!

    And try not to go off the reservation, Chief!

  12. Amy says:

    You do not paint a pretty picture of winter in MN, Laurie! And I thought we had it bad here in upstate NY! 🙂

    I’m so envious that you were able to get propane for $1.99 a gallon! I was really excited when I got our company to lock us in at $2.75 for the whole season!!

    I’m with you on really disliking winter. I lived in CA for a while, and REALLY missed the change of seasons, but I never missed winter. I try to remind myself that excitement about the holidays carries me through Jan. 1, and even though March can be pretty brutal, I feel like the end is in sight when I turn the calendar to March.

    • We were lucky in that we called the propane company a few times during the month of July – it changed a lot even then, but summer tends to have awesome prices. We try and have some focus on the calendar too: focus on the holidays, then focus March – almost done then, right? 🙂

  13. Iforonwy says:

    I feel chilled just reading your post! Makes me remember an episode of Little House on the Prairie years ago where they went out to the barn and could not find the way back. I know it was just a TV programme but I was SO scared for them!

    Yes over here in the UK the winters are getting warmer and wetter but we are so fortunate to live in the warmest area of the whole UK. We jsut had our Gas & Electricity bills and usuage statements for the last 3 months. Somehow for the period 28th June – 28th September 2013 we used a total of 371.96lWh of gas and for the same period 28th June to 28th September 2014 the grand total of 2kWh!

    As I have said before we are so fortunate in using solar power and solar heated hot water so we do not need to turn on the gas to heat water. Another thing we do to conserve rather than save money on these utilities is to have all the discounts allowed in that we have the same supplier for the dual fuel another discount for paying on an monthly direct debit and also collect voucher points on what we pay each month. Fidly but worth it. By paying the same amount each month through the year we often end up with a surplus of money which we can either chose to carry forward or ask to be returned to us.

    Another great thing is insulation. We have recently topped up the amount in the roof space and this will/is making a great deal of difference.

    But although it appears to be getting milder here I still remember a childhood where the frost was on the inside of the windows and snow was as high as the hedges on the country roads.

    • LOL, that episode of Little House freaks me out to this day – I could totally see that happening here!! Interesting that it is getting so mild there, and so freezing cold here. I guess we picked the wrong side of the world to live in. 🙂

    • Ooh, so jealous!!! I keep trying to talk Rick into visiting AZ ( I was there in the 90’s on a fabulous vacation) but he thinks it’s nothing but desert. 🙂 I know he’d fall in love with the dry heat there.

  14. Lauren says:

    Oh no, I can’t handle another Polar Vortex! I’m in PA and we got tons of snow last time. Maybe we’ll be spared…I’m going to stay optimistic until the temperature drops :/

  15. Great points on preparing for the winter Laurie, especially buying propane now when the prices aren’t jacked up thanks to the cold weather. I am with you on feeling like you were living one flew over the cuckoo’s nest last winter. I know without a doubt I had seasonal affective disorder and I gained 10 pounds last winter that I just can’t get rid of. I need to stock up on some vitamin D too because I am not sure how my mental health can take another winter like that.

  16. Autumn says:

    Fruclassity! Love it. I also love that you have a lake you can ice skate on. I’m terrible at ice skating, but it’s fun anyway. I’m more of a fall/winter girl myself, but that’s probably because the summers here seem to last 10 months out of the year. The grass is always greener, isn’t it?

  17. I admire how well you prepare for things! I have heard that winter is supposed to be brutal again. There is only so much snow one can take! I think it’s smart to also focus on the psychological aspect. Being snowed in or unable to go out in the cold can do a number on you. Sounds like you have some fantastic plans in place to make sure your sanity stays intact! =) I’m sorry the first quote sounded so shady; it is so hard to put trust in service companies these days. It feels like some are just out for your money.

  18. As others have said Laurie, I love seeing your preparation for the winter! Nicole has been telling me they’re calling for a bad winter and know if that’s the case for us then it’s exponentially more so for you. Love the idea of the series btw! I’ve got an upcoming series on FR starting in the New Year on different ways to save money yet still have a life and looking forward to seeing what other things I can learn. 🙂

  19. I didn’t know you live in Minnesota. My husband grew up and there and his parents live in Elbow Lake! You’re right- the winters there get crazy! I really do love that beautiful state though.

    • OMG – Holly, a friend of ours grew up in Elbow Lake!! I’m sure they must know each other – it’s so small there! We’ll have to talk about that some time. 🙂 Yes, it’s a beautiful state – from about April through September. 🙂

  20. I am so NOT looking forward to winter. I’m hoping fall lasts as long as possible. I’m also holding out as long as possible before turning on my heater because I hate energy bills! Last year I made it to Nov 1st, but just barely…

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