We had a very welcome visitor this July. My brother John came up from Sedona Arizona to visit for three weeks. Why was he so welcome? Well, besides the fact that I hadn’t spent any time with him in years, he spent most of his time here working around our property in the hot summer sun.
See, John has been a “dirt guy” his whole life. He understands how to prepare ground in a very level way so that concrete can be laid and drain effectively. There is so much more to know than I ever imagined about preparing soil properly so your home doesn’t wash away!
We were in need of a lot of dirt work to prepare for a new concrete patio on the south side of our home. John did all of that work by hand, and then proceeded to fix our driveway, so it drained properly and nobody was tempted to run over the drains and ruin them. He also shared lots of good information about weather patterns, clouds, etc.
We kept telling him to relax more, but he said this was nothing compared to the work he is used to down in Arizona. And as an added bonus he played beautiful acoustic guitar outside my window each night as I was going to sleep.
Now that’s one great brother…
It was so fun hanging out with him. Who else remembers all the crazy things we used to say and do as kids? Who else can still sing along with Frank Zappa’s Mother-mania album, the one our Mom really hated?
So wonderful to spend time with my big brother again!
Yesterday was so interesting! We visited some new friends who have lived up above 8,000 feet in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains west of here for the past few years. Loved hearing their stories about living up high.
I know many have romantic visions of life up in those beautiful mountains, but remember this too:
The approach to their house is a windy, dirt road off of a major highway, a road they and their few neighbors must maintain, unlike the county road we live off of, 15 miles west of Walsenburg. Once they came home a few years ago and there was 6 feet of snow on this road. They couldn’t go home!
We heard stories about when the deep snows come, and the big state highway snowplows plow their road closed! That’s why they need to maintain snow-moving equipment themselves….imagine that!
I asked them how deep the snow gets up there, and they decided one picture was worth a thousand words!
WOW! We have had a few snows of a foot or so, but nothing like this! They told us stories of a few snowstorms where they shoveled for eight hours straight. If they didn’t have heavy equipment they wouldn’t be able to get out for weeks!
Their property includes an old straw-bale cabin on a mine site plus 100 acres. Their water comes from a spring nearby, and what delicious water it is! They heat with a large wood stove, which requires a great amount of log splitting to prepare for the winter cold. They have electric service, mainly because the costs of returning renewal energy back to the grid here requires outrageous fees and insurance requirements, and going off grid presents other problems with reliability and initial installation costs. We are stuck here until better energy storage solutions are developed worldwide.
The natural beauty of their landscape is beyond words and, did I mention, they have no water or heating bills… They maintain a number of wildlife cameras and see so many different animals around their home. Bears are so commonplace that they have named a few of them! It’s a wonderful place that requires a lot of work to maintain.
We recently built a passive solar home right at 7,000 feet and are told by our new friends that we are really saving a lot of money in the winter by absorbing the sun’s heat directly into our insulated slab, which helps to hold the daily sun’s heat within our home overnight.
We hope to add a few of these solar thermal water tubes to our home soon to increase our thermal mass and help to moderate temperature swings both in the winter and summer. Beyond solar, we depend on Cadet forced-air electric wall heaters on thermostats for all of our winter heating needs. They usual turn themselves on during the night and turn off soon after the sun comes up most days. In the summer, the positioning and excellent insulation in our new home keeps us cooler than most without the need for air conditioning. We have ceiling fans in every room.
We have rarely been “snowed in” this past winter, but we did purchase a Subaru and love how well it works on steep snowy roads. Overall, we’re glad we chose a lower elevation. I can’t breathe any higher! We’re doing great right where we are!
We are newcomers to rural Colorado, so after two years I compiled a book about the total experience of moving here to build passive solar in the foothills: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado Please feel free to contact me directly for copies of any of my books! MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com
I found it interesting to watch the PBS special “10 Houses That Changed America.” In this program, the two houses that reminded me the most of our new passive solar home in southern Colorado, were the Taos Pueblo from ancient times, and the Glidehouse.
Ancient pueblo-style homes faced south for the best winter exposure to the warmth of the sun, and had thick adobe walls to help maintain indoor temperatures year round. This design provided much needed warmth in the winter, and cooler temperatures in the summer months.
Then I learned about the Glidehouse, which I had never heard of before. This is now built prefab in a factory, but was originally the architect Michelle Kaufmann’s attempt at creating a reasonably priced green home.
What did that mean to her? She wished to create an energy efficient home that maintained its indoor temperature through its unique design. With excellent insulation and many south-facing doors and windows to add solar heat in the winter, the overhanging roof on the south helps to keep the sun out in the summer. With lots of windows facing south, very little indoor lighting is needed during the day. She also installed a low-flow water system. Kaufmann’s main idea was to conserve natural resources, collaborate with nature, and create a healthier, more comfortable way to live.
Unlike our own custom-built passive solar home, the Glidehouse does not include a specially-designed direct-gain slab that collects heat during the winter months, and then releases it at night, greatly decreasing the need for additional heat. We also spent the extra dollars for spray, polyurethane foam to insulate our outside walls, providing the best R-value for both winter and summer.
I am happy to see more Americans who are concerned about energy efficiency in their living situation, not just to save money, but to live more in harmony with the earth. I love living so close to nature, and waking up to see bunnies coming up to my sliding door to look in in the morning.
We moved from Fort Collins to Walsenburg in June of 2014 to build a direct gain passive solar home in the foothills west of Walsenburg. We rented a hundred-year-old house in town for 13 months while building our own version of a retirement dream home. There would be few surprises when we finally arrived in our new home, but assumptions made about living in Walsenburg certainly did add up.
When you decide to move to a very small town after living in the city most of your life, false assumptions can be made. After all, you really don’t know exactly what to expect, because you have never lived in a tiny town before.
The first mistake we made was assuming that rentals would be available in both La Veta and Walsenburg in June. We discovered the end of May there were none we would even consider living in, and we were closing on our house the middle of June! We quickly made friends with Susie, the primary realtor in Walsenburg, and offered her a hefty bonus if she would find us something quick.
We also assumed utilities would be much cheaper in a small town, but we were wrong about that too. We did call the utility departments for both La Veta and Walsenburg before renting, and quickly discovered that only propane heating was available in La Veta. That would add up quite quickly in this cold part of the county, so we began leaning more towards Walsenburg in our selection process.
One thing we never would have guessed is that city water in Walsenburg would cost over $60 a month BEFORE you figured in how much you used that month! This town has lost about a third of its population in the past decade, so their water capacity is far larger than they need or can pay for, one reason why they are welcoming marijuana grow operations at present.
We did find a decent house to rent just in time, but it was so small we had to find additional storage for some of our furniture. The local realtor helped us with that too.
One total win for us was how friendly and welcoming our new landlord Bob was. He helped us whenever he could, and even provided new music for us to listen to as we explored our new home county. He then invited us up to his commune home near Gardner, where he has lived since the 1970s. The people who live in the communes in the northern part of Huerfano county have been so friendly and welcoming!
Another total win has been the quiet beauty of this part of Colorado. The views are phenomenal down here, and the weather is just a bit milder than up north. We love it! It’s definitely big sky country!
Most of the people we have met here have been friendly at least at first, although most seem hesitant to truly welcome us. Most don’t seem to want to be friends. I’m still trying to figure that one out. I have heard a few interesting explanations so far!
I wrote quite a bit about making friends here in my new memoir, out now! When asked whether it was OK to write about how others have treated you, Anne Lamott said,
“Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Sunrises are outrageous at 7,000 feet with no neighbors!