High in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains: Foothills versus Mountain Living in Southern Colorado

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:

Manuel's snow tractor

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!

snow over the windows

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.

solar water tubesWe 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!

memoir of retirement 2016We 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

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Home Designs That Changed America

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. 

taos-pueblo

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.

glidehouseThen 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.

4052 Comanche DriveUnlike 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.

IMGP4148I 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.

Midlife change is so worth it!

Rasta Mike and Laura FB smallAlthough Mike and I did consider ending it all before we met in lucky 2005 (see previous post), we both agree joining forces has been the BEST thing that has ever happened to either of us!

Together, through a great love and stubborn persistence, we have assisted each other in attaining our most treasured life goals, goals we would not have attained without each other’s support.

Find Your Reason Cover tiny for HPMine was to become a writer. So far I’ve written three books! Mike’s was to build his own passive solar home with a spectacular view.

IMGP3968Mission Accomplished!   And, BTW, the passive solar is keeping us toasty warm this fall! More often than not we have to open a window to cool down our home. So far, so good. We have only needed to use our supplemental heaters on the coldest and cloudest days.

IMGP4312The sunrises up here are GLORIOUS!

And all in all, I would say we are a good example of:

“Don’t give up in midlife when things feel hopeless!”

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. If you can change your mind and change your priorities like I did, there are do-overs before it’s all over! That is the message of my books and blogs.

And, finally, the rat is dead! Mike found it in his car and killed it! He was so happy! We still have our new cat Charlie. He’s not so good with rats, but he’s great at finding bugs, and re-defines playfulness for us!

IMGP4397Rasta and Charlie are still not the best of friends, but we’re getting there…

IMGP4406still coloring mandalas, and LOVING IT! It’s so healing for my poor recovering brain…

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How passive solar foundations are different

I bet you were wondering when my husband Mike was going to contribute to this effort. Here is his explanation of how changes in the floor and foundation in our new home in southern Colorado will help to maintain a warm, even temperature in the winter:

DSCF1003Our new house will be passive solar with a direct gain system. This means that in winter, the sun will shine in through our south-facing windows, directly heating our well-insulated concrete floors.

The concrete floors will be 6 inches thick and covered with ceramic tile. The tile will be a dark color to absorb the heat from the sun.

Thermal storage tubesWhile 4 inches is the optimum thickness for the concrete, additional thickness will add some extra heat storage capacity. We thickened our floor to 6 inches to accommodate a few thermal storage water tubes. You can put colored water in them and they look GREAT, but they can be quite heavy.   Please see blue examples at right… more about these later!

The concrete floor is where the light from the sun is converted to heat and is absorbed into the concrete. The floor moderates the house temperature by its mass, which gives off heat when the house air temperature is low and absorbs heat when the house air temperature is high.

The concrete floor will be insulated from the ground with foam insulation, seen in blue in this photo. It is insulated underneath and around the edges. In addition to this, the foundation walls will be insulated on the inside. This creates a longer path for the heat to escape the house, making the ground under the floor warmer, thus cutting down on heat loss into the earth.