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.

Postscript: This home was lost in the Spring Creek Fire , July 2019.

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, especially since our home survived the Spring Creek Fire in 2018!

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

Life in a passive solar home

This post is for those who are curious what it is like to live in a direct gain passive solar home. That included me until a few months ago!

IMGP4278For example, today the sun is out, but we had a high of 46 degrees outside. Inside we are toasty warm in the low 70s with no forms of heat needed.

To build a direct gain solar home you must first properly position it with almost all your windows and sliding doors facing directly south. And the windows and doors must be made of the proper kind of glass.

In addition, your roof needs just the right amount of overhang on the south side to keep the sun overhead and not shining into the house until around September 1st.

IMGP3052You must also start out with the right kind of insulated slab to hold the heat in the floor, instead of it leaking out into the ground. This is essential!

IMGP3515The walls must be well insulated, and then we chose dark gray tile throughout the house to absorb the heat as it enters the house from our south-facing doors and windows. Right now the sun is shining about 10 feet into our home!

You also need ceiling fans if you want to keep the heat down off the ceiling in winter.

At the time of building this house, I understood why we made these specific choices, but only now do I see the great advantages to living in a home that holds its temperature so well.

Yes, our home does cool down at night, but very slowly. The low temperature outside last night was around 20 degrees. With no inside heat on, the outdoors got down to 64 degrees. Then as the sun starts coming in to the house the morning, our home warms up very quickly.

Sometimes before I leave the house I think, “Should I turn down the thermostat?” But we have none…old ways die hard.

IMGP4364Fortunately we were able to find the perfect passive solar perch for our new home, one that faces south and also offers us a 180 degree view of the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.

Now that I understand all of this, I am mystified why everyone doesn’t use the free solar heat of winter! Of course I never would have understood all of this without Mike’s expertise and education.

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