Now that I've had some time to catch my breath after the latest snowstorm, I'd like to share with you some reflections and some lessons from this unusual event.
If you aren't familiar with this winter's weather in the Colorado Rockies, I will tell you that we've experienced a series of powerful winter snow storms. Unofficially, I heard that our town had not experienced this much snow in such a short period since 1911.
The snow was piling up so fast that I had to set a timer so I would remember to take a break from work to shovel out the front door and the critical paths to the compost bins and the woodshed. Even though the solar panels weren't producing much power during these cloudy days, we still needed to keep access to them and clear them of snow. My sons dug out a trench so we could reach the panels and eventually it was shoulder high in front of the solar array, and I couldn't lift the shovel high enough to clear the snow.
A wall of snow grew in front of the house, woodshed, and along the parking area. For two days our quarter-mile driveway was impassable because the walls of snow along the side of the road were so high that there was no place to plow the snow. Thank goodness, my brother took several vacation days to clear our driveway with his small tractor.
Yes, even after growing up in this mountain town and now living off the grid here for over eight years I still have lessons to learn.
I am humbled by the power of Mother Nature - both Her beauty and Her might.
First and foremost (now that it is over) I am grateful for this wild storm. It brought abundant moisture to our severely drought-ridden land. Last summer was exceptionally stressful with a nearby fire that shrouded the area in smoke and caused many folks to evacuate their homes. We're hoping this moisture will bring a less active fire season this summer.
But, I have to admit, after days of snow piling up and continuous shoveling, I had had enough of a good thing. In those times, I imagined how much the plants were going to love all this moisture as it melted into the soil. I soaked my sore shoveling muscles in long hot bubble baths because there was a constant flow of water into our cisterns.
Several power outages affected those living on the grid. We were fortunate that we had a sunny day between the two massive storms and our solar panels powered up our batteries. Even I was a little surprised when we didn't lose power during the storm.
The inverter didn't shut down the power until the morning the storm broke, and the sun was coming out. I got up that morning to a beautiful blue sky, made some coffee and enjoyed the morning. After I took the dogs for a walk, I noticed the power was off. We only went without electricity for less than an hour! Shortly after it went out, the sun hit the solar panels, and the power was on soon after.
Compared to many, we weathered the storm with relative ease, but I learned some valuable lessons.
1. I learned to have more firewood stored than I expected to need.
We collect our wood from our fire mitigation efforts on the property. Oak and other dead trees need to be cut and cleared away from the house. Usually, this gives us plenty of wood to burn as back up heat through the heating season because we generally consume less than a chord in a year.
We stocked the woodshed with about 1 1/2 chords before the winter, and we had some reserved split wood piled under a tree.
Before winter hit with all its force, we had talked about bringing in the remaining firewood. But, we didn't get it done or foresee that we would need it this year. By the third wave of snow, we were keeping a fire going most days, and the woodshed supply was dwindling.
Once the storm broke, it took me a morning to pack in a trail to the reserve pile. My son dug out the wood, and we were able to bring enough home to continue to have a fire in the evenings.
Even though we don't depend on burning our woodstove for survival, we'll make sure the woodshed is full to the top before next winter.
2. I could have improved the solar panel and skylight placement.
When I designed Twisted Oak, I placed the solar panels on the roof. It was the least expensive location and the best sun exposure for the array. The skylights, mounted on curbs sit in front of the solar panels. When the snow slides, it often piles up behind the skylight curbs. On an average year, it is easy to shovel it out of the way.
This year, the snow piled up so high that we were digging down to the panels and skylights. This situation would be one argument for mounting the solar array high off the ground on a pole. I could have also placed the skylights further away from the solar panels.
However, we still would have had to shovel or plow a path to the pole-mounted array and would have needed a long snow rake to clear the snow from the panels.
Maybe it's six of one and half a dozen of the other - just something to consider when locating your solar panels. Make sure to think about snow removal and access during an extreme snow year.
3. I could have designed the roof with a more shallow slope.
We have a relatively flat roof, but the 1:12 pitch with metal roofing still allows snow to slide off. Thank goodness, we placed snow guards along the south edge of the roof to keep the snow on the roof. Otherwise, all of our spring and summer water supply would have slid off.
The snow on the house stayed on the roof because of the snow guards, but the guards on the garage came loose, and we lost all of that snow. The pile nearly reached the eaves. We'll have to make sure to secure those guards much tighter when we reattach them - after we find them.
Losing the snow off the house would have been unfortunate, but not as bad as the pile of snow that would have covered our south windows. These south windows are our heating system, and with a wall of snow in front of them, our passive heating system would have been disabled, forcing us to keep the entire house heated with our woodstove.
I now would consider building a roof for water collection with only about a 1/4" per 1-foot slope.
All is well that ends well, and I'm pleased that we only had some inconvenient reminders from being a little complacent about the weather and Mother Nature. She kept us honest this year.
I'm sending out a heartfelt wish that everyone seeing this blog has been safe a sound during the storms that hit nearly every part of the country.
Please scroll down and leave me a comment. Tell me if you learned any lessons from these storms and if you plan on making changes to your house before next winter.