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  • J.F. Rowan

Off The Grid House-Sit

Weston Colorado

Aerial shot of Weston Colorado house sit.

Okay, I'm just going to warn you ahead of time, this is probably going to be a two or even a three part post. Not bad considering we're staying here for three weeks. Besides, you'll learn about an area of the country that has some unique attributes and challanges. Please understand, I am no expert on some of these topics. These are my observations.

As I may have mentioned before, this was a house-sit that Yvette and I had agreed to way back in early February. We didn’t know as much about the house-sitting process back then, but as it turns out in this particular case we got lucky with our selection. We stayed at Trinidad Lake State Park (sound familier?) for a few days just before the sit in Weston, just 14 miles from the park. It would enable us a short drive in order to meet the homeowners and their dog, Trinny. Normally, we “meet and leave”only to go back the next day once the homeowners have left, but they offered up their guest accommodations over their garage so that we could stay the night. Once we saw the very comfortable guest accommodations, we quickly agreed and spent the night. We received most of our orientation that afternoon, and then had a nice dinner which gave us ample time for all of us to get to know each other. Before and after dinner I was taken through the electric and water systems step by step in the event anything went wrong or needed attention. All the systems were similar to our own coach's setup, but on a much larger scale.

"Trinny." Loveable, personable, and very well-behaved!

The house was designed and built by the homeowners. It is off grid living, so they rely soley on solar power for their electricity. A large battery bank stores power during the day, charged by the solar panels. They have all the usual appliances that you have in your own home though I suspect some of the lighting is the 12-volt LED type.

Solar Panels on the garage roof provide enough power to charge a bank of batteries that in turn, power everything in the house. Not sure how effective it is in the winter months, but they do have a back up generator powered by propane.

Yvette tending to the front courtyard.

There is no cable here, so it’s all about the satellite dish for internet and TV. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised as to the upload speed here. It only took about 20-30 minutes to fully upload and process a video. Normally, this isn't the case at other house sits we've experienced especially if the house has a satellite dish. Like all satellite systems, we do notice a connectivity issue whenever adverse weather is present, but adverse weather is rare here.

Another attribute that’s interesting regarding this type of “Off Grid”living is water availability. Back home in New England, I think there were times we took the availability of our water for granted. Here, every drop of rain is a gift. This home has no well nor would it be practical to drill one. Not all that uncommon in this "ranch" community, in fact it's the norm. Instead, they have two 1500 gallon cisterns that store fresh water which is purchased from the local “water distributor” about 8 miles away. If you have your own tank, you can purchase water for about 2 cents a gallon.

Checking the fresh water level in one of the two 1500 gallon cisterns.

Here, you purchase your water in bulk ahead of time and then you recieve a water debit card. You show up at the designated water outlet with your 500 gallon (or larger) water tank, swipe your card and pump away. Your gallons are automatically deducted from your account. This is all assuming you have a way of transporting it. If you don’t have the luxury of having a mobile tank or a way to transport it, the cost goes up considerably. Needless to say, you learn water conservation as a matter of necessity. But it made me think, "What happens when this source dries up or becomes unavailable?"

Grey water (from bathroom shower and dishwasher) and some rain water is diverted and collected in another cistern for watering plants etc. I'm measuring the level just before an afternoon rain storm to compare "before and after."

The home is situated within a type of gated housing cummunity called a “Ranch.” I’m not a 100% sure about this, but I think there may be some property tax advantages to this type of community. But unlike our Durango House Sit experience where cattle grazing seemed to be part of that communities "Ranch" requirement, there are no grazing cattle here that we’ve seen, at least not within the confines of the ranch community itself. There are however, Natural Gas or Methane derricks scattered everywhere. Even though the minimum lot size here is 35 acres per owner (some owners own more than one parcel) you are never so far away from a derrick that you can’t see, or sometimes even hear a derrick running. The derricks pump the gas from the ground and send it through buried pipes to a collection/compressor facility located several miles from here. Each derrick has a compressor and if it’s close enough to a main road, the compressor and other associated components can be electrically powered resulting in a relatively quiet operation.

Ranch Community Between Weston and Trinidad

Weston Colorado area. All those little plots you see are not houses...

they're mostly gas derricks. One for about every 40 acres.

But farther in from the road where access to electricity doesn't seem as feasible, the compressor usually seems to be powered by an internal combustion engine (V8 or large in line 6 cylinder) fed by the same natural gas or methane it retrieves. Though somewhat genius on the one hand, it does result in what sounds like a commercial refrigerator truck’s “Reefer” running 24/7.

No two derricks seemed the same. This one has the typical "Nodding Donkey" look.

Small block chevy V8 powered this particular setup. It runs 24/7. Overhead shed structure protects the unit and doors at each end can be opened to allow for air circulation for cooling.

Some sort of water seperation pond? My guess is that during the gas retrieval process, water is seperated and drained off here to either evaporate or to leech back into the ground. Almost every derrick has a pond like this.

Where we stayed, we could hear one such derrick in the distance at night if we slept with the windows open, which was every night. After a while I got used to it but for Yvette, she just closed the window. There are other aspects of remote living in this area. Some of which we experienced first hand such as the ever present wildfire risk.

Wildfires seem to be numerous in Colorado this year. As was the case at our Durango House-Sit, we also had to keep an eye on a wildfire called "Spring Creek" that was located about 18 miles to the northwest. Fortunately, it was moving in the opposite direction so there was never any real danger for us. As of this writing, the fire had consumed almost 100,000 acres.

The "Spring Creek Fire" as seen from our house-sit home. East Peak and West Peak.

However, there were a handful of nights when the wind had swapped directions and we could smell smoke strong enough to wake us up and make sure a new fire hadn't popped up somewhere else.

So far, this has been an extrordinary experience. Every night the sunsets were simply stunning. The views from the deck were of the Spanish Peaks (East Peak and West Peak) and the Sangre De Cristo mountain range. I can't imagine what it would cost to have dinner with views like this.

Dinner and a view of the Sangre De Cristo range.

Stunning sunsets were a daily occurance.

Don’t count on any gardening here unless you’re going to stick to a desert type garden theme. Raindrops seem to be far and few between here and any non-desert gardening will probably have to rely on some sort of grey water/rain water collection system of irrigation such as the one our homeowners devised.

​ Taking "Trinny" for a ride.

We were fortunate to be able to use one of their vehicles while we were here. It made going into Trinidad (20 miles away) for groceries and running errands convenient. We also explored and scouted some of the surrounding areas for possible BLM and other dispersed camping locations. So that this post doesn’t turn into a bit of a novel, I’ll end here. The next post we’ll finish up on the house-sit and talk a bit about the local coal & gas industry.

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