November 23, 2021

Off Grid CTO: Thankful the Projects Are Done!

Welcome to the next post in the series about living life off the grid in the mountains of Colorado while working as the CTO of ModelOp.
A very tall building with lots of windows.

Welcome to the next post in the series about living life off the grid in the mountains of Colorado while working as the CTO of ModelOp, a great software company delivering solutions for governing and managing your AI models in an enterprise.

As Thanksgiving day is about to arrive, it is time to look back on all of the things I am thankful for up here, and trust me, there are quite a few things.  But in specific I am very thankful for all of the things my wife and myself accomplished up here this summer.  The road up here will be closing down any day now, so the big projects have now come to the end.  It is time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of all of our labor over the course of the summer as the days get very short, and the weather turns cold and snowy.  So join me in a review of some of those projects!

A Crappy Start

Well as the snow started to melt early in the spring, I began to notice an issue down where our cesspool is located.  There was a noticeable sag in the soil where the cover to it was, and I knew it was time to take a look and see what was going on under the soil.  In the 18 years I have owned the place, I have not touched it so I knew nothing about how it was constructed.  Boy am I glad I decided to do this, as I don’t think it would have survived another year without collapsing, and that would be a lot harder to clean up.

So what I thought would be a quick repair job of replacing a few boards, took a turn for the worse when I removed the soil and other coverings.  When they built it, they simply threw boards right onto the soil which of course led to rot.  The boards were all collapsing in, and I realized if I did not do something different, I would be facing this again in the future.  I am always of the mentality of do it right once.

So began a multi month long effort of building a completely new foundation around the existing cesspool to better support a cover.  What should have been a weekend project took on a whole new meaning when I had to hand carry and place all of the rocks, hand mix the cement to hold it together while dodging cold weather and thunderstorms.

On top of that, I then had to hand mill all the 4×4 timbers used to span the cover, as well as mill additional cover boards to seal it all up.  This ended up taking ALOT longer than expected, so some other projects for the summer had to fall off the radar.  There is always something up here that pops up that is unexpected, and this ended up being a big one.

As you can see with the final results, though, this should last many years to come…

Some Modern Conveniences

There is a time and place where things just plain wear out.  I really like to fix things and keep them going as long as I can.  I just hate throwing something away that can be saved, but there gets to be a  point where it just is not worth the effort anymore.

Our washing machine was a case in point.  I very possibly believe it is older than myself, and has been in the cabin since it was built.  I have managed to time after time piece it back together and keep it going, so it just didn’t seem to be worth the money to buy a new one.  But that all changed over the spring.  Every single load of wash we did, it would have some kind of a problem in the middle of a load of wash.  So  now you are under a giant machine full of clothes and water trying to get it going again to finish the load.  Amazingly, I would always manage to revive it, but this was just too much.  And given it was old, it used a ton of water and didn’t do that great of a job anymore.

So we decided to get a new washing machine, and replace the old behemoth with a smaller portable high efficiency machine.  This would use less electricity, less water, and hopefully get the clothes clean, with also less damage to the clothes themselves.  I have to say, I am extremely happy with the outcome.  The clothes get cleaner, it takes up less space, and they are also drier coming out of the machine.  On its largest load setting, it only uses 35 gallons of water for the complete cycle.  Less than half of what the other machine used, yet it still handles about the same amount of clothes,  I wish I had done it years ago….

Also we had been using a portable electric chest fridge set to freezer mode since we moved up here in order to hold enough frozen food to last us between trips to town.  It barely held enough, and was all piled in there so you had to dig for anything you needed.  This was not ideal, and really left us short on storage for sale items, or longer term needs.  Forget trying to store a whole chicken, or our Thanksgiving turkey.  We had to rely on cold days outside in the winter to keep enough in stock.

I have been eyeing a stand up freezer from the same company that makes our off grid fridge/freezer we currently use.  It runs on 12/24v DC and is super efficient.  We both decided this was the year to make that happen, so we pulled the trigger on it and purchased it this year.  It has multiple pull out drawers, and maintains -4F no problem with only about 500wh per day.

Getting something like that up here is quite a challenge, as it is freight delivery.  They definitely do not deliver up here.  So we actually had to drive to a FedEx terminal 3 hours away to pick it up with my pickup, and get it back here all in one day.  Then I had to run a new 24v line to where we were installing it, and remove an old heater that didn’t work anyways and put an outlet in.  All in all we got it all done, and now we can keep weeks worth of meat, fish, veggies and all kinds of good stuff.  We can even have some ice cream every now and then.  Welcome to the modern world!

The Roof, The Roof, The Roof Needs Replacing…

Another item that has long been on my list of todo items is to replace the roof on the cabin.  As can be seen, it was the original roof when the cabin was built, and was rusting and would leak here and there just a little bit.  It is also the old school cheap ripple kind of roof that really makes it hold onto the snow.

So while in town one day my wife and I stopped by a supplier to check out our options, and choose a color.  With all of the delays in shipping and such that has been going on, we were surprised to find that it would only take a couple of weeks to get all of the roofing we needed to do the job, and in fact was about half the price I was expecting.  We went back to the cabin to think it over, and decided that next Tuesday to place the order.

To our surprise, our full order arrived that very same Friday and we had to haul the trailer over the continental divide to go pick it up and bring it back up to the cabin.  Well now I was fully committed.

I had to wait for a weekend when we new there was zero chance of rain, and then I jumped all into it.  It took me one day to get the whole old roof off, and I was able to get it dried back in in another single day.  I installed a special underlayment that is adhesive and stops ice damming (the blue material on the roof) which is in and of itself waterproof.  Then I got the metal on top of that, and we were all dried in and ready for the storms.  I got it all done myself without too much of a hassle, although my arms were sore for at least a couple of weeks.

The interesting thing is with this new underlayment is how quiet the roof is now.  When we would get hail or heavy rain, it sounded like a freight train inside the house.  The cats would even go run and hide.  Now, we barely notice it at all….  A bonus!  We both love the new color, and the snow slides off much easier.  Another chore where we invested the time and money to do it ourselves right, and it should pay off for years to come.

Wood, Wood, and More Wood

We continue to try and clear the beetle kill up here, as well as get our supply of firewood in for the winter.  If I don’t have another task to do at the moment, it is then either dropping dead trees, cutting them into rounds, or splitting the rounds into the final product.  We additionally had to clear some trees near the house, as after last year’s storm, we didn’t want them falling on our new pretty roof!

Last year it was just about catching up and getting enough wood to get us through one season.  We did that successfully, but as you can see there was not a lot left in one of the bays after a whole winter.  Additionally, I needed a bunch of the logs  to turn into lumber on my sawmill in order to complete some of the construction projects.  So all in all I cut a crazy amount of wood.  It is really improving the land around the cabin getting all of that beetle kill out of here, so new growth can come back in its place.

As you can see, not only did we make all the lumber for our various projects, but we have almost completely filled the woodshed.  At my best guess we likely have almost 3 years worth of firewood in reserve now.  Another investment for the future.

Additional Power for the Darkest Days

Last winter there were quite a few days during late November and December when it became challenging to make enough power. I had a fair bit of panels in place, but some of them would get shadowed fairly early in the day. So last winter right near the solstice I watched for the spot that got the most sunlight and marked it off. I planned ahead to place another array right in that spot to ensure we could create that much more power.

Sure enough this year, I got 3 more 200 watt panels and milled my own posts and put them right in that spot. This has given me a very noticeable improvement in my overall power generation this time of year. It is what is allowing us to have the freezer and other items running all the time even in the winter.

My total panels are now 2.4 kw, although my charger is limited to 1.6 kw. This overage helps us to cover the cloudy days where the extra panels make a big difference and allows us to avoid running the generator. It is now a very rare thing for me to have to charge the batteries with the generator, saving us the bother and the gas. It has been a great addition.

Happy Thanksgiving

As the winter is now knocking on our door, and we expect the road to close down very soon, it is time to reflect back on another busy summer. When you are in the thick of it, you feel like you are so behind, and are never going to get caught up. There is always another little thing that pops up, another item you didn’t expect, or another distraction that keeps you from your charted course.

Working for a startup is just like that. There are constant challenges, unsuspecting changes in course, and a lot of reactionary distractions to making the company successful. Life up here prepares you for those, and reminds you to adjust as needed, but really make sure you get those things done that are going to make the difference.

In putting together this post, I realize how successful we were this summer in staying the course and getting done what really mattered. More importantly, we took the time and did it once, and did it right. I am thankful we were able to make that happen.

Likewise, I feel the whole team at ModelOp has also done this. I am thankful to work with all of them every day. They have done an amazing job putting together a great product that is leading the industry. I hope you check out their work sometime….

So as we prepare to ease into a much quieter winter I am also thankful for its return so I can maybe finally sit by the fire with a good book.

In the next post, we will look at some of the recipes we make from scratch up here at high altitude, that always seem to work.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone,

Jim Olsen

Off Grid CTO

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