It's getting cold here. The ground is rock solid frozen and we've gone full into 'winter mode'. Now that we've got livestock (chickens), it adds a whole new dimension to preparing our rural property to keep everyone (and everything) safe and secure through the chilly months. But it's not just in the winter when things can go wrong.
When you live on a rural property, there are a lot of situations that can put you and your family at risk of injury - or even death. A pretty dark topic, I know. But it's my mission to provide information that will really make a positive difference as you make the transition to a rural lifestyle, and sometimes the discussion gets downright serious. It has to to keep everyone safe.
All that said, most dangerous situations on your journey to the rural life can be avoided, or at least mitigated, by choosing the 'right' property to purchase or rent in the first place. Here are five things to seriously consider, and questions to ask and analyze, before you purchase a property down by that gorgeous river, or decide on a rental home in the mountains:
- Do you have a medical condition that requires regular care? Obviously if this is the case you'll need to have medical facilities close by. In the event of any sort of major widespread emergency, it's pretty much guaranteed that larger centers would be priority for getting back up and running quickly. As it is, many rural health facilities are sort of hanging by a thread, or find it difficult to staff their emergency medical teams adequately. I know in parts of our province, small communities are lucky if they can find enough experienced paramedics to staff their ambulance crews - and at that many of them are on call and take time to get to the station, then out to your call. Something to keep in mind if it's at all likely you may need to call on emergency medical services for a pre-existing condition.
- How far away is a trauma center or emergency room? If your new home is way out in the sticks and it takes an hour to get there from anywhere, your life may be on the line in an emergency. Living that far away from medical facilities requires you to: a) be extremely careful; and b) learn emergency first aid so you can increase your or your family member's chance of survival.
- How long would it take an ambulance take to get to your house? You can find this out by calling your local health authority - they should be able to give you a rough estimate.
- Are local doctors taking new patients? In our community, most of the regular doctors haven't been taking new patients for years. Not having a consistent healthcare provider means that your doctor doesn't know you at all and can't tell whether or not you're looking 'well' or not compared to 'normal'. Now, that's not saying having a new doctor isn't valuable - I've heard many stories of people with serious medical conditions that weren't diagnosed until they somehow ended up with a new doctor who immediately saw the problem and began treatment. But if you can manage to find a regular, client-focussed doctor, hang on to them!
- How far away is the closest emergency clinic? Same as noted above, having a clinic reasonably close means you have at least somewhere to go should you get a deep gash while installing your fencing.
The first time you whack your leg with the firewood axe or the chickens scratch the dickens out of your arms, you’ll want to know that medical help is close by.
Weather and Road Maintenance
- Is the road servicing your property maintained by local government, private contractor or the landowners themselves? The answer to this question will (usually) dictate how well your roads are maintained. Of course, with many jurisdictions facing tough economic times, road maintenance budgets have been reduced, so you'll want to know that before making the move.
- What is the official priority for road clearing in winter or after storms? You’ll want to know this. Our road is fairly remote and not a critical route, but it does lead to two rather large employers here, so I think they make sure things are cleared fairly quickly. But if we’d lived here two winters ago, we’d have been locked in the snow for days, as the road was pretty low on the clearing priority list. We could walk up to the highway and have someone collect us from there, but I drive a tiny little car, which of course, isn't so smart for the snow. Why not just buy a truck? First fuel prices, and second, I’m not willing to impact the environment by driving a truck full time. So I keep my fingers crossed – and have good snow tires... plus we have access to a truck should we really need it.
- What is the schedule for maintenance on the roads leading to your property? If the road to your new or dream property is in rough shape, find out what the schedule is for repair. Rough roads will increase the wear and tear on your vehicle, will be hazardous in extreme weather, and will increase the time any trips to town will take (not to mention emergency vehicle access).
- How often does the power go out in the area? Call your local power company and get the stats on outages. This may or may not be an issue for you, depending on your set-up for dealing with it, but if you plan on working from your homestead with an internet access, or your well pump runs on electricity, you'll need to know this and plan accordingly.
- How long does it take to get back running, on average?
- Is your new property on a priority trunk? Our property is on a long, strung-out trunk that is prone to outages due to the number of trees overhanging the lines. I didn't realize this when we moved here, but it's definitely been an issue considering my business requires electrical power to run. It means I have to go 'out' to work, which is fine, but can have its own challenges.
You can have all sorts of back-up electrical systems in place, but continual power outages are hard on your electronics, your pocketbook and depending on your set-up, potentially your health and safety. Now, if you plan to set up completely off-grid electrical systems, you can obviously ignore this one! But you’ll still need to know how to fix and maintain your systems, or at least who to call should you need help.
Natural or Industrial Hazards
- Does your desired property sit on a floodplain (near a river)? At the bottom of a hill? As our weather becomes more erratic, with heavier rain and snowfall, we've seen more flooding, often with catastrophic effects. Something to keep in mind as you're scouting properties. No one needs that sort of stress in their lives.
- Near a factory or mill? Check out the area around your property thoroughly. Note any industrial facilities and find out what they do there, what kind of chemicals and substances they use in their processes, and their emergency protocols. We've got a dryland log sort, a log homebuilder, and another wood-based company down the road - none of which operate with any hazardous substances, meaning I have no concerns with their operations. There is also a paper mill a few miles down the inlet that used to use chlorine in their manufacturing process, which during a major earthquake event could have been a serious issue depending on which way the winds were blowing. They no longer use chlorine, but I have to admit I know very little about their operations. I need to get on that!
All of these things will determine the potential for catastrophe. And your insurance costs (or if insurance would even be available). So often we hear of properties being wiped out by floods along rivers with an active flood history. Don’t be one of those people, no matter how gorgeous the property might be. The flood might only happen once every 100 years, but you don’t want to be there when it does.
Zoning, Planning & Services
- Is there an official community plan in the area? Visit the local municipal hall or county offices to find out what the plans are for the area around your potential property. You don't want to buy a property and then find out a big industrial facility is planned next door in five years. People do this all the time - they don't do their research, then bring out the protest signs when someone puts a business next door. Don't be one of those people!
- Are there plans for industrial or residential development nearby? This may bother you, or it might not, depending on the nature of the business. But definitely find out all the details so you can save yourself the stress of living next door to a business that drives you crazy.
- If the property is serviced by the municipality, town or county, are there plans for upgrading water or sewer systems? This will dictate your tax and utility rates for years to come, so it's critical to know what the plans are. Our nearest big city regional district has to upgrade their entire water and sewer infrastructure in the next few years because they let it go without major upgrades for so long. They've already spent hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, with much more to come. These services are not free, and they require maintenance
- Is there garbage collection? This will be a cost, for sure, but it will save you from having to haul any garbage you might have to the local landfill. If there is no garbage collection, which is often the case in far-flung rural communities (particularly of big items) some people will dump their garbage in the bush - make sure one of these illegal dumps hasn't found its way to some obscure corner of your property, as you'll be footing the bill for clean-up.
Over and over we hear about city people moving to the country and then wanting it to either be just like the city (services), or they don’t want anything to ever change again, ever (development), or they don’t want to pay for changes already in the pipe. Ask questions first and be comfortable with the answers you get. Make sure you’re not one of those folk that rural people love to complain about.
So there you have it - five things to consider seriously before committing to a property purchase or rental. I'm sure some of these things will be obvious to you, but maybe one or two are things you might not have thought of. I know that I'll be asking a lot more questions should I purchase a rural property in the future.
Do you have any tips or stories to share about purchasing or renting a rural property? Questions? Please share them in the comments - there are countless people who can benefit from your wisdom!