Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fire Prevention at Remote Properties (or any others)

Rural property owners generally pay lower taxes than city people for the logical reason that they derive fewer municipal services. That's a fair trade, isn't it? Among services NOT available to many on-road, (and certainly not for off-road) properties is subsidized fire protection. This has implications not only for structural preservation but also for insurance. Be sure to inquire about both before you buy or rent that attractive remote property! Then, plan to take charge of your own fire safety.

To help, most counties, boroughs, and parishes in the country have a Division of Emergency Services with useful information pertinent to hazards in that particular region. Some of the following suggestions are derived from the “Wildfire Mitigation Program” of my borough in Alaska. In addition, local fire departments are terrific resources. A local volunteer fireman actually helped construct some of our early buildings and alerted us to many of the elements described below. A few years later, in exchange for a hot meal, my husband flew a local fire chief out to assess the success of our fire mitigation efforts and any neglected hazards. He even helped us chop down a huge dry and dying tree!  A great resource is Firewise.

Whether your property has existing buildings or you will build from scratch, plan to assess fire hazards and find ways to reduce them through prudent use of: (a) firebreaks and landscaping, b) hardscape, (c) flammable debris removal or storage, (d) well marked and accessible roads and driveways (if on the road system), (e) well positioned fire suppression systems (f) primary and secondary methods to report the emergency, and, finally (g) exit plans and provisions.

Examples of each below:

a) Firebreaks and Landscape: The recommended width of a fire break is at least 30 feet around buildings.  (This is referred to as "defensible space zone 1") (However, since fire rises, buildings on a steep slope need to triple that distance below the structures).  I have first hand knowledge of the reason. This summer, the area of Willow, Alaska suffered a wildfire of several thousand acres. Scores of buildings and vehicles were damaged. About 2,000 people were evacuated. As we fly low over that area on a regular basis, and then drive among its roads, we see clear evidence where the fire had “jumped” narrow roads and driveways but had not crossed broad cul de sacs, parking lots, or grass air strips. The clearing around your buildings does not have to be paved or graveled – it can have landscaping - but those plantings should be intelligently selected and well maintained.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Telecommute from a Remote Property (Problems and Solutions)

For many years, my husband and I enjoyed working from home and traveling for business, so our far flung clients rarely knew where we were. They reached us by cell phone or email, and we met them occasionally during the year. So when we decided to move full time from our high-rise condo to our off-road, off-grid log cabin in the middle of the Alaskan forest, our professional life was, surprisingly, the least significant (of many!) adjustment we had to make.
Telecommuting at its finest

True, we had to build the infrastructure to power Internet and telephony by solar and wind power. And true, too, the communications service is less robust and, occasionally, less reliable. But Bryan still smiles and dials financial folks in investment banking and I still write business documents and provide compliance services for the securities industry. But the trade off is worth while: those early evening hours we used to waste commuting across town to networking meetings filled with service providers and job seekers are now allocated to a kayaking happy hour on a lovely lake surrounded by mountains. What a wonderful trade.

The message I'd like to convey in this article is: Why live where you need to work instead of working where you want to live? For many professions, telecommuting from home is an increasingly viable option, so telecommuting from where you want that home to be, is, too.