Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Downside of Cabins

The downside of owning a cabin is that sometimes it requires attention when you were not planning to provide it with any. This time the plea for attention came in the form of the electric bill.
We get our juice from the Alger-Delta Electrical Co-op. Rural co-ops appear to be an endangered species these days, but I like ours. In U.P. winters, maintaining service can be a real challenge, and these folks do a good job. Plus I like their funky little newsletter. Until recently, seasonal cabins like ours received a single billing for the entire year but a few months ago they moved to monthly billing, presumably to help with their cash flow. I am grateful they did, because our February statement showed that our usage had gone through the roof, even though we have not been up there since New Year’s Day. The only thing we leave plugged in during the winter is the small heater inside the well housing.
My first thought was that my well structure had collapsed under the severe snow load. I had made temporary repairs to it late in the fall when I noticed that some of the wood was rotting out (It took a few seasons after I built it to figure out the importance of venting it in warm weather), and planned to rebuild it this spring. Since it was two weeks before I could clear the time to go up there, I tried hard to fight off images of a collapsed well, a destroyed pump and pressure tank and a small heater trying to warm an entire peninsula.
So the other day I drove up to see what was going on. It was a warm day – it got up over fifty – but the average snow depth was still about three feet. Except for the area around my well, which was nice and clear. The structure had survived just fine, but the thermostat in the heater was stuck in the “on” position, and had been merrily churning out 750 watts of heat 24/7 for about six weeks. The temperature in the well was 117. Needless to say, the pump had not frozen.
It was an adventure getting into the cabin, first digging away the snow, then taking axe and hatchet to the four inches of ice underneath it so that I could open the doors. As soon as I had cleared space around the back door, it filled with water from the snow melting on the roof, and said water began to flow into the cabin (Our sill height is less than 2”). Which meant I had to chop a long channel through the ice to drain water away from the door. This took the better part of an hour to do.
While the cabin was heating up I settled into some spring cleaning. Which is when I discovered that Buster, our “pet” chipmunk, had found a way to get into the cabin and make himself at home. It took my several hours to discover how he did it: he had gnawed his way through the rubber edging at the bottom of both the front storm door and main door, making a space just large enough for a determined chipmunk to squeeze through – one more job to do.
When I got home the next day I wrote a note to the Alger-Delta Electrical Co-op, thanking them for switching to monthly billing. Had they not, I would have contributed even more to global warming, or at least U.P. warming. And Buster would have rearranged the furniture.


rick in cos said...

boy, did this essay leave me nostalgic for our cabin...we have commented that had we knew what was available up "in the mountains", we would have spent less on our home and saved some for a mountain cabin. Anyway, your comments triggered a flood of memories of the years we had our Up Nort place. My conclusion: it's worth all the hassle (even when it doesn't seem like it). If you ever want to know how to make Buster go away permanently, a way that PETA would never approve of, let me know, "ve have our vays..."

John said...

I know those ways.. I kill (rat-traps)chipmunks here at home without mercy or regret, but I really thought I had made the cabin rodent-proof... This spring I will be cutting down the entire (dead) hedge around our patio here because rabbits girdled every branch. Their den was under our back step! Yesterday I sealed it off with miles of chicken wire, scratching myself up in the process, and one rabbit stayed in the den to observe my craftsmanship the entire time. In the end I had to use the leaf blower to chase him out before (hopefully) sealing it off. Rodents two, McFadden zero...