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Gynn
01-11-2013, 07:53 AM
My characters have inherited a country house in Montana. It's about a mile from the highway with no neighbors.

Having lived in town my entire life, I am unsure as to how exactly wells, phones and septic tanks work and what differences they have on the lifestyles of city folk.

Is there a certain amount of water you get per day before the well stops pumping? Would you need a dish or something to get TV, internet and phone service?

Thanks for any insight you guys have!

WriterWho
01-11-2013, 07:59 AM
What year is your story set in?

alleycat
01-11-2013, 08:00 AM
What year is your story set in?

Yeah, this would make a big difference.

Cyia
01-11-2013, 08:03 AM
Dude, I live in a town and still have to have dish to get any of those things. ;)

But, I have lived in the boonies, and the backside of beyond, both.

Wells will be dug to a specific depth, depending on which layer of water you want to hit. We used "woodbine," which comes out of the cold tap ice cold and is slightly sweet. There's no limit on the water/day, so long as there's still water in the aquifer. If you're tryly in the wilds, you might still need dial-up, and so a landline phone.

Septic lines have to be maintained, otherwise they back up into the yard, sewage and all, and then have to be dug out and pumped by a pro. (flush a little packet of septic maintenance anaerobic bacteria a month and you're good). We couldn't use an in-house washing machine, though. It would flood up through the ground because the tank wasn't actually deep enough.

You'll also need an exterior propane tank to heat your house, unless it's totally electric. It *must* be painted silver, otherwise it will absorb heat and go kablooey. (much to my grandmother's disappointment when she made my grandfather paint theirs to match the house trim and had to repaint it immediately).

Garbage is either put into a long haul dumpster or burned (if the county allows fire barrels).

A mile from a highway's not bad, and hardly the boonies, btw, get 50-100 miles out and you'll need a neighbor to call in lieu of 911 if there's an accident or emergency.

mayqueen
01-11-2013, 08:15 AM
Cyia covered a lot of it already. On top of the well, the house I grew up in had a water softener system. (It uses, I believe, salt pellets to take the hard minerals out of the well water.) It made the water taste vaguely salty and chalky, and it took forever to rinse the soap out of my hair.

I don't recall having any problems with the septic tank. I think my folks had problems after I moved out.

My folks also didn't believe in cable, so we had rabbit ears on the television and only much later did we get a dish. Cell phone service is spotty out there (and on my grandmother's farm, too), so a land-line is essential.

Here's something I recently (re)discovered: when it snows, you don't leave. I've been living in a city for the past ten years of my life. I was back in the boonies for Christmas and there was a big snowstorm. I had somehow completely forgotten that when you get a massive snowstorm, it takes a couple of days to dig out and get the roads cleared. (I also sort of forgot how to drive in snow. Oops.)

ETA: I forgot that there was one summer when we had a drought. Both at my folks' place and my grandmother's, we had to be really careful about our use of water because the wells were really low.

blacbird
01-11-2013, 08:16 AM
I live in the largest city in Alaska, and still have an individual water well and septic tank. The well performance is entirely dependent on the quality of the aquifer into which it is drilled; mine, fortunately, is excellent, and I do not need to worry about either the quality or quantity of water available. The septic tank needs to be pumped out at least every other year, better if done annually. There are lots of private services available for this purpose. Heat is by city-supplied natural gas, but we also have a fireplace and get an annual supply of wood for burning. Outside the city, many people use wood fuel all winter (which is long, up here), and many likewise cut their own wood. We have a cable TV hookup, but many people do not, and use satellite TV. The latter can be a little weird up at this high latitude, though, with the dishes having to be aimed almost horizontally at the horizon to catch the satellite signal, and if you happen to be on the wrong side of a mountain, that won't work.

But there are people up here who live in cabins with no electricity other than maybe what they can supply themselves by a generator, for which they need fuel, obviously. In real boondocks places, TV is out of the question except for DVD playing. Cell phone coverage is spotty, at best, but important especially for emergency reasons. Many people live "off the road system", in villages not connected by road to much of anywhere. They get supplied by air or by boat on the main rivers, like the Yukon and Kuskokwim. And a lot of people get most of their food by subsistence, fishing, hunting and foraging.

A mile off the highway isn't really "the boonies", anywhere in North America. Try a hundred miles from the nearest driveable road.

caw

Chasing the Horizon
01-11-2013, 08:23 AM
I used to live on a farm too far out to get any city services except electricity.

We had a deep well and it never gave us any trouble. We had a washing machine, dishwasher, all the amenities and there was never a drop in pressure, though the quality of the water was different than city water. There were none of the chlorine or chemicals, but the water had a lot of minerals that could clog up shower heads and dishwasher jets after a while. It also wasn't completely clear. If you held it up to the light you could see a slight cloudiness and tint. It was perfectly safe, though.

We did not have a propane tanks like Cyia said. Our furnace was oil hot water, so we had oil tanks. We also had two wood fireplaces, because if you live far out from town you can be without power for a long time after storms in winter.

The septic system never gave us any particular problems. It was well-made, and we had lots of room to expand it if we ever needed to. Every year (or six months? I forget which) the dude with the truck came and serviced it. That was it.

We were too far out for cable, so we had satellite TV. I moved to town in 2000, so we still just had dial-up internet, but if we'd stayed on the farm we would've upgraded that to satellite as well, I'm sure. You can have satellite TV and internet pretty much anywhere, though it's very temperamental in bad weather compared to cable.

Trash was a commercial-style dumpster towards the end of the drive that they came and emptied every week or two.

Really, the most annoying thing about living so far out was that we had to plow a mile of driveway and private road to get out when it snowed. Obviously we had our own tractor with a plow attachment.

katci13
01-11-2013, 08:27 AM
A mile away from the highway is the boonies? My parents live 40 miles away from the nearest highway. They have cable. There were too many trees in their yard for the satellite dish.

Chasing the Horizon
01-11-2013, 08:31 AM
I forgot to add, cell service can be very weird. Out on the farm, 10 miles from the nearest little town, we had a perfect signal. But my old house in a subdivision less than one mile from town had no service because there was a mountain in the way.

Bushrat
01-11-2013, 09:11 AM
I've been living out in the boonies for 16 years. There are lots of different set-ups people choose, depending on personal inclination, finances, and the services still available at their location. So the options I'm familiar with are:

-Water: get it from creek, lake, natural springs with buckets or pump it into a tank on your truck and then into a tank in your house. Getting a well drilled tends to be major bucks. If you have a well, you can either use a handpump or electric pump to get the water up and into a tank in your house. Most wells in Montana would supply more water than you know what to do with, I would guess.
Gravity fed water supplies taps inside a house without pumps (tank higher up than taps).

-Sewage: if that house off the highway is a long way from any town, they'd likely have a septic field without pumpouts, otherwise a tank and pump outs. Or else, an outhouse and greywater draining into a leach pit or buckets to be emptied in the garden.

-Electricity: if the house is off-grid, solar panels, wind power or micro hydro can charge deep cycle batteries and an inverter will convert the power to AC current. A generator is still needed as backup and to equalize the batteries every now and then.

-Lights: if off-grid, LEDs running off 12V, kerosene lamps or propane lights.

-Heating: wood stove.

-Cooking: wood cook stove or propane.

-Phone: depending on where you situate that house, they might have cell phone service, if no landlines available. Radio phones used to be common. If they have high speed internet (see below), they can use Skype or another VOIP provider. There are also satellite phones, but they are very expensive to buy and use.

-Internet: if no phone lines, they'd have satellite internet which works via its own satellite dish.

-TV: they could have satellite TV.

-Stuff like dishwashers, washing machines and dryers would be luxuries and most likely absent if they're off-gridders, those things use too much power and need too much plumbing.


Difference in lifestyle depends on your characters. If they're off-gridders, they'll have a large number of jerry cans for the generator, chain saw, and pumps, and be pretty aware and maybe "stingy" with power consumption. You don't leave lights on everywhere, the radio or computer running if you're not using it.
They might grow a garden, maybe keep some chickens for eggs, and probably be a bit more self-reliant than town folk because it's faster and cheaper to fix things and pay attention to avoid breaking stuff than have to get someone to repair stuff, and without neighbours or a handy corner store, you have to help yourself.

As to the whether a mile off the highway is "in the boonies", my view is that it depends on a) where along what highway and b) what kind of terrain constitutes that mile of distance--stick a swamp one by fifteen miles large, a mountain, or a wildwater river in between that house and the highway, and it will be a lot more remote than numbers can ever hope to convey.

lastlittlebird
01-11-2013, 11:12 AM
It sounds like it might not apply in Montana, but my family moved to a rural area when I was a teenager and our water supply was from a spring, using an electric pump... and it did run out sometimes.
I don't know exactly how it worked, but I do know that with three teenage daughters in the house, every now and then we would use too much water at once (especially in the summer) and the pump would stop working properly (meaning we wouldn't have any water at all until someone went down the road to the pump and fixed it.)

I can't remember any details about how it was fixed, because dad was usually mad that we had used up too much water and he used the walk to the pump to calm down (so I wasn't invited!). But, if you need it to happen in the book, it is possible to run out of water temporarily if you are drawing spring water.

Unimportant
01-11-2013, 11:16 AM
We've got an artesian bore, so pretty much endless water unless there's a severe drought. It's quite mineral-y though.

shadowwalker
01-11-2013, 04:52 PM
Grab a couple books on modern homesteading and/or living off the grid. There are lots of them out there for people just starting out, so would have all the info you could need.

benbenberi
01-11-2013, 09:07 PM
If you have a particular location in mind, one thing you might want to do is to look up whatever local newspapers/websites there are that serve the area & check out both the types of stories they cover and their advertisers. They might help you with specifics! (E.g. someone in the business of drilling wells around there can probably give you all sorts of details -- at the least, they might be able to send you their sales brochures, service agreements, etc.)

backslashbaby
01-11-2013, 09:58 PM
I have a septic tank (I'm rural yet a mile from the highway, as a matter of fact :) ). I also have lots of enormous old trees whose roots like to try to screw it up. I have to use a copper root killer at least twice a year. And if more than one person has taken a shower in a row, the toilet won't flush right for about an hour while all the water settles down.

I do have cable, cable internet (now) and city water. Cell service is fine (now). We don't get plowed for a while during snows, so yes I get snowed in, but that's not uncommon at all in my general area.

I don't have a dishwasher or disposal, but I compost for the garden anyway, so that's no problem. It'd be different if I had a whole family who ate 3 meals a day. That would get tedious!

jclarkdawe
01-12-2013, 04:02 AM
My characters have inherited a country house in Montana. If you call it a "country house" in Montana, expect to get your ass kicked. It's a house. It's out in the country. People with "country houses" have lots of money. But your starting point is how much money did the original owners have? What sort of house is this? Why was it built? Is it part of a ranch?

It's about a mile from the highway with no neighbors. What do you mean by "highway?" A four-lane interstate? A two-lane state highway? A county road? Most of Montana is county road, a lot of them dirt. How far are they from a major town? Or do you mean the driveway is a mile long? Again, the question is why? Do you have any idea how long a mile of driveway costs?

Understand that in Montana, a short drive is an hour. An hour at sixty to eighty miles per hour, regardless of whether on an interstate or a dirt county road. In the east, we measure by miles. In Montana, you measure by time.

Having lived in town my entire life, I am unsure as to how exactly wells, phones and septic tanks work and what differences they have on the lifestyles of city folk. Phones were put in with the help of Congress. Landlines are not a problem. Cell phones are becoming less and less of a problem.

Wells are either surface or deep, artisian wells. Some have lots of water, some don't. Some have good pressure, some don't. Montana tends to be in the not lots of water and not much pressure. And if this is a ranch, you need water for the stock. Water is frequently pumped with windmills into stock tanks for the overflow in this part of the country.

Septic systems vary depending upon money. I just re-did my sister's system. $7,000+ in survey costs and $12,000+ in materials. I did the work, and I will say this is on the high end because of wetlands issues. But a lot of "septic systems" in Montana where no bank has been involved with the mortgage involve a pipe going out the ground somewhere, and you don't want to get too close to it.

Overall, if the systems are well designed, you don't think about them too much. When they go wrong, or someone screwed up the design, you figure out how to deal with it.

Is there a certain amount of water you get per day before the well stops pumping? Yep. Might be several thousand gallons, it might be 20, it can be anywhere in between. Montana tends to be on the low side, and if you're on a ranch, becomes even more of an issue. Water conservation is part of life in Montana.

Would you need a dish or something to get TV, internet and phone service? Depends upon how far they are from the nearest big town. But by and large, satellite dishes are your best choice. Phone service is usually a land line.

Thanks for any insight you guys have!

Montana is a big state, well deserving it's nickname "The Big Sky" state. Not much in the way of trees, not much in the way of water, a lot of nothing. But you need to figure out exactly where you're talking about. If you live near Billings, life isn't that much different then any other part of the country. If you live near Zurich, you're in the middle of a lot of nothing.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Gynn
01-12-2013, 10:03 AM
What year is your story set in?

Sorry. Today!

Gynn
01-12-2013, 10:13 AM
Thanks for all of the help, guys! I'm trying to place the story in a fictional town, but I should probably pick a real town in Montana for the basis and then zero in on how they live around there.

The house is supposed to be at the edge of a small town, but far from the prying eyes of neighbors.

Lil
01-12-2013, 07:05 PM
The house is supposed to be at the edge of a small town, but far from the prying eyes of neighbors.

Sigh. No place is far from the prying eyes of neighbors.

Wicked
01-12-2013, 10:54 PM
Sigh. No place is far from the prying eyes of neighbors.


Where I grew up I couldn't see my neighbor's house without a high vantage point and a good pair of binoculars. It was a two mile ride on my horse to the chalk bluff that was high enough, and I could see two houses.

I don't remember our well ever going dry, but once in a while the pump would go out and it would have to be pulled out and replaced.

The well at the house had an electric pump. The well for the cattle out in the pasture had a windmill.

Our water was very hard, and left calcium and mineral deposits behind.

If I recall, our septic system drained out into a leech field.

We had propane heat, as well as a wood stove in the basement. Though our propane tank was white. (so is our current one)

Power outages during storms, especially snow storms that could leave us trapped for days, was normal. In such an event we had kerosine lamps for light, and used the wood stove for heat. (Where I live now we have a gas generator, and try to keep two days worth of gas onhand)
We had a gas oven, so that even if the power was out, we could still use the stove top to cook. (Still have a gas oven for the same reason)

No one went anywhere without some sort of emergency kit in the car. Blankets, flashlights, first aid kit, simple tools for vehicle/tire repair, snacks. The weather was violently unpredictable. If you broke down on the gravel road that led to our house, no one was likely to find you for at least a day. More if snow closed the road.

It was a twenty mile drive to the grade school in the closest little town (population less than 200). The school had two rooms, two teachers, and went up to 8th grade. After that it was a fifty mile drive to high school.

We had gas delivered to us. There were two four-hundred gallon tanks up on wooden poles. One was regular gas for cars and trucks, and the other was diesel for the tractors.

We had a land line telephone. To this day cell service won't work there, so we have to drive to the top of the hill to get a signal.

There was no 911. They have since changed that, but it doesn't mean much in an emergency. The Sheriff/ambulance is a minimum of an hour away. The local volunteer fire dept. is about thirty minutes, and that's only if someone happens to be at the garage. Most of the volunteers live a good ten minutes or more from the trucks.

A shotgun and a rifle are pretty much standard in the rural households. When I grew up there was always a loaded shotgun behind the door, and at least one rifle in the back window of the truck. The only thing that's really changed is people locking up their guns more than they did before.

The guns were there to deal with dangerous/predatory wildlife, and poachers. There's a special place in hell for poachers, and my mother wouldn't hesitate to pull a shotgun on them and tell them exactly how many seconds they had to get the hell off of our property.

Chasing the Horizon
01-13-2013, 01:02 AM
Sigh. No place is far from the prying eyes of neighbors.
My farm house certainly was. It sat in the middle of 200 acres with trees and hills completely blocking it from the view of any other property.

Nekko
01-13-2013, 03:27 AM
A mile from a "highway" should be no big deal. I'm 20 from the nearest "highway".
I live a mile up a dirt road, which is off a mostly single lane, windy, paved road - which, since only about 30 families live up here, has only been repaved once in 25 yrs - therefore it has lots of 'temporary' patches and small potholes. I'm 15 miles from the county seat, which even with a pop of 100K, isn't really a 'city'. My husband likes to say is like walking into 1950's America.

Dirt roads aren't plowed by the county, so like mayqueen said, you may not get out when it snows, or if you do, you may not get back via car. My kids and I have hiked up our dirt road (we live in the mountains) in the snow too many times to count.

We have a well. We pump up water to storage takes up a hill behind our house so it can be gravity fed to the house. The advantage of this is that we don't lose water when we lose electricity. Disadvantage is that we have moderate water pressure, so think of the kind of shower pressure you get with a water restricter on it. Think about the topography of your location. If it is flat, then when your MC loses power during storms, they won't have water either.

I think it was Chasing the Horizon who pointed out that well water has no real taste, there is no chlorine, etc. So my kids are pretty sensitive to noticing that in city water, even when most city folk say they don't taste it. And yes, you get mineral deposits which clog up shower heads, faucets, even the refill assembly for the toilet. If you let a glass of water evaporate, you'll wind up with a ring of mineral deposit that will need to be scrubbed off.

We have a wood stove to heat our house. On really cold windy days, we go through a lot of wood! My husband starts cutting trees in early spring and uses a gas powered splitter to split the wood. Abe Lincoln's way, splitting by hand, is hard, hard, hard, slow, work. We live where the summers are really hot, really dry, so we can get away with seasoning our wood just in the few months over the summer. Usually though, the advice is to give wood 6 months to a year to season (dry out thoroughly so it will burn well) otherwise there will still be too much moisture for the wood to catch and give off sufficient heat.

In the mountains, we don't get cell phone coverage, so we have a landline. We have always made sure at least one of our phones was NOT the portable type. (In other words, you have to stand by the phone base connected by a wire.) That way we have a phone that works when the electricity goes out. (as long as a tree didn't take the phone line with it.)

We get our internet via satellite. It is faster than dial up, but way, way slower than DSL etc. We also have a bandwidth cap, so we can only download so much per month. If your character gets their internet this way, they won't be able to watch streaming movies, watch long YouTube videos, or listening to streaming music consistently. (too slow, and gobbles up bandwidth - you townies take this for granted!) Skyping is problematic - inconsistent download speeds - so really -- no.

We pick up our mail at the local post office 5 miles away. We get to see lots of critters, like the bear cub in my avatar, who made off with our garbage before the dog treed him. Garbage is hauled to either the landfill (which costs money) or my husband tries to use the dumpster where he works. Either way means storing smelly garbage and trying to keep the bears away from it.

WHen our kids were little they complained that we live too far away for friends to visit, and neither of us wanted to jump in the car every day to drive 20-30 miles round trip for play dates. Don't worry, they seemed to have socialized just fine!

You don't pop off to the store if you run out of milk, or forgot the rice. You make do or improvise. My husband usually calls home before he leaves work to see if we need anything.

It's beautiful, and really, really quite. Most parts of the day the only sounds we hear are the wind in the trees and rushing of the creek (until it dries up in early summer).
There are plenty of positives, that's why we live here, but it does take more work and planning than suburban/city living.

SianaBlackwood
01-13-2013, 04:03 AM
Probably slightly off-topic, but don't any of you collect rainwater?

Unimportant
01-13-2013, 05:41 AM
I do, but we're in NZ. I don't think it's very common in the US.

jclarkdawe
01-13-2013, 06:07 AM
Probably slightly off-topic, but don't any of you collect rainwater?

It's not common in the US any more, although my bathroom, before World War II, worked from rainwater for the toilet. But Montana averages anywhere from 10 to 25 inches of rain per year, with a statewide average of 13.26 inches or 326 mm. In other words, semi-arid.

I realize much of Australia is arid or semi-arid, and I don't know how much those areas are into collecting rain from roofs. In the US in those areas of low rain, water storage from rain is mainly in the form of catch ponds for long-term irrigation and stock to drink.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

benbradley
01-13-2013, 06:19 AM
I think collecting rainwater is pretty rare in the USA. I'm in a rural area and I don't know anyone who does it.

Something I'd heard of before, and googling confirms it, in some US states it is ILLEGAL to collect rainwater.

Cath
01-13-2013, 04:19 PM
We collect rainwater, as do at least two of our friends. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) we're all British expats living in the US.

bearilou
01-13-2013, 07:10 PM
I'm in the boonies, ~3 miles from a two lane county road, 30 minutes from the nearest town. Our nearest neighbor is also at about 3 miles away down the dirt road we live on. They grade the dirt road once a year, during the summer, which means during the winter, it can get to be pretty rough driving. Thankfully, I'm in the south so that means no snow plowing.

The house is at the end of the power line, meaning that if we lose power, we're the last to get it back. We have satellite for both television and internet. Regular phone service and there is also a cell tower about a mile away and I have a hotspot for internet access backup. We are also on the 'city' water line but have a well for backup.

Heat is propane and wood stove, range is also on gas. Comes in handy when the lights go out and it takes days for them to restore service (see previous note about being at the end of the line, it means we are also at the end of their priority list).

Garbage runs once a week. We have hogwire boxes with lids to keep wild dogs/coyotes/foxes/opossums/armadillos/raccoons out and a huge 55 gallon drum to collect it until the garbage truck comes by.

We have several bins that collect rain water/general use when the pipeline breaks for the farm animals and my mother just recently had a pond dug for them as well.

backslashbaby
01-13-2013, 11:23 PM
I collect rain water for the garden, but I buy my city/county water for showers and such. We aren't arid where I am, so it's incredibly rare that we get any water restrictions.

I wouldn't dare run sprinklers to try to grow lawn in mid-summer or anything, but I don't feel bad about the amount of city water I use here. I am very glad that we have to pay for it; it keeps folks on their toes better about usage.

Medievalist
01-13-2013, 11:37 PM
A mile from the highway is not the boonies.

It's especially not the boonies in a place like Montana. The size of things is different there. A small farm can be hundreds of acres. A ranch can be much much larger.

You need to have a better idea of a location, at least Eastern or Western Montana, because the two are completely different in just about every respect.

There are lots of areas that water comes from a cistern, and that cistern is filled by people, or by paying someone to bring a water truck.

Some places have water rights; some don't. Some places the water has too many minerals to be drinkable by man or beast.

If it's in the boonies you'll likely have a septic tank.

You'll want a back up source for heat and electricity for when the power fails, and you'll probably have bottled water too because if it's winter and the pump won't work because ice pulled the lines down, you'll need drinking water and bathing and flushing water.

It can take a while for roads to be plowed. Neighbors are important. You may not like their politics, but you depend on each other.

Medievalist
01-13-2013, 11:40 PM
I do, but we're in NZ. I don't think it's very common in the US.

It's pretty common in rural areas. Even in rainy N.H. small farms with sheep or cattle will create water tanks that fill with rain water and run down to a trough. Save's running pipe or hauling water.

You have to be careful though if you're collecting rain water from a roof to keep it clean, and you can't use the water for animlas if there's asbestos in the roof.

Gynn
01-15-2013, 05:59 AM
A mile from the highway is not the boonies.

It's especially not the boonies in a place like Montana. The size of things is different there. A small farm can be hundreds of acres. A ranch can be much much larger.

You need to have a better idea of a location, at least Eastern or Western Montana, because the two are completely different in just about every respect.

There are lots of areas that water comes from a cistern, and that cistern is filled by people, or by paying someone to bring a water truck.

Some places have water rights; some don't. Some places the water has too many minerals to be drinkable by man or beast.

If it's in the boonies you'll likely have a septic tank.

You'll want a back up source for heat and electricity for when the power fails, and you'll probably have bottled water too because if it's winter and the pump won't work because ice pulled the lines down, you'll need drinking water and bathing and flushing water.

It can take a while for roads to be plowed. Neighbors are important. You may not like their politics, but you depend on each other.

I'm glad I posted here before my story took off! Thanks for everything, guys. I'll be referring to this bookmark every day!