Preparing for a long winter in Alaska is a bigger project than for most people in the Lower 48, especially for people who live partly or completely off the grid in the dry cabins common to Alaska. Basics like drinking water and heating take more thought and preparation when you’re not hooked up to utilities. And when temperatures drop precipitously, daily chores require extra care. Here are eight tips for making sure you and your home are ready for your first Alaska winter.
Using propane? Make sure it’s insulated. In extremely cold temperatures, propane gas converts to a liquid, which can’t flow to appliances. So if you’re relying on propane gas for anything, you’ll want to make sure to keep it from reaching -44 degrees Fahrenheit. Just a small insulated frame shelter or some heat stripping around the tank should do the job—even snow piled loosely around the tank can help. If you’re using a bulk propane tank, bury it.
Figure out your water system. If you’re living in a dry cabin, the water storage system you worked out over the summer might get more complicated in the winter. Plastic storage containers can crack if the water inside freezes and expands. So make sure to set aside space and capacity for all the water you’ll need someplace warm enough to keep it from freezing.
Double seal your windows. Whether you have double-pane windows or not, you can buy window insulation kits to install with tape and a hair dryer. Also, thermal curtains can go a long way in keeping the cold out and the warmth in.
Chop that wood—and clean your stovepipe. If you plan to use wood-burning stove or a pellet stove, plan ahead to make sure you have enough wood or fuel stocked up. It’s safe to say you can never have too much. If you don’t use it this winter, you can use it later. Before temperatures drop, make sure to clean out your stovepipe—and continue to keep it clean throughout the season with a chimney brush. This is key because creosote can condense in wood-burning stovepipes, and since creosote is flammable, it’s prone to causing stack fires. Some people keep ladders to their roofs in place through the winter so they can easily access the chimney from above.
Check out your roof and gutters. To prep for heavy snowfall and the subsequent runoff, make sure your roof doesn’t have any cracks or holes and clear the gutters of any debris. Dealing with icy water damage is on the list of least fun winter activities.
Block pesky drafts. With caulking gun and weather stripping in hand, inspect your home from top to bottom. The places where walls meet floor or ceiling and where doors and windows open are places where your precious warmth can leak out. Be proactive, and keep your weather stripping and caulk handy as the temperatures drop in case you find more air leaks.
Stock up on rations. Snow piling up and extremely low temperatures can make getting into town for supplies feel like an epic journey. Stock up on nonperishables like canned and frozen foods—and any prescriptions or hygiene supplies—in case you find yourself snowed in.
Try to keep indoor temperatures regular. This might be one of the biggest challenges, but fluctuating temperatures cause condensation, which can then freeze and thaw. To keep your cabin ice free and dry, do your best to keep the temperature fairly regular throughout the day and night.
Living off the grid—or even partially off the grid—through an Alaska winter is a memorable feat. The hard work and preparation can be quite satisfying, and with proper planning it can even be fun. Whether it’s fun enough to do a second season, you’ll have to find out.