Seasonal summer employees get to enjoy Alaska’s plentiful daylight, great weather and ample activities. But for year-round residents, the story changes when winter rolls in. Preparing for winter in Alaska requires forethought and careful planning, especially for people who live in dry cabins that may be partly or completely off-the-grid.
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You need to consider how you’ll acquire and store basic essentials like drinking water, food and heating supplies. And when temperatures drop rapidly, daily chores require extra care. Here are six tips for making sure you and your home are ready for your first Alaska winter.
Insulate Your Propane
Propane is among the most common cooking fuels for dry cabin dwellers. When temperatures dip below zero degrees Fahrenheit, it’s important your propane tanks are 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. We recommend you store your propane tanks in a small insulated frame shelter or include heat stripping around the tank. If you’re short on supplies, you can also use snow piled loosely around the tank to provide a thin layer of insulation. However, if you’re using a bulk propane tank, you should bury it instead.
Store Enough Water
Among the most crucial winter safety tips when living in a dry cabin is ensuring you have ample water on hand. The water storage system you use throughout the summer likely won’t work in the winter. For example, plastic storage containers can crack if the water inside freezes and expands. If you have the space and resources, an underground water tank is the best option. Otherwise, store your water in a well-insulated building and in freeze-resistant jugs. Remember to include at least three days of emergency water on hand through the whole winter.
Store Enough Food
Much like water, you won’t be able to survive the winter without enough food and a place to store it. Regardless of what you wear in winter, when the snow starts piling up and the temperatures drop to negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit, getting into town for supplies can 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. We recommend having at least three days of emergency food supplies through the whole winter.
Insulate Your Dry Cabin
Insulation wears down over time, and it’s easy to forget about having double-sealed windows or a well-insulated door until a frigid blast of cold air seeps in. Whether you have double-pane windows or not, you can buy window insulation kits to install with tape and a hairdryer. If you’re expecting a seriously cold Alaskan winter, you could also install thermal curtains, which go a long way in keeping the cold out and the warmth in.
We also recommend inspecting your cabin for cold drafts when the temperatures begin decreasing. You can use a caulking gun and weather stripping to seal any errant leaks. Common problem areas are wall-floor joints, doors, windows, and appliance hookups.
Maintain Your Wood-Burning Stove
If you plan to use a 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 chimney or stovepipe, and then continue to keep it clean throughout the season with a chimney brush. Regular maintenance and cleaning are 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.
Clean 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. We recommend inspecting your gutter system at least one month before the temperatures begin to dip, and then hiring a professional roofer to repair any issues. After the first snowfall, clean your gutters to make sure any repairs are holding up.
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. If you’re looking for a winter job in Alaska and want to experience living in a dry cabin, browse or current job openings and apply for your next adventure.