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​The rural life: Practical advice for the modern “frontier”

What I learned when I traded the suburbs for the country

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to trade the inner ring suburban house we’d called home for 10 years for a nice, quiet life in the country. We had done some research on country living, and decided to make the move in 2008. We bought a beautiful home on 2.5 acres, packed up our belongings, and started a new life in one of northeast Ohio’s most rural communities.

What we didn’t know was that in order to achieve that “quiet life,” one has to be prepared for some unique, little curveballs that country life can throw at a novice rural homeowner. After our first experience with a lack of water due to a power outage (which knocked out the pump for our well water … see below), it became apparent that this city mouse needed a rustic life lesson. Quickly.

Six years on, and I think trading the suburbs for the country is still one of the best decisions our family has made. But the learning curve was steep. Here are a few “country living” tips that I wish someone had shared with us when we made the move.

Get a generator

If your home isn’t tied into city water, you probably have a well pump. That pump runs on electricity, and that means if there’s no power, there’s no running water. That also means no showers, no drinking water, and no more than one flush.

Buy a good generator with enough power to run your crucial systems (water system, refrigerator, sump pump, coffee maker, etc.). Fill it with gas and store it where it’s easily accessible. Don’t forget those really long extension cords. You’ll be enjoying all the modern conveniences while your neighbors scramble to find a flashlight in the dark.

I asked Richard Hutchinson, preferred auto and home business leader at Progressive, if there might be an insurance benefit for owning a generator. He told me that some insurance carriers offer a disaster preparedness discount, so having a generator might even help reduce your insurance premiums. Definitely ask your insurer.

Learn about your septic system

Think of a septic system as your own personal sewer system. That system needs to be cleaned and maintained. So, find a reputable, local septic system service guy, store his number on your cell phone, and call him with any questions immediately.

He’ll probably suggest pumping out your tanks when you move in, which gives you the opportunity to stand with him for an hour and ask questions. I did this, and he walked me through how the whole system works. I also asked him what can be flushed down the toilet (there is a specific “best” toilet paper) and what can go in the garbage disposal (apparently, pasta is bad). Following his advice can save you thousands of dollars in maintenance in the long run. Don’t forget that standard homeowners policies typically don’t cover water that is backed up through drains or toilets. You might need to get a sump pump, or get a water back-up endorsement for your policy. Again, Richard’s advice is to check with your carrier.

Expect unwanted guests

In our six years, we’ve welcomed two chipmunks, three mice, a squirrel, a bird, two frogs, and a snake into our home. And, that’s just the wildlife we’ve captured.

Remember, you moved to the country to be close to nature. Embrace your newfound friends and you’ll be much happier. If you do want to have some sort of control over the wildlife invasion, remember to keep the garage door closed, don’t leave food out, and put bungee cords on your garbage cans.

Keep up with your yard work

I learned quickly that 2.5 rural acres is much bigger than a 50-foot by 50-foot suburban lawn. Letting that much land get out of control will quickly make for long weekends. I find myself mowing twice as much as I did in the city just to keep up, especially in the spring.

Keep the grass short and you’ll avoid nasty clogs and clumps when you decide to mow. A good yard tractor with a pull cart attachment is a great investment. Other tools every country dweller should own are a gas powered weed whacker, a chain saw, an axe, and a good long tree trimmer.

Insure your “toys”

Another benefit of country living is closer access to off-road trails, lakes, and venues for other outdoor activities. So, if you do buy a snowmobile, ATV/dirt bike, or boat, make sure you understand your coverage options. While common and seemingly “easy,” adding one of these vehicles to your homeowners policy through an endorsement (or “rider”) may leave you with coverage gaps. Only a specialized policy can provide all the coverage you need.

These are just a few tips to get you started. Please feel free to add additional tips in the comments below. Welcome to the country!