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Your Country Home Office: Does Your Dream Homestead Property Have What it Takes?

by Victoria Gazeley

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Why it was an afterthought, I can’t even begin to tell you.

When I began planning our move to a little rural homestead, I knew I’d be working from home.  I had a full time job that required accessing the internet for everything.  I built websites and did some graphic design work ‘on the side’.  You’d think I would have paid more attention to whether or not our new home would be suitable for a modern home office.

I had the space laid out, and I’d picked out the armoire that would keep all the office stuff out of sight when not in use.  As beautiful as the iMac is, it clashes a bit with my uber-rural heritage log cabin aesthetic.  All was set and ready to go.  Until I called to get my high speed internet installed.

Our local phone provider?

Their high speed service ended 4 km away at the edge of ‘civilization’.

Cable?

No cable available on our rural stretch of dirt road.

Ummmm… panicking?  Just a little.

A consultant came out to see what our options were.  I knew I was in trouble when I found him dangling from the peak of our roof, antenna reaching to the sky, wobbling.

Him: leaning… waaayyyyy out…

Me: freaked out he’s going to fall off the roof.

And still nothing.  No radio signal from the island across the strait.  Not even a blip.

Mother Nature got a bit of a cussing out that day.

Once back on solid ground, the consultant suggested satellite internet.  More expensive, of course, but the only option.  And there began my journey in working and running a business from a rural property.

3 Things to Check
BEFORE Buying Your Dream Country Property

If you’re still in the planning stages of moving to a rural property, or are simply dreaming, it’s easy to get all caught up in the romance of it all.  Beautiful rolling hills, babbling brooks, the smell of leaves and the chirp of birds.

And the quiet… ahhhhhh… so delightful.

But if you plan on working from home on your new property, here are three things you need to have in place before signing that real estate offer:

1.  Make sure you can get high speed internet (or at least a reasonable fascimile).

Don’t make the same mistake I did and delay your ability to work from home because you didn’t do your homework.  Call local internet service providers (ISPs) as soon as you fall in love with that homestead property.  Find out what packages are available, and what they cost.  In many rural areas, especially here in Canada, the services are pretty limited.  I ended up with a satellite service through Barrett Xplore using their upper end home package.  In hindsight, I should have had one of their business packages installed, but the price difference was substantial:  on the low end, $59; the package I’m on is $79 a month, plus 12% tax. The lowest price business package, which isn’t a whole lot faster than my current package is $119 a month.  Not cheap.

So what do I get for $79 a month?  Something halfway between dial-up and high speed, maybe leaning slightly towards high speed.  Except when a bank of west coast fog rolls in, or a leaf drifts in front of the signal path.  You think I’m kidding?  I wish.

Here’s a typical scenario:

How to watch a 20 minute streaming training video at my house:

  • Step 1: Go to website, click on video, click ‘play’.
  • Step 2: Go clean the gutters or vacuum the cobwebs or turn the compost pile for at least 40 minutes while said video streams through once.  Don’t dare try to do anything else on the internet while video is streaming, or video will take an hour to load.  Or more.  Or it will crash your relatively new iMac.
  • Step 3: When loading is completed, watch video (finally).
  • Step 4: Hope the computer doesn’t hang, because then you’d have to load it all over again and you might be out of chores to do.

Total time elapsed from the click of ‘play’ to finishing the video?  One hour.  Unless it’s foggy.  Then all bets are off.  No wonder I can’t focus on one thing at a time any more.  If I did, I’d get nothing done.  Literally.

Now, I can’t blame the company – they’ve been excellent to deal with and are always helpful.  But I clearly needed a higher end package from the beginning, and should have asked more questions.  Instead, I took the advice of the installer, who really didn’t understand what kind of work I do or what kind of internet access I really require.  I guess I wasn’t quite clear enough.  If I was using the computer only for email and surfing around, the odd online meeting, etc., it would likely be fine.  But I work with huge files – 30, 50, 80 MB and larger.  It’s a big problem.

Apparently Barret Xplore is coming out with a new 4G satellite network in the next two years, so that will likely improve things dramatically, but in the meantime, I need to upgrade my service if I’m not going to be bald and bruised from bashing my head against the desk and pulling my hair out.  I guess $150 a month for internet service is a small price to pay for increased productivity (and a full head of hair).  Until the hazelnut tree at the end of the driveway grows up and blocks the satellite signal.  Then I’ll need to go buy a $100 tree pruner.  Maybe they should give away coupons for chainsaws with every satellite account.  I’ll have to suggest that.

2.  Check the power outage history in the area.

I grew up in the same area I’m now living, so I’m used to power outages.  I always found them sort of comforting, in a cozy sort of way.  The candlelight, the fire in the woodstove, the quiet.  A chance to reconnect with family over a board game without the distraction of media.  But if you’re running a business from home, a power outage loses it’s cozy factor pretty quickly.

Before you decide on a property, check with your local electrical utility, neighbours, old guys in the coffee shop – whoever will talk to you about the history of power outages in the area.  Not only will they interrupt your work (the power outages, not the old guys in the coffee shop – but they can be chatty… I’d be careful!), but they can wreak havoc on your computer equipment.  I lost the hard drive of my iMac and my laptop this past winter from what we think were too many power sags.  Which put a bit of a crinkle in my work schedule.

Bottom line – if the power in the area is super unreliable and you’ll be working from home, you’ll need to either reconsider the property, or spend some time and money ensuring you have stable back-up power systems.  We’ll be talking about this in a future post, as it’s not something I’ve done yet, but plan on it this winter.

Even if the electrical outage history in your area is pretty good, get yourself a high quality surge/sag protector.  After I lost both my computers, the satellite dish installer (yes, a component of the dish went shortly after I got the computers back) told me that it’s the power sags in our area, not spikes, that take out electrical equipment.  Apparently they’re caused by branches on the lines, or something.  And there are a lot of branches drifting onto the lines around here, especially with any sort of wind.  It’s amazing to me our hydro company doesn’t do more maintenance.  Maybe it’s cheaper for them to just fix things when they have a massive outage than to trim the trees regularly.  Either way, it can affect your work in a big way, so make sure you check into all of this before you move.  At least then you’ll know why your brand new iMac needs a new hard drive.

3.  Scout out the nearest town for a cafe or office hub with reliable high speed internet.

For all of the reasons above, you’ll want to find another place to work on those days the power isn’t restored within a few hours.  If you’re planning a back-up power source, or your new property will be running on solar power or some other system, you won’t need this as much.  But for the rest of us who don’t have those options at the moment, an alternate ‘office’ is critical.

Before you buy your new property, check out around the nearest town to see if there are any cafes or small business hubs with wireless internet.  The local library is another spot to check.   Now, of course there is the possibility that if the power is out at your house, it will be out in town, too, but usually the grid is set up in such a way that everything doesn’t go out at once.  That’s something to ask the power company.  In our case, we’re on a trunk of about 1600 homes across a huge area.  So if one tree falls across a line at the edge of town, or a car hits a pole, or there’s a fire, we’re all out of power – including the local ferry terminal (though they have back-up systems). The last outage here was an entire day.  Before that, I think it was two days.  Some areas were without power for a week.  Worth checking into.

Does Your Dream Property Pass the Test?

This is just the beginning, of course, but if these three things are checked off your ‘to-do’ list before you decide on a property, chances are your home office adventure will roll out without a hitch.  At least until the fog rolls in…

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Revised on October 25, 2010

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous October 21, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Valuable advice given with a great sense of humor! And from my experience living in the country, a sense of humor is required!
Blessings~denny

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Victoria Gazeley October 21, 2010 at 9:09 am

Yes, it does require a shift in attitude, doesn’t it? When out here, one is definitely no longer the center of the universe!! ;o)

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Susan McKenzie October 21, 2010 at 7:36 pm

I can totally relate to the slow internet service available in the wilderness… but at the same time I’ve been amazed at being able to use a cell phone and internet while in some of the most remote locations! Despite the hassles it is so very worthwhile to live in the wilderness! Do you have pictures of your place available online?

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Vgazeley October 21, 2010 at 8:11 pm

It is pretty amazing, isn’t it? We actually can’t get cell service here either (we sit in a funny little hollow that’s blocked on all sides by hills), so the satellite is it. And our landline phone, of course. As for photos, I’m just putting together a post about the history of our little cabin, but I do have a few pics on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/modernhomesteading. If you go there and click on the ‘Photos’ tab. It’s a work in progress, for sure, but that’s what makes it so exciting… :o)

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Anchor October 21, 2010 at 8:11 pm

A very good synopsis of what to consider. We were fortunate enough to choose close enough to the village to be able to have ADSL as early as 6 years ago. There are friends on island that finally got speed by using Rogers or Telus sticks. Cable is still very limited.

NEVER attempt business without surge /sag protectors. And remeber to replace the surge /sag protectors as required. I am told they can only be reset so many times… We replace everytime we buy a new e component.

And source out those alternates like a coffeee shop on a different grid etc. If all else fails I can move into my van and fireup the laptop on a dc converter into the cigarette- lighter/ outlet. Don’t laugh on day 6 of an outage I resorted to this!!

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Vgazeley October 21, 2010 at 8:20 pm

This is fabulous advice. The sticks are a great new alternative, but for us, not being in cell range, not an option. As for the surge/sag protectors, thanks for the reminder that they need to be replaced. Should set up a reminder to check it once every couple of months – that’s one of those things that can EASILY slip through the cracks and cause a major disruption to your work life. As for resorting to the car to fire up the laptop, I love it. And such a likely scenario when you’re living in the country! Thanks for sharing this…

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