Resilience In Retirement
This latest contribution in our Resilience Spotlight series, featuring stories from Peak Prosperity readers, comes from reader thc0655. He and his wife recently retired and moved to a new state to put their long-developed resilience plans into action.
Retirement Day 78: Concord, NH
We retired in Philadelphia on May 10, 2019 (me from the Philadelphia Police Department and my wife from a mental health agency) and arrived here in Concord, NH on May 14 to begin our new life. I thought I’d share some of the details of what we’re doing because everything we’re doing is somehow related to stepping out of the rat race and doing everything we can reasonably do to create a new, more sustainable life. We’ve taken everything we’ve been learning over the last 9 years (in particular) and have been applying it to our new life here. It’s sooo much easier to start over than to try to retrofit our old life to be more sustainable, healthier, safer, more resilient and more beautiful. Maybe something I say will stimulate discussion and thinking. Maybe something will be inspiring. Maybe I’ll learn something from the responses that we can still implement here since we’re early in some of our process.
Everyone wants to know first why we chose New Hampshire, and why the capital Concord. My wife is from Massachusetts and her mother still lives there. She has a brother and sister in law in Rhode Island and a shared family beach house my wife’s parents built in Rhode Island 50+ years ago. So she wanted to retire to New England. I was more flexible not having any family left, so I agreed we’d retire to New England but insisted I do some research before settling on a state and town. That was pretty easy: in 2011 I quickly decided I couldn’t live in any New England state BUT New Hampshire for a number of important reasons. My wife agreed with New Hampshire and then we began looking for a community. So here’s some of the reasons we chose NH:
A refuge from global warming. I’m keeping an open mind re: global warming vs. global cooling, but I’m leaning toward more warming (for whatever reasons). If it’s more warming we get then we’ll be glad we chose NH. If it’s cooling, we won’t live long enough to be displaced by that one mile thick glacier that will cover New England like it did in the last Ice Age. We like cold weather and snow so those weren’t an impediment.
Political climate. The state motto is “Live Free or Die” which hearkens back to the American Revolution and harmonizes with our personal beliefs. The state is about 50/50 Democrat and Republican (Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016 by a razor thin 1,500 votes). One thing that means is that people here are still mostly polite and respectful toward each other. In Philadelphia, like many deep blue cities, Democrats and other leftists can be brutally rude and dismissive of anyone who doesn’t agree with them, because they can get away with it mostly by shaming and drowning out nearly all who dissent. We’re even members of a NH secessionist movement called “The Free State Project.”
Low crime. NH is the safest state when it comes to violent crime which is a welcome relief from Philadelphia’s high crime rate. Philly (1.5 million) has roughly the same population as the whole state of NH (1.4 million) but the differences in homicides, for instance, is breathtaking. In 2017 Philly had 315 homicides (and the number is rising fast) but NH had 17 homicides (and the trend is downward). I had fun “running and gunning” in Philly but now I’m tired of it and looking forward to some peace and quiet.
Taxes and general cost of living. In Philly we left behind a high cost of living largely due to taxes. The city wage tax and state income tax came to almost 8%. The sales tax in the city was 8%. We had to pay a real estate transaction tax of 2% when we sold our house. We had to budget $200—300/year for parking tickets. We had to have at least one expensive car repair per year caused by the city’s potholed streets. In NH there is no sales tax and no income tax. NH does have the country’s third highest real estate tax (2.4%/$1,000 assessed value) but the overall picture is a bargain for us.
War. NH has never had a wartime battle within its borders, not even during the Revolutionary War. (I still have to research the French and Indian War.). NH has no military target a near peer would want to strike with a nuclear weapon and nothing of strategic value they would want to invade the state for.
Natural disasters are nearly unheard of here, and when they’ve happened the impact has been comparatively minor. We can almost forget about earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods (we’re on a bluff 100’ above the river near our home), wildfires, droughts, and the like.
We are close to the beautiful mountains and forests of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, providing us with the kind of recreational opportunities we’re looking forward to. We love camping and hiking, so we’re in heaven on earth.
We’re in a good spot for sheltering in place for any kind of disaster that would cause millions of others to flee their homes. The nearest big city is Boston which is 67 miles away. We have proximity to good highway systems in the very unlikely event we have to bug out from here. And there’s nothing but forested wilderness immediately north of us extending to the Canadian border. The only significant danger we have to keep in mind is the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station 54 miles east on the Atlantic coast in Portsmouth, NH. The cone of radiation in a meltdown could easily reach us here, though the worst of it will have decayed in 2-3 weeks. So we have to have a 3 week bug out plan for that eventuality. We’ll finalize those plans over this coming winter.
Concord is the NH state capital but has only 42,000 people. As a result, we have all the benefits of “civilization” but none of the severe problems. We have city utilities and access to great medical care. We have all the places to shop we could need within 2 miles of our home, but none of the excessive development big cities have. On the other hand, there are only about 40 homeless people in the city and no ghetto area. There is a growing drug problem (yes, opiods) but it pales compared to Philadelphia where there are about 1,200 fatal overdoses every year. Infrastructure is excellent.
We sold our 1,200 square foot brick row house in high-cost-of-living Philadelphia and had change leftover after we built a 1,480 square foot ranch here on 0.63 acre, with many benefits we never had in Philly. It is sooo much easier achieving more sustainability when you’re building new than when everything has to be shoe-horned into your old existing home built in 1881. We hired a realtor to handle the sale and that ended up being smart because she helped us avoid some big mistakes. Unfortunately, prices in our neighborhood peaked in June 2018 but we weren’t ready to retire and move back then. The price we got for our house was less than we hoped for, but it was still plenty enough for us. We moved ourselves over the last 18 months in Uhaul trucks and trailers, saving about $8,000, and putting stuff into storage in Concord until the house was ready.
In our neighborhood, most houses face the street which I guess is pretty common everywhere. But we didn’t want to look out at cars driving by as we don’t see the attraction of that. We did want to orient one side of our roofline to maximize solar gain on our 10.65 kW solar PV system on our roof. To accomplish that we rotated the ‘front’ of the house to face only 8 degrees off of true south which means it is rotated about 110 degrees away from the street. So the “back” of the house is on an angle to the street and the “front” faces what is in the process of becoming our big, beautiful gardens. We designed in a porch off of our front door which enables us to sit and enjoy the vegetable beds, pollinator gardens, and wildflower gardens. We can’t see the street from the porch or the gardens and we can barely hear the occasional car that passes even though our garage doors face the street about 60’ away. The actual back of our lot is wooded and ends at the top of the 100’ bluff leading down to the river behind our house. It’s a great forest view all the way to the corresponding ridge on the other side of the river and the city below. It’s too steep to be developed in the future. The house is super well insulated and tight, though we told the builder NOT to spend the extra funds necessary to try to achieve an additional 5-8% necessary to be granted any of the certified energy efficiency labels. Our cooling system this summer has consisted of leaving the windows open overnight to let the house cool down and then closing everything up after breakfast. Except for 3 unusually hot days we haven’t had to use the A/C because the house stays cools until the evening. We’ve been getting electric bills every month since March, and every month our bill shows a credit. The amount of our credit will continue to rise until the heating season arrives and then we’ll start to draw it down. The engineers at ReVision Energy who designed and installed our system tried to size it so that all of our electricity for a calendar year would be covered by our solar production. I hope so because electricity here is very expensive at 17.6 cents/kWh which is more than twice what we paid for 100% wind-generated electricity in Philadelphia (7.6 cents/). One thing that caught us by surprise is how much humidity is thrown off in our basement from the brand new poured concrete. When I first measured the humidity in late April it was at 86%!! That’s way too much for many reasons, but especially for guns and ammunition. So I hooked up an Energy Star dehumidifier and connected it to run continuously and drain into the same drain the washing machine uses. The heat pump water heater also serves to draw some humidity out of the basement air but even with it running with the dehumidifier I couldn’t get the humidity below 60%. So I got another dehumidifier and after two weeks I was able to get the humidity down to where I want it: 35-40%. Now I can maintain 40% humidity or less running one dehumidifier continuously and only occasionally running the second one for 8-10 hours. As the concrete cures, I’m hoping to use the dehumidifiers less and less.
To take maximum advantage of the grid-tied solar PV system, everything in the house is electric except the kitchen stove and Generac emergency generator which both run on propane. The propane stove was just a personal preference away from cooking with electricity. We have a 58 gallon Stiebel Eltron electric heat pump water heater that uses 2/3 less energy than a conventional electric water heater. For heat and A/C we have a Mitsubishi air source electric heat pump. They tell me the system starts to struggle to produce heat around 0 degrees Fahrenheit and completely fails at about -15. Those are not rare temperatures in NH winters so we have a wood stove back up and we’ve already accumulated nearly 4 cords of wood for it. This first winter will be an experiment in how often we have to use the wood stove and how much wood we consume. I’m guessing 4 cords is more than enough for two or three typical winters, but we’ll see soon enough.
In June we sold our 2008 Mazda 3 that got 33 mpg on the highway and bought a 2017 Chevy Volt. The Volt is a unique hybrid in that the electric motors always drive the front wheels. When the batteries are depleted (after about 66 miles even on this 2 year old car) a gasoline generator kicks in and runs nearly silently to recharge the batteries to run the electric motors indefinitely. So the Volt could be driven to California without recharging the batteries by simply stopping to refill the 10 gallon gas tank. However, the Volt is our second car (we also have a 2015 Chevy Colorado pickup truck), so we almost always drive it within its battery range. And since we’re charging it with our rooftop solar PV system, driving the Volt is essentially free to us. (The dashboard read out says we’re averaging over 250 mpg equivalent this first month of use, but even that figure assumes we’re paying for the electricity to charge it, which we aren’t). It came to us with a full tank of gas (of which we’ve used maybe 1.0 gallons). In addition to fuel savings and less pollution, if there is ever a shortage of gasoline, we’ll still be able to get around town for 90% of our trips by charging the Volt in our garage. We charge it with a Siemens 240 volt Level II charger with the standard 25’ cord. The charger takes the batteries from completely dead to fully charged in 4.5 hours. By the way, we bought the Volt from Carvana and would recommend them as a source for your next car if you know exactly what you want and what you want is a pristine 1-2 year old used car or truck with no games or haggling with sales people. I’m hoping the Volt will allow us to completely recover the extra expenses of our solar system in 7-8 years instead of the 9-10 years we were told to expect without the electric car.
We arrived May 14 and NH is in zone 5 for gardening. We were told that the chance of a frost would not be past until either May 25 or June 1 (depending on the source). It’s a short season here (first frost is expected by September 8) so we decided to put as much time and effort into our gardens as possible immediately. We reasoned that next summer is what we’re focusing on and this summer we’re focusing on improving our sandy soil, building out our infrastructure and experimenting. Even if everything fails, at least we’ll be building for a great growing season next summer. On our 0.63 acre, we have about 0.40 acre for our gardens which is not huge but it is enough to keep two 63 year olds busy! We’re gardening for food, for beauty, for supporting pollinators, and for the exercise. We didn’t own a lawnmower in Philly as that would’ve been as useful as a screen door on a submarine, and we are hoping not to need to get a lawnmower here. We hope that between trees, shrubs, pollinator gardens, wildflower meadows and raised beds for vegetables our whole lot will be covered and there won’t be a need for a lawnmower because there won’t be a single blade of grass.
Even though it’s overkill in safe New Hampshire, we have all the home security features and layers we could only wish we had in Philadelphia. We have indoor and outdoor security cameras, a monitored alarm system, motion-activated outdoor lighting (LED), and a driveway alarm to alert us someone has come onto the property. This is on top of all the personal security habits and weapons we learned and accumulated in Philadelphia.
Year 1 vegetable beds (“front” of house) with the beginnings of wildflower meadows and pollinator gardens.
Sometimes it seems we don’t do anything BUT work on the gardens, but that’s not true. The move here forced us to evaluate and replenish our food and water preps. That’s an ongoing project (on rainy days or hot afternoons when we’re not working in the garden). We’re in the
process of rolling over our work-connected 401k’s to IRA’s managed by New Harbor Financial, the recommended financial advisors here at Peak Prosperity. We’re building new social capital from scratch since we didn’t know a soul when we moved here. Most of that is being done through the church we’ve started attending. On top of all that, we’ve had more mundane tasks to accomplish being new residents: finding new doctors, getting NH driver’s licenses, etc.
Future projects for the winter and spring include:
Finally getting the basement organized and everything unpacked.
Designing and installing a “safe room.”
Setting up a rain recovery system to water our gardens.
Setting up a small greenhouse to start seeds in the spring.
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View of the “front” of the house and solar array from the garden.
Compost delivery while beds are still under construction.
“Back” of the house from the street showing it covered by wood chips to keep down weeds until we can focus on it next year. Also firewood laid up (including the round “holz hausen,” a German method of stacking and drying firewood). We threw in next year’s vegetable beds and seeded them with a cover crop of buckwheat and clover to improve the soil and keep down weeds.
Wood chip paths showing three of the fruit trees we planted. The dark soil area has been seeded with wildflowers and, IF successful in about three years, will become a (nearly) maintenance-free wildflower meadow to complement our more intensive pollinator gardens (no shown).
Raised beds during construction. The small green weeds (smartweed) got ahead of us before we even moved here and we’ve been battling and racing them since we got here.
Pollinator garden in its early stages.
Great post, thanks for sharing!
“resilience in retirement”
Great work thc. You’re at least 5 years ahead of me but I’m looking at land now. It will likely be on the west coast as my family and friends are mostly spread out all up and down from LA to Puget Sound. I’m hoping for 3-5 acres. As you well know, cause we both work/(ed) in it, the criminal justice system is crashing along with everything else…and I won’t miss it. Even tech “rich” Seattle can’t keep up and the mental health, addiction and homeless issues keep rising.
You guys get decent rain there but if I move south, I will be relying on people like PA Yeomens and Geoff Lawton for inspiration. You may need inspiration like Eliot Coleman for winter ideas or maybe Russ Finch who grows tropicals with no extra heat in upper Nebraska with low level geothermal. Are you planning on four season growing or any thermal cover?
Great info. Nice to see others thinking along the same lines as I and my wife have done. We’ve got quite a similar setup where we live in Texas and although we’re not quite ready to retire I could see us emulating what you’ve done once we are.
Congratulations on your retirement Tom. I just retired myself on May 30. In a word, it’s FANTASTIC!. If I had to live on the East Coast, New Hampshire would be my pick as well. I’ve got a couple of questions for you. With your relatively shallow roof pitch, how are you planning to deal with the snowfall covering your solar cells? Also, what type of wood are you using to make your raised beds? In other words, how are you keeping the boards from rotting?
My husband and I retired from two state agencies in Oregon in 2012. Oregon is groaning under the load of the many retirees, under their Tier One plan. Although Oregon has done a better job than many states, it is possible that they will not be able to sustain our full pensions for the next 20 years. With that understood, we have set up and run our little retirement farm expecting to have to feed ourselves from it, except for whatever “luxury” foods we can still afford to buy then. Cash will go for property taxes, transportation, medical support and a little propane for the stove.
So we have 2.5 acres under lush pasture, with 24 Shetland sheep, and a 3000sf garden that includes flour corn and hull-less oats, lots of fruits and a grain patch for the dozen or so chickens. We have honey bees too. And when the time comes can bring in some milk goats. We buy beef and pork from the neighbors. Our hay is purchased from the neighboring ranch and delivered. Our irrigation is gravity fed from an established district based on a reservoir, with water from high elevation run off from deep snow and also rain. We have 12 panels of solar voltaic and massive insulation on our house and shop. We heat both with wood that is locally sourced. I spin and weave and knit the wool, and also have much yarn made by a regional mill and sell it in the area.
After 5 years of preparing the place and practicing it all, we seem to have it all working well and really don’t buy much necessary food. Just the extras of coffee, tea, orange juice, chocolate, Canadian organic maple syrup, vegetable oils and such. We have a local dairy/creamery with raw and vat pasteurized milk, and a goat creamery for yogurt and cheese. It is good for peace of mind, but also takes strength and endurance of body and mind to keep at it. Living in a like-minded rural place makes all the difference. North Central WA. About 5000 full time residents in a small valley in the foothills of the North Cascades with two small towns.
- This reply was modified 3 weeks, 3 days ago by [email protected].
We have thought long and hard about what the future may hold (near and far). We’re currently working on a 3 year plan as that is all we can manage right now. Don’t forget: we’ve lived the last 31 years in central Philadelphia so we are starting out as city slickers on a big gardening adventure. We’ve been planning, reading and thinking for years but that’s no substitute for experience. We love the idea of four season growing, but that’s more than we can manage immediately. However, extending the short season here with low hoops on some of our beds and starting seeds early in a little green house is part of our plan. After 3 years we’ll reevaluate.
We have tried to visualize and plan for what might happen with our Philadelphia municipal pensions which are much worse off than the publicly admitted ~40% funded stat. Our plan focuses on gold and silver to buy what we need over the ability to grow most of our own food. Had we gone the route of growing most of our food, we would need more land which we could only afford in the hinterlands of NH. We chose to be on the edge of Concord for other reasons. Difficult trade-off decisions. We would also have had to have been much more certain of our physical ability to live into our 70’s and 80’s while still able to keep up with the “farm work.” So I took a 15 year pension with a big lump sum payout upon retirement instead of a 19 year pension and no cash payout. If they cut my pension check (or stop it altogether! 😲) at least I got the lump sum out. We’re already building relationships with local organic farmers hoping that will help if we are returned to 19th century living standards some day.
Congrats on your retirement ao! I know we’ve only been retired 81 days and our reactions may change, but today “We don’t know how we ever had time to go to work!” Any time we feel like going to a seminar, a concert or a movie we just go! Our experienced NH builder normally builds houses here where the average annual snowfall is 62 inches (our experience in Rochester, NY was nearly twice that) with a 8/12 roof pitch. Our solar contractor said 9/12 was ideal for the solar panels at this latitude and our builder was glad to oblige. Our solar contractor says snow will not be a significant issue on a 9/12 roof. We came up in April with belongings to put in the basement before the house was finished and arrived about 12 hours after 4” of snow had fallen. There was no snow on the solar panels, but there was on the rest of the roof. I’m curious to see what our experience is after a full winter. We got our rough hewn vegetable bed boards cheap from a guy working part time after his day job cutting up a recently downed red oak tree. When we drove screws into the boards to hold them together water squished out! That’s how green the wood was. We debated just planting in mounds separated by paths like at Singing Frogs Farm featured here on Peak Prosperity. We chose to build beds but since we will be adding organic material to them and not tilling the soil level will eventually overtop the boards. We’re going to let them rot in place over the years and then it will look like we just have mounds to plant in.
Here’s a report on our Chevy Volt after one month of ownership. We drove the Volt 842 miles on short trips around town (less than 75 miles round trip) and used approximately 1 gallon of gasoline in the tank. We drove 964 miles in the Chevy Colorado (picking up an inherited “antique” snowblower in Massachusetts, checking on the beach house in Rhode Island after the tenants left, picking up shrubs and lumber, etc). We put 48 gallons of gas into it for $125.25. The combined gas mileage for both vehicles came to 37.1 mpg. Nice.
It’s all about the sun. 😀
Great thread, but assumes a lot. Sounds like life has been good to you and allowed you acquire the peace of mind that was lurking behind the rat-race. Not everyone can find themselves in such an advantageous position.
Moved to Canada from Minnesota in 1970, to Alberta in 1980 for pretty much the same reasons(plus cheap energy). Bought small 3 acre parcel and moved a mobile home on to it. Developed from there to current state of development. Now, into our 70’s, we have decided to down size and move in with daughter and son-in-law in a nice, properly designed 1100 sq. ft. , environmentally resilient apartment as part of a walkout basement that has large garden, solar and rain water recovery.
As to our current property, put the place on the market and have only had interest from those who want a place for their quads and RV’s, as I may have alluded to in past posts. Only recommendation, don’t shed a tear if you plan to sell sometime in the future. Society has a way of ruining even the most thoughtful of plans and you will only experience disappointment by watching someone else undo a functional, resilient operation for the sake of convenience. WE raised 5 kids on a single income and led a wonderful life in the country. Nothing lasts forever and not everyone shares the resilient mentally.
Retirement? Time to rethink what that means.Never retired; just quit working for someone else.
I know exactly what you mean Tom. Before I retired, multiple people told me they seemed more busy during retirement than when they were working (but obviously it’s a different, more pleasurable type of busy, for the most part). I’m experiencing the same thing. When I was working, I worked 60 to70 hour weeks with not much free time and weekends spent catching up on paperwork. The past two weeks, besides sleeping in and staying up late and doing chores, I went to a talk at our library (and wound up with an offer for sharing some of my expertise), attended an open house at our raptor rehab center and got to see a variety of raptors up close and personal, went to an Italian festival, went to an art show, got in some long walks on the beach, got in some long swims, worked out, picked up some great books at the library, went fishing with a friend for lake trout and salmon, and visited with friends at their beach house. The stresses of dealing with patients, insurance companies, government bureaucracies, etc. are gone and done with, thank God! The day I stopped working, I felt better almost immediately both physically and mentally.
With regards to solar and snow, a lot depends on snow consistency and moisture. Some types of snow slide off more easily but most stick. We got 227 inches of snow this year and, although I don’t have solar panels, friends who have them aligned with their roof pitch, had to do frequent cleaning. Just be prepared with a ladder and snow cleaning tool if you need it. April snows tend to be wetter and would slide off more easily, more so than mid winter snows. I have an 8/12 pitch and wish it was steeper. I had to clean my roof 3 times this winter. All the old houses in our area have steep roof pitches whereas most of the newer ones don’t. The old timers knew a thing or too. We even had a number of roofs collapse this year and they were invariably, flat or shallow pitched roofs. Also, watch out for ice dam formation that can sneak up on you.
Your plan with the raised beds sounds good. Mine had rotted out even though I used an herbal preparation purported to protect the boards (which obviously was not of great benefit). I’ve thought of the mound concept but watched heavier rains cause significant erosion with the rotted boards. Success probably depends upon allowing vegetation to build up along the edges of the mound to stabilize it and mulching heavily as well.
Another question. I’m in a 5b zone like you. You will most likely get low enough temperatures that your heat pump will not be able to keep up. If you’re not home to feed the wood stove, how do you plan on maintaining sufficient heat in your house to keep the pipes from freezing? Do you have electrical back-up?
I appreciate your detailed and informative post and am happy for you in your new locale. I lived in an inner city 40 some odd years ago while I was going to school and it was a ****hole. It’s even more of one now. I was just talking to a couple who moved here from San Francisco for the woman to do her medical residency. They confirmed that, indeed, the streets are littered with human feces, needles, and homeless people. We took a Panama Canal cruise this year that ended in San Francisco and made friends with a family from Sydney, Australia who spent a few days after the cruise touring around SF. He was appalled at the condition of the city. He’s also traveled all over the world and said the restaurant food prices in SF were some of the highest he’s ever seen anywhere. In short, glad you could get out of Philly. You’ll love it.