Updated: Mar 10
Cities, suburbs, and rural communities all offer quite distinct living experiences. Those of you who have been around for a while know that I have my own rural bias. Putting that aside, the best option for you really depends on what you are looking for. In the city, residents trade a slower pace of life and quietness for conveniences. Those who live outside the city limits are okay with spending more time on the road in order to live the small-town lifestyle. Fortunately, I have lots of resources to help you decide if the rural lifestyle is right for you! In this guide, I will walk through the ways that mountain homes are different from urban homes.
Development Planning and HOAs
One of the beauties of living in the backcountry is there’s little to no cookie-cutter, high-density housing. The catch is that rural communities aren’t always thoroughly thought-out. Back in the day, someone built their house here, and then Fred built his house over there. It just rippled out from there. The point is that every house is pretty unique. Even within neighborhoods, well-organized subdivisions are limited, which in turn means there may not be any HOAs. It’s nice to know that you have the freedom to do as you please on your property! Just remember your neighbor has that right, too.
Architecture and Design
A quick Google search of mountain homes will show you large stone, log, and A-frame pitched roof homes, but don’t be deceived! Most mountain homes were originally built as cabins. Over the years, they have been added on to. Unlike modern-day housing developments designed to check all the boxes on the list, mountain homes don’t always fit the modern-day home layout in terms of square footage, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. It’s important to know that in rural areas, there may not be an architecture review board, but residents often take the initiative to keep the neighborhood charming. For example, historical buildings are restored. New builds are designed to fit in, not stick out like a sore thumb. Bright paint colors are avoided, chain-link fencing isn’t installed, and improvements are designed to fit in with the ambiance of the community.
A Septic VS Sewer System
Yep, I’m talking about this un-talked-about topic! Mountain homes usually have a septic system. This means that in the ground, there is a septic tank used to collect solid waste with leach lines to the liquid used to process the waste. When your home is on a septic system, extra attention as to what is going down the drain is required. Food and oil are the main things that should not be put into the system. As for maintenance, septic tanks do need to be pumped on a regular basis. Oh, and don’t build anything over your leach lines!
If you live in a four-season climate, you must have a heating source. Hallmark does a fantastic job of portraying cozy winter nights by the wood-burning fire, but again, do not be fooled. There is a lot of work that goes into making those cozy nights a reality. When looking at a home, consider the primary heat source you will use and the work and costs involved with it. The larger the house, the more it will cost to heat.
Property Size and Maintenance
Once you are out of the city limits, you will probably notice that property size increases. This is one of the many benefits to rural living, and with it comes responsibility. Four-season properties require lots of maintenance. In the spring, the grass will need to be cut multiple times. Bushes must be removed or trimmed off the ground. Dangerous trees will need attending to. DO NOT wait for a tree to fall to care for it. Fall is fire season. Your home needs to be defensible before a threat is present. In preparation for winter, buildings need to be ready for precipitation and freezing temperatures. If the house will not be regularly lived in, wildlife proofing is required. In general, all homes should be wildlife-proofed. The best way to stay on top of the maintenance is by being proactive, not reactive.
Water availability and quality are geographically tethered. Mountain communities usually rely on groundwater. Mountain properties may or may not be in a water district. Whether you are on a meter or a well, frozen pipes are a real thing. Take the necessary precautions to prevent this hassle. You may also notice large amounts of iron in your water. The water itself plus the surfaces it touches may be discolored. A chat with your neighbors can help you understand the water quality situation. When you are on a private well, the good news is that you won’t have a water bill, so to speak. You may notice higher electricity bills, though. It’s important to note that during power outages, well pumps may not work.
Another utility change may be a switch from natural gas to propane. Propane is commonly used in mountain homes for heating, stoves/ovens, dryers, and water heaters.
Should you rent or own a propane tank? There are pros and cons to both. When you rent a take from a company, they will service and automatically fill it as needed. There is a tank rental fee. When you own a propane tank you have more flexibility as to which company you call to fill. Just note that a company won't fill your tank without providing a safety check which you will be billed for. You will have to check your tank level like you check your car gas tank. It's recommended to fill up when the tank is at 30% to 50%.
Renters’ and Homeowners’ Insurance
In California, specifically, it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain fire insurance. It is incredibly important to have it. The San Diego backcountry has a long history of wildfires and in December of 2020, my neighbor lost everything in a house fire. They had no renters’ insurance. Please get insurance. Many companies are dropping long-time customers. This is leaving residents with no choice but to go through a government insurance provider like California Fair Plan.
All in all...
Sometimes these subtle differences are often overlooked when searching for the perfect mountain retreat. These items typically do not affect one’s overall day-to-day life. They just take a bit of adjusting to in the beginning! To learn more about things to be on the lookout for during the house-hunting process, click here.
If you live in the San Diego Backcountry, here are some local service providers.