Thursday, March 13, 2014

Power back. AAR

Power outage duration: 13.5 hrs.
External temperatures: Below freezing.

Got up this morning, went down the basement and moved the generator outside the basement door. Ran power cord upstairs and switched pellet stove over. Closed off the door leading to the library and bedrooms and the rest of the house warmed up to comfy level in in no time. Pellet stoves are great, but their only downside is that they need electricity.

Ran second line into the kitchen and restored the refrigerator/freezer, microwave and coffee maker. Made coffee and had cereal with milk for breakfast. Retired to living room to read books until power came back.

Lessons learned:

1. Keeping the generator maintained, with periodic test runs and starting fluid handy pays off. Because I have been starting it periodically and keeping the fuel lines and carburetor dry in between usages, it fired first pull of the cord, with one shot of starting fluid used to assist.

2. Paper plates and bowls. This outage caught me at the worst time kitchen-wise in that ALL of my dishware was dirty and sitting in the dishwasher, which I'd planned to run when I turned in for the night. Needless to say, they didn't get washed and I would have had jack to eat off of this morning except for the fact that I'd just re-stocked on paper plates and bowls about a month back after re-reading through one of Peter's excellent posts on Emergency Preparation and realizing that I was a bit short in this department. Thanks, Peter!
Note to self: run dishwasher more, especially if weather looks like it could knock power out.

3. Power strips. Generators are great, but if you can't get the power to the devices that need it, they're not much more than noisemakers. Today I intend to set up core power groups in each room so that the essential equipment runs through multiple-outlet power strips and the next time I need to run a generator line, I can simply route the power to those strips in each room and put most or all of the essential devices back on-line with a minimum effort.

4. Light. That propane Coleman lantern with the quartz piezoelectric ignitor that I keep sitting in the bedroom ready to go just paid for itself again. Use one emergency light to find all the other emergency lights, and I keep plenty of flashlights around the lair so I wasn't hurting at all in this department. One light in particular--a favorite of mine--uses AAA batteries and I have no spares for it. Likewise, my alarm clock's battery for the battery back-up needs to be replaced and I have no spare 9v batteries in the house. I'll remedy that today, and replace the smoke detector batteries as well, since we just had a daylight savings switchover.

5. Water. I have plenty of reserve drinking water stored, but I don't want to waste it for toilet flushing. For that purpose, I've kept ten gallons set aside in empty gallon jugs and that's enough to re-fill the toilet tank multiple times without cutting into my drinking water.

6. Know your equipment! I have a relatively new neighbor down the street just a bit who missed a day of work today because she has an electric garage door opener and she could not figure out how to get her car out this morning. (Yeah, she's another one of those people who move here from MD/NOVA because our cost of living is so much lower and then complains constantly about the state of the roads, snow plowing, police/fire response and other things that she had where she lived before because of the higher taxes that she came here to get away from.) And despite the fact that she'd been pretty standoffish and borderline rude to everyone else since she moved in here, I was nice and showed her how to disconnect the garage door from the opener so that she could get out. She also had no heat and her only light source was a few candles. She's hopeless and come the day that the power goes out for good, she'll likely never make it. Had this been an emergency requiring immediate evacuation, like a fire raging through our dry woods fanned by these high winds (started by someone using candles, no doubt), she'd have been stuck because she had no idea that the garage door could be disconnected from the power opener and opened manually.

7. Upgrade! One of these days I will have a power bus box wired to provide full house power to everything, including the well pump and hot water heater, from that generator. My "normal neighbor" down the street the other way has one set up with a propane generator that comes on automatically when the power goes out and it's sufficient to run his whole house for 2-3 weeks. Freaking nice. And sure enough, last night, his was the only house in the vicinity that was fully lit when the rest of us were blacked out. I need to set up something similar here, even if it's only a junction box that I can hook my generator into manually.

But now we're all back to normal here and I've got to take a shower once the water's hot again then go to the store for a few things. This little outage was only a minor inconvenience due to it's duration and prior planning on my part, but, as usual, it could have gone a touch better in a few areas and this one served as a good training situation for outages to come so I'm not complaining. How's you day going? Got snow? If so...Muahahahahahaha!


  1. My mother didn't know about the garage door release. It was a 2 car garage, with an opener on just one side. And during that era when we were struggling with "Mom shouldn't be driving" she decided when the power was out that the solution was to move the car to the side with the standard door. Backing and pulling inside the garage with the doors closed. It ended badly for the car, as many things did during that time.

  2. Glad my emergency preparation article proved helpful. I don't get much feedback on them, so it's nice to know that they've made a difference for at least one person!

    Also, don't forget the emergency supplies of dog treats and toys. If you do, they will let you know how little they appreciate this . . .


    1. I always keep at least one 40lb. sack of dog food in emergency reserve, plus assorted other goodies. When you've got two 80lb. carnivores in your house, it's in your interest to keep 'em placated.

  3. Making notes over here... And it's not surprising the ditz couldn't get her garage door open... Probably NEVER bothered to read the manual...

  4. You have a good neighbor! Yes invite him over and see what it wouild cost get a system like his. Do it now before the next winter.

    Guess that plane you want will have to wait a while!

    1. Oh, he's a great neighbor. He was volunteer RSO at our last blogshoot. He's told me about his system and it's good, but I'm still not convinced that I need to go that far as I'm not looking to stay here any longer than my current job keeps me here. Power outages are pretty rare, maybe once or twice in a bad year, and I can probably cover the basics with my existing generator if I just get around to redoing the wiring to allow it to hook into the system directly.

  5. If you have a spare bathroom with a tub and you know a storm is coming, you can always fill the tub to the top and use that and a bucket for flushing too. Someone gave me that tip when I moved and it's really a handy trick. Free.

  6. Ah, I can help on a manual transfer switch. Remember?

    Once again we don't usually have long power outages but when they do happen they last for days.

    1. I'll take you up on that one day soon.

  7. Would this be a good time for me to start complaining about being stuck in Palm Beach Florida for the weekend?

    Srsly. This sunburn I'm getting is a b***h

    1. May you find yourself stuck behind old people in traffic for the rest of your days, and may none of the store clerks who wait on you speak English.

  8. Anonymous4:38 AM

    A suggestion, or a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) before you dive in. It won't be done in 20 minutes, give yourself several hours over several days. Prioritize the results, and revisit the analysis periodically to update.

    In the meantime, examine how a circuit breaker box is laid out - there are 2 busses in it, each 120V. Circuit breakers (CB) are usually in 2 columns, one even numbered, the other odd. Going vertically CBs alternate which buss they connect to as a load balancing measure; CB2 will draw from buss A, CB4 will draw from buss B, CB6 from A, etc. Put your 120V critical circuits (fridge, freezer, a light or two) on one buss by moving CBs around. That way you only have to power one 120V buss instead of both. Smaller, simpler generator.

    Depending on electrical code where you are manually backfeeding the panel with a generator may be acceptable IF the panel is equipped with a generator lockout bracket - it prevents the CB through which the generator is backfeeding the panel from being turned ON unless the main CB for the entire panel is turned OFF. Check with a local electrician.

  9. I would stay away from power strips long term. Too much of a chance to overload one. A manual transfer/lockout switch is a great investment and as long as you are only running a small subset of your power load at a time, your generator should be able to cover all your appliances.

    My parents can run their gas heater, the water well, the fridge and all the lights as long as they only run one at a time.

    Also remember that your fridge can keep stuff cold for a good number of hours without issue as long as your not opening the door too often, so you can get away with not having to plug it in all the time.

  10. Nice read. I have to ask why would you heat hot water? You must have meant water heater, right?
    Those whole house generators are really neat, but expensive. Last I checked (several years ago) they were around $5,000 + install. Then you have to get a LNG tank installed and filled.
    A friend of mine runs his generator into a wall plug with a reversed plug, then shuts all the other house breakers off, especially the mains at the top of the box. Then all the plugs in that room work and he can run extension cords to a few other places like the refrigerator. Any time a generator is hooked to house wiring in any manner, the house must be disconnected from the power grid or the very real chance of electrocuting an lineman exists.

  11. Anonymous8:31 PM

    I hate power failures.Ours came with sub zero temps and wind chills.
    It was out 10.5 hours.Damn it got cold in here quick