24 hours without power…or stress

Things that went very well, even if they could use some refinement:

  • Water
  • Cooking
  • Climate control (windows and shades shut until it got cool in the evening)
  • Sanitation

Gaps:

  • Solar shower
  • Ability to recharge phones…besides recharging while driving the car

We have a lot of power failures out here in the country. When we moved in 7 years ago, our power would reliably go out 3 hours after heavy rain…after the storm had cleared the county. Our best guess was there was a short in a buried wire somewhere, and it took three hours for the moisture to seep through the ground to cause a problem.

Whatever the cause, we probably lose power for an hour or more four to six times a year. Every couple years it goes out for half a day or more. So it was no surprise that we lost power Friday night around 9:30 when a crazy-windy thunderstorm roared through, nor that we were out of power for almost exactly 24 hours. And keep in mind, no electricity generally means no water (electric well pump) or cooking ability.

This time, though, we were prepared enough that the outage didn’t really interfere with our weekend. Ok, we were bummed we couldn’t finish our movie, but basically, we watched the storm (and the radar, via iPod) and went to bed. Woke up in the morning…still no power. So we ate perishables for breakfast and continued on with our day, including buying another flat of strawberries to make jam. We did eat lunch out, but that was more due to time constraints than feeling like we couldn’t pull a meal together with no electricity.

We hooked up the potable water hose to the Simple Pump, which is installed in the same well as our electric pump. The other end of the hose goes through the basement wall (boy am I glad I had that conduit installed!) and hooks to the pressure tank in the basement. We found we can pump the pressure tank up to 40psi with about eight strokes of the pump handle, which gives enough water to flush a toilet or wash a few dishes. Then it needs to be pumped up again. Or, one of us would pump and the other would do whatever water task was needed in the house. It also worked best to close the valve between the hose and the tank after pressurizing the tank, or we’d lose pressure. It is possible for one person to pump the tank full, then run to the basement and shut the valve, but it worked much more smoothly to have two people working on the operation. It’s really obvious when the valve has been shut; the pump handle is very hard to push down…so you just stop, knowing the tank is full and your job is done. I think there must be a way to do water more smoothly, like a large jug with a spigot next to the sink, and obviously the hose-across-the-yard method won’t work in winter, but overall, water went pretty well. Pumping water is sure easier than carrying it!

Our array of lanterns stood us in good stead; we used the olive oil lamp the first night and the battery lanterns the rest of the time. We didn’t need to recharge the lanterns in that time – we were barely up past dark, since it’s light until after 9 this time of year, anyway.

For cooking, we used the sun oven for dinner Saturday (sag daal and rice) and for brunch on Sunday (eggs, cheese, and herbs done in kind of a souffle or baked omelet). I also stewed a slab of pork shoulder in the thermal cooker, having heated it on a portable butane burner. Man, I love that burner. I knew if the solar oven didn’t work, I had backup. There is nothing sustainable about them – those fuel canisters are disposable and kind of expensive – but for short-term emergencies like this, nothing beats the peace of mind. It says for outdoor use only, but with all the doors and windows open, I was not worried about using it indoors.

It’s very clear that it’s important to have an array of solutions at hand. Pressurizing the water tank works well in the summer, but in the winter, the hose would freeze, so another option should be available. Saturday was very sunny and the sun oven worked well for dinner, but if it had been cloudy, we had the portable burner as backup. In the winter, we’d be able to do some cooking on the fireplace, and we’d always have warm water. But in the summer, we don’t want to run the fireplace, so we didn’t have hot water the whole time. So that’s a gap. I think a brick rocket stove is in order…in effect, one twig-fueled burner, outside, for summer use.

Overall, we were pretty pleased with our ability to cruise through a power outage with minimal disruption. Unlike that one a couple years ago, in winter, where we basically felt like we’d been chased out of our house for three days. It was really unsettling, even though we weren’t in danger, really, and we had a place to stay with good friends. That peace of mind, especially for a homebody like me, is incredibly valuable. Totally worth all the supplies and infrastructure we’ve laid in recently.

Now if we could just get the neighbors to turn off those obnoxious generators!

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2 Comments

  1. Heather said,

    June 20, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Wow, good for you! We lost power for a day during an ice storm. We were fine as far as heat went, but the water issue was a problem. I’ll be thinking of this over the next few days…

  2. Lise said,

    July 6, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Thanks for your comment on my blog today–that’s a good idea about the frozen beans! Wow, you have a lot of info here! That’s great that you were able to fare so well in the blackout. I’m off to read some more of your blog…


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