As I was sitting at my desk this morning going through the usual early Saturday routine of paying bills and administering the other minutia that goes along with running the household, the power cut out briefly. Looking out the window towards the woods, annoyed, I counted the seconds – fifteen of them before the genny cranked over and sent it’s homemade electricity surging down the wire and taking life from the 19th century to the 21st in a matter of no more than 30 seconds. From time to time I regret purchasing a big ticket item that isn’t strictly a need, but I can tell you true that I’ll always consider the cash sunk into that generator money well spent.
It’s probably a good day when the most annoying part of a power failure is having to turn the coffee maker back on and wait for the cable modem to reset. Momentary inconveniences though they are, I suspect I’ll be spending some time this weekend looking at battery backup options for some of those “key systems.” Because once you’ve eliminated the big inconveniences, the small ones somehow become even more obnoxious.
Yesterday wasn’t the first snowy day I’ve had here on the homestead. Compared to last winter’s big storm, this one hardly rated a blip, except for the part where the last half of the storm turned to ice. It’s pretty to look at, makes for some interesting watching the dogs try to find traction, and cuts down trees and utility poles like nobody’s business. It’s that last bit that served to set the stage for the most important of the day’s lessons.
I’ve always known my AT&T wireless signal at home was spotty at best. Since I don’t make all that often, this fact was largely hidden by my home Wi-Fi picking up the slack for data purposes. It’s a system that works well enough under normal operating conditions. With Comcast having gone MIA due to any number of local lines being down, operating conditions yesterday were less than ideal. By “less than,” I mean that my fancy new iPhone was utterly and completely useless as a means of communicating for almost the entire duration of the cable outage.
Also learned yesterday was the fact that every penny I spent installing and maintaining my generator was money well spent. Twenty seconds after the lines came down, it roared to life and kept the furnace blower blowing, the well and sump pumps pumping, the dryer drying, and the lights lit. I cooked a normal dinner and settled in to watch The Hunt for Red October and then Master and Commander… while occasionally seeing candles dot the windows of the house across the street. It kept right on chugging through 18 hours without a moment’s complaint. With that I am well satisfied.
Aside from a few other minor details, yesterday’s experience was one up and one down. Over the next few weeks, I know I need to beef up my communications capability. That’s good info to have before I find myself in a position of really needing it. Once the ice melts off and I get a decent day, I also owe the generator an oil change and a pat on the proverbial head.
Last night I once again woke up to the the neighborhood’s generators sputtering to life and then keeping their homes heated and lit for the duration of the five hour outage. By contrast my generator, perfectly capable of performing similar, if more limited, activities stayed warm and dry in the garage – mostly because 12AM in the rain is a really shitty time to drag it outside, tarp off a spot that will be dry enough to keep the direct weather off the running equipment, run extension cords, fuel the contraption, and then get it up and running.
So instead of noting the outage and waiting 20 seconds for backup power to bring itself online, I woke up once an hour from midnight to 2AM to serve as a one man bucket brigade. At 2:25 every smoke detector battery in the house gave up in unison. I chirping smoke detector under normal circumstances is unpleasant in the middle of the night. Five of them giving off their low battery call in a house that has no other items making noise is waterboarding for the ears. At that point it was off to the garage to drag in a ladder, replace the dying batteries, and restore peace and tranquility to the small hours of the morning. By that time it’s about 3:15, another bucket comes up from the basement and I’m staring at 3:30. Forty five minutes of dozing on the couch later and lights start to flicker. Somewhere ’round about 4:30 they come on to stay (so far).
It’s in that 30 minutes between “first light” and the scheduled alarm to wake me up for work that I decided to avail myself of the proffered allowance to take unscheduled leave due to the expectation of a snow storm that didn’t materialize locally. It’s safe to say I was in no fit humor to be around people – or perhaps that should be that my humor was even less fit than usual.
I’m forced to the undeniable, if obvious, conclusion that I am a creature of the 21st century. I expect the predictability of power coming more or less uninterrupted from the wall. Unlike that far off cabin I dream of in retirement, this place just isn’t built to operate in the absence of electricity.
The 20kW solution to that problem is coming sooner rather than later. Still, I find myself growing more impatient to arrive at the day when in a pinch I can be my own prime power provider and eliminate one more of life’s small annoyances.
We’ve been through two nights of what could generously be called torrential downpours since the landscapers called the job finished and moved on. So far I’m exceedingly pleased to say that the basement has remained bone dry. No sign of hydraulic pressure coming from below the slab or through the block – and more importantly no magically overflowing window well/aquarium. I’m well pleased and cautiously optimistic that at least on this one thing, we’ve possibly cracked the code. Now I can move on to giving the front crawlspace the same treatment and chasing the damp out of there… or maybe I’ll tackle something else on my long list of projects.
Until I bought this place, I’ve always lived in neighborhoods within easy reach of city water and without water-prone basements. The rental place up the road had a sump pit in the crawl space that stayed bone dry the whole time I was there. I’d really never given much thought to it until this spring’s week after week of rain and semi-regular power failures. While watching the water level rise in the window well I had a moment of utter horror that my standing in the dark also meant that the sump pit was filling inch by inch, there was plenty of water in the well, but none I could use, and that generally life in this nice, heavily wooded part of the world could quickly become problematic if I stayed off the power grid longer than an hour or two.
The power’s gone off here enough since I moved in that I’ve realized that an outage lasting longer than I’m going to want to hand carry water from the sump is not just possible, but also likely. There are plenty enough people around with a generator to borrow short term, but the iffy projections coming out of the National Hurricane Center today were enough to convince me it was time to stop living on “borrowed” power. Judging from the number of people milling around the generator aisle at the local Lowe’s tonight I wasn’t the only one who had come to the same conclusion.
At some point I’ll slap a standby generator on this place and really do it up right, but in the meantime once I get it assembled and tested, I’ll have 5.5kW of portable power. That should be enough to keep the basement dry, have a few lights on, charge up the electronics, enjoy indoor plumbing, and maybe even run the furnace fan… not all at the same time, of course, but under dire circumstances, having some of the comforts of the 21st century is far better than having none of them.
Last night I learned that my little corner of the world is incredibly dark and quiet when the magic of electricity fails in the middle of the night. We’re talking can’t see you hand in front of your face kind of dark… and wake you up out of a dead sleep because you’re not hearing all the running HVAC equipment and other background noises that electricity brings kind of quiet.
It was downright eerie… for about 40 seconds until one by one I could hear the neighbors backup generators springing to life to power life as normal in the 21st century. The power here only stayed out for about ten minutes, but it’s safe to say I now have one more home improvement on the list – if only because I’d be hugely ill tempered to find myself the lone person in the neighborhood sitting in the dark during a longer term outage.
Now if I can just count on nature to play nicely until after next tax season, that would be fantastic because I’m fairly sure the kind of genset I want isn’t going to be one funded out of petty cash. After that, dark and quiet will be someone else’s problem. I mean, sure, you can live without the modern conveniences, but why the hell would you want to?