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Power outages then and now

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Like much of America, we had a blast of winter during February.

Before the winter blast, we took advantage of freezing temperatures to move the enormous box truck up the barn driveway (there are separate driveways leading to the house and the barn). This is the separate driveway, if you recall, where we got the U-Haul stuck in the mud when we first moved in. It is still an impassible morass of mud, which is why we had to wait until the temperatures froze it solid to get the truck up there. (We’ll get some gravel on it when spring comes.) Prior to this, the box truck was in the house driveway. Now the truck is in a more convenient location to unload it when the weather cooperate.

The snow moved in. Gradually our car disappeared.

We learned there are lots of guys living in the neighborhood who use a snowfall as an excuse to bring out their heavy equipment. Since we’re temporarily without our own heavy equipment (the tractor is still at our old place), we were grateful. Don went out to thank this fellow for clearing a portion of our driveway.

We watched a neighbor’s vehicle across the way from us, which got stuck. His driveway is both steep and long, not something I’d want to tackle in adverse conditions.

Clearly he spun around quite a bit, trying to get traction, before abandoning the truck and walking home.

Later we saw him try again to drive uphill, but after sliding sideways downhill, he gave up, backed the truck to the base of his driveway, and waited for better conditions.

Unlike at our old place, we have to make adaptations for handling winter here. That’s because we learned snow usually equals power outages.

Water isn’t a problem. We have enough stored for several days of careful use.

 Lights aren’t a problem. We have plenty of lamps and kerosene.

The problem is heat. As the folks in Texas brutally learned, electric heat sources are terrible things to depend on, yet that’s all we have in our new home (pellet stove and forced-air heating), at least for the time being. Our brand-new wood cookstove still sits in the barn at our old home, and boy howdy we can’t wait to get it installed.

But after the first power outage of the winter, we had to scramble to stay warm. Fortunately Don had purchased a Mr. Heater portable Big Buddy propane heater, suitable for indoor use. He got it several months ago for emergency use in our temporary rental home. We never needed it there, but we were sure glad we had it here.

He hooked it to a propane tank. Had we required it (and we didn’t), this tank would have lasted about 20 hours at the lowest setting. We had another tank on standby.

I won’t say this little heater kept the house spectacularly warm we topped out at 60F but it was certainly better than nothing. It’s only rated to heat about 490 square feet, so it had its limitations.

We parked the bird cage right in front of the heater to keep Lihn as comfortable as possible.

In this case, the power wasn’t out for more than 12 hours, so we were fine. We even got a bit of sunshine, which was a nice change, though it didn’t do much to heat up the cold weather.

This is the challenge here in our new home: Finding reliable, low-tech, non-electric sources for the necessities of heat and water. We’ll document how we tackle these things as time goes by. Stay tuned.

Update: A reader left a comment as follows: Hi Patrice, I appreciate your blog and have been a reader for years. I live in Western Oregon and have some (not enough) preps in place. So when the recent ice storm was forecast here I was feeling a little smug and unconcerned. However I was away for about 10 days in another state helping a family member when the storm came and the power went out. My adult daughter was home. I had advised her to fill the bathtub with water and get some containers of drinking water together which she disregarded. We have a wood stove and stored food and several oil lamps so I thought we would be ok for a few days. It turned into 6 days. When we finally came home it was to a cold, damp house and no water and were still without power. My hubs and I rallied and went to a friend’s house and got about 10 gallons of water to get us through the night and fired up the wood stove and began collecting rain water in a stock tank we keep around specific to the purpose. (rain is a fair bet around here) We are able to cook on the woodstove and have a campstove that we pulled out. MY failures were many and we are beginning to think of how to address them but in the short term not having adequate lighting was tough. I have several oil lamps but they are so dim I felt nervous getting them close enough to read by worried I might accidentally knock them over. I know you’ve gone over this before but I couldn’t find the info. Would you consider summarizing your experiences with grid down lighting please and thank you? Soggy in Salem”

I don’t claim to be an expert in grid-down lighting, but for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents.

I happen to love kerosene lamps. They’re our go-to option when the lights go out. However “Soggy in Salem” is correct they’re very dim. In pre-electric days, people just accepted the fact that most lighting options were dim, and that was that. But people have gotten used to brighter illumination, which brings challenges in grid-down situations.

A brighter alternative to kerosene lamps is Aladdin lamps, which are essentially kerosene lamps with a mantle (similar to Coleman camp lantern which also use mantles). These put out a tremendous amount of light something on the order of 60 watts for each lamp. The downside is they’re on the pricey side, and mantles can be fussy. Aladdins used to be available nearly everywhere I remember buying our lamps at a local hardware store back in 1998 or so but my understanding is the only remaining distributor is Lehman’s in Ohio. They not only have a small in-store museum dedicated to Aladdins, but they have every possible permutation of the lamps, along with every possible replacement part.

Nowadays, there are all sorts of battery, solar, and LED lights available on the market. My recommendation is to contact the customer support personnel at Lehman’s, which has a massive off-grid lighting department, and discuss alternatives with them. Their sales staff is trained and knowledgeable, and I can’t imagine a better resource anywhere in the country who could offer better advice.


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