Recently we had a small snow storm blow through our area. It’s pretty common in Alaska, so it wasn’t too big of a surprise. However, after 8 inches of snow and a little wind, the power went out at 3 AM. Fortunately for me, I try to be prepared, and the power was actually restored very quickly, coming back on around 8 AM. Even though I try to account for any kind of issue, I still learned a few things on this outage. More or less, this is just a self assessment of what happened in an effort to do things better next time.
First, if you are not from around here, you may wonder why it matters if the power goes out for 5 hours. The main problems are heat (since it is below freezing all winter) and water. Some smaller obstacles are cooking, cleaning, and restroom facilities. To be honest, we were asleep for the first couple of hours, so we didn’t have to do much by way of entertainment or facilitate much activity.
Well, to start things off, this part went rather well. I have a 5000 watt generator, and a master bus transfer switch for 10 circuits in the house. The generator was in the garage, nice and toasty warm, so I just had to drag it outside and pull start it, which worked flawlessly. I pulled the pin on the garage door opener so I could lift the door manually and threw the heavy 220 v cord under the door and hooked one end to the generator and one to the transfer switch. Overall this worked great, but I couldn’t power all the house and both the hot water heater at the same time, so I turned off the second hot water heater and went with everything else. This was a slight bummer, as by my calculations it should have worked. However, I set this up when I had only one hot water heater, and now I have two, and I could only power one, which was reasonable.
With power from the generator, the well pump from the ground and the pump from the 500 gallon garage tank both worked, providing plenty of water for cleaning, restrooms, and cooking. I think I can chalk this up to a win in this category.
With the generator running, the boiler and boiler pump had continuous power, and thus we had plenty of available heat. When the power went out, I waited 4 hours until the temperature in the house fell 3 degrees before firing up the generator. This was also kind to others who were still sleeping in the house and the neighborhood. But, good to know at temperatures below freezing we only lost about 1 degree of heat per hour.
Here is where I feel I could do better. We seem to have used all the batteries for the kids toys, so there was only one working flashlight in the house. I typically keep glow sticks for this purpose, but the day before we had a birthday party, and I used an entire stash of 100 glow sticks, so we had none when I needed them. Of course, with the generator on, several circuits in the house included lights, but that wasn’t a priority for me when I wired them, so only the garage, kitchen, and upstairs bathroom had light. I keep emergency candles on hand, and had about 20 of them available. However, I have little children (including a toddler), so I prefer the glow sticks or flashlights.
Mental note, save some batteries for flash lights, and get more glow sticks.
As we had the generator running, we had several outlets to cook with, although we had the refrigerator plugged in and working, we could not use the oven or stove top. Never the less, the outlets allowed us to have waffles for breakfast, as the waffle iron just plugs in to a regular outlet. We could have used the electric griddle as well, the crock pot, instant pot, or bread machine too. Although long cooking times may not be wise, as you might have a reason to turn off the generator, so I recommend shorter to cook meals.
We also have a propane burner and a propane tabletop grill, as well as the big grill (but it was buried in snow). So I think cooking went well. I will note, because of the holidays, we actually were really short on food in the house, much of our shopping had been on bigger meals, rather than bulk of items. So, mental note, get more canned goods and dry stores in the house.
When the power went out, so did our phones. The house phones, that is. We have cable phones, and the cable unit has a battery, but the phones themselves are wireless, so that was useless. I should get a corded phone just for this purpose and mount it somewhere useful in the house. During the last great power outage, the cell phone towers all ran out of backup power after a day, so the last two days cell phones were not working. As it stood, during this short outage, the cell phone towers all stayed up and running, and thus so did our personal cell phones. From a ham radio standpoint, my FT-747GX is on a battery which is charged from a wall outlet. So, once the generator was started, it remained powered as well, but even without the generator, the battery was functioning as expected. However, I think I can only transmit at full power for about 2 hours with my setup if I didn’t charge the battery. Listening time is much longer, just about all day.
This may not seem that important, but with 4 kids, a dark house with a dark cold outside gets very scary real quick in their little eyes. Granted, usually I have glow sticks, which are fun to play with as well as providing useful light, but I only had a few of them, so that didn’t help. With very little light, activities for kids like reading and board games, as well as puzzles and hands on toys such as blocks, legos, etc., were hard to use. In the end, I let them watch Thomas the train on my tablet, which kept them busy and allowed me to work on other projects, like cooking breakfast.
I think increasing the lighted spaces would allow for more activities that are less electronic, which we generally try to avoid most of the time anyways. So, mental note for me is to work on increasing the lighting to other living spaces, such as the living and dining rooms to promote more useful activity space.
Overall, it went well. Some takeaways are lighting and more stored food. I think another consideration is that the whole plan hinges on the generator working. But it is the backup, not the regular power supply, so having just one backup isn’t terribly unreasonable, as long as it is reliable. Last time the power went out at our house for an extended period due to a snow storm, it was actually out for 3 days. That is what I want to keep in mind for future reference. I think that a 3 day outage should be what we prepare for, and I think overall we would have had to go out for supplies if that had been the case here.
Linux – keep it simple.