“We’ve got no power, Captain”
I can hear the Scottish lilt of Start Trek’s Scotty ringing in my ears. He could have been talking to me a couple weeks ago. Due to bad weather, bad tree trimming and a general lack of preventative maintenance at the County level – people in my area went without electrical power for several days. During this time the temperatures got down into the teens some nights and rarely rose above freezing during the day. At my house we lost power on a Tuesday morning and it did not come back on until Friday night. All in all, my family weathered the storm in a fine manner.
I thought I might describe our experiences to you, share some things we learned, and discuss some ideas we came up with based on the event.
Thanks to modern weather science (and the fact that we were paying attention) we suspected that this might happen and we readied a bunch of firewood for our wood stove. The stove is a small one with just an 18” firebox that a friend traded me for a box of .45 Long Colt shells (yeah, he gave it to me). It does a pretty good job of heating the house. Our firewood is in an untidy pile at the end of our driveway, uncovered and exposed to the elements. My wife spent a few days in advance of the storm splitting logs with a maul, wedges and sledge hammer. We have his and hers sledge hammers – mine is an eight pounder and hers weighs six. She considers this task her Crossfit workout for the day. She brought some wood into the house and covered more with tarps. It alternately snowed and iced over the next few days and it was good the wood was covered.
My wife and I were out when the power dumped and the kids called us to tell us the news and inform us they were firing up the wood stove. All of our house phones but one are cordless and require electricity to run. We have one old fashioned dial phone that we kept for just such emergencies – this is the one they used. We live so far out in the boonies that we don’t get cell phone service at home – but we all have cell phones to use when running around and that is what we answered when the kids called.
We have some bricks sitting around the house (we used them to raise a bed up a few inches one time) and we set those on top of the wood stove for more of a heat sink mass. The wood stove, like most others, is lined with fire bricks but the ones we set on top got hot and remained so for most of the night when we let the fire die down. We could have used them to warm the beds had that been necessary.
Going to bed early saved firewood as we didn’t need to heat the house as much. We have lots of quilts for the beds and we have sleeping bags as well – but we didn’t need them. The coldest it got in our house was 48 degrees one morning. A quick fire in the stove fixed that. The house was warm enough but not as warm as normal – we all wore long underwear and did just fine.
We returned home to find the kids had made soup and were attempting to grill cheese sandwiches on the wood stove. It wasn’t working real well. So I went out to the garage and got the Coleman gas stove. I like it – it is a two burner deal that takes “White Gas” or unleaded fuel and is uncomplicated. This is what we used to cook on for the next few days. We just set it on top of the electric range. I didn’t worry about carbon monoxide build up as we have several dogs that constantly go in and out – open and closing doors, fresh (cold) air in, stale air out.
We have a lot of windows and during the day light was not a problem. I have a bunch of oil lamps and a good bit of lamp oil and extra wicks. The problem is I could only find one lamp. We also have one battery powered fluorescent lamp that throws a lot of light. Additionally everyone has a flashlight next to their bed and we have a couple LED headlamps. These are the bomb – the put light right where you need it, allow free use of hands and are great for reading books. We also have a lot of candles that we set out – being very careful about fire. The fact was though, that when it got dark – it was DARK. We went to bed early most nights. My “neighbor” down the way has a generator. I think I may get one. If I do, you’ll read about it.
Getting around the area required 4WD – we were glad we had it. We were also glad we had some spare money to go out and eat a couple nights. It was a welcome respite to drive to an area that had electricity and sit down to a meal in a warmer, well-lit area. I have two friends with Pioneer Maid wood burning kitchen stoves. One of them is also on solar power – he doesn’t even notice when “the power goes out.” Something to think about.
We have a propane hot water heater and being able to take warm baths was really nice. I have friends with electric hot water heaters that were not so fortunate. We didn’t know it at the time but we have since told them if they need to, they can come to our house next time to bathe their kids and what not. We did contact two families that had no woodstoves and invite them over to “camp in our living room” but they soldiered on.
Some areas that need work or things we are considering include:
Our wood stove is on the small side and not suitable for cooking.
I need to build a wood shed that keeps the firewood organized and out of the weather.
We should gather our wood and split it early (like in the summer)
A gas range would be nice – so would a generator.
We will find or buy more oil lamps and replace the oil we used (not too much). I will buy a couple more of those battery powered fluorescent lanterns also.
I may buy a couple 20 pound propane bottles and a “tree” with some heater and lamp attachments.
If you have any comments I’d love to hear them.
If they really interest me, I may even post them.
You can reach me at email@example.com
Prepared Americans for a Strong America