Friday, March 14, 2014

So, the prepping thing is all fun and games

Right up until you actually have to use it all.

Last Friday, the weatherdroids got it wrong.  "Light glaze of freezing rain", they said.  "Little accumulation", they said.  They were off by about 1/2".  And 1/2 inch of ice is more than enough to bring down limbs and trees, like the 85' long pine that landed on our house--but I'm getting ahead of the story.  What I really want to do is discuss how the preps worked out for us.

My employer had declared a 1 hour starting delay the evening before, mostly so we could all see just how bad things would be before hitting the road for work.  I had decided to take advantage of that and had set my alarm for an extra hour of sleep.  I got 45 minutes of it, being awakened early by the resounding "pow" of an overloaded tree limb giving way under a load of ice.  Looking out the window in the early light, I could already see around 1/4" or so of little accumulation on the trees.  I checked the rest of the family's "go to work" status.  Those with jobs had already been notified to stay at home.  I rechecked mine and found no change.  Lovely.  Time to hit the shower.

While in the shower, we had the sort of power disturbance that makes an IT person wince--the rapid off-on-off-on that causes havoc with electronics, even those on surge protectors.  (The only thing that helps with that sort of thing is a good uninterruptable power supply.)  A few seconds later, my wife pops into the bathroom,  "Did you see that?"  I told her I had, and to unplug all the major electronics in the house and to have Daughter start cooking up a hot breakfast whether anyone wanted it or not.

By the time I had showered, the ice was up to around 3/8".  I called in to work, and was told they only had a cold rain.  (Work being considerably south and west of my location.)  I told them my situation and that I wasn't going to try it.  I could see ice building on the road in front of our house by then, and while snow doesn't bother me, I don't venture out in ice if I have a choice.  Add to that a fairly steady rain of branches, many larger than my arm, falling all around us, and discretion seemed the better part of valor.

So I ate my breakfast and got ready to work from home for the day.  However, that wasn't going to happen, because at 9:30 the power failed.  This time there was no flippy-flippy, it was just gone.  After waiting 45 minutes, just to see if a miracle happened and the power came back on, Son and I got the small generator (a Honda EU2000i, for the record) and the extension cords out.

Pro Tip #1:  Have a generator and plenty of extension cords.  Also have plenty of gas, oil and the gear to change oil if necessary.  When the power goes out, this is the only way most of us can make electricity.  Solar is wonderful, but 99.999% of us don't have it.


One thing I have noticed about the current generation refrigerators and freezers--while they are very energy efficient--don't seem to hold their cold as well as the older ones.  I wanted these things on power now, because I really didn't expect the power to be back on any time soon.  I also wanted the blower for the wood stove back on, because without it, the only room in the house that would be warm was the den.

Because we exercise the generator regularly, it was fueled and started easily.

Pro Tip #2:  Exercise your generator every month.  Don't just run the engine, run  it with at least a 75% load.  This forces moisture out of the generator coils and ensures the generator actually generates.


We ran our extension cords to the refrigerator, freezer and stove blower.  One thing we noticed is that, because the newer generation of appliances has become so efficient, smaller generators are now much more able to take the household load than they were just a few years ago.  2000 watts could run the blower and handle the start-up surge of both refrigerator and freezer, even if they started at the same time.  I hadn't expected that.  We even had enough left over to run the flat screen TV, the sound bar and a laptop so that we could play movies.  Talk about surviving in style!

One thing we discovered is that you want to take an extra few minutes and run the extension cords neatly, around the perimeter of the rooms you must go through--not haphazardly through the middle of the floor.  If the power is out any length of time at all, you get tired of stepping over them, and the last thing you'd need in a true survival situation is for someone to fall and sprain or break something.

Pro Tip #3:  Run extension cords neatly, because you don't know how long you'll be living with them.


So around 11:30, we are sitting around, reading and what-noting, and there is a tremendous crash that shakes the entire house.  I knew what it had to be--we'd taken a tree on the house.  Mrs Freeholder was squalling (sorry, that's the correct word, unless you prefer caterwauling, which would be equally correct), and both kids were darting at random.  I pretty much had to bellow for quiet and calm, and got people checking various rooms, looking for tree bits through the ceiling.  Blessedly finding none, we started looking out windows until we found the tree.

We'd taken a large pine pine, around 20" at the butt, running from the rear corner of the house and running the length of the house.  I could tell that much from inside because I could see one end connected to the ground and bits of the tree in the driveway at the other end of the house.  But other than that, we had a mystery on our hands.  Mysteries of this sort I don't like.

Son and I suited up to go outside.  It was still on and off freezing rain, with about 1/2" accumulated by this time.  Limbs were still coming down, but we had to know the situation fully.  Out we went, trying to stay out from under trees.  We determined that the tree was at least 85' long, and that the reason it wasn't in the house with us was that the brick chimney stack had taken the brunt of the impact.  Fortunately the tree did not hit the flue in use by the wood stove--it hit the one next to it.  We took some pictures of the damage (torn down gutters, damaged boxing, soffit and fascia along with roof and rafter damage) and came inside.

Venturing into the attic, we checked for damage and found cracked rafters and a couple of holes in the roof.  Because of the freezing rain, they weren't leaking.  We found some large containers a put them under the holes, just in case.  We took more pictures.

Then we called the insurance agent and got his instructions.  We'd already covered most of them.  (Hey, I view insurance as a prep.  Sue me.)

Major Observation #1:  Having a large tree on you house really harshes your mellow.  Having the stuff around to deal with it, even on a temporary basis, goes a long way toward restoring it.


By now, the novelty of the situation began to wear thin with Mrs. Freeholder.  It got thinner in mid-afternoon with her consideration of how she was going to feed us supper in a house with an electric cook stove and no mains power.  I was an evil person and just stood back.  I knew there was a two-burner and single burner propane stove withing easy reach, along with a Coleman gas stove, a charcoal grill and the wood stove.  I just wanted to see how long it would take someone who did not think as a prepper to figure it out.

Her solution was hot dogs.  We had the dogs and chili, frozen.  She had bought buns, anticipating a weekend cookout.  It would just be moved up.  How to defrost the dogs and chili quickly?  "Can you run the microwave off the generator?"  Actually we can, if we disconnect the two big appliances.  I did, she defrosted the dogs and chili, heated the chili, and used an electric skillet to cook the dogs.  Not prepper style, but it worked and everyone was fed.

The night was relatively uneventful.  We watched movies until an early bedtime.  I fueled the generator as full as I could, and we went to bed.  Mrs. Freeholder decided that she was going to sleep in the warmest room with the wood stove.

At 5:30, she woke me up to tell me the generator had stopped.  No big deal, it was still there.  (I had chained it down on the deck.)  It was just out of gas.  I refilled it and restarted it and grabbed a bit more sleep.

Pro Tip #4:  Chain your generator down.  People steal things, and in an emergency, generators are gold.  They will get stolen.


Major Observation #2:  I need to invest in the extended run kit for my generator.  The manual says "up to 9 hours", reality says around 6.


The next morning, power was still out.  No one wanted to take a shower, even though we had water pressure (county water) and hot water (propane water heater).  The house had cooled to 67, and the rooms away from the wood stove were several degrees cooler.  Interestingly enough, no one wanted to cook a hot breakfast.  For various medicinal reasons, I tend to skip it, and everyone else opted for Pop Tarts or cereal.  You're cold and you eat cold food--go figure.

Major Observation #3:  Without the HVAC system's fan and the ceiling fans, it's hard to move the hot air from where it's created to where it's needed.


However, fortune smiled on those of us at the Frozen Freehold, and a neighbor in the local VFD texted us to let us know he was guiding a power company crew to the scene of our interruption.  Within an hour, mains power was restored.  The outside temperature that day was around 60, the ice melted quickly and we got started on the cleanup.

As I write this, a week later, a contractor has removed the tree (it's in the side yard, waiting to be cut and eventually fed to the wood stove) and we're working with the insurance adjuster and the contractor to get all the damage repaired.  Around half of the limbs in the yard have been cleaned up, one brush pile has been burned and another is being built.

Not the end of the world, but in it's own small way, it was an informative exercise for us.  We have a lot to think about before the next exercise.  I've already taken some small steps toward addressing items I've noted (more surge protectors) and am investigating others (more UPSes).  We're considering the removal of more trees near the house, as our neighbor's tree removal campaign has left them less supported than they once were.  We'll get an arborist on on that discussion.  That's the thing about prepping--there's always more to learn and more to do.

(Note:  As I read and reread, consider and reconsider this, I am making major and minor edits, both for content and grammar.  I'm not going to keep a running list of them; that list could be as long as the post itself.)

1 comment:

wheelgun said...

"The house had cooled to 67"

My thermostat is set at 63 degrees all winter. It only gets warmer if I am feeding the wood stove.