Thursday, February 6, 2014

For The Amusement Of All You City Folk

We were lucky yesterday (I think I can say this now since the bad weather has passed): the power was only out for that one relatively brief period during the ice storm.  As I've mentioned before, having no power here is a big deal, because it means that we have no utilities at all.

I live out in the sticks: between five and ten miles from anything that could even loosely be called 'civilization,' depending on which way you're heading.  Sewer and city water lines generally stay in population centers, and most folks around here live on pretty good-sized chunks of property, so everyone who doesn't live right in a town has a well and septic tank.  A well pump, by definition, runs on electricity, so no power equals no water.  No water for cooking, flushing toilets, showers, anything.

Then there's the issue of temperature control.  There are no natural gas pipelines out this far, which means that all stoves and ovens run on electricity--there's no such thing as a gas range.  If you want gas at your house, you have to install a propane tank, and a lot of people use propane to heat their houses.  Most everyone else uses fuel oil.  Every house out this way has a big storage tank of either propane or fuel oil in the yard somewhere or in the basement, and the big fuel tankers that refill these supplies are a very common sight on the narrow, twisting roads out here.

So, to recap: when we lose power, we have no

*electricity (obviously)
*heat or air conditioning
*way to cook
*way to flush toilets
*internet or phone service (except on our cell phones)

NOT, to put it mildly, a good state of affairs.

So what do good, responsible homeowners do to prepare for the inevitable outages?  (I'm not talking preppers here, just regular folk.)

First, we keep a goodly supply of certain things on hand, always.

Batteries (AA and D, especially)
Gallon jugs and smaller bottles of water
Nonperishable foods
Firewood and firestarting logs
20-gallon plastic tubs and a pitcher for each
Empty 2-gallon soda bottles
Candles and lighters or matches
Bags of ice
Disposable plates, cups and utensils
Cleaning supplies
Basic medical supplies
Charcoal (for cooking on the grill in more temperate weather)
Baby wipes

A few other equipment-y things: these stay in the laundry room cupboard till we need them.

Headlamps for each member of the family
Flashlights, large and small
Large lights (intended for camping, I think) that are battery-operated
Solar-powered garden lights (these stay outside)

So, what do we do to get ready when we expect an extended outage is coming??  (Thankfully, this does not happen often and is mostly the result of the odd very large storm.)

First and foremost, fill tubs with water.  Bathtubs and the 20-gallon plastic tubs, mostly for flushing toilets.  (TMI?  Sorry.  This is reality.)  When a storm approaches, the texts go all around: "Have you filled your tubs yet?"

Fill the soda bottles with water and freeze them solid.  Then pack those (along with ice bags) into your freezer with anything that needs to stay frozen.

Gas up both cars.

Put batteries into flashlights, etc and put them somewhere handy for quick retrieval in case of sudden darkness.  (Note that the solar lights can be brought in from the garden to use as indoor lights at night, too: we put them in the bathrooms.)

Put towels by the fish tank.  The second the power goes out in winter, the tank needs to be wrapped up for insulation: tropical fish do not like cold water!

Do all laundry and dishes in the house: who knows when we'll be able to do them again?

Put small bottles of water in the bathrooms for tooth brushing.

Charge every electronic device in the house!!  Phones, iPads, the kids' keep people occupied, and, in the case of Himself's phone and mine, as a connection with the world outside the house when the power goes out.

You ask, very reasonably: "Given your household's dependence on electricity, why in the world don't you have a generator?"

It's a great question.  We've considered it.  The problem is that when major storms hit out here, we can be out of power for a week or more.  The power companies prioritize their resources and focus on the areas with more customers first.  Logical, no doubt, although profoundly annoying for us.  However, regular, smaller generators aren't intended to be used for that long.  They burn out, even with periodic use.  Also, they need gas to keep them going.  Not many people I know can stockpile enough gasoline to run a generator for days on end, and those who don't stockpile are assuming that the gas supply is normal and that they can get to a station (no downed trees, etc.)  The only real solution to a long outage is to have a big generator hard-wired into your house's electrical system, and a separate tank with fuel for it.  While that would be fantastic, it's also very expensive.  We've been lucky in that we are on the power circuit that is usually restored first in our area, and in that we have my in-laws' house relatively nearby to escape to in the more long-term outage situations!

Doesn't this just make you all want to move to the boonies??  Hope those of you with city water, city sewer service and power that generally stays on are appropriately grateful!  :)



  1. Good lord. I guess we're supposed to be as prepared as you've enumerated here in the event of The Big One (which is supposedly due to strike any moment!), but except for water and a big tub filled with necessities, we don't have nearly the same amount of stuff that you all do. And yes, I am totally a city girl with only a hankering to VISIT the boonies!

  2. I'm a city girl too!!! That's the really crazy part of all of this...we're learning the hard way as we go how to deal with the curveballs of rural life. All of this preparation is the direct result of doing something wrong or not having something that we needed during a previous outage! My husband has a hellish commute, but it was important to him that he come home to someplace beautiful with a little space around his house--no loud, too-close neighbors--so he was the one who picked this area. And since under normal circumstances we do actually have power and I can drive to the vast majority of what I need in fifteen minutes, I'm okay with living here. The community is worth the occasional adventure!


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