(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
The house is located in a rural locale with only two other homes on the road (friends of theirs). They have a well and septic system. And they even have a decent amount of food stored such as canned goods that I could access in an emergency(and pay them back for later).
I was pretty pleased to realize this. I actually felt the best here (and safest) that I have felt during my entire time traveling. I figured that in an emergency I’d be okay here for a while. It’s even located within a day’s walk of my son’s apartment.
Gotta be careful what you wish for I guess but a big storm hit with lots of rain and wind and we lost power. Okay. So far so good. I have a few LED flashlights with me, both of which recharge using a built-in solar panel (one has a crank as well). I had already looked to find their candles(a few small ones plus tea candles; all stinky scented ones alas). I also had unscented tea candles with me.
To my surprise, shortly after we lost power, we also lost the cell signal; evidently there’s a very limited amount of batter storage at the cell tower and it goes down quickly if there’s a power outage. I didn’t know this!
I happened (fortunately) to be talking to the homeowners on the phone when the power went out (early morning). I discovered that the water pump needed to be switched over manually to the PV system (didn’t know that; thought it always ran on PV). I didn’t know where the switch was so luckily was able to find that out and switch to PV from grid power. So now I realize I need to know things like this; I had assumed the water pump was already running on PV and it wasn’t. In a prolonged power failure the water supply would have run out as I didn’t know where the changeover switch was located and it wasn’t marked. And also, obviously, several members of a home need to know these things as well so they can handle emergencies as they arise. Other than no internet(and shortly after no cell either) the house continued to operate as it had. Plenty of wood, gas fridge and stove, etc. On a sunny day the house has lots of solar gain and heats up well. Kudos to them!
Long Term Outage Concerns
What concerns arose during this extended outage (more than one day)? I was unused to long duration power outages as I had lived with an off-grid system for 17 years on my farm. When the power went out in my area, sometimes for several days, I was usually unaware unless a neighbor came by to get water or something. Generally everyone there had wood heat, a way to cook etc. So I was kinda excited by this power outage as it was happening in the house I had deemed best prepared to weather one out of all I’d stayed in for 2 ½ years. Plus it would give me a good chance to consider additional preps and what I should have when traveling like this. A recent post here by a guy in the UK discussed his testing of preps by faking a power outage; now I had a real one to experiment with!
In terms of heat, water, cooking, food, and so forth, all was well here. The biggest gaps were in lighting and communication. Candles are sufficient to see enough to do basic tasks with but not to read by. I owned an Aladdin lantern on my farm which would burn bright enough to read with but no longer have one (plus I’m not willing to travel with lamp oil anymore due to experiencing a bad oil spill in my previous car due to an aged oil bottle cracking open). I didn’t want to use up the battery in my flashlights or headlamp to read by and my Kindle is the old type which doesn’t have a lit screen. This bummed me out as it meant once it got dark I couldn’t just sit around and read. I went to bed really early as there was literally nothing to do and being alone with the cats I couldn’t even have a good conversation with anyone!
So kudos to them (and me) for having some candles) and for my flashlights but it also pointed out the need to have a brighter LED light to read by. And re: candles, I’m very safety conscious, especially when staying in a home with cats that climb onto the furniture or counters(and that would also apply to houses with kids). I found a glass jar in the recycle bin, removed the label and used that for the candle. The tea candles went on a plate. With no internet and no cell, this would be an especially bad time to have a fire and need to call for help as there’d be no way to have done so. All candles were extinguished before I went to bed.
Keeping in Contact
Communications were another item that was a failure. With no landline, no internet and no cell signal I was effectively cut off from anyone I couldn’t walk or drive to. I drove to the small city where my son lives and was able to finally pick up a cell signal near there; used it to catch up on news, email, texts and to let people know I was going to be out of touch. In a more widespread power outage though I’d have been unable to do this. If the roads had been impassable due to ice, flooding etc. which happens here I’d have been stuck at the house and unable to get out. And if cell towers further away were also affected I wouldn’t have been able to get a signal even a 45 minute drive from here.
I’m still unsure of what the answer to this is. Had the owners had a landline (they have DSL internet) that plugged into the old-style phone jacks, I suspect they’d have had a way to make and receive calls but I’m not sure. I think so as people were borrowing the landline phone at the General Store to make calls so they obviously had phone service although cell was out. I’m unsure of what the answer to this is; if anyone has suggestions I’d be happy to hear them.
I’m thinking that as I’m likely to only have DSL Internet at best in whatever home I find to buy, I should put in a corded landline phone too, if I can. If that were also to go down I’m not sure what the answer is. Or alternatively, if I had a small inverter and battery power I could continue to run my WiFi and have internet even during a power outage(maybe). If I upgrade my cell phone to one that can make calls via WiFi, I’d be able to make and receive calls. And again, this would require the people I’d be calling to also have landline phones(or be outside of the area of outages). We were fortunate that some cell towers continued to have power even though many were(are still) out. The homeowners here could run their WiFi off of an inverter which they already own and the battery bank; not sure why they don’t do this.
In terms of being able to keep a cell phone charged up (or Kindle, etc) I own and had with me a small Weego battery charger as well as a fold-up camping style PV panel electronics charger. For whatever reason the Weego ceased to work even though it appeared to be fully charged; no idea what’s wrong with it but it wouldn’t charge my phone. I didn’t end up using my PV panel charger as I went out for a drive to get a cell signal and charged the phone that way. If the outage had continued longer with cell being up I would have used the PV charger(which hopefully still works). I’m not sure what the problem with the Weego is. I guess the lesson here is to regularly test out one’s equipment and make sure they’re fully operational!
The only other issues of concern related to their chest freezer. As it is connected to the grid, all power to it went off. I kept the lid shut and didn’t run the wood stove downstairs where it is located so it would stay as cool as possible without being so cold as to freeze pipes, etc. I asked the owners if they had a generator; they do but it hasn’t been run in at least a year, had only part of a container of gas for it and although electric start, that wasn’t gonna happen as it hasn’t been run for so long. So points for having a generator but without sufficient fuel and with it not being tested and run regularly, it was probably useless. They decided to hope that the power came back on and the fully loaded freezer stayed cold. I think if the outage had continued I’d have asked their friends to help me push it outside where it is quite cold and this would have helped keep stuff frozen even longer. Or I would have tried to get the generator to operate.
I pretty much never allow my car’s gas tank to fall below ½ a tank so that wasn’t any problem even if the gas stations has been out of power; may well have been but I don’t know.
Cell service came back the following morning but has since failed again and is still out more than two days later. Power returned sometime later the next morning (out over 24 hours) and so far is still on.
Some Lessons Learned
What have I learned from this? I’m thankful to be housesitting at a home that does have some level of preparedness. I shudder to consider what it would be like at many (most) of the homes I’ve stayed at. This really impressed upon me the need to educate others as to the need to prepare for any emergency that might happen. I’m grateful for those who try to do this and I plan on joining this effort. I’ve also learned where my own weaknesses are given that I’m staying in homes that aren’t mine. Some of these homes belong to friends(and some to strangers) so it’s been interesting overall.
The next day I borrowed an LED lantern with a small solar panel built in from the off-grid neighbors to try out; I love it! The light has several settings and I can definitely read by it. I’m going to order 2 of them (Luci inflatable lantern by Empowered); they will also be great to take camping, collapse easily, are very light and take up minimal space (around $15 each on eBay).
I also noticed at night during the power outage that the only lights to be seen anywhere were those of the neighbors who are off-grid. Their house was sort of a beacon even though I only saw lights on in perhaps 2 rooms. In this case it wasn’t a terribly prolonged power outage for most but if it were and things got bad, it really points to the truism of needing to use blackout curtains while using lights at night; it was evident to anyone that they either had an off-grid system or a generator. I never considered this at all on my farm as everyone there knew I was off-grid and my PV and wind setup was very visible from the road. Although there were some longer duration power failures (up to 4 days) nothing got bad enough that anyone was out there looking to scavenge stuff or appropriate anyone’s things. Now I will consider this for my next home though.
As for me I’m going to unearth some of the items from my shed I really should have with me when I travel and put them in my small travel backpack. I’m ordering those Luci lights today. And as I’m likely to be pet/housesitting for at least the rest of the winter into spring, I have learned more about what I need to do to assess the places I’ll be staying at. I can’t really easily do that before I arrive but at least after I’m there I’ll have a better idea of what to look for and where the weaknesses are.