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Lessons Learned from Freezing Cold and Power Outages


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So, as of yesterday, we were below freezing for the longest time since they started recording.

 

  1. Power grid is definitely not reliable.  Just because it's on now doesn't mean it will be on later.  Ditto for internet and water.
  2. Yes, there are places you can go to warm up, but the operative word is GO - if you can't drive in it, you're not going anywhere.
  3. A single 20-lb propane tank and 2.5 gallons of gas in the generator (it holds 5) come pretty close to heating the camper overnight in sub-zero temperatures.  1 night, we still had propane in the morning, the next night, it ran out before we got up.
  4. Whoever is filling the generator and swapping the tanks is going to have stinky gloves and hands.  Have a container ready for the gloves.  Need to figure out how to get the smell off hands.
  5. You can't do laundry in the washer and dryer if you don't have power and water.  Toilets aren't going to flush either, unless you add a LOT of water.
  6. If you're on a well, you'll be lucky if it thaws out and works fine.  If it doesn't work at first once the power is back on, let the heat tape run for a few hours and try again.
  7. Just go ahead and start keeping a few sets of clothing in the camper.
  8. Replace the camper before it finishes falling apart (this is bad - it's not very old at all, and the main door is splitting so we all had to use the bedroom door).
  9. Store more old towels in the camper if the weather is wet; more if it's snowy.  You'll need them to mop up the floor and keep the shoes on.
  10. Hot coffee draws people in more than a warm place does.
  11. Some people are introverted enough that they will stay in a sub-freezing house rather than stay with anybody else.  Figure out a better way to heat the in-laws' house if something similar happens again.  (They used our 2 propane heaters that we normally use on the front porch; not too worried about CO poisoning in their house as it's a 30-year-old mobile home that's so drafty, it's ridiculous).
  12. Plan ahead.  Fill ALL the propane tanks ahead of time next time.  The big propane place in town had a line of 70-80 cars.  Most smaller stations didn't have power, and if they did, they were out of propane.
  13. Some things can't be found for money, but they can be found for love (or at least like - was given access to 2 more full propane tanks if needed).
  14. We should make (and have printed out somewhere) checklists for when the power goes out.  Things to do immediately, after a few hours, if it comes back on for a bit, etc.

 

Will add to this as I think of more.

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The CG,  An EXCELLENT list.  Learning from experience always seems to give more insight than just being told something.  Keep adding. This list can help us all to rethink our preps.  

 

Stay warm! :hug3:

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Buy generator since Brother in law having one we can use (as DH says) doesn't help if we can't get to it.  

Already ordered large propane outdoor burner stove for canning or cooking.  Will get 7 gallon propane tank next week.

Buy small cookstove and propane cannisters for just heating and cooking.

Keep adding to stocks.

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This vid gives a pretty good explanation of how the grid works, and what will happen when it doesn't work!

He also have many thoughts on how to be prepared for WHEN the grid fails (not if).

 

 

 

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Something some people don't think about is that solar panels have to be continually maintained. Snow, ice and debris has to be removed in order for them to work. So, putting them on your roof may not be the best place for them. Not so easy to shovel off snow on a solar panel, in the middle of winter, when it's sitting up on a roof. Even on a one story house. One snow fall can last month's in the northern climates. It snows, the temperature drops and the snow doesn't melt right away. Add a couple more snowfalls and it might be spring before those panels see the light of day. They also need dusted in the summer. Especially if you are in farming country. Lots of field dust out there. Autumn Leaves isn't just a song. 

 

I've often wondered about water barrels too. The water inside of them will freeze in the winter. Should you empty them just when you might need the water the most? And if you don't, will the water freeze, expand and burst your barrels? Maybe empty half of the water? I don't know. I only know that the barrels are pretty expensive. And the nerve of some states not allowing the collection of rain water. God giveth and the government taketh away. Not to mention HOA neighborhoods. 

 

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2 hours ago, Jeepers said:

Something some people don't think about is that solar panels have to be continually maintained.

I wonder if this information is fully disclosed to people BEFORE they invest the money for a solar system in their homes???

 

Here in Cali, there are CONSTANT commercials for people to go solar - promoting the idea that you can not only save on your PG&E bill, but possibly save money by "selling" your excess energy back to the power company. The ads even say that you can go solar for "no cost" because the gov't will subsidize your purchase.

 

I also wonder how many of them know that a solar system will not help them once the sun goes down UNLESS they have also purchased a battery storage system for the energy produced during daylight hours? Another thing, if you "go solar" do you have to change all of your electrical devices/appliances over to DC power cords?

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I doubt that they mention upkeep. Just put them up on the roof and you can still have plenty of room in your backyard for family Bar-B-Q's, the kids swing set and a pool. No fuss no muss up there out of the way. And Fido won't pee on them up on the roof. 

 

Better make that a bank of deep cell batteries too. One or two batteries aren't going to give you much power. Especially if they go dead from an obstructed panel or no sunshine for a few days. Here in the Midwest it gets dark at 5:30 - 6:00 PM in the winter. 

 

I'm not sure about AC/DC   :band:

I think you need a converter to go from DC to AC.

 

Sounds like I'm not a fan of solar energy. But I am. I'd love to have a solar set up. Especially for charging up gadgets like computer, Kindle, phones etc. I know just enough to know to have the panels accessible. 

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My mom had solar when she lived in Vegas.  You don't have to go DC, the converter works for the whole house and you install it when you install the panels as part of it.  You are still attached to the grid if you sell it back and you can use grid power by either flipping a switch or having grid power auto turn on when solar goes off.  She made money off her panels, but she lived in the sunniest, driest place imaginable.  She does not have them now that she is back in MS because they are not cost effective there due to climate.

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Solar electric has come a long way in the last few years.  To be effective in winter or cloudy climates, like Jeepers said, it does need to have battery back up to be useful in off sun hours.  The newer system, such as whole roof ones are capable of producing electricity even through snow, dirt, and etc.   Commercial systems, like Euphraysne says, usually work with an inverter to convert the DC current to AC current.  It is hooked directly into the house electrical system.  It must be sized correctly for the amount of electricity you use.  It is true that extra electricity it generates can be sold back to the electric company BUT that would also mean that safeguards would have to be installed to make sure that IF there was a power outage the electricity you are producing with your system would not feed back to the main lines and harm the workers who are trying to restore the power.  It is usually in the form of an automatic switch. Commercial whole house systems will have that built in.  Many small towns have turned to big fields of solar panels to provide the local area with electricity. 

 

Solar generators and whole house systems are expensive up front but can save money in the long term, like years.  According to studies it and wind take an incredible amount of energy, as in fossil fuel (and it's emissions), to manufacture the components but as more solar and wind are used to run the factories the cheaper it is becoming.  Electricity in Northern Illinois comprises of about 3% wind and very little solar as of yet.  It relies mostly on Nuclear, Gas, and coal.  

 

We have many wind 'farms' in the Midwest, some are huge and cover miles of land.  Many people have small home wind generators as well. The same application that applies to solar applies to wind as far as usage, storage, selling back to the power companies, and safety.  I've talked to people who live near the wind generators or have personal ones and they all say two negative issues can be the noise they make even if precautions are taken and the shadows they throw as the blades circle.  

 

 DH and I used to attend the alternative energy fairs around the country until the pandemic brought a halt to them and over the years have learned much and have watched the alternative energy usage grow and change.  Our small solar system is by no means meant to be an off grid system. It, in fact, is not even connected to the house electricity. It is meant to be an emergency system in case of power outages to give us mostly light and fans. (We have wood stoves for heat.) Ours is a DC current (12 volt) only system.  We do have a couple of small inverters so we can use it with small electrical appliances, like our hydro and aquaponic systems. (though we are in the process of deciding which 12 volt pumps we want to get for them) It has it's own separate wiring that we installed concurrently when we installed our regular AC wiring.   It is similar to RV systems complete with a main fuse box for different circuits.  It also has a charge controller to help regulate the battery charges. Ours is set up so that we can charge the batteries with a gas or LP generator if there is a lack of sun for an extended time.  The wall plates (outlets) are RV ones and accept cigarette lighter type plugs.  We have bought many appliances over the years to use with this system.  We find them readily at truck stops and RV supply stores. We have numerous fans, lights, along with coffee makers, crock pots, frying pans, toaster ovens, and so much more. It is true though that the appliances that heat take a lot more electricity than a light or fan and inverters to use with 110 appliances take extra electricity just to run those appliances.    There are now 12 volt bulbs that screw into regulation lamp sockets and we've been able to convert several lamps to use.  We also have outlets that work with switches to turn room lights off and on.  What we don't have is large enough solar collectors or sufficient battery back up to run refrigerators, (though we do have a small 12-volt refrigerator) freezers, or other large appliances nor do we have 210 power to our well pump, water heater, or dryer.  We are working on deciding what we want for those.  We do have a gas electric refrigerator, a 12 volt water system, and a good LP generator in the old motor home and have been contemplating bringing those into the house and using them here as the vehicle is no longer usable.  

 

As I said, ours is mainly for emergencies though we use many of the lights and some of the fans on a daily basis.  It contains only two smaller (three panel) 45 watt solar collectors that at the present time charge two 12 volt deep cycle batteries but the system is set up to add more.  The panels are sitting (in frames tilted towards the sun) on the ground to the south of the house where they get abundant sunshine but they do need to have the snow taken of of them periodically.  DH does that easily enough (usually) by covering them with a tarp that he tosses over them before a storm and throws back after.  IF they were on the roof that would be more difficult but if I go by the way our greenhouse roof readily thaws I believe the snow would rapidly melt from them.  We started using this system many years ago and have added to it over the years. Our cost was considerably less than a whole house system would be.  We wouldn't have all the conveniences of a 110 power grid connection but I believe if we had a way to pump water we'd be at least comfortable if we were to lose power permanently.

 

Always though we keep in mind that all electrical systems could be affected by an EMP, this one included, so we make sure we have manual ways and means to do most things if needed.  

 

 

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:soapbox:

 

The two most politically correct and "free" sources of energy the environmentalists and politicians push for, failed Texans. Namely solar and wind. Coal, natural gas, oil etc. still produced. It just had no place to go. Imagine what would happen if we all had to drive electric cars during a grid down situation. Bad enough the roads were iced over halting transportation. People are more concerned with how to feed their family and to keep from freezing to death than having the added burden over how to charge up a car with no electricity. People are told to boil their unsafe drinking water. How with no electricity for your electric stove and no water on the store shelves to buy. I think we are still closer to the Flintstones than to the Jetsons.  Pffft. I'm just frustrated and venting. 

 

I'm sad for our brothers and sisters across the South who have been put in this survival situation through no fault of their own. I've seen where many grocery store shelves are empty yet again. Food and water are at a premium, if you can find it. It's happening in the north too because delivery trucks can't get through. 

 

Why aren't we set up to do more railway shipping. Especially in emergency situations. At least we crazy prepper types know to have backups for our backups. 

 

You think the rest of the world isn't watching us, charting our weaknesses and licking their chops! 

 

Unintended consequences? Maybe. Maybe not. 

 

I only know one thing for sure. The struggle is real folks. The struggle is real. 

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Part of it was because some of the NG wells were freezing, and when they started the rolling blackouts, they cut power to some of the compressor stations.  A nuclear plant shut down because a steam valve froze shut.  Winter is when they do repairs and maintenance down here because that's normally when demand is lowest, so some plants were already offline because of there.

 

Yes, renewable energy not working was part of it, but all the rest played roles as well.  

 

Practically nothing down here is effectively winterized, including power plants, residences, people, and water systems.  Unless you hunt or camp, most people don't have anything other than electric heaters available. Half the population wears hoodies in the winter and don't even own proper coats or warm boots, much less the multiple layers people up north have available.  Our homes are made to get rid of heat - foundations aren't insulated, ceilings are higher, big windows that don't face south.  Apartments in cities like Austin often have outside steps.  When I lived there, I took one look at those during an ice storm, said words not acceptable in polite company, closed the door, and went back to reading books instead of going to work.  Our well has heat tape, old sleeping bags as insulation, and a plastic shed around it.  We were extremely lucky that it didn't bust any pipes.  Others weren't so lucky.  Today it's supposed to be up in the 70s again already.  I'm in a sleeveless shirt with a light jacket and flip-flops.

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The CG.  I have family in Texas and they have said the same thing about no one there being prepared for winter conditions.  With all the fuel around them they had a false sense of security. The cascade effect of the cold weather on their warm weather lifestyle was something they never thought to see.  It was the same here in the Midwest when the derecho hit last year.  Even though Midwesterners are fairly used to power outages few people were prepared for the devastation that storm left in it's tracks nor the length of time it took for power to be restored in some places.  

 

The question is what, if anything, has anyone learned from it?  

 

Jeepers, I understand how you feel.   I love the modern convenience of flipping a switch and having heat or lights or running water yet fear the necessary interdependence that makes it possible to have those conveniences.   I am concerned by how easily the entire modern infrastructure system that sustains us could fail and throw us into that Flintstone world.  The more dependent on our modern conveniences the more vulnerable we are to it failing be that because of Mother Nature, because of an enemy, or just because of man's own greed. 

 

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On 2/23/2021 at 9:15 AM, Mother said:

The question is what, if anything, has anyone learned from it?  

 

I read one article that said the Texas grid was 2 hours from complete collapse.  THAT would have really been a mess.  Hopefully, people learned that variable rates for electricity might not be to their benefit...

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On 2/21/2021 at 2:13 PM, Jeepers said:

water barrels

 

Yes, we reluctantly have to empty all three of ours...but...hubby collected some water heaters from people who were replacing theirs.  They are safely in our homestead's basement and guess what...they store water! LOL We also have several other water containers down there.  We would have to strain all of it, boil it and run it through our Berkey's before we could drink it but it is there.

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On 2/21/2021 at 2:13 PM, Jeepers said:

solar panels

 

We bought a couple of used ones several years ago and have them stored at the homestead.  Evently hubby will build a "wagon" for them, along with a couple of batteries etc., that he can move around to take in the sun.  We'd only use them for charging our phones or other emergency frequencies. We have no intention of building any solar banks.

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Keep more fuses for the breaker box.  This place is old school and when our shower hot water froze up and the tub drain was froze up (nothing busted PTL) we had to put a ceramic heater in the shower access panel and an oil heater in the laundry room which backs up to the shower wall.  Finally got everything thawed, but couldn't run anything that drew much "heat" power or it would trip or burn the fuse.  So I used my french press for coffee and used only my stove top to cook on...no gadgets that required electric.  Hubby did have to leave here and go to the homestead to pick up our Remington propane "stove" (18,000 btu) and three more 20# propane tank (one 20# is on the back of the Remington) from the homestead, and on low it supplemented our furnace because the furnace just couldn't keep up.  We did crack the kitchen window where we had the stove and had the carbon monoxide sensor on the wood work in front of the heat stove.  

Realizing that sometimes furnaces just can't keep up with the cold was a lesson learned as well.

We'll be on the look out for another Remington for sure as well as a couple more ceramic heaters.  We had several because we use them in the RV's instead of the furnaces, but having more makes sense...if...you have electricity.

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I love your water barrel set up Mr.We2 made for you guys outside! Something like that is what I'm shooting for too. Hopefully I can find some used barrels in Indy. Those things are so expensive new. 

 

An old water heater is a great idea assuming it doesn't leak. Straining, boiling and purifying the water wouldn't bother me in the least.That much stored water would be a huge plus. In a SHTF situation most water would be treated that way unless it was bottled ahead of time.

 

They say that fresh caught rain and snow isn't even safe anymore because of pollutants in the air. So it needs to be boiled or purified. That includes just setting an empty cup outside gathering rain.  

 

Berkey's are so expensive but the Lifestraws are still pretty cheap. A good prep item to have for each family member.

 

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On 2/24/2021 at 11:27 AM, TheCG said:

Hopefully, people learned that variable rates for electricity might not be to their benefit...

 

 

This is an excellent article about how this happened.

Quote

In sum, the sky-high electric bills in Texas are partly due to a deregulated electricity system that allowed volatile wholesale costs to be passed directly to some consumers. If prices in the Texas retail market had remained regulated, utilities and their regulators would likely have figured out some way to spread those high electric costs out over time instead of hitting customers all at once. But the state public utility commission also contributed by setting the ERCOT price at $9,000 per megawatt-hour and keeping it there for a week, ensuring that bills for some Texans would skyrocket.

 

https://theconversation.com/whats-behind-15-000-electricity-bills-in-texas-155822

 

Quote

Gov. Greg Abbott said he and other state leaders are working fast to find solutions for homeowners and renters facing steep electricity bills after a winter storm left many Texans without power for days.

https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/21/texas-electric-bill-greg-abbott/

 

 

I'll admit, when I just saw the headline, I thought this guy was the biggest jerk on the planet!

Quote

'People need to read the fine print': Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says Texans with giant electricity bills 'gambled' and lost

"But the people who are getting those big bills are people who gambled on a very, very low rate, and it would go up with the power," Patrick added.

 

"But I've told those folks, do not panic. We are going to figure that out," he continued. "But going forward, people need to read the fine print in those kinds of bills and we may even end that type of variable plan because people were surprised."

 

As president of the Senate in Texas, Patrick went on to say that he would do everything in his power to fix the problem.

 

"We're gonna get to the bottom of this and find out what the hell happened, and we're gonna fix it once and for all," he added.

https://www.theblaze.com/news/dan-patrick-texans-power-bills

 

 

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