Tuesday, January 5, 2010

No juice

Yesterday we had a power failure. I was working on the computer and the desk light went off. The indicator light on the UPS was red instead of green, indicating that the computer was now operating on battery alone. I finished what I was doing and shut the computer down.

It was a cold morning. Just a few degrees above zero, with about a five knot wind out of the north east. There was hoar-frost on the trees and on the prairie grass but I doubted that ice and wind had shut me down. It was too relatively calm out there.

I keep an old fashioned, line-powered phone handy for occasions like this. But when I reached the emergency number for my REA power company I got the "heavy call volume" recording instead of the friendly voice that is the norm. Figuring the outage was wide-spread and well-known I gave up on that and turned to more immediate matters.

My house is very well insulated and even at zero holds its heat very well. A friend has joked that you could heat my place with a candle but that overstates the case by a good deal. I can, however, heat it with the fireplace. There was a fire ready to go and awaiting nought but a match, but I decided to wait a while before lighting it.

The generator is always ready in the shop building behind the house. The drill is… throw the main breaker in the house; throw the cut-off switch at the pole isolating my circuits from the line; start the generator and let it warm up; plug the genny into the main box in the shop and throw the genny breaker. Let there be light! And heat. And a whole bunch of other things.

It's usually quite a while before I go through the generator ritual. Most power failures here are quickly corrected and I never take those great line crews with their big four-wheel-drive repair trucks for granted. If it's been off for three or four hours I may fire up the genny and get a big dollop of heat into the house, do what I need to do with power to the house or shop, and then shut it down for a while. My generator burns about a gallon per hour, so I don't run it non-stop when there is a long outage. It can also be powered by propane but I haven't been sufficiently inspired to make the connection yet.

Sure enough, the power bounced back on after less than three hours. Despite the cold outside the house temp had only fallen to 66°.

But so ingrained is our reliance on The Mighty Spark that while it was off I found myself automatically reaching for the light switch in the pantry and being momentarily surprised when the light in the refrigerator didn't come on when I opened the door.

But then it did come on. And the light switches worked. And the furnace hummed back to life. And all was right with the world once more.


K-Tek Wheat Grinder said...

It is truly incredible how dependent we become... electricity is 100% the norm, and for most of us it has been for our whole lives. Every now and then we have "power out fun" night with the kids and pull out the hurricane lamps and sit with blankets. When the power does go out, it's not scary; it's fun!

mIsho said...

I recall the outage of 2003 here in Cleveland. Every room I entered I flipped the switch. I did this for 24 plus hours! Each time I would laugh at myself, then proceed to repeat the action.

Anonymous said...

Electricity is so important to a normal life style that having to get along without it for any length of time is tough. We had the remnants of a hurricane come through here some years back and flatten trees across the roads and power lines. I was without power for 7 days, I think it was, and even though I had a generator it was really not very pleasant. You can't run things like a freezer, washing machine, and other conveniences off a 5KW generator. That's why I have stayed on grid. When it works, it's great. When it doesn't, I'm no worse off than if I didn't have grid power in the first place.
I'm glad your power wasn't out long. In your current environment, even with your excellent backup system, that would not have been fun. I envision you frozen to a tree, your laptop clutched in your blue hands, with a rawhide note pinned to your chest..." I, Rio Arriba, being of sound mind and broke power, do leave my lap top to him what finds it..."

Rio Arriba said...

KTWG, that's fun thing for kids. Good exercise, too. I used to like it when the power went out. Of course, I didn't have an X-Box in those days. Still don't!

Misho, I laugh at myself, too. Every time I went into the pantry I flipped the switch and the had a chuckle.

Hermit, thank you for a great morning laugh! Since I'm a Mac guy, some PC-er might finally have a decent computer. Har!

Bob@thenest said...

I'm feeling slightly better now, thank you. I moved my two mechanic's roll-around tool chests a couple of weeks ago. Though they have rollers they haven't moved since January of 2000.

I've caught myself forgetting the move several times, but the worst was when, standing directly in front of and FACING the chest containing the tool I needed, I turned 180 degrees and took a step toward the chests' old location. Seeing the empty space in front of me was an "aw, crap" moment.

It's nice to have company.