Country Living Series

Monday, May 3, 2010

No power? No problem!

Well, sure enough we lost power in today's windstorm. No surprise there.

The surprise was that the electricity was on for as long as it was, because let me tell you the wind was screaming. I had a day filled with little emergencies - re-staking our young fruit trees (HOW could I have forgotten them during yesterday's preparation?), re-securing the huge double doors on my husband's shop that tore loose from two secure moorings, that kind of thing. I thought the door to Matilda's milking parlor, which I normally prop open with a cinder block so animals can have access to it during the day, was going to rip off its hinges, so I closed it and opened the inside gate to the rest of the barn, giving more room to the other livestock.

And then around 2 pm, the power went off. No problem. The woodstove was warm and toasty and I brought our baby chicks downstairs to stay warm near it. (Oh. Didn't I mention we have some baby chicks? Sorry - photos posted below.) We had just topped off our propane tanks a couple weeks ago, so we could cook and heat water. I had lots of fresh water stored on hand to wash dishes and make tea and flush the toilet. The kerosene lamps were ready to go.

But our neighbors arrived home to a cold house. Worse, they had no way to heat the house, no way to light it, no way to cook any food. We ended up having them over for dinner and pleasant conversation until the power came back on at 7 pm.

And this short interruption in our every day electrical service underscored the importance of preparedness. Of course we can't plan for every contingency, but we sure as heck should be able to plan for short interruptions in our daily comforts without going cold and hungry. Another, more prepared neighbor has what she calls the Rule of Threes - two backups for every critical item of day-to-day comfort. (They didn't even know the power was off because they're off-grid.)

It's not a bad idea. For example, when the power went out, our cordless phone died. I plugged in our second backup - a corded phone, which worked perfectly. I also had a cell phone, our third backup. See? Rule of three.

Once we have our wood cookstove hooked up, we'll have a backup for our propane stove and our woodstove. Rule of three. We're still very, very vulnerable in many areas, but we're trying.

Here are our baby chicks. The yellow ones are meat birds (Cornish crosses) which will be ready to butcher in two months. The rest are layers.

Lydia didn't know what to make of these things.

When the power went out, we brought the chicks downstairs and put their box next to the woodstove to keep warm, with a firescreen around it to keep the dogs out.

This didn't prevent our dog Major from puzzing about the peeping noise coming from the box.

The wind kicked up a lot of blowing dust, which gave the landscape a weird silvery glow.

Lydia lies out in the wind, enjoy a little late afternoon sunshine.


  1. Just a quick note to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog. My rule of three, three times a day - check aol mail, check gmail, check Patrice's blog!

    Thanks for taking the time to share your life with the world.

  2. Aw, thanks Anonymous! I'm glad to have you as a reader.

    - Patrice

  3. Hi Patrice,

    As you know, we live in the mountains of Central California, and we suffer from frequent power outages due to storms.

    We've been working at becoming somewhat self-sufficient since moving up here. One thing I flat-out got tired of was keeping 5-gallon buckets filled with water for flushing the toilet, etc. So, I installed a 2,500-gallon water storage tank on a hill above our house. Now, when power goes out I simply throw a valve and we get about 15 pounds of water pressure in the house.

    You don't have a hill close to your property, but a simple wooden tower should do it for you. It doesn't have to be real tall to get at least a trickle into the house. And some folks around us hook up a solar-powered water pump to their tank. Heck, anything is better than hauling water in buckets to the toilet!

    My latest project was finally getting around to making a whole-house hookup for our generator. During prolonged power outages we would run extension cords from our 5kw generator to our two fridges and a couple of lights.

    But, that's awkward and unsafe. Basically, economics was the reason why I had hesitated to hook up a transfer switch. The dang things are expensive! Then I ran across instructions for installing a generator interlock cutoff plate right on the face of our main power panel. The "storebought" models were somewhat expensive too, but I designed my own and cut up a piece of sheet metal to make one. Works like a champ. I now can have our whole property powered by the 5kw genset. I cut out unnecessary outbuildings and the well pump in order to allocate more juice to the house and my detached office, and the generator handles the rest of it just fine.

    Just lookup "generator interlock kit" and get an idea of what one should look like for your model of main panel.


  4. Is that... GREEN... GRASS I see in your pictures!!?? Wow!

    With all that wind, maybe you should look at personal wind turbines.

  5. Oh, and our Keeshond, Bo, loved it when we would have a box full of chicks. He got very protective and would sit next to it and whine, and if anyone wanted to touch the chicks they had to go through him.