When The Lights Flickered

I spent a couple hours in the dark last Friday evening. Actually not totally in the dark, because I was prepared. That’s what I wanted to talk about today.

It was just about dusk when the lights at home flickered three times and went out. There was a few minutes of twilight left, which gave me time to gather my back-up lights and start planning – after the first second or two of profanity that is.

I reported the outage and then logged onto social media to my neighborhood page to see how widespread things were. I learned that there had been a wreck down the road which took out a transformer. Hopefully that meant that this was a short-term inconvenience rather than a days-long problem. But I was still prepared for either.

I still had my battery operated Christmas candles sitting out, which had come on automatically on a timer, so one of those is what I took to the bathroom with me and to grab my other back-ups.

I am a freak about open flames in the house and will only light a candle if it is sitting on top of my stove with no flammables nearby. That’s why the battery candles. But that also meant that I had a ready supply of light available within easy reach. These pillar “candles” run on two D-cells and are LED, so I haven’t changed the batteries since they arrived around Thanksgiving.

A “candle” is good for background light enough to maneuver around a room or to see down the stairs (or to the bathroom). But how about something more powerful?

The next thing I grabbed was the bright LED solar flashlight that I keep charging in the kitchen window. I keep it there in case I need to check out anything in the backyard. Also always charging in the window is a solar power bank for my phone and a solar inflatable lantern.

My solar back-ups

Those are in addition to the flashlights I keep by the bedside, by the microwave, the Surefire I keep in the car, the camping lanterns that are in the basement and the headlamp I keep in my hunting pack.

Since the porch light was obviously out and my daughter was not yet home, I placed the inflatable solar lantern on the porch to light her way to put the key in the lock.

I checked the charge on my phone and on the e-reader I was using when the lights first went out. Those were good for awhile, so I didn’t need my solar charger yet. I checked my large power bank that I would need to plug the fridge into if things went on too long, and that was good too.

So I relaxed a little and went back to my e-book, content in the knowledge that things were under control. The lights came back on about 3 hours later.

Bear in mind that I don’t pretend to be an expert in any of this stuff. I don’t live in a hurricane zone and have never lived through an extended power outage. But I do try to keep myself prepared – short of shelling out the cash for a whole house generator that is. Short outages like this give me an opportunity to test my plans.

For the winter I have a gas furnace, but the blower and igniter are electric, as is the thermostat. I don’t have a fireplace, but I do have a gas stove and oven which I can hand light to generate heat. I also have a small propane-powered space heater which is approved for indoor use. And I have a plan for how I would seal off unneeded parts of the house to keep the heat in the kitchen/living room area where I would sleep. It wouldn’t be balmy but it would allow me to stay in my own home and not have to bail out to elsewhere.

For the summer I have a rechargeable fan which I can plug into one of my solar power banks. Also in the summer I can cook on the propane grill or Silverfire Rocket Stove outside to keep the cooking heat out of the house.

The average full freezer should be good for 48 hours without power if unopened, but the average fridge is only good for about four hours. Thus you need to plan for ice chests or an alternate power source in the event of an extended outage – especially if anyone in your family requires refrigerated medication.

I sprang for a solar rechargeable power supply last summer which was advertised to be able to run a full-size refrigerator. I haven’t needed to try it out yet, but the reviews were good from people in hurricane country. My plan is to alternate it between the chest freezer in the basement and the fridge/freezer in the kitchen, with the solar panels placed at the south-facing kitchen slider or deck for recharging when needed. At least that’s the plan. 

Solar rechargeable power supply

Fortunately, because I was prepared and because this outage was short, it didn’t turn into a major problem. But one never knows when a storm will take out local lines or even major regional towers as happened 20-some years ago. That one left some family members without power for three weeks in January in upstate New York. 

https://archive.vpr.org/vpr-news/remembering-the-ice-storm-of-january-1998/

You just never know. So if you don’t have a plan for an extended power outage, you should probably make one. Mother Nature (and random drivers) are not always predictable.