Unlike millions who recently lost power in a storm, we are not affected by power grid failure. But that doesn’t mean we don’t ever have a power crisis. Whether we are on or off the grid we all need to think about being prepared for the unexpected, and not being so dependent on electricity.
On Thanksgiving day we were thankful. The next day our thankfulness was challenged when all of our generators died.
How many generators do we have? Well, we had started with two. “Old One” (4000 watt, kinda small), purchased before Y2K, served us well after a tropical storm the following year, and again when Hurricane Charley knocked our power out for 13 days. That summer we bought “Big One” (8000 watt, twice the power) really discounted as an open box deal, to run more of our household at a time in power outages (there were more that summer).
This first year here on our new homestead we over-used these generators, but when one needed servicing we had a back-up (unless, of course, we failed to repair one!). We bought “Tiny One” (800 watt, very small and portable) at Harbor Freight for $90, handy for small odd jobs.
Several months ago our trusty “Big One” quit working. It cost more to repair than it was worth, so the repairman, who owed us money, gave us “New One” (2500 watt) to try, since “Old One” also needed repairs.
With “New One” we had to alternate charging batteries, running the well pump, and using the washer as it could not handle all at once. But we managed fine. That is, until the day after Thanksgiving.
We’d had a power crisis in October as well. Our inverter and batteries are protected from the elements under our deck, which is great as long as no one pressure washes the deck. Groan. When we finished building the deck in October we pressure washed and sprayed it with Thompson’s water sealer. We thought the inverter was protected, but didn’t realize water was running in from nearby boards. As with many projects, we stayed up late to finish it, and our brains were probably not fully functioning. When the power started blinking we realized too late what had happened. That was a $275 mistake!
Till Silver Oak could get the parts and repair the inverter (the FET board was bad…I’m sure you know what that is), we used our back-up system which is a cheap inverter and automobile battery charger. Once the main inverter was repaired Silver Oak made a shield over it with metal flashing. Now if we pressure wash (or someone trips with a bucket of water) it should be protected.
Then came the day after Thanksgiving. Silver Oak was using the skid loader we’d rented over the weekend. “New One” suddenly went wild and a connecting rod came loose (I’m sure you know what that means). We pulled out recently repaired “Old One” (but we had failed to do a test run). It fired right up and lasted…about five minutes. A terrible knocking noise proclaimed something was badly wrong with that one too.
We suddenly found ourselves with four non-working generators. “Tiny One” had problems too, but after an hour of tinkering Silver Oak got it running, taking precious time as the skid loader sat waiting. “Tiny One” is very fuel efficient, but must run nearly all day and night to charge the batteries. We became extremely conservative with power usage to avoid an outage.
“Tiny One” slowly charged the batteries, but could not run our well pump or washing machine. For a week our only source of water was from our recently installed pitcher pump in the front yard! One day I pumped about 50 minutes with Evenstar filling in periodically to fill the water tanks on the roof (200 gallons). Silver Oak set up the small utility pump we used before we had a well when we hauled all of our water home. We pumped into the tub, then the utility pump pumped it to the tanks on the roof.
What great exercise! There I was, pumping water with the pretty little old-fashioned pump into an old tub that used to be my grandpa’s, under a clear blue sky, in our front yard. What a life! But I got worn to a frazzle! I wondered how I could survive doing this every day till we had a generator that could run the pump again.
But never fear. We conserved water like never before, and it lasted three days! We turned off the little diaphragm pump that creates water pressure for the house and used gravity flow. It takes amazingly less water when not pressurized. We used the diaphragm pump for showers, then turned it off. For larger amounts of water, irrigating, and animals, we used the pitcher pump. The kiddos actually prefer it for filling watering cans to water fruit trees and plants. That’s the way it used to be done. We could do it too.
Silver Oak had to work so we limped along using “Tiny One” and the pitcher pump. Then, one week after Thanksgiving…”Tiny One” quit too. He just wasn’t made for running that much.
I pulled out the oil lamps, filled them and trimmed the wicks for lights that night to reserve battery power for the fridge only. My dad thought it sounded like “Little House on the Prairie.” I said it was more like “Little House in the Scrub Woods.”
Silver Oak’s landscaping work had to wait…he stayed home the next day to install the remaining solar panels! My dad changed his busy schedule and surprised us by coming out to help. He brought with him an even bigger surprise…another generator! He had serviced it for a friend who insisted we use it temporarily. What a blessing!! We immediately did several loads of laundry, and of course, filled the tanks on the roof again.
In two days the solar panels were completely installed, and we have been in business ever since!! The following morning it was so neat to look at the inverter screen inside our front door and see the batteries charging with no generator! They were so depleted they didn’t fully charge until the second day, but once fully charged we tried running the washer off the inverter as well, and although it takes lots of power, it works!! If we do laundry in the morning with plenty of sunshine, we’ll be fine.
It’s hard to describe how exciting it is to be virtually generator-free after depending on one for over a year! We still can’t run the big well pump on solar with our inverter (2000 watts is too small), so we run the generator just enough to fill our water tanks. That will be remedied when we install the windmill that is still waiting in its box.
Our energy crisis made things a little tough for a week, but it was a huge blessing in the end. It forced us to prepare our oil lamps and practice conserving water and power, and gave us a glimpse of life without our power system. The more familiar and prepared we are with these things, the less stress a real crisis will be. Most of all, it forced us to get the solar panels done!
How did we cope with loss of water and power sources?
- Used alternative water source (what if we had not recently installed the pitcher pump?)
- Eliminated high water pressure
- Saved used water (gray water) for flushing toilets or other jobs not requiring totally clean water
- Used portable handwashing jug if there wasn’t water from the faucet
- Turned everything off except the fridge
- Used oil lamps for light at night if needed (it was so homey)
- Thanked God for the beautiful 55-70 degree weather!
Until the windmill is up we will use a generator 20-30 minutes a day (rather than 4-8 hours). Our power bill just plummeted to under $5 per month. Aren’t you a little jealous?