Grit Blogs > Tackling the Country Life

No Power, No Problem

By Steve Daut


Tags: weather, country life, electricity,

Living in the country carries with it at least the illusion of independence that extends to self-sufficiency when it comes to the basic necessities. In reality, most of us have become pretty dependent on the infrastructure that supports our lifestyle. Except for rare occasions, electricity courses through our wiring, gas flows into the furnace when it calls for heat, and water flows from the faucets when we turn the spigot. It’s only when we lose some of those things temporarily the we come to appreciate what we have in this country, but also to realize the things we have lost when we begin to take our lifestyle for granted.

Recently, when violent windstorms tore through the Midwest, we were one of the thousands of households that lost power. This being our first winter in the country home, we quickly discovered some differences from city living. Sure, we had thought about it before hand, but sometimes it takes the actual event to find out what you haven’t done to be prepared.

Water was the first issue. When the power went out, there was enough pressure to get a couple of pitchers of drinking water, and it turns out that Sue had thrown a couple of gallons of water into the freezer for just such an occasion. Apparently, a full freezer is more efficient, and the ice will help keep the food frozen longer. I wonder if they knew that back when they used to have ice chests to preserve food? And I always thought the pond was just an attractive amenity with fish, but that pond water sure came in handy for the occasional flush.

Heat, or course, was only critical for comfort, since we were only out of power for a day. If it had been longer, the threat of freezing pipes would have to be considered as well. This is where my lifelong desire for a wood burner finally came into perspective. By feeding the wood burner all day, we were able to keep the house at a very comfortable 65 degrees all day long. When we moved into the house we had swapped a gas stove for the existing electric one because of the better heat control, and when the power went out we found that the new-fangled energy efficient thing had and electric sparker instead of a pilot light. To cook we had to reach back into our ancient tribal knowledge to realize that we could actually light the stove with a match.

It wasn’t until later that the issue of light started to become important. I had in mind to use an old Colman lantern that throws a lot of light. OK, I know you’re not supposed to use it indoors because it gets very hot and it also throws off carbon monoxide, but I always assume that the really bad stuff can’t happen to me. Sue would have none of that kind of thinking, so we went out and bought a new Coleman that runs on batteries. As it turns out, with the new compact fluorescent bulbs, these lanterns are pretty darned efficient and are perfect for occasions of power loss.

We were just settling down to an evening of backgammon, reading, and basking in the warm glow of the fire when we began to realize that we were actually enjoying the feeling. It was calming and a little reassuring that we could spend some time cut off from the “outside” and just enjoy our own company for awhile.  Then all of these domestic noises started back up again. Although we both were a little disappointed that the power was back on, we couldn’t help ourselves. The lights went back on, we dropped a DVD in the player, and the backgammon game went back under the table for another time.

tosha
1/8/2009 3:15:27 PM

We also had a similar experience last year. When a massive tornado ripped through our town in Lafayette, TN, we were left without power. As it is with most late winter storms, a warm front caused the tornaddo and was immediately followed by a terrible cold snap. Just a year before, we moved out of a totally electric dependent home to a 100 year old homestead. One of the first things we did to this house was remove the gas heat and install a woodstove. What a life saver! We had heat,a place to cook, and a place to heat water. Fortunately our water was from the city and runs without electricity. But if we needed it, we also have an old spring well. We were able to offer our neighbors an old root cellar for protection and a warm haven with warm food after the storm. There is something to be said for living a little more simply. My advise would be this: if you are totally dependent on electricity, consider installing a woodstove--it will not only be a blessing to your wallet, but possibly at some point a blessing to your neighbors as well.


tosha
1/8/2009 3:06:38 PM

We also had a similar experience last year. When a massive tornado ripped through our town in Lafayette, TN, we were left without power. As it is with most late winter storms, a warm front caused the tornaddo and was immediately followed by a terrible cold snap. Just a year before, we moved out of a totally electric dependent home to a 100 year old homestead. One of the first things we did to this house was remove the gas heat and install a woodstove. What a life saver! We had heat,a place to cook, and a place to heat water. Fortunately our water was from the city and runs without electricity. But if we needed it, we also have an old spring well. We were able to offer our neighbors an old root cellar for protection and a warm haven with warm food after the storm. There is something to be said for living a little more simply. My advise would be this: if you are totally dependent on electricity, consider installing a woodstove--it will not only be a blessing to your wallet, but possibly at some point a blessing to your neighbors as well.


cindy murphy
1/8/2009 7:37:47 AM

Nice post, Steve - it's so true that we don't realize how good we have it, until we don't have whatever it was we had. We had a similar experience a while ago. Not a winter storm, but a summer storm took out our power. We talked about getting a generator when we first moved here. We'd been advised it'd be a good idea; it seems incessant lake winds take down power-lines with the frequency my teenage daughter talks on the phone. But years passed, we grew comfortable in the belief that "bad things" could never happen to us. The electricity goes out; the electric company fixes it before we hardly notice the inconvience of being without. At first it was kinda neat eating by candlelight like in our days before kids, (well sort of like those days anyway); we had a battery-powered lantern to provide enough light to read and play games in the evenings. The girls thought it seemed like camping. But the power outage from that summer storm lasted four days; the adventure soon became a big hassle. Thank goodness it wasn't winter - I can't imagine being without heat for that long. Thank goodness after two days, and it became apparent we'd be without electricity for at least a couple more days, friends living north offered us their home. Keith bought a generator soon after, (when Tractor Supply restocked their sold-out supply). We haven't needed it since; it sits pretty in the garage unused, but I see the gleam in Keith's eye everytime the wind howls.