Surviving the Ice Storm

We never lost power during the 2021 Austin Ice Storm. Much of Texas did, and temperatures were below freezing for most of the week and roads were impassable, even if there would have been someplace to go (ok, perhaps a friend’s place who had power). All we did in 2021 was hunker down and eat through the food in the fridge. It wasn’t completely stress free, as we expected the power to go out at any moment.

This time we weren’t so lucky. We weren’t off as long as some folks, but pretty much three days was by far the longest we have ever gone without power. Turns out we got used to it quickly. Here’s why.

Hot water: we have propane heat. Somehow our hot water heater works without electricity. I was as surprised as anyone. Sitting in the silence I heard a rumbling sound from the garage. Sounded like the water heater. I went an looked and it seemed to be on. Even had a little blue LED lit up. Not sure exactly how (maybe a thermocouple) but having hot baths and showers was nice, especially before bed.

Blankets: i suppose many people sleep in rooms colder than what we experienced. It was maybe in the mid-50s. It wasn’t so bad. Extra blankets. I’m even slept with a wool cap one night.

Batteries: we had some charger banks that kept the phone charged at first. Also a shortwave radio. Nothing really to listen to but the local classical music station was nice.

Gas Stove: propane actually. A bit out of favor now, but we could cook. I also occasionally boiled a big pot of water to make tea and just to add some warmth to the room.

Tesla: ok, the Tesla was our “escape pod”. If it got too cold we could go in the garage and warm up without risking carbon monoxide poisoning. And we could charge our phones and other devices. And we could even watch Netflix after the most recent update.

Camping Light: bought this for just such an occasion. On low it lasted all night in our bathroom. And useful for walking around or eating dinner. An old fashioned candle worked well, too. Wish I had bought two. Have lots of flashlights but this was more useful.

What could have been better:

More Batteries: I had bought some batteries and a 1500W inverter for these occasions. Since we plan to move soon I sold my batteries (just two 22 AH 12V GELs). The idea was I could power a few lights and perhaps the heater.

A solar panel: if I had batteries a solar panel or two to charge up for extended outages would be good.

Of course the best thing (if there has to be an outage) would be a nice solar / battery backup for the whole house. I plan to do this in our next house, for lots of reasons. It’s not perfect and I wonder if there might be some intermediate solutions. With LED lighting, there really isn’t any need for 110V or big 15A circuits for lights. Maybe house lighting should be a separate 12V or 24V system. This would make battery backup a no-brainer, and when power went out you would still have lights. Perhaps select technology like internet, which shouldn’t need 110V and 15A either could be on this circuit. Would save a lot of expense on that pricey copper wire, and would be safer, too.

Of course another plan is to use that big battery in my car and use it to power the house in outages. Of course this means if someone drives someplace (to, say, pick up dinner) the house goes dark. Not ideal, but not too bad (and better than the alternative — which is “nothing”).

All of this electricity talk is fine, but today my problem is massive numbers of downed tree limbs. We are on a wooded acre. Hard to guess but I would say maybe 2000 lbs of wood for me to haul and cut in the next few days. Maybe halfway done. Feeling it already.