The severe Spring snow storm that left up to 18 inches of wet snow that brought down power lines, branches and entire trees also brought awareness that some of our modern-day conveniences don’t function well without power or proper maintenance.
Some powerless homes that tried to fire up their portable generators found they don’t run well or at all without fresh oil and cleaned spark plugs. Old gas that has sat for too long in a small tank or gas can can’t always provide the spark needed to fire.
One Facebook poster complained that her Internet wasn’t working. When weather is bad, glitches do appear.
Another resident said his old-fashioned desk style phone that doesn’t need electric power or battery backup did not work. Turned out he routed his phone line through a circuit breaker that did need electricity.
A lady said her computer kept shutting down without warning even with power on. A check revealed her battery backup system had a two-year-old battery that was worn out and could no longer hold a charge.
An old friend and Master Chief often promoted “the seven P’s” to his charges: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. An old cliché puts it another way: An ounce of planning is worth a pound of cure.
The engines in generators, particularly the portable ones that sit unused for months or even years, need fresh oil, good working spark plugs and a clean fuel supply. Gas that sits in a fuel can for a long time may not work.
Our whole house, automatic Generac generator has an extended warranty/maintenance plan that covers regular oil changes, spark plug replacement and routine checkups. Each week, it automatically powers on for 12 minutes to run a self-check, keep the starter battery charged and helps keep the seals moist and not leaking.
It ran for 11 and three-quarter hours during an Appalachian Power Company outage during the severe wind storm earlier this month and 29 hours and 37 minutes in the blackout this past weekend and will need an oil and filter change, along with replacement air filters and plug cleanings later this week. The large propane tank that feeds the generator and our gas log fireplaces still has 60 percent of its fuel supply after the two long runs so far this month.
We have an old-fashioned phone on an outlet in the house where the cable does not run through any router or circuit breaker. It works if power is out and the generator is not running.
If the DSL Internet line is not working, we have two backups: One, a dedicated line by another carrier and the second Wi-Fi service that runs through our Verizon cell service. Citizens, however, never went down at our home or in my office during the last two APCO outages.
This doesn’t mean we were completely prepared for this outage and the freezing temperatures. A rewiring of our generator switch during replacement of the unit in 2015 shifted wiring allocations that left some of our baseboard electric heaters unpowered by the generator because they were in areas where primary heat came from propane gas logs in fireplaces. Those gas logs developed problems that need corrections that we plan to make during the summer. The house got colder than it should have been over the weekend and plan wiring changes to the generator switch.
When we moved from Prince Edward County in 1960 and returned to my stepfather’s family home in Willis, we left a home with central heating and two bathrooms in Farmville for an old farmhouse heated entirely by wood-fired stoves, no hot running water or indoor bathroom, one outhouse and a cold water tap that came into the kitchen. We heated water on a wood-fired stove and took turns bathing in a large cast-iron tub. My step-brother and I were charged with putting in fresh wood and firing up the stoves each morning
Our phone was a wall-mounted, old-fashioned phone with a hand crank to ring a bell to summon an operator and our phone “number” on a party line was two long and two short rings.
We weren’t alone with such limitations in Floyd County and we managed until a bathroom with hot running water was finally built in 1962 along with a fuel-oil furnace the following year, along with an electric stove for cooking.
Times change but Floyd County still has homes with outdoor “outhouses” and, if they are lucky, a pipe bringing cold water inside the home. More than a few residents access the Internet only at computer workstations at the public library in Floyd or students use it at school. They don’t have laptops or cell phones.
Modern conveniences can, and do, make our lives better but they aren’t alway as necessary as they seem and a glitch in our electrical or data infrastructures can bring many of those conveniences down.
Yes, this is Appalachia, but we had power outages in a highrise condo during our 23 years in Arlington which included the loss of any water or ability to use a bathroom. Some condos had portable outhouses stationed outside when storms brought the Washington, DC, area to a standstill and power remained out. A backup generator provided some power but not much else.
The complaints there during those times were often loud and far more profane than what we have heard here. It didn’t happen at our condo units but residents of another highrise with no power used pots to relieve themselves and then dumped them out over their balconies.
So much for living in a urban “civilized” society. We’ll take the country life.