Last night at 5:30pm, while I was wrapping up a business email, everything in the house but my laptop computer went dark. Pretty disconcerting! When Bryan got home at 6:30, he indicated that the outage was just our cul-de-sac. This is the third outage in the last month – two of which have lasted for hours and hours.
We have gas hot water, stove and a gas fireplace that does a good job of radiant heating. We lit candles, got out the propane lantern, and strategically stationed flashlights by the stairs and on nightstands.
By about 7pm, the Puget Sound Energy guys were out working on the outage. They told us the outage could be resolved quickly, if it were just a fuse, or would take hours if it were a cable. In about an hour, most of the area had their lights back on — but not the four houses at the end of the street, including ours. The line locate team came out at about 9pm and started tracing underground cable, always a bad sign.
At bedtime, I set my cell phone alarm clock, and by morning, we still had no power! Bryan checked the school district web site by BlackBerry and the schools were still closed, so I didn’t have the option to go into the Seattle office (I mostly telecommute from my home office). I called in and took the day off.
At 9am, the electrical line work crew showed up with all the gear imaginable. They had a cable truck, two cherry-pickers, a small backhoe and chainsaws. Apparently one of our neighbors had planted a big ol’ boxwood hedge in the electrical utility easement and around the transformer boxes to conceal them, and the roots had damaged the underground cables. The linemen not-so-cheerfully dismantled the hedge and dug up and replaced the affected cable section.
Meanwhile, Zach and I went out and found coffee and breakfast. I could have cooked on my gas stove, but couldn’t have made coffee, I don’t have a percolator (note to self – buy one!). Then we sat in the Starbucks parking lot and checked email and researched household generator sizing over the wireless link. Many thanks to Mary for the initial advice on how to get started!
I found an online calculator that fairly generously indicated I needed about 8000 watts of power. That seemed kind of high, and the electrical specialist at Home Depot thought so too. A manual review from a different resource put us more in the 6000 watt range.
Home Depot had a 5500 watt 10hp Briggs & Stratton generator for $699, or a 8000 watt version with electronic ignition for $1250. They run 12 hours on 5-7 gallons of gas. In addition to the generator, we would also need to have an generator transfer box installed by an electrician so that we can plug the generator into the household system – Home Depot’s box was $300 and we’re still waiting on an estimate for installation cost.
By then, we tested our home power by calling home, and it was back on. Great news! The total outage was only 18 hours.
Since our power was restored, I decided not to buy the generator today, since Bryan is flying to Alaska for a couple of days and I wasn’t sure that Zach and I could unload it from the van by ourselves. We’ll go get the 5500 watt box this weekend.
I am a little nervous about safety, given the recent news about two boys dying from carbon monoxide poisoning in Port Townsend related to generator use. Apparently they went to refuel their generator in a detached garage, decided to stay and play around, and died from the fumes. We know better than to operate one in an enclosed space, we have a covered back deck and would set the generator up under the outside edge, so it’s covered but away from any air intake vents. We can also buy a carbon monoxide monitor and install it inside the house as an added safety precaution.
It’s not like being without power for a day in the Puget Sound is life threatening for us – we don’t have medical issues or dangerously cold weather. It is annoying, though, especially from a telecommuter’s perspective, and could certainly cost us a lot of refrigerated and frozen food. I’m glad we’re going to do something about it.
Posted on Thursday, November 30th, 2006 by Jeri
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