IF Power is Out on a Three Dog Night

The wife and I are living under the jurisdiction of a new Energy Domain: new to solar panels, new to heat pumps and new to Generac propane generators. We are not so new to power outages, and wondering about “best practices” if, say, the power is out extending into and lasting through at least one night. In winter. Which could be soon-ish.

I have learned that the whole-house generator can be switched OFF manually, so am thinking to conserve propane but keep the toilets flushing, the freezer from defrosting, cellular batteries from reaching zero, the pipes from freezing and the wife from suffering a melt down– by kicking the generator on for an hour every four.

I guess my greatest unknown is what to do about heat. We have a 31k BTU Buck gas stove in the Hanger–the timber frame room with the vaulted ceiling and gobs of cubic footage overhead that is somewhat of a challenge to heat the the most cold-natured resident’s preference. We have a small 1500W quartz space heater for heating people or a bedroom if the generator is running. And we have the heat pump. How best to use those heating assets during the theoretical (but inevitable) power outage?

An additional factor I just discovered this morning. The thermostat was on 69 but the temp at the control was 68. I wanted to boost it to 70 mostly because the Hanger stays 4-6 degrees cooler than whatever we set at the thermostat.

I didn’t think it would but it did: the electrical boost kicked in because the heat pump by itself when it is in the upper 20s outside is not capable of generating sufficient heat of two measly degrees in a reasonable time without assistance. And wow the air coming out the vents was HOT when heated with the electrical boost.

Two feet of snow: good for covering freezer food against the north wall when power was out for 36 hours.

SO: Power’s out, and I want to run the generator as little as possible. When I cut the Generac on for that hour every four, should I engage the electrical assist to put as much heat in the house as possible, while using ??? more propane-generated kilowatts than the heat pump alone? Will the Generac even operate heat pump? I guess we’ll find out.

Meanwhile, the solar panels are useless if the grid is not intact; and we did not install a battery to take juice from the grid to pull from in these circumstances.

The ice does no harm, but the array is just a big inert slab of expensive glass until the sun comes back.

So there’s my situation, and I’d be happy to know what to expect and how best to manage our utilities until AEP reconnects us in a day or two of being without electricity. I won’t even muddy the waters here with the sense of risk that intentional ill-willed power outages might happen at more than the local level and last far longer than one caused by branches on power lines. Won’t go there. No sir.

Much of our snow, briefly on the ground, blows on through, stage-left, heading south to Carolina
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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Hi, Fred … have found with our solar panels that even on just a cloudy bright day, the latest panels will provide some energy production, not as much as when the sun is out that is true, but some. A lot of people think that unless there is uninterrupted sunlight, the panels aren’t capable of producing any wattage.

  2. Fred, our Generac runs day and night in long power outages, and we’ve found that it consumes about three-quarters of a gallon of propane. With a 300-gallon tank, that keeps our power on more than a month. In the last 16 years of use, our longest power outage was 22 days. Of course, we had the unit serviced immediately after the outage, but it ran without a glitch for three weeks, and we still had more than half a tank of propane left of left.