One is none. Two is one.
The grid went down in my neighborhood just before 2am on Monday the 15th. Of course I called the Electric Company to report the outage. Message confirmed they were aware of our outage. Next, I went around the house shutting down the battery backups to our various electronics. We wouldn’t be able to sleep with all the beeping. Plugged my CPAP into one of my power 12v power supplies, and went back to sleep. Staying warm is easy here on the Texas Gulf Coast, if you’re prepared, and your house runs on natural gas. At 6:30 am when I contacted my company to let a supervisor I wouldn’t be able to log in to work, the thermostat showed it was 55° in the house. In the winter, we keep it at 68° at night. Not bad at all. After calling into work, I did the sensible thing, and went back to bed. At 8:00am I got up, fed the dogs, put their jackets on them, and let them out in the backyard. Big Sister, half Rottie/Aussie loves the snow. Little squirt, the dachshund, not so much. At least it was easy to go scoop up after them with the snow on the ground.
After my first cup of coffee, I rolled the generator out of the garage (even my garage door opener has a battery backup), and around to its interface box at the breaker panel in the back yard. Opened the fuel shut off valve, pulled it to start....nothing, but it was just the first pull on a cold engine. On the second pull, it tried to fire up.....but no....CLANG...engine locked up....tried pulling on the starter again, no movement. CRAP!!!
When I went into the garage to get it, it was only 42° in the garage, so it’s not like it was frozen. And I ran it just a few weeks ago. I have run it for about half an hour every three months or so. I’ve done that since I bought it back in 2008.
“One is none” just got proven..... But still not worried, just inconvenienced. I knew we’d be able to stay warm. Contingency plans already running thru my. I knew I’d have to fill jugs and bath tubs with water soon. To avoid burst pipes, I'd have to shut the water off at the meter, open all the faucets, let the water drain. Then see if my “inflator” would be good enough to blow more of the water out of the pipes. Probably have to only open one faucet at a time. But that was for later.
So I went inside, and started cooking breakfast. By the time the bacon was done, it was 57° in the house. After breakfast was ready, it was 60°. But still power, and still not worried, just pissed about the genset.
After breakfast, we didn’t do much. Just used our phones and tablets to check the news, check in on family, looking at social media. Monitoring the pots on the stove, I put a couple big 3 gallon pots on the gas stove. Filled with water, and the burners on high.....added humidity to the dry air, and kept the temperature in the house tolerable.
Good thing I already knew I’d need to store extra water. I already have about 75 2-liter bottles of potable water, plus several cases of bottled water. But, I needed more for being able to flush my toilets.
I have several 5 gallon water cooler jugs. But, I store them empty. I have no space/place to store them long term when they’re full, since they’d weigh 40 lbs. each. So, I store them empty, and fill them before hurricanes and such. Six fit in a bathtub. I put the stopper on the drain, fill the jugs, and let them overflow and fill the tub. Why like that? I have a very small house, and no place to put eight 5 gallon water jugs where we won’t trip over them. And if the stopper for the tub leaks, and lets the drain, I’ll still have the water in the jugs. At around 3pm, still Monday, water pressure dropped dramatically. So I got off my butt, and started filling those jugs, and the tubs.
Neighbors need help.
In the middle of doing that, I got a call from close neighbors, I’ll call them M&P, that the neighbors next door to them, J&C, were unprepared. TOTALLY unprepared. M&P said they only had a single flashlight and a couple spare batteries, ZERO water, no wood for their fireplace, and not enough blankets to keep them warm (more like good quality blanket). M&P gave J&C a bunch of spare blankets so J&C could at least keep warm. They also gave them a lantern, a flashlight, and spare batteries. Then showed the how to shovel the little bit of snow in their back yard into their 3 gallon pot, melt it, the put it in a couple 5 gallon paint buckets so they could at least flush their toilets. I gave M&P eight 2-liter bottles of drinking water to give to L&C, as well as a couple more 5 gallon buckets for non-potable water.
Need to check the genset finally.
After all that, I got to looking at the genset. Remember I mentioned it went CLANG and the engine seizing up when I tried to start it? Well, I found the cause, a damned ¼” hitch pin from somewhere in the garage, somehow got positioned so it could fall into the shroud, stick between cooling fins, and get wedged.
I have no freaking idea how. It had to get under a flat 7 gallon fuel tank, then fall just right to make it thru a hole it barely fit thru. HOW? All I had to do was grab it, and pull it out with my fingers, no prying at all.
I slowly rotated the engine several times to make sure. Then it started on the next pull. I let it warm up, and then switched the panel to the genset.
At 6pm on Monday, we were the only house on the street with power, and therefore central heat. Little did we know at that time, all the headaches and trouble we were saved by having that genset up and running.
We normally keep the thermostat on 72° in the winter. But my concern over the dropping temperatures drove us to set it to 76°. The point was to heat up the structure of the house. Should we feel guilty for being too hot that night, while our neighbors were struggling to stay warm? Well, we didn’t.
Peaceful morning, but not the evening.
Tuesday morning, got up, made coffee and breakfast, but damn I’d forgotten how annoying hearing that genset was. But, we were warm.
By 11am, still no grid power, internet, TV, and the water was barely a trickle. Cell service was spotty, basically only texts going thru, Occasionally the signal strength would bump up, and we could hit the internet for a bit.
We decided on just running the genset every few hours to warm up the house to conserve fuel. As I only had about 25 gallons before I’d have to transfer fuel from vehicles. I wanted to be able to run the genset all night when we went to bed. And I had no idea when I’d be able to go a gas station.
The day was bright and sunny, but still only 27° outside. But you know what? I was still happy, had a full belly, could flush our toilets, wife was inside keeping warm, and keeping in touch with friends and family. And it was soooo quiet when the genset was off, and the rest of the city was shutdown.
So I did what any Dumbass Texas Redneck would do. I sat on my patio swing, and drank a beer enjoying the site of snow on the ground in Houston, and the silence of the city shutdown. Picture that in your head; bright and sunny day, a 6’6” Texan in house shoes, workout shorts and t-shirt, sitting on a porch swing, drinking a beer in 27° temps, taking in the sight of Houston covered in snow.
After I finished my beer, I said a silent prayer. I asked God to help all those that were suffering while we were doing well. I thanked him for all he’s done for us. Last, I asked him to forgive me for all my sins.
The rest of Tuesday was uneventful. Until about 9pm. That was when we got water pressure back. As glad as I was, my neighbors were not. When I texted M&P to let them know we had water again, she said she knew because they had a burst pipe. I ran down there with my T-handle for shutting off the water at the meter. But they already had it shutoff. Then we saw another neighbor go out to his meter to shut off his water. The three of us checked with the other neighbors. Eight in total had burst pipes. After that, I topped off the genset, fired it up, and went to bed. The grid comes up.
Of course, since I have Old White Man Syndrome, I had to get up at 5am Wednesday morning, and go pee. On the way back from the bathroom, I checked out the window thru the closed blinds. Eureka!!! The street lights were on. The neighborhood had power. Shut the genset down, and switched back to the mains. Fell asleep quickly, knowing the grid was back up and I didn’t have to listen to the genset.
Wednesday morning. My neighbors now have power and heat, but no water...except one who has a garden faucet before the shut off valve, so he can just run his garden hose in thru his garage....
There are 9 houses on my side of the short street that I live on. Mine was the only one to not have a burst pipe.
Of my eight neighbors on my side of the street, only two had any water in their tubs to use for flushing their toilets. Only two.
So, I ran my hose out to the sidewalk, along with several 5 gallon buckets. Two of the neighbors brought over their 4 wheel garden carts. 3 carts in total. My neighbors spent the morning filling the buckets, wheeling them to one house, and filling the tubs with water. Then repeat for the next house. They made a lot of trips. I told the two neighbors to either side of me to couple their garden hoses to mine, and run them to their tubs, rather than using buckets. It took them quite a while to get everyone filled up.
I have good neighbors. But damn, only two were decently prepared. Some had ZERO preparations. Not even bottles of water for drinking, or enough blankets to keep warm (or not good ones, not sure).
The two that were prepared, can’t be blamed for their pipes bursting. And they were the only two I didn’t have to help getting their water shut off the night before. They were the ones who called me to see if I needed help. It was the three of us who helped the other families.
My neighbors may not be preppers, but they're good people. Wednesday evening, we offered our neighbors to come over and get a nice hot shower.
Starting Thursday morning, they started coming over to take a shower. It had to be one at a time since we still didn’t have full pressure yet. That took most of the day.
Went into that bathroom to take a shower that evening, on the counter there were 8 Thank You Notes, attached to 8 $20 bills. It's just water. And our water is cheap, less than $3 per 1,000 gallons.
Damn. My neighbors are good people. Even the one who was pissy earlier. We got a big hug from her, an apology, and she wants to learn what she should do before there's next time. Several of them want to talk.
What happened, and what was learned?
Why was mine the only house to not burst a pipe? Three things I believe....
One, and most important, once I got the generator running, we had power. And therefore, we had heat...
Two, and second most important, at the riser outside where my water comes in, I wrapped and siliconed a pair of 200 watt silicone heating pads (meant for an engine oil pan) around a 4” dia section of water pipe I spliced into the riser, then insulated the whole riser, valves, faucet, etc. When we’re going to get a hard freeze, I plug the heaters into and extension cord. Then we run a trickle of water from the faucet in the tub on the other side house. No frozen pipes...
Three, and least important, because my gas clothes dryer vents thru the roof, I was able to “open” the duct inside the attic. I made that modification right after we moved in 15 years ago. Simply so I could clean the lint build up out of it. So I was running the clothes dryer empty, on high temp, for 30 minutes every few hours. Just to get the attic temp above freezing for a short time. Probably a waste of time & energy, but I’m OK with that.
Why did their water pipes burst when none the houses on the other side of the street did?
Probably, because our backyards face south, and backup to a “drainage gully” that feeds down to a bayou. Just over 50 yards from our back fence, to the back fence of the houses on the other side. It is about a 1/2 mile straight before it has a curve. Therefore, I chalk it up to wind chill, and the homes not having central heat when the power went out for over 50 hours. The temps in our area got down as low as 10°-12° for a short period. Add in wind chill with no heat, you get frozen pipes. I feel bad that I didn’t tell them my own contingency plan of cutting off the water at the meter, and draining all the water from our pipes. If I had done that the night we lost power, none of them would have had any pipes burst.
Now for my personal prepper failures.
I never built a “cover” to protect my genset during a rain.
I refuse to put it next to the house under the eve. It’s too far from the electric panel to put it on the covered patio.
So Tuesday afternoon, my brother-in-law worked with me to cobble together a shelter for the genset. Pallets, saw horses, and a tarp. It was ugly, but it got the job done. I’m annoyed I kept putting off making a shelter for it. I already have all the pvc pipe and fittings I need to make one that can be easily disassembled.
And I didn’t talk to my neighbors BEFORE the storm. I could have saved them a whole shit ton of stress and heartache if I had just talked to them about how to avoid having burst pipes. I could have helped them drain their pipes after we lost power. You may ask what if they burst anyway because maybe all the water couldn’t drain out? When you turn the water back on, you leave all the inside faucets open to purge any air. Then you shut off the water at the meter again. Then go shutoff all the faucets inside. When you turn the water on at the meter again, you watch to see if it’s “running”. If it does, you have a leak. Probably at a burst pipe.
I could have saved them so much trouble if I’d just talked to them before the storm.
What I learned for the future.
I did learn two things during the 16 hours we were without power. 52 hours for my neighbors.
I need to replace the weather stripping and thresholds for our exterior doors. I don't normally pay attention to them, so I didn't realize how much air flow they were allowing past.
Our single pane windows SUCK. I know the physics is backwards, but you could put your hand 6 inches away from the window pane, and feel the cold radiating from them. I know, the physics is backwards, it’s just a description of the sensation.
This spring, I'll take care of the weather stripping and thresholds. That’s a simple job.
Not sure yet on what it'll take to have the windows replaced. Especially since we'll want to keep the burglar bars that we have. And no idea what it will cost.
There you have it. How a prepared Dumbass Texas Redneck fared during the Valentine’s Day Snowpocalypse of 2021.