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#227968 - 07/17/11 04:16 PM Six Days Without Power
KenK Offline
"Be Prepared"

Registered: 06/26/04
Posts: 2027
Loc: NE Wisconsin
A nasty storm came through the Chicago area on Monday morning and just under 900,000 people lost power. The power returned slowly over several days, but unfortunately I live in a small neighborhood. Two of the houses got power back in three days, but seven of the houses - myself included - didn't get power back until the sixth day.

We learned a lot.

We have well water, and that was by far the biggest issue in three ways:

1. Toilets
2. Cleanup - showers
3. Horses - we have three, and they drink 15-20 gallons/day

We have an above ground pool, and this was a Godsend. We hauled 5 gallon buckets of water from the pool to flush toilets, but because we also have a sewer lift pump we had to be careful and watch the level in the lift tank. After six days the level rose, but not to the point of concern.

We also used the pool for cleanup. We spent a lot of effort skimming debris out of the pool each time to try to keep it as clean as possible. Swimming was sufficient to clean our bodies, but we found we needed to shampoo hair along side the pool - it worked. By day six the pool was getting cloudy, but clean (kept the chlorine tablet dispenser floating). Not sure if we could have gone much longer than six or seven days there.

Water for the horses was a huge issue. They drink a LOT of water. We had two 100 gallon troughs and two 50 gallon metal troughs. Luckily our township offered to truck water in for the horses. Our second option would have been to call the local fire department. People have a soft spot for horses.

Drinking water wasn't an issue - we just bought bottled water.

We ate out more than we normally would, but it was kind of fun. Our family did spend more time together. We tended to gather in the family room with the light of my son's Coleman LED lantern.

Eventually we would have had to take a trip to do laundry.

Most people around here joked that it was basically like camping.

The refrigerator and freezer contents were doomed after day two. We honestly didn't have a ton of food we were worried about and saw it as a good excuse to throw out old frozen food, though we bought milk on Sunday and had to throw much of that out. We used this as an opportunity to give both a nice thorough cleaning (using pool water).

The other thing that was an issue was that even though we opened up windows by night and closed up by day to try to keep the house cool, the house tended to hold heat in the upper floors. If we had a generator it would have been nice to be able to power a whole-house fan to suck out the hot air.

Things we didn't miss: lights (electric lanterns and headlamps did fine), TV (obvious), land-line telephone, recreational internet (we had it on my phone and at work). BTW, the internet WAS important to be able to view status and to contact local government folks to make sure we didn't get forgotten.

Mid-way I bought a generator (they were hard to find), but the thing we really wanted to power was the water pump, and to do that would have needed to do some hard wiring. In the end I only used it to pump out the septic tank. I am currently doing the planning to install a transfer switch so I can power water and other selected items using the generator.

By the way, we have a seasonal camp site in northern Wisconsin - about 5 hours drive, and might have just headed up there, but without running water for the horses that simply wasn't an option - we couldn't have asked a horse-sitter to deal with that.

#227970 - 07/17/11 05:11 PM Re: Six Days Without Power [Re: KenK]
Teslinhiker Offline

Registered: 12/14/09
Posts: 1393
Loc: Cranbrook BC (Finally)
Great report Ken.

One question on the use of the pool for bathing. In retrospect do you think that using the pool for bathing contributed to the overall decline of cleanliness of the pool water? Just a thought that it may of been better to take water from the pool then use it in a sink or small tub to get cleaned up? I know this would not as enjoyable as a real bath or a swim in the pool, but may of helped to keep the pool water in better condition?
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

John Lubbock

#227973 - 07/17/11 06:03 PM Re: Six Days Without Power [Re: KenK]
LesSnyder Offline

Registered: 07/11/10
Posts: 1577
Loc: New Port Richey, Fla
sounds like the 04/05 hurricane season down here as to duration of outages....we had warning...a couple of the 5 day ice chests would have helped with the frozen food if you had forewarning on the duration of the outage...as Teslinhiker commented, I think I would have reserved the pool for a refreshing dip and water reservoir, and disposed of shower greywater outside...battery powered fans can really save the day as far as sleeping...while I have about 20 gallons of drinking water stored, I purchased a Sawyer .1 micron filter this year...a battery powered digital TV really helps relieve boredom ...solar heated garden sprayer for shower (can get very hot)

my future plan is to use my small 5 cu.ft freezer to be repositor of all the frozen food and as ice maker... and run it with a 3.5kw generator only as needed on dedicated extensiion (also charge the car batteries for the fans)....use the produced ice to keep the 5 day chests chilled with the non frozen perishable food

Edited by LesSnyder (07/17/11 06:07 PM)

#227976 - 07/17/11 07:18 PM Re: Six Days Without Power [Re: KenK]
Susan Offline

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 5163
Loc: W. WA
Good overview of the week!

I'm with Teslinhiker on keeping the pool clean. Fill a bucket or two, and take it to the bathroom or kitchen sink. After all, suppose the outage had lasted TWO weeks? The record around here is 17 days.

Re: horse water. Chlorine off-gases, even when just sitting. Since you did get a generator, would it have been viable to fill the horse troughs with pool water and run bubblers in them to dissipate the chlorine? I don't know about pool chlorine vs. household chlorine. But I do know that horses can be awfully fussy about their water.

Another option for horse water: buy one of those white, square, frame-enclosed tanks and put it on the pickup* and drive to a pumped source of water and fill it. Our local feed store has a well, and as long as they have power they give away water if you provide your own containers.
* I know it's against the law to NOT have a pickup if you own horses, so that's how I know you have a pickup!

About the heat in the house: have you ever tried natural convection in summer? Open the windows on the sunny side of the top floor, open all connecting doors between the ground and top floors; open windows on the coolest side of the house ONLY on the ground floor. As the top floor heats up, hot air is expelled out those windows, and cooler air is pulled in from the lowest openings. A steady stream of cooler air should be moving upward through the house as long as the sun is shining.

Your septic: you could have run into trouble if the outage was longer term, right? What about the Humanure Handbook technique for disposing of waste? You already have manure, just build a horse-sourced compost pile and sandwich human waste in between the layers?

Meanwhile, here in WA, we've had TWO WHOLE DAYS of 80F so far this YEAR. Most days have been in the 60s, and half the days have been raining, and for the last few days, it has POURED. The peas like it, but the tomatoes don't.


#227984 - 07/17/11 11:00 PM Re: Six Days Without Power [Re: KenK]
Frisket Offline

Registered: 09/03/10
Posts: 640
I was in the same boat not to long ago one winter. Bad snow ripped threw and we ended up with no power for a solid week. With well water we ended up purchasing water by the 3 gallon packs constantly. The average toilet takes about 3 gallons to flush 2-2.5 gallons if your lucky. We were pretty much dead in the water for the first 3 days (Including the day of the storm) since our landlord didnt plow the driveway till then. We had no means for a generator either. My Cat who 150% hates being covered by anything such as a blanket ended up letting me piled um onto him like a cat nest and stayed in there all day pretty much for the week.

#228029 - 07/18/11 07:57 PM Re: Six Days Without Power [Re: KenK]
KenK Offline
"Be Prepared"

Registered: 06/26/04
Posts: 2027
Loc: NE Wisconsin
I honestly don't think the swimming fouled the pool water much. Most of the nasty came from the bugs and vegitation blowing in. Like I said, each day we'd spend a fair about of time scouping out debris. The lifespan this time was about the same as a year or two back when my pump broke and I went without a pump for a while. Back then we stopped swimming until I got the new pump.

I don't think the pool water would have lasted much longer than a week without filtration, even with chlorination, the suspended solids load was beginning to stack up. As I said, it was probably cleaner than using lake water (for this area), and personally I wouldn't have hesitated to put it through a backpacking filter (have several) and drinking it, but not sure my wife and kids would have been willing to do that.

We had contacted several horse vets and they all strongly suggested not giving the horses pool water, saying that a horse's gut can be pretty sensitive and that it just wasn't worth taking a chance on if other sources of water could be made available. We didn't want to risk one or more of them colicing (sp?).

Anyway, Sunday was wonderful with flushing toilets and air conditioning. Life is good, and we learned some important lessons.

#228037 - 07/18/11 11:25 PM Re: Six Days Without Power [Re: KenK]
Paul810 Offline

Registered: 03/02/03
Posts: 1428
Loc: NJ, USA
We installed a diesel generator back in 1999, figuring that, if Y2K did knock out the power, it might be a while before they got it back on. Thankfully, that didn't happen, but we did have a big blackout during 2003 throughout much of the North East. I was very glad to have the generator then, or we would have been likely throwing out three refrigerators worth of food.

A buddy of mine just converted his house over to solar power. So far, his most expensive electric bill has been $3, but most of the time they send him money. He's also planning on buying a plug-in automobile, that way he can just charge it off the house. I thought that was a great idea...he would be in better shape than most if gas prices go crazy or if there is a major power failure.

#228141 - 07/21/11 11:27 AM Re: Six Days Without Power [Re: KenK]
m9key Offline

Registered: 05/28/03
Posts: 143
Loc: florida
yep 04/05 season hurricane wise 10 days no power camp stoves for coffee in the am frozen hot pocks and pizza bites on the bbq and 13000 gallons of pool water wasnt to bad but keeping kids entertained was the toughest...

#228146 - 07/21/11 04:02 PM Re: Six Days Without Power [Re: KenK]
Arney Offline

Registered: 09/15/05
Posts: 2485
Loc: California
Originally Posted By: KenK
We hauled 5 gallon buckets of water from the pool to flush toilets...

I don't recall the question ever coming up, and I've never had to live with a septic system, so I don't know, but does using pool water with a septic system cause problems? Specifically, the composition of pool water is different from tap water, and it seems that too much pool water could significantly affect the complicated balance of microbes that a properly functioning septic system relies on.

Obviously, for most situations, short-term sanitation trumps the long-term health of your septic system, but I'm just curious what using pool water does (or doesn't do) in this case. Or, when the emergency passes, maybe some remedial work needs to be done on the septic system that people aren't aware of needing after using pool water to flush their toilets?

Actually, I thought of this question while reading about the question of giving horses pool water to drink--horses rely on gut bacteria more than humans (although not as much as true ruminants, like cows), and if the pool water wrecks that balance, it would seem that their digestion/elimination could be negatively affected, like leading to colic, as was mentioned.

#228147 - 07/21/11 04:19 PM Re: Six Days Without Power [Re: KenK]
Frisket Offline

Registered: 09/03/10
Posts: 640
You could always just get your septic pumped after the situation. A week without a toilet would be worth the money to pump it afterwords in my opinion.

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