Where was Jack when the lights went out?

Well, he wasn’t in the dark, because this blackout started at 9 AM. Somebody hit a pole near us. The power went off, came back on and then went out. The Intertubz followed it a few minutes later.

Have I mentioned that the Grandthings are addicted to Hey Bear? Do you know what happens when an addict suddenly can’t get their fix? About 15 minutes of screaming, until you can manage to distract them with toys and food.

Normally, when the lights go out, I sort of cringe and check my phone to make sure it’s still powered up. I’ve read too many stories about EMP events, so it’s become a deep-set thing. The concept that 90% of us would be dead in a year if the grid went down and stayed down doesn’t do much for my inner peace, I’m tellin’ ya.

But when the power goes in and out before going out almost always means that someone has hit a pole, a tree has fallen or something similar. The Intertubz taking a few minutes to die is also a good indicator of that, as was the big TV playing on, running off the UPS. We have a lot of UPSes because we have rather crappy power out here in energy membership corporation land. Not knocking the EMC, those folks do a great job. It’s just that the area has grown a lot since we moved here, and capital is sort of a problem for them, so things are getting stretched.

So the power was out for five hours on a nice, warm end of July day. How did we deal with that? A combination of luck and being prepared.

The luck is that it was mostly cloudy for those 5 hours. Yes, the house warmed up, but not intolerably. But another hour or two and it would have been a different subject. I think we peaked at 79 or 80o.

My big thing is the refrigerators and the freezer. I have monitors on them, so I don’t have to open them to check a thermometer or worse yet, guess. I watched them as they indicated slowly warming internal temps for the first 2 1/2 hours. It was the freezer that finally told me that I needed to put some power on things.

Out came the trusty Honda EU2000. We’ve had this thing since a day after dirt, and it’s as deadly reliable as a generator can be. Always starts, although if you haven’t started it in a while you’re going to be pulling a bit. I try to run it every couple of weeks, so it only takes two or three pulls. Then it’s running the extension cords. Not a big deal.

Well, it wasn’t the last time I had to do this 9 years ago. The generator has gotten considerably heavier since then. I got it up on the deck, but it was unpleasant. My back is complaining about it still.

The next time this happens, the generator will stay under the deck, chained to a post. We’ll run the extension cords a different way. One Yellowjacket plus a three-way plug and a couple of short cords will go into the basement for the refrigerator and freezer and a shorter 14 gauge up and through the end window to serve the refrigerator upstairs.

That’s it, nice and simple. Much less strenuous on my back. Probably safer if we have to refuel, too.

I don’t worry about lights and such. We have a plethora of flashlights and other battery-powered lights that will see us through if needed.

We did have one problem that I haven’t been able to figure out. The freezer would not run on generator power. I had a 100′ 14 gauge cord for power, and the most I heard from it was something that I take to have been a relay click. But the refrigerator ran just fine on the same setup. I can’t find anything in the manual about some safety in the freezer that would prevent it from running if the voltage is low, and frankly, I’ve never seen that sort of thing in any refrigerator or freezer we’ve ever owned. As soon as the power came back on, it started running. No harm, no foul though. The internal temp didn’t get past 19o.

I think the next experiment is to try the freezer on the big battery pack and see if it will run. If that doesn’t work, I’m not sure what I’ll try after that.

Having these minor emergencies gives you a good chance to check out your preps and your plans under actual conditions. It also lets you find those holes in your preps and plans in a more benign environment than after the SHTF. Let’s hope that something like this is the worst reason we need our preps.

I did take this opportunity to mention to Mrs. Freeholder, again, that it sure would be nice to have a solar-powered whole-house backup system, or failing that, a natural gas whole-house generator. No dice. “This doesn’t happen often enough.” *sigh* I guess we’ll wait until the power is unstable enough we have to have one, and then go on a 3-year waiting list.

11 thoughts on “Where was Jack when the lights went out?

  1. Hey, those Amazon links are useful. Thanks!

    As my significant other would say to me: “I know you already know this, BUT…”
    Voltage drop for 100 feet of 14ga solid (not stranded) copper with a 5 amp load is ~ 2.5%.
    Surprisingly, a 10 amp load shows ~ 5% loss.
    I wouldn’t think seeing 114vac instead of 120vac would be a real problem.
    I could be quite wrong.
    Obviously, we need a real electrician. I’ll probably see one in a few days; if I remember, I’ll bend his ear about this.

    I have a little RV-type cooler running on ac with a battery backup. The power here has been rather glitchy lately so it has been money well-spent.
    Too bad the last outage went down and up five times in 30 seconds, erasing all the programming for my future tv watchin’. Sigh.

  2. The freezer startup draw may be considerably higher than its running draw. Try starting it all by itself and then adding the fridge or get a shorter 8 gauge extension to the freezer.

    Good luck.

  3. Paladin, if the draw on the generator is too high, it stalls. But I’m going to carry out your experiment anyway, just to see what happens.

    Steve, the Honda does have a ground lug, although I’ve never used it. I’ve seen several Intertubz debates on grounding a generator vs. letting it float, but nothing that I would take as gospel. As Robert says, we need an electrician. I know one as well, and I’ll get his take on the subject next week, or sooner if I see him around town.

    I appreciate all the comments. This is the best part about having this blog.

    1. Robert here.

      Freeholder’s electrician may be helpful. Mine wasn’t . “Too many variables.”

      I’m not clear if the freezer was the only load or if it was failing to start while both fridges were running. Clarification, please?

      Tell wife solar works when there ain’t no gasoline.

      There is a positive correlation between one’s biological age and the force of gravity. Also, the distance to the floor increases.

  4. I like Paladin’s response and will be interested in the result of your test. Startup current draw can be a real bitch and sometimes its the sequencing of the start that makes all of the difference., (Former Navy Electrician here). A Honda 2000 is reliable but doesn’t have a whole lot of power to spare.
    I finally went the whole house generator route….let me tell ya, they are useful, but in the 3 years I have had it, it has failed to flip over to generator power twice (both minor issues and easily fixable) but it would of been an issue if I hadn’t been home.

    Those preps sure are useful in times like these. Keep fighting the fight friends.

    1. Power went out here at 2140 (9:40pm for you land lubbers). Finished my shower in the dark then broke out the solar-powered SHTF lights. Tornado warning at 1045pm; I slept through it. Several neighbors lost trees. Power came back at 2am. Live-in landlord didn’t feel like firing up the generator. I hope his ice cream melted. It was the hottest day of the year so far. Sigh. No point, just griping…

  5. Finally, after more than a month after saying I was going to, I did today. I need several more of me. 🙁

    I created just about the worst conditions that I could. I used my Honda EU 2000 generator, running in “eco mode”–varies the throttle based on load. 100′ 14 AWG extension cord, plugged into the gadget that breaks out the hot and neutral so you can use a clamp-on ammeter. Plugged the freeze in and it started right up. 13.3 amps starting current (at 120 v, that 1526 w) and close to 3 amps running.

    My best guess is that the refrigerator upstairs must have been on and the generator just couldn’t make enough power. I’m surprised it didn’t stall, but it may be the freezer has something built in to protect it in a low-wattage situation.

    I don’t think a larger gauge cord will help the situation. What’s needed is a bigger generator. When I first talked to Mrs. Freeholder after the outage, I was getting “Well it doesn’t happen often.” True, it doesn’t. A whole-house unit was vetoed as too expensive, and right now, she’s correct. I think something around 5000 watts might be enough to handle the issue, so I’m going to see what I can scare up. I’d like another Honda, but they’re still quite proud of theirs. So I’ll shop around and we’ll see what happens.

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