Angels and PITAs - ice storm

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Tom
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No, it is not a new Dan Brown book.  The PITA is our area's worst snow/ice storm in a long while: power out for days, tree limbs falling, power poles toppled.  The angels are our guests: good humored, flexible.  But ... they still want a hot shower and a warm room and, of course, a full breakfast.

Prior power outages have mainly been short or just affected us and we can rough it a bit (gives DW a chance to brush up on oaths).  I have been trying to come up with realistic and affordable contingencies for guests.  The hard part is that preparedness costs $$ and you really can't estimate how prepared you need to be, so it is hard to calculate a reasonable level of investment.  Right now we have about $2500 spent on power outage backup equipment.

Over the past year or two, I have tried to make a few changes to be more resilient.  Out in the country, on a well, we have no water without power.  I have added a pressure tank so we have maybe 50 usable gallons before we need to pump; I have a ragged old pull start 240 VAC generator that can pump the well once or twice a day.  But it is with great dread that I approach that beast in its ice covered box and hope I can get it started.  I re-plumbed the hot water lines so I can bypass the tank water heater and put hot water from the propane tankless on-demand pre-heater directly to the house lines.  Taking the UPS from my house computer I could run the tankless.  Guests got a hot shower, but they had to schedule it after breakfast.

I rigged the guest room gas fireplace to run off a battery pack with a little switch on wires hanging out front they could turn on.  Room got to 70oF.

Already had the 12 volt bath and hall nightlight system; that has been proven to run for 3 days on the marine deep cycle.  We have lanterns in rooms and rechargeable flashlights go on if power is out.  DW wears a headlamp all the time; wandering around she looks like a space alien cyclops.

Breakfast table moved to front of wood fireplace, cozy.  Gas stove top is business as usual.  A cast iron pan makes good toast if you watch it.  A separate smaller, very quiet generator (Honda) runs 3 hours a day on 0.3 gallons of clear gasoline to keep personal and B&B fridge and freezer (2 x 2) full cold and charge phones.

So all OK, but I am planning the next steps to make an outage less stressful, working to install something we don't want to have to use.  Hope this hard winter has been kind to you as well.

 

Tom
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I appreciate the talk of large, nat gas or in my case, propane whole house generators.  The total electrical load here is large (5-room inn) so I would need about 24kW or install a smaller unit that is not meant to run everything.  My neighbor has one and it was installed at the time he built his house so the wiring is set up so it can power lights, etc. but not the large loads.  For me to do that I would have to do some major electrical re-work.  Hmmm ...

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Tom wrote:

I appreciate the talk of large, nat gas or in my case, propane whole house generators.  The total electrical load here is large (5-room inn) so I would need about 24kW or install a smaller unit that is not meant to run everything.  My neighbor has one and it was installed at the time he built his house so the wiring is set up so it can power lights, etc. but not the large loads.  For me to do that I would have to do some major electrical re-work.  Hmmm ...

Hi Tom, we're also a 5-room located out in the country where power outages happen a few times per year. 

While I would love to have a big, automatic generac system that will power everything at once, we didn't have the capital to go that way when we realized we needed some sort of backup power so we started small and simple and built a system over the years to work reasonably well. Note, our stove runs entirely on propane; we have woodburning stoves (one to heat our quarters and one to heat the guest lounge) but all the rest of the heat is electric baseboard. The well pump is electric.

We started with a small (maybe 3500 W?) generator that would only run things we could physically plug into it (coffee maker, fridges, lamps). We got a larger generator when we could but was still limited to plug-in appliances.

Then we got something called a Generlink. This essentially is a cable that hooks the generator up to the electrical panel and lets us power anything on the panel. Our current generator is 10000 W. It's still not large enough to power everything all at once, but we can turn breakers on and off to run power to different circuits at different times, depending on what we need to use throughout the day or night, or whether or not we have guests.

It's not automatic, we have to plug in the cable and manually start the generator when the power goes out, but for us it's a good balance between cost and functionality.

Arks's picture
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Tom wrote:

For me to do that I would have to do some major electrical re-work.  Hmmm ...

I have a Generac system too. Mine is natural gas powered, but my sister's Generac is on propane. Her tank is sized to hold enough propane to power her whole house for about 2 weeks if the electricity goes off that long.

The electrical work is really not THAT major. You just have 2 breaker boxes, and you have to switch some circuits from the old breaker box to the generator's breaker box.

Since the circuit wires won't be long enough to reach from their current location in your breaker box to the new box, you have to splice on some more Romex to make them longer.

Things that will NOT be powered by the new generator stay like they are, wired in the current breaker box.

For circuits that will be powered by the generator, you just...

  • Disconnect the circuit from the current breaker box. That is, you unscrew the circuit's hot and neutral wires from the current breaker box and pull the Romex out of the breaker box.
  • Install a junction box by the current breaker box and run the circuit's Romex to the new junction box.
  • Inside the new junction box, splice a piece of longer Romex so that circuit can reach the new breaker box that's powered by the generator.
  • Attach the extended Romex to one of the terminals in the generator breaker box.
  • So now that circuit is powered by the generator breaker box rather than the old breaker box.
  • Now repeat the above steps for all the other circuits you want to move to the generator.

For my house, it was like a half-day project to move the circuits from the old breaker box to the generator box. When you're done, it's all automatic. If the power goes off, the generator kicks on and powers the circuits attached to its breaker box. When the power comes back on, the generator goes off and the circuits are switched back to utility power.

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Madeleine's picture
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If his house is like mine...

We have four breaker boxes. It cost me $500 to have an outlet moved several years ago. I think having to move wiring to a new box would set me back quite a bit given how much wiring would have to move.

Unless we concentrated on only heat, heat water, refrigeration and common area lighting. Very important items!

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Arks's picture
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Madeleine wrote:

I think having to move wiring to a new box would set me back quite a bit given how much wiring would have to move.

I did it all myself. You mean you're not up to a little challenge, and possible electrocution? Where is your sporting spirit? Eye-wink

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It's illegal here for me to do my own electrical work. On my own house ok. Not on the inn. Can't put strangers in harm's way!

Otherwise, sure, we'd give it a go. But, it would take a week to get it done.

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Tom wrote:

I appreciate the talk of large, nat gas or in my case, propane whole house generators.  The total electrical load here is large (5-room inn) so I would need about 24kW or install a smaller unit that is not meant to run everything.  My neighbor has one and it was installed at the time he built his house so the wiring is set up so it can power lights, etc. but not the large loads.  For me to do that I would have to do some major electrical re-work.  Hmmm ...

Hi Tom...we have 3 buildings (approx. 4,600 sq ft) that the generator powers. We have a 16kw generac generator. Not every plug and appliance is wired into the system. Also, when we're on generator, I flip the circuits off the whirlpool tubs and some of the hot water heaters if there are no guests in that particular room. We have a separate water pump wired into the generator. It does take a manual switch over from us, but our water system is not typical of most properties.

What's most important for the generator to run is the kitchen you cook the breakfasts in, any refrigerator/freezers and 1 or two power outlets in each room.  You fortunately, have a gas stove/oven, so that won't be drawing power from the generator. For us, that's the biggest power item. Each of our rooms has either wood burning or gas fireplace which can keep the room warm without using the electric heat, so the separate electric heat systems in our guest rooms are not wired into the generator.

I really don't think you'll need a 24kw generator if you plan carefully. Guests don't really care that everything will work in a power outage, for them it's lights and water...oh and maybe a tv!

gillumhouse's picture
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We have been blessed so far. When all around us a were without power after the Derecheo, we had power, ame a few week ago when the truck snapped a power tole a few blocks from us. We still had power. Hot water is gas and so is furnace BUT it needs power to run the fan to heat the house. Guest areas are electric - there goes those water lines if the drip would not work. We can - if we need to - light an old gas heater in the foyer - only use it in emergency as it is turn gas on, light, and voila - hear. None of those newfangled safety devices on it - but it does put out a lot of heat.

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Echo

Innkeep's picture
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My vote is also for a whole house generator, especially if you have access to natural gas.  Mine is right outside the house and in my opinion is not loud, just enough noise to make me aware that it's running.  Also just loud enough for your guests to know you've taken power outages seriously.  

In my previous life we had an ice storm that left much of Indiana without power for days on end.  I had perishable medical supplies that had to be refrigerated and was fortunate enough to find a gasoline powered generator, but, just like a baby, it had to be fed regularly.  That was a long 4 days.  At that time a hard-wired generator would have cost 30k.  My dad talked me out of getting one because "it was a 30-year ice storm".  4 years later the same thing happened.  The prices have come way down in the ensuing 20 years, and I am so glad I have one for the B&B.  You can get one that has enough "juice" for your essentials.  It wouldn't hurt to at least price them in your area.

Madeleine's picture
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One of the inns here that closed had one for sale. That was $4500 used.

We do have nat gas now so I will look again. If we can find a place to put it due to the odd layout here (you know, really long building) it might help.

The gas fireplaces have come in handy!

Breakfast Diva's picture
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We found ours on Craig's list. Wait for the summer, then you'll be amazed at how many listings you see from those folks that thought it would be a good idea to buy them during storms and never paid the $$ to have them installed. We had to drive a few hours in our truck, but we got a brand new one at quite a discount!

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Ours works off propane as does 2 of our fireplaces in guest rooms. If we are anticipating a real doozie of a storm, I'll warn guests that if the power goes off in the middle of the night, we'll turn the generator off and turn it back on in the morning so we can make sure we can power the property for many days. They totally understand!

Breakfast Diva's picture
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We invested in a whole house generator. The new ones are so much quieter than they used to be. Like Tom, no power, no water. Most guests can roll with the punches, but the comfort in knowing we don't have to turn our guests away is worth every penny we sunk into the generator. Mind you, we live in an area that gets massive winds each year, so power supply can be interrupted without much warning.

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06/24/2008

Oh, I so hear you and can relate only we have these type of issues mainly in the hot months and not frigged conditions. 
Neither are experiences we wish to be in. 
Stay warm, you sound like you are doing all you can to keep everyone comfortable. 

This will be memories they are sure to remember and fondly (yep doesn't seem like it now) share with others.  The winter storm we spent at Tom's B&B.   

Generic's picture
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Wow. I've been trying to figure out how to measure how big a UPS I need to run our heating system (just the ignition and a pump) but I haven't found a good place for information on that.

I've been dreaming of buying a whole house generator. We are hooked directly to NG and these turn themselves on when the power goes out. The whole house runes on 200A at the moment, so we should be able to keep the power running as long as the NG runs. But I haven't yet needed to really get to the point of where I have extra money to even think of doing it.

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Madeleine's picture
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Hate when the power goes out. Same here that it is generally not a long time so investing $4500 in a whole house generator that would be SO loud guests would leave anyway is kind of tough to do!

Our water is not dependent on power but the hot water is. We generally pay guests to leave for breakfast. There is not a single hotel/inn in town that has a generator. Even the big places. One place doesn't even have the ability to answer the phone when the power is out.

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07/21/2009

We're lucky.  Same area as Maddy and power outages are a real problem.  The lucky part is that we're on the same grid as the hospital and local school which means that, by default, we get first priority.  

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Did you know that because of the contracts we have, we have to supply New England even if we need the power here? A few weeks ago when it was bitterly cold they had to ask people to conserve because there wasn't enough available locally while being drained by New England's need for heat.

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I'm so sorry SB.  I'm laughing because when we have no guests I turn off all the heat in the house (it comes on automatically just to keep the pipes from freezing).  Our OQ has one source of heat so tonight, because it's going to be -5 or thereabouts, we'll celebrate by closing up everything, getting out the sofa bed and watching movies by the light of our propane stove.  Can't wait.  Is it bedtime yet?

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No skin off my back, I'm on NG. I used electrical just to ignite and move the water around. I have a car starter that I can use as backup to keep the house heated if I don't have electricity.

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