Today we spent $346.99 less a 3% rebate for a gas powered mobile generator in red. We have never had a generator before. I always thought that if you could go camping in a tent there was no need to have a generator to pick up the slack if the power goes off for a while.
In old house we used to lose power fairly often. It was not every month but most months we lost power for at least a few hours and on some occasions for a day or two. I kept candles and other power-emergency supplies at hand and we used them. We had a hand-crank LED camping lantern that lived close at hand, so to speak, when the power was out. The lantern could also power a cell phone charger. We had gas heat, gas hot water heater and a gas range. The hot water heater cut off but we always ran and took baths if the power went out for more than an hour. The range worked. We had a pellet stove for a while.
In this house we will have a gas range and later, and later when the budget allows, either a gas or wood stove. The rest of the energy power comes from electricity.
When we started working on the house we were pretty surprised that everyone was so pro-electricity. Finally we asked someone to explain it to us. Electrical power is cheap here compared to other parts of the county and the power us usually hydro power which is not an extraction resource. It did make sense. The part that got left out is that the dams that fuel those hydro power stations are not naturally present and they caused changes in the natural and built environments. It is unfortunate that we cannot have a non-extraction power resource that does not carry unintended negative consequences.
Being nearly entirely electricity dependent, and for the first time in our lives not being on a community well, we have different consequences to not having power. At our house that burned 14 families shared a well and we had a large reserve tank. Now we have our own well and we have a pump room in our basement. Having the pump freeze is a big problem. We have done everything we can with insulation, placement of lines, doors and dirt to protect the pump but at some point 25 below zero like it is this week will overcome our best intentions.
When we set about to purchase a generator we were clueless as to what we needed. All we could think of were motor homes running noisy generators in parks without electricity. We always imagined camping sites without hook-ups were intended to be used as camping sites without electricity rather than camping sites with imported electricity.
I found several watt calculators online. I had no idea that a cell phone charger ran 50 watts and a space heater 1800. Curiously a space heater runs 1800 watts and a whole heat pump runs 4700 watts. It sure makes you think. I went through our house and selected the things we might want to have run. A computer, for example. Want it? Then you need 800 watts but your printer only takes 80. Think microwaving dinner is a quick way to go when the power is limited? Think on this. A 1200 watt microwave consumed 1200 watts. Add some of these up and you get to a lot of watts in a big hurry.
As the watts go up, so too does the price of a generator. Our first pass at estimating a conservative but not disruptive level of power reduction said we needed 12,330 watts. A generator for half that amount of wattage costs over $1000. We needed to change a lot more than we initially planed. Our second estimate sent us to 7,000 watts which was around $1000. Try again. We decided that we could use our new very efficient quartz space heater that takes only 700 watts of power and the well pump at 700 watts and keep things from being a total disaster.
We decided that keeping the cell phones charged were important too. After reviewing the list multiple times we decided that one of the better watt-value items for cold weather was an electric heating blanket at only 80 watts. We left that on the list.
We ended up selecting a scenario like this: 2 quartz space heaters, 1 well pump, 2 low watt electric lights, one electric heating blanket and a cell phone charger. To check the all-important email, we could turn off the people-heater, huddle under the electric blanket and use the laptop. The well-pump would keep its heater.
It was a very interesting exercise. For us, the first step was getting over the hump of realizing that our life now depended in an entirely new way on having electricity. The private well makes things different. We could drain the pipes and turn off the pump but that would not be feasible for a short-term solution. Instead, shall generate our own temporary power.
Our new shiny red generator with wheels arrives next week. In our attempt to be a little less on the grid we ended up needing fossil fuel-driven tools to keep our independence tools running. I am not sure but I think learning to live with a small generator will teach us a great deal about how we create and consume power.