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Monday, 26 December 2022


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Is nice legend among linguists that there are groups of people who live in cold places who measure temperature in 'dogs'. This is number of dogs you need in/on your bed to survive.

So probably you should discard generator and have more dogs, as currently could survive only temperatures of one dog, and severe winter storms will become much more common as other severe weather events. Also dogs quite useful in case of zomby apocalypse of course. However avoid zomby dogs.

Is lesser-known legend that cats measure temperature in 'humans'.

(These groups are always assumed by linguists to be some very remote group of Inuit or similar, so actually getting data to confirm (or, really, disprove) legend is conveniently difficult: thus legend persists.)

I live in Florida and they announce the names of hurricanes at the beginning of each season, alphabetical hoping the number of storms don't exceed 26, which it has done several times the last few years. We scan the list hoping our own name is not on the list, and if it is that it is not "the one" that makes the news.

The last few days here in Central Florida the temperature started in the 20s and never got out of the low 40s during the heat of the day, with wind chill factors keeping the "feels like" temperatures in the freezing range. I felt sorry for the tourists that did their one big trip to Florida with Hopes of beautiful walks on the beach and getting some sun. On the other hand, those that made the journey were having some of the best weather east of the Mississippi River. FWIW, the forecast for us is temperatures in the 80s by the end of this week. We'll be running both heat and air conditioning just days apart.

Hope everyone gets through this event.

That does sound a little unnerving. I’m glad everything worked out…sort of. Having to spend money on surprise infrastructure repairs is always annoying. I had something similar happen to me in early December. My ancient heat pump gave up the ghost and left me without heat for several days but because I live in the Sonoran Desert and my nighttime lows were in the mid 40’s it wasn’t that big a deal.

You should probably buy a 12 volt car charger for future emergencies. Another option is something like the GOOLOO GP4000 which is an auto battery jump box that can also charge smartphones, tablets, cameras, etc. I bought mine about a year ago and when I checked its charge the other day it still read 100%!

Power bank batteries for your phone? Given how much work has gone into solar power which has encouraged battery development I wonder if a battery is a suitable backup instead of a generator since your grid is probably only down for short periods.

Sorry about your tribulations, Mike. I've heard from people who deal with those things that the relatively inexpensive auto-transfer backup generators found at big-box stores and advertised on TV are notoriously unreliable. Apparently one must spend a lot more for a product like this


to get something decent. In your situation, it might be better to have a manual transfer switch installed, then purchase a portable Honda generator and limit loads to heat, refrigerator and a few lights when running it during emergencies. Just be sure to set out the generator some distance from your house and windows.

There's a big lesson to be learned from this TOP post. Not by you, but rather those in high school who might think they need to become indebted for the sake of obtaining a college degree. Richard Bruno illustrates how lucrative, not to mention rewarding, the trades can be. Many more like him are needed. However you can spread the word will be a huge service to society, for which we would all be grateful.

My primary power is called California and my backup is called Coachella Valley.

Yea, it's tough out here.

Happy Holidays, Mike. Good to hear the power is back on for you. I am in Utica and we dodged the major snow fortunately.
Being a recent transplant from the Midwest, last Monday night, on returning from photographing at Montezuma Wildlife Complex not far from you, I had my inaugural "white-knuckle drive in lake-effect snowstorm on New York Thruway in darkness." While I drove 45-50 mph peering into the white wall ahead of me, I am still astounded at the consistent line of trucks passing on the left at seemingly full speed. Is that something I will get used to?

Thank goodness for Richard. You are never totally alone, Mike. You've got Butters, your son, and so many friends who think about you and are grateful for you. A fireplace is in order, with a few days of firewood stowed for emergencies. A backup battery like the Jackery Explorer I have in my camper van will keep your phone, and other electrical necessities charged and run some lighting while you wait for the lights to come back on. I hope you have better luck with your insurance company than I have had with mine thus far. Even though my insurance adjuster said my damaged home was 100% covered, what they estimated for damage repair and what it has cost me are two very different numbers. Lawyers can be our friends when we feel a capitalistic industry is trying to snooker us. Glad you are up and running!

So glad you, and the TOP World Hdqtrs, are safe and sound! As I read reports in The NY Times I did wonder how you were doing in your neck of the woods. It’s a great story you’ll have to tell for my Christmases to come, the one where the very technology that was supposed to assist you tried to do you in! Stephen King material, for sure.

Here’s hoping that 2023 is a year you can avoid encountering any other Eliots!

I can't tell you whether getting a new generator is worth it but I'l offer some advice anyway (power outages are more frequent at my house than I'd like so I deal with this a couple of times a year). Living in a potentially rather cold climate in winter I'd make a backup heat source my number one priority. Even above electricity. Something that can heat without electrical power. The best and simplest thing you can get if you have a functional fireplace in the house is to get a set of ventless gas longs for the fireplace. You close off the flu and all the heat stays inside the house. They can run on natural gas if you have it or you can get a good size propane tank installed in your yard. My heat once went out for 2 days in an ice storm and I had ventless logs running in the fireplace and I was nice and toasty the whole time.

Second thing is think about getting a battery powered generator. You can get a roughly 2 KWHr one for about $1500. It isn't a long term power solution but can get most people by for about a day running their refrigerators and other essential devices.

Lastly I'd have a propane powered generator for use when the power is out for a longer time. Not some big whole house one but just a small one you can use to run a few things and also charge your battery generator if/when needed.

Might sound like a lot of devices vs. just a big backup generator but you also can't get in the situation you were in unless you have multiple points of failure. You're not depending on one device for everything. Hope that is of some help.

Sorry to hear about this Mike. Have you considered a woodstove? Woodstoves have saved my bacon on more than one occasion. Heat, light, and stove all rolled into one. And the sense of security you'll receive is not to be underestimated.

Hello Mike,

I am glad that you are back on power now. I hope it will never repeat, not like this. It may be easy for me to think of advice from a long distance away, but perhaps you could enquire about the option of a backup generator without an automated switch-over. Your experience pointed out to me how important electricity is for many aspects of todays’s life. I’ll pay more attention to my powerbanks (I have several), at least to have some more autonomy for communications.

Thanks for the post. My thoughts are with you. Hang in there!

What a harrowing ordeal, Mike. And on Christmas Eve eve, to boot. On the other hand, getting the power back on so quickly was very fortunate. I would have utterly panicked in your situation. I can't imagine what those further north and west are going through.

Here in northern New Jersey, we're fortunate to be getting out of this storm with minor discomforts and inconveniences. Sure, our apartment unit's heat is on the blink and so are the building's hot water heaters, but it was a balmy 10-20F here in NJ over the weekend, our power never went out (knock on wood) and we have a few small space heaters and a kettle. We also have dozens of neighbors living under the same roof, in the most densely populated state (I believe) in the union.

I'm glad you're alright and hope my fellow TOP readers are too. Here's wishing you all a safe and happy Rest-of-the-Holidays and beyond.

Hi Mike,
In northern climates, one would need an as low as possible tech solution to power outage. When your safety and possibly your life is on the line, you don't want to depend on something that has the potiential of breaking down.
That why a lot of people depend on a wood stove to for heat and cooking, like this:
Plus these stoves are elegible for a substantial tax credit.
Reserve the small gasoline operated power generator for things like sump pumps, electronics.

Be sure to get a phone charger for your car.

When you replace your generator - and you definitely should (maybe a print sale fundraiser?) - have them install a manual bypass switch. That should guarantee it will never be needed. On this side of the world, today is forecast to be the first 100 degree day in Melbourne Oz this summer … and well on the way at 11.30 am.

Sorry to hear of your power woes. Here in southwest NH, we were without power for about 30 hours (just before 7 AM on Friday to 1:30 PM on Saturday). Ours was one of many local outages, but when you live in the woods on a dirt road in the woods with only ten houses in a mile fixing the downed lines on our road is fairly far down the triage list.

I second the recommendation for wood heat. We use wood as are primary fuel so we were fine temperature-wise. The thing I miss most when the power goes out is running water.

When we researched backup power sources last spring we decided to go with a battery. I can't tell you how well it works since, despite putting down a deposit in May, it has yet to be installed... ugh!

Since we have solar panels the battery will recharge automatically even if the power is still out and as long as it is not too cloudy we should be good indefinitely. That's the theory anyway.

I also, recommend getting a smallish power bank for recharging your cell phone. I have one that recharges with a power cord or with a small solar panel. I use this mainly on (1-2 week) back country excursions to keep camera batteries charged. However, it comes in handy for power outages at home. It is slow to charge off the solar panel but I have always been able to limp along with at least one partly charged camera battery at worst.

Glad you survived the ordeal!


Glad you're ok.

Have you considered a backup battery instead of replacing/repairing the generator? Not big enough for the house, but enough to keep a few things running? A couple hundred watt-hours and bucks.

I remember growing up, nobody had backup generators. If the power went out, it went out. Ok, we depend on electrical devices for more and more today, but there are really only a few essentials. Can you light your heater? Pump water? Light enough to see yourself around the house? Charge the phone? That's all you really need until you get grid power, no?

Then there's the Wisconsin Northwoods solution, which I'm sure you're familiar with. You have a tap installed in the basement, or at the lowest point around the house if you don't have a basement. You turn off the water, drain all the pipes, and for places where it's tough to get rid of all the water (toilets) you pour in anti-freeze. Then when the storm hits, you're on your way to NYC to cruise a few museums. That's also the best way to deal with hurricanes, but without the pipe draining -- don't be there. I lived in Florida for eight years, was brushed by a few hurricanes, and what I learned was that I didn't need the drama. They were a pain in the ass, not a movie. Same with snowstorms.

We now live in a society where electricity is not only critical, it's assumed to be infallible, which it isn't, as Texas proved a couple of years back. Without power, you can't even pump gas for your car, to get out. One relatively cheap solution for you would be a woodstove, which would at least provide heat and a way to cook certain kinds of food. While a big gathering of wood stoves isn't so good -- air pollution -- burning it is better than oil or gas, because it's new CO2 that you're releasing, not ancient stuff that's been sequestered for millions of years. .

Glad you're ok Mike.
It's 38ºC here in Melbourne, Australia today.

Did you make any pictures?

Two-stroke? I hope not. Two cylinders?

I've lived in a wooded area for 23 years; bought a portable generator soon after moving in, and a manual transfer panel. Vital circuits only: sump pump, water pump, septic pump, furnace, fridge, kitchen outlets, and master bedroom and bath. I placed it on a level mound of driveway gravel, near the garage.

Many's the night I needed to go outside in foul weather, start it up, attach the thick power cable, then go down into the basement and flick the transfer switches. In May of 2019 a derecho came through and knocked out power in a wide area. Three days on that 7 Kw generator. Lots of heavy gas cans.

October this year I had a 20 Kw Kohler generator and transfer panel installed. Needed to buy two large propane tanks. Expensive, but, I'm getting old, and my wife can't handle the gasoline cans. Now, when the power goes out, it's only a few seconds before the generator takes over. Heaven!

Replace the burned up generator! It's worth it.

I was definitely thinking about you, what you might be dealing with, as I read the news. We had scattered outages in Duluth, but fortunately it was restored in short order. I was thinking your photo vacation was likely interrupted at least. I only took a few photos indoors during the storm. It was all I could do to walk the dog to the back of the yard as the wind howled around.

Diesel Heaters....really the cheapest and most efficient heat out..really Don't believe me read the YouTube reviews

"I mean 1°F (that's –17°C for you Europeans)." And the rest of the world apart from the USA basically! Glad it was a survivable experience! A balmy 30ºC here in the Southern Highlands of NSW!

One warning about ventless gas- or propane ventless appliances. They put lots of moisture, CO2, and some amount of CO (carbon monoxide, definitely unwanted!) in your air. Be sure to have working CO detectors in your house if you run one for hours at a time.

Elliott took our power for 27 hours here in rural Maine. Fortunately, our wood stove kept the house warm, and our battery backup provided for lighting, refrigeration, and water. Didn't even know the power was out for the first six hours the changeover was so fast.

Sorry to hear about your misfortune but glad to learn that you had power for Christmas Day. That was potentially very serious - long periods of exposure to cold really aren't good for humans. Here's a rather alarming account of what just getting cold can do to the body: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-63602501

I was struck by how many other comments contained suggestions, based on experience, about what to do for your emergency power supply arrangements. Fun fact: here in the UK, not only do I not know anyone who has such arrangements, but I don't think I ever have. I'm sure that some people in the UK make such provision - remote Scottish communities, for example - but apart from them we depend absolutely on our National Grid. In really bad weather (which mainly takes the form of Atlantic storms racing across the country) power lines can come down, but the power workers get them back up pretty quickly. Perhaps, also, there is a benefit in living in a small country - England, with a population of about 55m has an area a bit smaller than New York State - so if there is a problem power supply workers are never far away from the problem.

I second the suggestion to get a woodstove. Easy and effective. As for batteries or similar accumulation devices, this could be interesting:


According to the general director, carbon flywheels currently cost around €250/kWh, steel flywheels €200/kWh and concrete ones around a few euros. “The particularity of our patented technology is that the concrete cylinder is pre-stressed by a winding of fiberglass and is held in a vacuum to avoid friction,” Gennesseaux stated. Thanks to this, maintenance operations are reduced because the mechanical part is sealed and the lubricating oil is also in a vacuum environment, without risk of oxidation.

It seems to me that anyone whose income comes from running a blog should be able to deduct from his taxable income the cost of installing and maintaining a backup power system.

I am not an accountant or tax professional, but I do know that the US tax system isn't always rational or reasonable.


I'm glad you're back on the grid. A relatively economical emergency heat source might be a Kerosene heater. The Japanese have used them for indoor heat for a long time. Many cautions about indoor combustion apply, but one or two can keep a house considerably warmer when there is no electricity.

did your generator only have the automatic changeover switch? Didn't have the manual by-pass option?
Our farm has a diesel generator with this option, and we've had to use it more than once. The automatic changeover switch always burns out at the worst times. Strong voltage variation causes this.

A brand name 16,000 watt "whole house generator with Wi-Fi and 200-Amp transfer switch" from a big box store costs about the same as a Canon R5 with a 24-105mm f/4 lens.

Installation not included with either.

Oh my goodness, Mike! That sounds like an awful trial. I'm glad you came out of it in one piece, for the most part.

As several folks here have already commented: you need a second heat source that's not powered by electricity. I live on the west coast of Canada. It's nowhere near as cold here as upstate New York but even so, it's still considered advisable to have a fireplace (wood or gas) that can run without power.

Hope you get things sorted and have a good New Year.

we have two gas gensets

one we use for truly portable power and short term power to a couple of appliances via a cord through the doggy door

a larger one that could probably run the house

we skipped the xfr switch and went with a pass-through connection box instead but still extension cords

i suppose the longest we've been without power in the last few years is three days...quite long enough!

i've always embraced redundancy
should you go whole house again (if i was spending your money) i'd get a generac whole house and a sine-wave genset just in case

our camper is equipped with both solar and gas

the solar panels seem to work even in cloudy conditions...not all do...but i'm not sure they would keep up with several days of load

the gas genset runs off the vehicle's gas tank and provides more than enough for the truck and its appliances

all that is a long way of saying the new solar backup systems are amazing but some due diligence is required before you trust your life to one

glad you are OK

Here in the UK we have had warnings from the people who oversee our National Grid (electricity transmission) that we could have outages (see that? I speak American :-) for up to a week this winter. Needless to say, I have a good collection of battery lights, batteries both disposable and rechargeable, and a bettery radio. I have experience of past outages and gas heating system failures that mean no heat from the gas system because it relies on electricity to fire the boiler and drive the water pump.

Mike, as a person ages, their blood thins and they can lose core body heat more quickly, especially before meal times. Get yourself a wood burning stove and wear lots of layers, including a fleece or padded gilet and/or fleece jacket around the house.

This is hilarious, it reads like a Garrison Keillor monologue. I think that this is my favorite TOP post of all time.

We lost power for a prolonged period of time twice in northern New Jersey once was a famous Halloween storm and the second was tropical storm Sandy. Both times the power was out for over a week. The house got down to the upper 40s. I recall being amazed that at about 52 degrees you couldn't sit on a couch; the cushion was cold enough to suck the heat right out of you.
Out bit of irony, which didn't directly impact me, happened in a town a little to the north of me. When power was finally restored, everyone rejoiced. Then a tractor trailer took out a telephone pole and about a half square mile of people lost power again for another day. I assume the driver escaped with his life. I didn't read about any murders in the paper.

Given that Richard started his own business as an electrician at 18, I suspect he was working in the industry before then, perhaps in a family business. So he may have been working the holidays for more than 3 years :-) .

What brand of backup generator do you have? Looking myself and would like to know.
Bruce Bodine

[Hi Bruce, mine (bought with the house) was a Briggs & Stratton. Consumer Reports has a list of ratings for the category. --Mike]


I'm glad you survived the lack of electricity and heating.

Lots of interesting info in the comments. (You're lucky you haven't been roped into buying an electric car.)

I got sidetracked with the link to the Vermont Castings website. :>)

Those wood stoves do look nice and several models have catalytic converters to cut down on pollution. Automatic thermostats and everything. All you have to do is feed wood to the stove.

I would assume you could find a good source of decent firewood around your environs.

Thanks for sharing your tale of woe. Maybe some will reconsider a backup generator as being foolproof. Although you mentioned that the electrician said your generator wasn't the best, it's good to think of additional backup heating sources. Like several comments, I think the Honda generators are pretty reliable, as long as the purchase price doesn't scare you off.

Good luck!

What a harrowing experience. I've lost power many times in my house, once for 11 days after Sandy. That's no fun, but it wasn't freezing out either.

Once during a particularly frigid January, our ancient steam boiler just up and died. Thankfully our plumber was able to secure a replacement and get it installed and running the same day. At a premium, which I was glad to pay.

Makes me realize how important tradespeople are to our daily lives. Too bad more young people aren't going into the trades.

Almost three years ago we sold our old house and moved into a modern apartment building that has a backup generator. Many times the surrounding area has gone dark, but not our building. It's kinda nice, and I don't have to maintain anything. Now I realize just how much stress owning a house caused me.

Glad you and Butters are ok.

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