No power, 20 degrees outside, we're warm!

coffeehausFebruary 11, 2008

Due to tremendous winds on Sunday, our area of central Virginia is experiencing widespread power outages, with restoration estimated for Wednesday. Fortunately, we have a woodstove and our house is toasty! So glad we have it.

Anyone else out there in the same boat?

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One of the main reasons I have a woodstove. I can remember three times in ten years where I would have had to "visit" relatives or a motel if not for the wood heat. The pine trees around here just love power lines.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 5:46AM
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Here in Vermont it's minus 10 outside right now. They're calling for another snowfall tonight with about a foot of snow, and then ice on top of that. Our Regency stove has been going steadily since Thanksgiving and the house is very comfortable.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 6:45AM
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I'd kill for a coal, wood, or pellet stove.

Not because my area of Virginia (outside of DC) has power outages...

Because I have a heat pump.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 1:02PM
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I live in N. VA and it seems that power outages have become more frequent - and last longer - over the years. The worst are the ice storms with high winds.

I am using a combination of 1 wood burning fireplace insert and two propane fireplace inserts (these operate as true heaters) as my backup heat source. I have geothermal heat pumps and it would take a gigantic generator to support the 3 heat pumps when power is out. We have already had situations where we had power, but the main geothermal heat pump went out. The fireplaces saved the day.

The wood burner is amazing - if I crank it up, I can heat a 3000 sq ft space with that single unit. I now wish I had installed two of these on opposite ends of the house.

I do need to add a small power generator to operate the fireplace fans and controls - as well as a few other items like the well pump. Then my backup plan will be complete.

I think backup plans for either extreme cold or extreme heat - depending where you live - will become a necessity as the national power grid is streched over time. For the extreme cold case - the fireplaces or stove's are great because you get to enjoy them throughout the year and they also serve as the backup.

If you do go the fireplace route - I recommend the inserts that operate as heaters. Traditional wood burning fireplaces will suck the warm air right out of the house and up the flue.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 2:24PM
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Where are you in NoVa?

In the 15 years I've lived in my community (near Vienna metro) the longest we have ever lost power is for 3 days during Hurricane Isabel. I wasn't even around for that one...

I can only remember one or two other outages that were more than an hour or two, and none that were more than 12 hours.

The power lines where I am are underground, though, so I think we're a lot more resistant to outages.

Friends of mine live near the hospital in Arlington. They lost power for almost a week after one big ice storm back in 1997 or so, and have lost power several times since then. Their lines are above ground.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 4:49PM
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Finally have power restored, after 2 and a half days without. Ahh, wood...the ultimate renewable resource! We're in the midst of building a new house, and it WILL have a woodstove.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2008 at 9:39PM
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As a furnace repairman, it has long been very clear that there is a great advantage to having an alternate source of heat not dependent upon electricity to operate.

Personally, I have and use a woodstove regularly, but gas fireplaces with self powered pilot generator systems are good. Since natural gas tends to be highly reliable, using either propane or natural gas is good.

Two stories:

A few years ago we had a huge windstorm that left huge numbers of people without electricity for days on end. One customer called me about repairing his gas fireplace, which wouldn't turn on.

Upon inspecting the equipment, I found that the self powered gas fireplace worked fine, but the guy had a remote control installed in the equipment that operated on 120VAC --- so the fireplace couldn't be turned on because of the remote control. He was VERY happy that I could install a simple toggle switch to bypass the remote control, and seemed to have no complaints about having to get up to turn the switch on or off after five days or so of NO HEAT in his house!

And then there was the guy in the ritzy neighborhood whose furnace had quit working. I think this was during the same windstorm as the last story, and the power had been out in the neighborhood for days. I fixed the furnace, and asked him if the neighbors found the noise of his electric generator which was powering the furnace to be annoying.

He said that after the first day, his neighbor (with no power) DID complain about the noise. He sized up the neighbor and offered to let him plug into the generator if he had some extension cords. No further complaints! The guy was a real diplomat!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2008 at 12:07AM
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I live in the blueridge mtns out in western loudoun VA. we just had an ice storm and had no power for 26 hours. The priority on the power generator just got pushed up to IMMEDIATE!

You cannot belive the difference that a little elevation makes. I work near Dulles airport and there was not a bit of ice on the ground Wed night. Got to my house and there was a 1/2 inch of ice on all the trees. Lots of branches and limbs down - one big tree in my drive down. All the power lines were iced - it was a mess.

Before that - I was renting a house in Purcellville and the power would go out routinely - the last time was a 22 hour outage and the time before that - ON THANKSGIVING DAY - at 2 pm in the afternoon.

Luckily in our new house we have our wood burner and we kept the family room nice an toasty during the last outage. I missed a great opportunity to test out my complete backup plan - but I will be ready for the next one!

You have to realize that even if the power lines in your neighborhood are underground - the feeder lines coming from the power company usually are not, and in N. VA - they are all above ground). ALso - the nations power grid is being streched thin - and when we have extreme conditions, brown outs and outages are becoming more frequent. A little planning now can go a long way.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 8:34AM
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Sniffdog...Our architect told us that he has been preparing his clients for the "post-petroleum" era. I feel as if we are becoming a 3rd world country with regard to infrastructure. So yes, a woodstove and a backup generator in our plans, as well.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 10:51AM
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Yep, I realize that the feeders are above ground. But, in general, the larger the line the more resistant it is to a weather-related outage.

In my case, though, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. One mile from the Vienna metro and only one outage in 14.5 years that has been more than 48 hours, and VERY few that have been more than a few hours at all.

When you start getting into the rural areas where you are there simply isn't the grid redundancy that will allow for rerouting of power if one section of the grid goes down, and the above ground lines are far more vulnerable.

We had quite a bit of ice in my area of Fairfax. I got out of my car on Tuesday and promptly fell flat on my face. We also lost a bunch of branches from mature pines in the community, but since they didn't have power lines to fall on...

    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 11:57AM
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I am in Maine. 10 yrs. ago now the northeast was slammed with a major ice storm. I am in southern, coastal Maine and we were not majorly affected, but well over 3/4 of the state was, along with NH, and a good chunk of Canada. Mum's home was without power for 5-6 days, the worst affected towns were without power for 17 days! And that's in northern New England where it gets really cold (Christopher cold!).

People with woodstoves were able to keep their pipes from freezing and remain in their homes; many others were not so fortunate. Insurance claims for frozen pipes and attendant water damage to homes went into the millions. Several people died from carbon monoxide poisoning (improper use of generators, camping equipment, etc.), a few from hypothermia, and there were fires resulting from last ditch, frantic efforts to hook up woodstoves to keep homes from freezing. Just this week we had another storm. While not nearly so catastrophic, some families were without power for up to 4 days.

Clearly, a back up form of heat can be not only a comfort, but a huge savings, as well.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 2:07PM
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We were affected by it for about 5 or 6 days. But farther north they were without power for much longer.

I remember the high tension towers just collapsing in rows for over a mile at a time. We used our stove not only for heat, but as a cooktop as well as at that time we had an electric range. First thing we changed was to a propane range.
That stove not only warmed us, but neighbors who didn't have one as well. And with all the trees that came down, I had enough firewood for the next year.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2008 at 7:25AM
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I actually DO know that freezing to death is hypOthermia (evidently my fingers don't).

Seriously, I'm was a kid in the "energy crisis" and remember living in an uncomfortably cold home, and attending a school that was downright arctic. There is nothing like a stove to take the chill off a room and make retiring to a chilly one OK.

That storm really reinforced our desire to be (albeit) clumsily self-sufficient. We have the stoves, firewood from our lot (properly dried and stored), oil lamps, oil to fire them, extra wicks, etc.. We are working on a hand pump for the well, too. We have friends who tease us about our "survivalist leanings", but it's nice to know that you can deal with catastrophe somewhat capably IF you ever have to.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2008 at 4:12PM
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