Y2K Lessons From The Trenches

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We learned a few things the hard way during the Great Ice Storm from our 8 day power outage (some people were out for 3 weeks) up here in the Ottawa, Canada area. Obviously, full preparations for Y2K are desirable, but if those are inadequate or run out, these suggestions may be helpful.

After the first 12 hours, transfer any food from your freezers to an unheated garage or garden shed. Use containers that can be solidly closed to keep out any animals or insects. If you do not live far enough north to guarantee that the air will stay below freezing, but your ground still remains frozen, you may want to pre-dig a hole for a galvanized metal washtub or plastic garbage can and have pieces of insulation handy that you can put around and on top of the container.

Start saving bleach bottles ... You can fill them half full of water, leave some out on their sides (won't crack that way when the ice expands) to freeze overnight and then rotate them in your refrigerator to keep food cool.

In most houses, 25% of heat loss is through the windows. Buy plastic window kits (just plastic and double-sided tape) and plastic drop cloths. If you look carefully, you can add a couple of layers to all of the windows of the rooms that you are going to try to keep warm and use the plastic drop cloths to close off areas of your home that might lack doors. From fire concerns, we let our wood stove burn out each night before going to sleep and this made our house cold in the morning. Although we have a well insulated house, the temperature dropped to a cold 55 F by morning (~ 30 F outside). Adding the extra layers of plastic to the windows raised this to a more tolerable 60 F.

For those that want to get more elaborate, pick up a roll of reflective insulation from your building supply store and use this to cover windows. This consists of 2 layers of foil separated by bubble pack and is perhaps 3 times as effective as plastic. This is fairly expensive, but may allow you to avoid adding a second wood stove or make a smaller stove or fireplace more effective.

Make sure that you do not allow any rooms that have water pipes in them to get too cold. If you can't keep them above freezing, you will have to drain the pipes and fixtures and add RV plumbing antifreeze to the traps to prevent sewer gas from entering your home.

Obviously storing water is the best solution. However, if your supply runs out you can consider the following sources.

For drinking water, don't forget that there is up to 40 gallons of reserve water in a cold water tank associated with a water pump and up to 60 gallons in your hot water tank. Without pressure, you will have to use the drain valve at the bottom of the tanks to get it out. Also, if your house is warm enough during the day, you can always melt snow or ice, but this is a slow, low yield process. A filter is a good idea, but fresh, clean snow is probably safe enough.

You may also have sources of water available to flush toilets, etc. If you have a pool these are usually drained to half full for closing. In a pinch you can always chop through the ice and get a lot of water there. In a disaster, there is also water for toilets in waterbeds, large aquariums, etc.

Sump pumps can be a real problem, if you have no generator. I really don't have a good long term answer for that one, other than a bucket brigade.

You can do limited cooking even on the top of an ordinary wood stove. Use a wire cake holder to toast bread and remove the tops and labels from cans and put them on top of the wood stove ... Takes a while, but it does work. Lots of paper plates and cereal bowls are necessary if you are short of water.

If you have a generator, be sure to chain or bolt it down. These high ticket items rapidly became targets of opportunity to steal, some even when they were running and people were at home. The thieves also targeted phone company generators installed at unmanned offices or equipment sites. Eventually, the telephone company hired people with cell phones to sit in their cars 24 hours per day and call for help when necessary. Generators were even stolen from some shelters.

Do not expect any help from politicians, volunteers, utility companies, police or the army, if you decide to remain in your home rather than go to a shelter. If you live in the country, you can expect to be restored last ... This only makes sense, as they will attempt to restore services to the most people that they can, using limited resources.

I hope this helps others here cope ... no point in others having to learn things the hard way. If anyone else can share advice from actual experiences, I think it would be very useful.

-- John (john@canada.ca), October 11, 1999


John, It just amazes me, the kind of useful suggestions I find on this forum

Thanks! FOX

-- FOX (ardrinc@aol.com), October 11, 1999.

Really great information. Thank you. I never thought about digging a hole for the freezer food.

-- Carol (glear@usa.net), October 11, 1999.

I should have added a caution to make sure that you have a carbon monoxide detector if you are going to tighten up your windows with plastic or reflective insulation. Just make sure it's a battery operated one, so that it works even when if the power is off.

-- John (John@Canada.ca), October 11, 1999.

UNPLUG everything - except one lamp. Been thru four hurricanes and several tornados where we lost power for an extended time. The initial surge upon restoration of power will fry components. Don't trust your power strip either.

Down South freezer hint - unplug and wrap freezer in old blankets, paper etc. to make a thick insulating layer. I've even used the wrap for water heaters on my freezer. Kept food FROZEN SOLID in my freezer in the garage for five days during power outage in Houston in August.

-- mom (mom@mom.com), October 11, 1999.

Great idea about the hole in the ground freezer - just have to remember to dig it soon, *before* the ground freezes.

One of the things our power company remindes us is that the more you leave the door shut on your freezer/fridge, the longer it will stay cool. I bought one of those "wireless" thermometer setups, made by Springfield. I see Radio Shack has one similar to it (it might even be on sale right now). Mine will handle up to three remote sensors, keeps track of minimum and maximum temps (for each remote) and even has a way to set an alarm on the main unit if one of the remotes goes out of a desired temperature range. I've already used it to keep track of the temperature in our fridge (we thought maybe it was going bad and getting too warm at times). One could put a remote inside their fridge or freezer and be able to check the temp without having to open the door. Can also be used to monitor temps in other parts of the house that may be hard to reach (i.e. crawl spaces with exposed pipes?). Sorry, can't remember the price, but seems like it was about $28 at SAMS (including 1 remote). Just an idea.


-- Eyell Makedo (make_do@hotmail.com), October 11, 1999.

John-Great idea about freezing water overnight for keeping refridge cool during day. Will start saving appropriate bottles now. As to bubble wrap-foil insulation. Much less costly is this idea. I purchased at the home supply place packages of 3/4"x15"x48" foam panels they use as insulation under paneling. Relatively inexpensive in a package of six panels. I've installed it under the flooring of my 160 year old farmhouse in upstate NY after first applying a layer of foil backed paper (that I've actually had for 40 years!!--knew it would come in handy someday). It has cut the drafts down considerably. I don't see why the idea couldn't be modifies to cut panels to fit the inside dimensions of windows, either as a single layer, foil applied (aluminum foil will work fine), or as a sandwich of foam, foil, foam if the windows are truly old and leaky. I would plan to be able to take any south/southwest window panels out during the day and reapply at night. In our own home, with old six over six windows we have heavy drapes we close at night and open during the day. we heat solely with a freestanding woodstove, and only use the furnace as a backup, if we are away for a couple of days. Keep the ideas coming. Thanks

-- Bill (Bill@SHF.com), October 11, 1999.

THANKS JOHN for letting us learn from your misery. bless you.

-- tt (cuddluppy@yahoo.com), October 13, 1999.

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