Nothing beats a great pair of wool socks for keeping you warm in winter, except a dual heating system that’s works even when the grid goes down.
A back up heat source is not just for eccentric practical preppers, a short or long term grid down situation during the winter has the ability to put you in a serious survival situation. A friend of mine, who moved to the Cariboo Region near Interlakes area recounted a story about her New Years Day in 2017.
She awoke at 8:00am and before she could get to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee, the power went out and It was -30 below zero outside. Her pellet stove that was running all night quickly back drafted smoke into the house and died out, and the propane forced air furnace was silent. She thought she was prepared, in that she had a portable 4000 watt gas generator, but the generator was stored in her attached but not directly heated porch room and at -30 it was frozen and would not start. She immediately got into her snow suit and sorrels and hauled the generator into the rapidly cooling home and after about 30 minutes it would finally turn over. She got the generator back outside on a level safe surface and running with an extension cord through a slightly open window to a power bar on the living room floor. Into this she plugged in her pellet stove and then went through the process of cleaning out the fire box and restarting it. She then plugged in a fan to move more of the heat to the back of the house, and then realized she had no way to flush, and headed off to wade through 4 feet of snow to the outhouse to take care of business, and yes she said it was so cold her bottom froze to the seat! As she trudged back to the house with a frozen derriere she realized that the heat tape would be out on the exposed water lines under her home, and it was in great danger of freezing. She had to make a decision, locate her water key and turn off the main line and let the house drain back before it froze up or try to get under the house and set up another extension cord to the heat tape. She chose to drain the water line instead of opening up the exterior crawl space door and letting extremely cold air under the home. Her day got even better when she realized that she was not suppose to re-fill the gas generator while it was running, that it was extremely dangerous to do so. But the pellet stove takes over 40 minutes to power down properly and shut off in order to turn off the generator and refill it to start the process all over again. After 8 hours of playing winter survivor she was tired out, cold and ultimately scared that this could be her necessary routine for the rest of the night or even days. The power stayed out until 10:00pm that night, and the temperature stayed below -20 all day. Since that incident, her generator is always stored inside in winter and she had a transfer switch installed in her electrical panel to plug her generator directly into allowing her to power the absolutely necessary items and appliances to keep her home from freezing. Oh those life lessons, when you realize that you were not really that prepared!
A transfer switch enables you to run a cord from a generator to a dedicated receptacle that feeds a small “critical loads” sub-panel. For the most part, a generator doesn’t need to back-up your entire house, just vital appliances and electronics. Depending on the wattage of your generator it can run your furnace and electric appliances including your well pump and heat tape! The transfer switch prevents you from back-feeding the utility grid by isolating your generator from the main panel, ensuring you don’t endanger the grid and the brave men and women out trying to fix the problem. If you depend on a portable generator for your emergency home power needs, contact an electrician to properly install a transfer switch to make this type of back up safer and more efficient.
Back up generators can also be hard wired into your home power system, and they can be propane, diesel or gas powered. The damp bone chilling cold with sleet and rain that is experienced during our lower mainland winters can be just as uncomfortable in a power outage as the deep snow and frigid temperatures that are experienced as you gain elevation and travel north. Many homeowners are choosing to install a permanent standby generator system that runs off the existing natural gas or propane fuel supply. This type of system is more expensive to install, but automatically starts up when the power goes down, ensuring that your home never looses power even when you are not there. These permanent stand-by systems can cost from $5000 – $10,000 depending on the size and wattage requirements of your vital needs, but the cost of emergency renovations in a home that has burst frozen water lines and soggy drywall after a grid down freeze up can be an even costlier endeavour.
For new home buyers and existing home owners, evaluating a homes winter emergency preparedness is part of your due-diligence. A back up heating/power systems should be at the top of your priority list. Having a fireplace, wood stove, or wood cook stove back up heat source is a great start, and can keep you warm, alive and eating cooked food for a short term – but a long term grid down situation without running water can quickly become a health and sanitary issue for disposal of human waste in an urban environment. Emergency preparedness is part of being a responsible homeowner, and protecting your family, animals and the biggest investment you have should be one of your foremost priorities.