Preparing Your Home for Power Outages
The chilly temperatures overnight recently are a reminder that winter is right around the corner and with it the annual spate of power outages which are just a routine part of life in the Sierras. Whether a loss of electrical power lasts for just a couple of minutes or several days, it's important that everyone who lives at Lake Tahoe in the wintertime is prepared for dealing with this type of situation. Some people view the loss of electricity as a minor inconvenience and an opportunity to enjoy a romantic evening with candlelight and a bottle of wine. But for most property owners it's an ordeal that deprives them of the modern creature comforts they are used to having to support their normal lifestyle.
Enduring power outages is a lot easier if you have done some planning in advance so that when the lights go out you can still be relatively comfortable instead of going into survival mode. The first thing that you need easy access to is some alternative form of lighting. Using candles can evoke images of Abe Lincoln studying in his little one-room cabin, but it's also a great way to inadvertently burn your house down. Candlelight is warm and charming, but if the power goes out after sunset how are you even going to find your favorite candles when everything is pitch black around you?
Flashlights and small battery powered lanterns are a convenient source of emergency light so it's good to keep one within arm’s reach in every bedroom in the house. Modern day headlamps can weigh as little as 2 ounces, use AAA batteries and have LED lights where the brightness can be adjusted to cover a wide range. Using a headlamp allows you to have both hands free while you scurry around the house to get things done or simply kick back in your favorite easy chair reading a book about Abe Lincoln until the batteries run out.
One of the biggest problems during a power outage is the loss of heat in your abode. Gas furnaces and boilers still need electricity to operate. Properties with electric heat (which includes many of the condos and a few older homes in our community) will not be generating warmth anytime soon. Having a wood or pellet stove as a backup source of heat can be a lifesaver during these times. There are many advantages to having a wood stove as compared to a fireplace. Woodstoves generate a lot more heat and if necessary you can boil water and cook on top of them. Sleeping bags are a fine alternative for staying warm at night if your bedrooms are not located adjacent to the room where the wood stove is cranking away.
All of your sensitive electronics such as computers and peripherals, television sets, stereo equipment, etc. should be connected to surge protectors. We get lots of power spikes here in the mountains and when the electricity does go out for any length of time the initial surge when it comes back online can damage home electronics. You can get through a minor power outage of 8 hours or less with a battery backup system connected to your home office equipment.
Enduring lengthy power outages that last more than a couple of days can result in many people leaving the community and getting a hotel room in Reno or elsewhere. A better long-term solution is to install a natural gas generator (assuming you have a gas line running to your property). The investment for this type of backup system can run anywhere from $5000 up to $40,000 depending on the size of the generator, proximity of the gas meter to your electrical panel and whether or not your present utilities need to be upgraded to accommodate the installation.