We lost power in a thunderstorm last Wednesday and didn’t get it back until this
Much of my original motivation for getting into homesteading was disaster
preparedness. So it was particularly frustrating that we weren’t ready for this event.
In my defense (it’s human nature, unfortunately, to always defend ourselves!), I had
done some things to be ready for such an event. Just a few days earlier I had procured
two 300-gallon IBC totes from a local recycling center for catching rainwater. And I had
bought the 5-kW generator attachment for the BCS.
But … I hadn’t connected the IBC totes yet. Before I can do that I have to install gutters
on my shop, and I haven’t even purchased those yet.
And the BCS generator worked great, minus a few maintenance hiccups with the engine
that I’ve finally worked out after a few trips to the local Amish engine repair guy.
(Because who knows engines better than the Amish?
The upshot, in case you’re interested: during shipping, the engine had spent some time on its side, and the carburetor and air filter had become saturated with oil. We replaced both, but then after-market carburetor didn’t fix the problem; the engine only stopped surging when I put in
an actual Honda carburetor.)
Our electrical problem is that the house we purchased does not have a manual transfer
switch that would allow us to plug the generator straight into the house to power a few
important outlets and appliances. So I was able to run extension cords into the house to
power the refrigerator and two deep freezers (we just bought half a cow—see, we’re
prepared!), but I was not able to power our well.
In other words, we felt prepared … but without any way to get water—even from a rain
Of course, one of our other motivations for homesteading was to live in community with
people who would support one another during times like this. And even having only
been here for two months, this definitely happened. Our neighbors—all of whom had
both generators and switches so they could run their wells (I confess that I’m a bit
annoyed that the people who owned our house didn’t install one)—took good care of us,
offering water and showers and whatever else we needed.
To again attempt to defend myself, we’re in the process of ordering two wood-burning
stoves, one for each level of the house. The weather during the five days of our power
outage was mercifully just about perfect. But that might not be the case next time. I’m
not sure how this would have gone if it had been in the middle of a Michigan winter. It’s
honestly good this happened now so that we know how to be prepared next time.
One of the other blessings of the storm has been an abundance of free firewood and
lumber. It’s remarkable to think that a tree that spent 80 or 100 years establishing itself
and growing, becoming dominant in its own little ecosystem, can suddenly—in one gust
of horizontal wind—collapse.
So in addition to trying to deal with not having water for my family of six, the race has been on to procure as much firewood as possible. Having moved here in the summer, I’m already at least six months behind—the wood I’m gathering now really should be split and stacked so it can be burned not in this coming winter, but the following one.
The competition for wood is also fierce because many people here burn firewood. This
is a great thing—people should use a renewable resource they can gather themselves
instead of relying on a utility company they have no control over—but it means that
there’s a battle for any tree that falls alongside a road.
One of my advantages in this quest for fuel is that I have a larger chainsaw than most
people. A month or so ago I bought a Stihl 462 to go along with my Stihl 251. This lets
me (attempt to) tackle thicker trunks than many others can. All the small- and medium-
sized branches seem to get picked up first.
I have no experience estimating the number of cords of firewood in a huge pile, but my
kids and I have assembled a decent stash so far. We’re hoping to increase it in the
coming days. I also want to try out my Granberg chainsaw mill to procure some maple
and oak boards for future construction projects. (I’ve been brainstorming about how to
design a covered woodshed that has a smokehouse for meats on one end, firewood
storage in the middle, and a shack for boiling maple syrup on the other side.)
The Amish guy I brought my BCS to was very helpful, and he and I had a good time joking about how defeated I was without electricity. He was very gracious, of course, but it was a bit embarrassing for me.
Hopefully next time this will work out better. I’ve already contacted a few solar
companies about installing a system with a battery backup.
Read more Homestead Blog posts by Paul Meyer.