Extreme Measures For Frigid Temps

Here in my little piece of Texas we experienced the most frigid temps in recorded history. The low temps weren't the issue, it's how long it lasted.

Most of the time we hover between 50-60 degrees in February. It's always a crapshoot because temperatures don't hold steady until mid March. During January through February temperatures fluctuate wildly, but they never stay cold for long.

This year, we had a week and a half of very cold weather. This past week was especially painful because we had rolling blackouts, never having power for more than 20 minutes at a time.

ERCOT claims that had they not ordered the rolling blackouts that the system would've suffered a catastrophic collapse. On the east coast of Texas, energy is ministered by a smaller, private company that beefed up their grid before the severe weather showed up. ERCOT handles the rest of Texas.

Texas Governor Abbot has called for an investigation on ERCOT. My bet is that it came down to money and they didn't want to pony up. It's an interesting aside that five members on the board of ERCOT don't even live in Texas. 

I hope the investigation ferrets out the rats.

Anyway, back to our 10 days of misery. Without power we couldn't warm the house. The inside of the house couldn't rise above the 50s. I started a fire the moment I got up and we kept it stoked all day long. I'm glad now we split and hauled wood before the worst.

No mail for 10 days. No internet since the provider couldn't get enough juice to power his backup batteries. Luckily, we didn't lose water like other people did.

Daytime was the hardest for all of us, including the outside animals. Despite dressing in layers and sitting next to the fire we could not get warm. Sitting there in the cold and dark gave us a list of things we want to change or improve for the next time Mother Nature gets spiky. 

  • Generator transfer switch. Our generator couldn't be hooked up because the power kept cycling off and on. Our first order of business once this is over is to hire an electrician to put in a transfer switch so we could run our generator directly without feeding into the grid if the power came on.
  • A wood stove. Wood stoves are more efficient conductors of heat than fireplaces. We're discussing now about adding a wood stove inserted into the fireplace. I'm on the fence about this. The chances of us having another bitter winter like this could be years away, but I'm willing to look into it.
  • A new alarm system. With the power in a perpetual loop of on and off, our alarm system went berserk and started chirping or shrieking at all hours of the night. I was ready to tear out the wiring with my teeth! It's time to replace it with something newer.
  • More plastic sheeting or clear tarps. We could've kept in more heat if we had hung plastic over the windows or in the back breezeway lined with wall-to-wall screens. We thought we had enough, but we used all the tarps we had for the goats.
  • The animals. The chickens were fine, Greg designed the coop to handle freezes, but we almost lost the goats. Despite the extra tarps and wood panels, we had to go back on the worst day and drape more tarps under the rafters to trap more heat. We also added a radiant heater, but without a constant power supply it only gave them minimal warmth. 

Surprisingly, the only ones who didn't mind the bitter cold were the dogs. Maybe because they knew they could always come in at any time, but they frolicked outdoors like it was a holiday. Weirdos!

Since I tend to look on the bright side, the one good thing about this brutal weather is that insect pests should be less invasive this year. I doubt it killed off scorpions but I'll be glad if it killed off other detrimental garden pests, fleas and ticks.

Only time will tell which of my outdoor plants survived. I just planted many of them last year too. :sigh: I covered what I could, but I checked one bed during the freeze and even with protection it didn't look too good.

One last tip, especially if you have kids. Build an indoor tent. It doesn't have to be anything more elaborate than four chairs with a blanket over the top. What you're doing is trapping heat. The kids (or you) will be comfy and warm.

If you've been caught by unusual cold this year, I hope you and your home weathered it without too many problems. Now that everything has thawed, it's leak patrol. We're going to check every pipe indoors and out for leaks. It'll probably be hard to do since the snows have melted and there's water everywhere, but that's the job du jour. 

How's your winter coming along?

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Jackie said…

Rough on so many Texans for sure Maria as hard to prepare for an event most had never been alive for.

Luckily our home kept power and water both for entire rime.

Without either one we would have either ended up with entire pipe system breaking indoors and out or one of us dying due to freezing to death.

Generator we have talked about will become a fact this year if there are any left to buy.
Maria Zannini said…
Jackie: I'm so glad you didn't lose power! It was miserably hard to keep the house warm.

Definitely check into the generator. The last time we used ours was after a tornado ripped up our power line. I imagine a lot of people are thinking like you and they might be hard to find locally.
Jackie said…
Maria exactly, our home would have been in the 30's or 20's even as we do not have a fireplace or propane space heater in the house. The heater is also on our wish list as we have a jet for it in the family room but in all these years kept putting off buying one.

The generator has been talked about since buying the home also, now we are no longer just thinking about it but know this year it will be found and set up when we find one Karl has decided to invest in.

Winter may not be as ferocious again but we have had outages throughout the hotter months as well here so in light of those know we can use it sooner than later.

Marianne Arkins said…
Living in the Northeast, this kind of thing is typical... and the first few years, aside from a wood stove, we were woefully unprepared for power outages. We have a generator now, and my husband installed it with the switch for the exact reasons. Also, a word of advice (you probably know this, but I have PTSD from our chimney fire), if you do a woodstove insert (and I LOVE OUR STOVE SO MUCH) make sure they install a special insert in the chimney that keeps the opening small. When we first had our stove, the pipe was something like 5" wide, and fed directly into the chimney which was much larger and instantly cooled the air, creating massive amounts of creosote and causing our fire. The special insert keeps the entire length of the chimney the same size as your pipe, and stops the cooling (and significantly cuts down on the creosote).

I feel SO badly for Texas. Yeah, it's like that up here a lot, but we're largely prepared as a whole up here. Most Texans simply weren't and suffered so many losses. I follow several ranchers, etc., from your area and the livestock losses were awful. I'm glad it's warming up again, and I expect you'll all be better prepared for the next time, should it happen. Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Thanks for letting us know you're okay.
Maria Zannini said…
Jackie: How neat that you have a valve for propane heat. Definitely a plus.
Maria Zannini said…
Marianne: We've been doing a lot of research on wood stoves. The pipe diameter kept coming up on our searches so I'll be sure to pay careful attention to that part.

We use the fireplace more for ambiance than heat. We've never had to use it as our sole source of heat before. No wonder old cabins had huge hearths. Wood stoves must've been cutting edge technology when they were invented.

It's over until the next time. Today it's gorgeous and sunny. Snow is all gone.
Angela Brown said…
Generators sold out at a few of the stores I visited before the worst of the ice turned the streets into lanes of ice rinks, but living in a duplex, I didn't have enough knowledge to know what to do with one anyway.

Going several days without power wasn't fun in the least. While a lot of politicizing was going on, I was glad to see folks being creative and inventive in finding ways - safe ways - to stay warm and heat food...saddened for those so desperate that their decisions led to fatal or destructive results.

Given your creativity, I can see you turning an investment in a wood stove insert into something that provides a generous return.
Maria Zannini said…
Angela: I think I'll write a post on how to buy and use and generator. It was complicated to me in the beginning too.

Luckily, I didn't hear or see any politicking because we had no power. LOL. There's a benefit to no power. :)

Growing up in Chicago we know all the tricks for staying warm outdoors. I don't think we ever lost power while we lived there even during the worst blizzards, but outside you were on your own.

I remember one particularly bad day. Greg and I ran to a vent coming from a beauty parlor. It smelled like hairspray, but it was warm, and the wind chill was -75. It was one of the coldest days I ever experienced.
Mike Keyton said…
Huddled around a fire in a dark house. Think of the ghost stories you could have told and recorded. Think of the ghosts you may have attracted
Maria Zannini said…
Mike: Pretty sure any ghosts fled further south. We were too miserable to care anyway.