No Power

December 26th, 2013 by Potato

We’re now heading into our sixth day without power here in Toronto, one of the hardest-hit sub-regions. From driving around the now-deserted neighbourhood, there are a lot of wires down that have just been marked with caution tape and left on the ground. If they all have to be strung back up to restore power, it could be another day even after the crews get to us.

The ice is so thick on everything: well over a cm thick on the ground, and now covered with ~6 cm of snow. The first day the ice was textured, kind of like curling ice, so it wasn’t actually all that slippery, but now it must have melted and refrozen a bit, and with the snow on top it is deadly slippery out.

We bugged out on the first day. Our power has been so wonky over the last year — with an eight-hour outage every month on average — that I actually asked for an inverter for xmas. Unfortunately (or fortunately*) I didn’t get one, so when I heard on the news that it could be up to 3 days to get everyone reconnected, and that colder weather with the potential for wind was coming for the city, I figured this ice nonsense was just going to get worse, and with the baseline level of problems in our neighbourhood grid we would likely be the last ones to be reconnected (closer to the 3-day mark, in other words).

While Wayfare and I could manage the cold by bundling up and staying under blankets, Blueberry just doesn’t have that kind of sense. So even though it was icy and the traffic lights were out, I decided late that first day to bail and crash with my dad north of the city (where they had heat, power, and got snow instead of ice). It was a difficult call to make at the time, as packing up all the stuff a toddler needs in the dark and cold takes time, and I was worried the drive was riskier than the cold (though it would be more pleasant, the icy roads and travelling beneath the branches we could see were falling to the ground was definitely more likely to kill us). But, my parents’ house in Toronto was out, Wayfare’s parents in Markham were out, and the tree branches were literally falling before our eyes, making the problem worse and worse for the hydro crews.

Well, in hindsight it looks like the right move. Just about the whole neighbourhood is abandoned now. Surprisingly, other municipal services have come: the roads and sidewalks have been plowed, and so did the garbage trucks. No sign yet of when the power will be back on. If my initial guess of “we’ll be last” is right, and the news is now saying Saturday for the last few households in Toronto, well, it could be a few more days to go. Of course, they’re also calling for gusty winds to move in over the next few days, which could start the problems all over again as all that ice is still on the trees.

When we left, the house was just ticking down through 14°C (from a set-point of 21-22°C, depending on what part of the programmed cycle it was in), a rate of heat loss of about half a degree per hour. Though they had already said on the radio that people should start running their taps to prevent freezing, I figured we had at least another day before we had to worry about that — and likely longer as the rate of heat loss would come down as the house got closer to the outside temperature. I was surprised though as we came back from the north country 3 days later to find the house was at about 4°C, and was still there the next day. I figured having part of the house (particularly the part with the hot water tank) below the frost line would help keep it “warm” (warm being a relative term when just above freezing is the goal so pipes and mystery bottles in cabinets you never thought about when evacuating don’t explode), as might a tiny bit of greenhouse effect when the sun’s out. So even if it takes another day or two for the power to come back on, it doesn’t look like we’ll have to worry about burst pipes and waiting months for a plumber to give us back indoor plumbing.

It’s eerily quiet in the house and the neighbourhood. So many people gone, no cars trolling around, no fans or furnaces, just silence.

As a last-minute xmas gift, my dad got me a small gas generator (he’s far enough north that they’re still in stock — I’m surprised so many people in Toronto would wait for hours in line to get one there, but wouldn’t take the same amount of time to drive to Barrie). It’s big-font rating is 2000 W, but the capacity is closer to 1600 W continuous. That’s enough to run the fridge, a small space heater, or the fans on the natural gas furnace. Unfortunately, the furnace isn’t wired up in a way that will let me plug it in, and I’m not about to go mucking about with it at this point. The house is too cold to bring it back up with space heaters (though for next time, space heaters might be enough to slow/stop the loss of heat if we start while it’s still warm).

The generator is nearly ten times as expensive as the inverter solution I was thinking of for the Prius (and surprisingly, not much more fuel efficient), though it is nice to just be able to pull the cord and plug in an extension cord, and not have to wire things to the 12 V battery or worry about someone stealing my car. On the downside, the Prius can run for nearly 2 days on a tank of gas in “backup generator mode”, while the generator I have requires refuelling every ~4 hours.

* – I say fortunately because if I did have an inverter to unwrap for this, we might have tried to stick it out. It might have saved the food in the freezer, but 1000 W (the capacity of the inverter I had asked for) doesn’t get you very far with space heaters. Instead of bailing before the wind and snow, and getting to spend a few days with the family up north, we likely would have had a miserable few days of shivering in the dark as the temperature continued to drop from the already-chilly 14°C — just slower than it would have without an inverter/PriUPS to provide power. That, or I would have had to hack the furnace to make it plug-in-able.

One Response to “No Power”

  1. Sandi Says:

    That stinks. I’m glad you guys made it out of the city.

    Next job: teach Blueberry to huddle.