This was one of the coldest temperatures I have ever experienced in Texas. Heck, it is the coldest I have had in my life.
We lost power on Monday early morning. I woke up at 3:30am, and it was already cold. I estimate that we lost power at least an hour more than that, at 2:30am. I had fallen asleep beside my kids in their bedroom and I woke up due to the chill. On my way back to my bedroom, I realized that the plug in emergency light was on. Sleepy as I was that did not look right, so I checked the light switch- and nadah. At that point, since I was planning to wake up at 4am anyway, I let my wife know and set out to figure stuff out.
I had to take inventory of things, my wife and I had plans for power outages, but it’s been awhile. A flashlight and some warm clothes helped to rid me of the discomforting cold and the distraction with it.
We set up some lights, we were still passive, not fully accepting of the situation. Thinking power would be back in a few hours.
We took out our camping stove and set up a cooking area to make coffee and light breakfast. In all things, a warm meal helps to give you a boost to handle and properly process a crisis.
We took out our blackout kit-a plastic tub with a bunch of useful things for times such as this. We set up extension chords and set it up to reach as much as we could. I wish I had done this before-knowing what electrical loads I could put in at the same time would have reduced my stress so much. The generator was set out on the deck
Charging station set up for all small devices. A dedicated chord went to the fridge. We powered the wifi and router as well.
With temporary power back up, we tried to get online to confirm if we can power the furnace for heat. Heating was the biggest worry since we had food and other supplies. We quickly found out we still had no internet in our area. We had cellular data, but that was so spotty and slow that it was mostly wasted time.
Around lunch time I went to get last minute supplies. The thought was to get ahead of the crowd, we needed a propane tank which I was planning to get next month. We had some propane canisters but I had a tank which was not full. Also wanted to get some more plastic sheathing to help some plants thru this-I was kicking myself for not protecting them sooner.
About 3 hours or so later, there were no propane in multiple stores. I had to give up on looking for propane since I know I had to go home – wife and kids were cold and hungry. I filled up our vehicle with gas-which we could use as backup power inbetween using the generator.
Home Depot was already out of:
Roads were snowed in. My guess was about 6inches of snow fell on Sunday night. Few vehicles were out, mostly those with 4WD. I did see quite a few minivans and saw their front wheel drives struggling.
Stores were open, but at limited capacity. They were not fully staffed and not all supplies were replenished. Stores which self identified as essential were open (like Home Depot and Walmart). Others maybe could not since staff cannot get to work in the snow.
Getting home, garage door had to be opened manually due to lack of power. I kept the groceries in the vehicle, since the garage was colder than our fridge. First task was to feed the family for a late lunch.
Again, the biggest task for the time was keeping family warm, including sustaining livestock and fish.
Surprisingly our livestock stayed alive with the cold cold weather-the lowest I had was 1 degree. About 2x or 3x a day I would take their water in and defrost it. I’d replace it with warm tap water that they could drink. Egg production was actually pretty good.
Outside the house, we had been digging up the beginnings of a tunnel for some plumbing repair under the slab. Fortunately I did not get too far down and under the house to have exposed the pipe-which would have frozen in this temperature. I guess digging will resume after the ground thaws out. Note to self – review projects for weather impacts, particularly crazy ones.
Coldest part of the house was where we had the most windows. This was in the living room and honestly there was not much we could do for now. We sort of abandoned the living room and focused our efforts in the kitchen and bedroom. There was too many moving parts and we had to prioritize. Moving forward, we should hang up our thicker blackout windows in the winter. Some rigid pink insulation taped to the glass would have helped – in my imagination – just maybe not practical since I have to buy them and spend time to install them.
We lost a lot of heat too whenever I had to go out to check on the livestock and had to open the door. When we ran the generator the extension cord kept the door open just a crack-but this let in a ridiculous amount of 1 degree air which quickly blanketed the living room floor. I wish I had some kind of gasket for this-thinking back now I had some 1/2” pipe insulation I could have used.
Seeing the mess that started to pile from the activity in and out of the house, I really wish we had a mudroom. We set up a spot for wet boots, outdoor gear and a soggy frigid bucket I use to help bring the livestock warm water. The finishing touch was a small chair with a spot to remove the dripping boots. Definitely a case for a mud room in Texas, especially considering how many times in the day I had to step outside.
On Monday night, we went to bed exhausted but felt we had accomplished well under the circumstances. We got to 7 degrees I think. Somehow everything feels like a blur. We had no power all day and we spent all our time and labor making basic things work just enough. I recall being outside at 8pm, kicking myself in the head for not having covered enough of my plants with plastic in prep for the 1 degree weather coming on Tuesday. I was frigid, but was able to keep working outside thinking of all the care and time I spent on these plants might go to waste. There was a big lesson in all of this.
POWER RESTORED TUESDAY NOON
When power came back on, we got busy. We charged everything and ran the fridge. We heated the house-just enough to be bearable. The indoor temp was 48 degrees when I checked, we were not looking for nice and toasty-just not frigid. We were very mindful that increasing our heat might mean someone else’s grid gets affected and delay resuming power to their families. We cooked food for the next few meals and made bread. We were anticipating the blackouts to return, as we heard news from some friends that it was rotating around. We planned to have power for 4 hours and got busy right away.
We still did not have reliable internet. We had internet for a while, just enough for me to set up an out of office email and respond to some urgent requests. Before I could do more research on powering my furnace with the generator, internet was out again.
We kept clothes and gear ready for when we lost power again. We took care of what needed to be done so that we had less to worry about later. As we went to bed, we celebrated that we still had electricity past the 4 hours we expected to have it for. We kept things at the ready in case we woke up in the night with power out.
This morning as I type this, we still have power. I am thankful for it and pray for those who still do not have power or heat in this weather. We’ve kept electricity consumption to a minimum and are wearing warm clothes. We have a list of things we want to work on for future benefits of this home. We have some which we can do right now. If things continue today, I should have some capacity to figure out how to get some work done at my day job. We still don’t have internet, but the main crisis is over and that frees up my ability to find other solutions.
I apologize this is not a typical blog post, but I thought it may be of benefit in the future to share lessons learned thru this winter. If you are still out of power in Texas, I hope you get some relief soon. I hope you get something useful and actionable out of this. Stay safe and God bless.
Alt-Ark‘s goal is to make architecture more permaculture. We seek to empower the creation of forever homes that families can design to match the lives they choose.