Tuesday, November 8, 2011

No Power, No Heat.

As I've mentioned in the November 5th post, getting a generator required it's own entry.

The first snow storm of the season hit on Saturday, October 29, while most trees still had their leaves causing numerous branches to break and fall on whatever was beneath them.  Your home, your car... the power lines.

The last one created the most inconvenient issue for many folks in our state.  Power went out on Saturday around 1:00 PM.  My wife planned ahead and boiled water making raviolis for dinner that night.  Not thinking that the power would be out for much longer than a day.  Sunday came, I went outside to assess the damage (see the previous post here).  Monday came.. then Tuesday (obviously), still no power.  With no power comes no heat and no hot water.  We can't cook or clean.  Temperatures outside were in the low 40's, not so cold, but inside the house, it was 10 degrees colder without heating.  Our breaths could be seen as we used our iPhones as lanterns.  We used the bathroom via candle light and placed candles within our fireplace to provide just enough light for the morning and night activities.  The mornings were the toughest to wake up to.  The coldness in the home was quite apparent while in the dark, cozy with our bodies heating each others' under six or seven (lost count) layers, getting out of bed was torture.  Even our cat, Oliver, snuggled under the blankets to keep warm.  

We couldn't use any of our five fireplaces due to the possibility of our chimney catching on fire.  The prior owner claims that she had the chimneys inspected and cleaned very two years, yet they are filled with cobwebs, soot and potentially creosote.  Using them would have been VERY risky.

Now for a more serious note.  My wife has a "condition" making her extremely sensitive to the cold.  As a husband, I had to make things better.  We went out to Home Depot and Lowes on Sunday, searching for the Holy Grail (aka Generator) and having no luck.  We called up several stores around the state with no success.  We then changed plans.  We started looking for alternative sources of heat but there were no camping equipment kits available.  Butane powered stoves were all sold out, electric powered items were out of the question.  

At the local Stop and Shop grocery store, on the bottom shelf, hidden like those little gnomes in crazy ladies' gardens, was a small batch of Sternos.  Eureka!  I grabbed all that I could (giving one to a passerby-er).  Came home and we had our first hot meal since the power outage.  Was it good, no, actually, it made my wife sick.  The idea worked well for re-heating food, but cooking from scratch, that was a bit challenging.

I had to do more.  I began to feel helpless for the first time as a married man.  My wife is suffering in the cold, she's hungry and there was nothing I could do.  My heart sank, depression became an everyday event and my mind began filling with anger. Jealousy was apparent as well.  The sounds of generators echoed everywhere but here.  There has to be something, must be, that I can do!

On Monday night, I was able to attempt an icy shower once since the storm (gross... I know I know) whereas my wife was able to shower at her job (the only shining light at this stage).  

You know that everyone is in the same boat when the normal greeting at work becomes "Hey, do you have power yet?"  

On Tuesday, a colleague and I were discussing our own issues regarding the storm, telling each other of how we're coping.  That same day I was able to find a store selling generators.  Well, that is to say, taking names and deposits for generators arriving later that week.  They were asking $2,550 for a Honda 5000 Watt generator and $2,750 for a Honda 6500 Watt.  Almost seems like a scalping.  I relayed my findings to my colleague and we joked about it.

Roughly thirty minutes later, my colleague motions me over.  He's a tall man, but cowers down a little, trying to keep his voice low (I work in a construction field so a low voice is a matter of perspective).  He says, "I know a guy who knows a guy..."  Now doesn't that sound shady!  It turns out that his brother-in-law is a lawyer who's client is about to return two generator's to Home Depot as he got his power back on.  So, through the grapevine, we jumped onto the chance.   I led the way with my GPS and we arrived at the lawyer's office.  In drove the client with two BRAND NEW and SHINNY generators in the back of his pickup.  We paid $640 cash for each, like an illegal trafficking operation in the back parking lot of a shady lawyer (but it wasn't).  My colleague spotted me the cash since I could not get to the ATM in time.  

So there we were, like two kids with the biggest "bestest" toys in the whole world on Christmas morning!  It was so exciting.  I bring my car around, pop the trunk... oh... ?  Damn thing is too big to fit in the trunk.  We take it out of the box and this 'bad boy' rides shot gun all the way home.

I get home and did not have a chance to take it out of the car when my lovely wife comes out with a blanket wrapped around her saying, "I'm hungry."  God, it breaks my heart.  But, there's a mildly pleasing bit of good news.  She tells me that a local restaurant is using a 125,000 volt generator with a refi-trailer keeping raw food cold.  They are open for business and are a couple blocks away.  That night, we spent $40.01 for two dishes of Chicken Marsala and we didn't care.  It was delicious, warm and filling.  And the wait was only 20 minutes.

Getting back to the generator, it sat hidden at the entrance to my rear porch awaiting it's first breath of pure power.  Looking at it, I noticed that I need parts.  I needed what looks like a twist plug for the 240 volt source.  My plan, like many, was to back feed the generator through the 240 volt plug for the dryer, turning off the main fuse switch on the electrical panel so as to thwart any current feed back into the street.  It may not be 100% legal or completely safe but with a wife in her current condition, I was willing to risk it.  Well, I did not have the appropriate connection, so the generator sat in the cold as we likewise slept, yet again, in the cold.

Wednesday after work, I went to Home Depot to find the required plug.  I arrive at the electrical section and a sign hung from the plug accessories shelf reading "Twist Plug for Generator - SOLD OUT."  You have got to be kidding me!  I drove to the nearest electrical supply store, same thing.  In fact, the warehouse has been sold out since Hurricane Irene.  Now, WTF do I do?!  

I get home around 4:15 PM, with desperation.  I have a generator and fuel (which by itself is liquid gold during a power outage) but no freaking way to connect it to my oil burner.  I bit the bullet.  I decided to call an electrician, wary of the costs on short notice in an emergency situation.  The first two electricians did not answer but the third picked up and I simply asked, "I already know the answer, but is there anyway that I can have a transfer switch installed today?"  (For those that do not know, a transfer switch is the legal way to connect a generator to your fuse panel to power the bare essentials in the home).  He answered with a question of his own, "Why, do you have one?!"  Seems like I wasn't the only one not being able to get parts.

I explained the situation to the gentleman and boy was he kind.  He told me that I could remove the male end of my extension cord and connect it to my emergency shut off switch for the boiler.  Then, connect the 120 volt generator to it.  Walla!  Simple, eh?  I expressed some concern, having a bit of fear with electrical components.  The electrician understood and simply asked where I lived.  Turns out he was just five minutes away.  I feared a huge price tag coming, sucking it up, I asked him how much it will cost me.  He said $70.  For what I needed to get done, and the joy it would bring to my wife, $70 was absolutely nothing.  I accepted and he said that he would be right over.  Smiling happily, I thanked him and hung up the phone.

Less than 30 seconds later, the f-ing power comes on!  I turned on the heating immediately and went outside to wait for my untimely savor.

As promised, he arrived.  I told him that the power just came on and apologized for his inconvenience.  He did not once bring up the $70 but gave me his business card.  You can be sure that when I need an electrician, he WILL BE the first person I call! 

After he left, I went back inside our home, boiler burning away, went to the kitchen and I broke down.  I cried.  I mean I balled my eyes out uncontrollably.  Since Saturday afternoon until Wednesday at 4:45 PM, my stress level was pretty high.  And now, with that boiler rocking our home, nothing up until that point seemed to make things any better.

As I write this, I can truly appreciate our modern convinces, yet at the same time, be absolutely fearful of loosing them again.  As mentioned in the November 5th post, it is time for an alternative solution to heating our home.