The power in my building went out late this morning while I was eating my breakfast cereal and idly browsing the internets. The inventory of affected appliances and utilities is different than the list of things affected by a power outage when I was a kid.

The new laptop switched to battery power as soon as the lights and the radio flickered out; and because the phone line is unaffected, I still have internet access. (Six months ago, my desktop computer would’ve gone down when the power went out. But it probably would’ve crashed even if the power was on.) I say that the phone line is unaffected (as it would have been when I was little) but the cordless phone doesn’t work because its base relies on house power. The cell phone would be a backup, but it doesn’t get service inside the apartment, and besides, it’s battery hasn’t been holding a charge for the last few days. The heat is still on — my building is heated by a gas furnace. The electric heating system would’ve gone out when I was a kid. The water heater is also gas powered, so I was able to shower. Back in Eastern Washington, that would have been a cold shower. When I was little and the power went out for more than a few hours, the water pressure would have eventually slowed to a trickle because the pump on the community well would have lost power. (Am I remembering that right, Mom? I may be thinking of when the pipes froze.)

The kicker is, that I have an electric stove and I can’t boil water for tea. As with the phone, I would have been less affected by this in Grandview. We had the same dependency on electricity for the stove, but I didn’t have the dependency on caffeine.

Update: I went over to Vivace for tea, and when I came home a few hours later, the lights were on and so was the stove. I guess I had put the kettle on. The kettle was bone dry and the cap had melted and sealed over the spout. Hurray for not starting fires!

Categorized as Before


  1. Well, there wasn’t even a trickle when the pipes froze, and yes there would be no water when the power was out for an extended time. Sometimes something would go wrong with the pump, and we relied on one of the more mechanical neighbors to deal with it.

    We now have a propane camp stove, so we could boil water with the power out–if the window was open for ventilation and we had bottled water on hand. If we didn’t have any bottled water on hand, we would have to go down to Safeway and get some, in which case we might just as well get a cuppa at the deli. (Actually, we had a propane stove back then, too, on the tent trailer.)

    Additional oddity around here–if our power is off, the power across the street is probably okay as it is a different county.

  2. Our power flickers out all the time, sometimes for just a couple of minutes, other times for 20 or 30 mins., and hour … long enough for the house to begin getting cold.

    Everything is tied to electricity, darn it: the well pump, the fuel pump and starter on the heater, the stove … we have large quanitities of water on hand at all times, just in case we have another quake like the 7-pointer that took out our well (and took 3 weeks to replace,) and wood chopped for the fireplace and there’s always the barbecue grill, which we use year-round up here anyway. We must have an abundance of those cheap little “spotlights” that run on a tiny battery, they sit on the counters or you can hang them on the wall; we have one in every room (along with flashlights) every 10 feet and you just push it, the light comes on so we don’t have to stub our toes, making our way through pitch dark.

    It’s amazing how lost I can feel all of a sudden, when the sudden imposed-dark realization hits of our total dependence on non-stop current. I’m addicted to both fuel oil and electricity. Giving either up in this climate is not even an option.

    I wonder often how the old-timers, the sourdoughs and miners who founded this town, carved out their domains in this hostile country, without electricity. It’s hard to imagine living year-round in a canvas wall tent with none of the luxuries we enjoy today. As usual, I suppose the Natives must have helped them, by teaching them survival tips. They were the experts. And very magnanimous.

  3. Shameless Jetboil plug aside…

    Our house has electric almost-everything and two or three power outages during New Hampshire winters. Laptops will last for a while as will the few appliances sitting on small computer UPS’, everything else goes out.

    There’s solar hot water heaters but they need electricity to run the pumps as does the well. Heat comes from a pellet stove which needs a little juice to keep the fans and auger running, another computer UPS will run it for a few hours.

    During one extended outage (around a day) I ended up running things off of our electric car. It wasn’t a very impressive hack: opened up the UPS, bypassed the dead batteries and connected it to individual batteries in the EV. I would prefer to say that I just plugged the house into the EV and it came back to life…

    Mom’s house in the mountains of Wyoming runs off of 12vdc. There’s a fair sized solar panel and small wind generator on the roof with four beefy 6 volt batteries in the crawl space downstairs. She never really has power outages. Worse comes to worse she could run jumper cables from her truck to the house and recharge it.

    On the other hand she doesn’t have a fridge, well water, or many electrical appliances. She has a small TV and radio, both plug into the cigarette lighter sockets used as power outlets. Her iBook runs off of the house voltage without a converter. There’s an AC converter but it uses a lot of juice and messes up radio reception.

    The most striking thing about her house is the quiet. No motors, compressors, or fans. It’ll drive you crazy the first couple of days.

  4. The EV batteries must be pretty strong to power a home for any length of time. But I guess they’d have to be pretty powerful to power a car, too.

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