Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Backup Backup Plan

For much of the past week, I've been in what I believe is technically termed a "tizzy."

The cause of said tizzy was the weather forecast, which was growing increasingly dire as the week went on. By Tuesday morning, it was apparent that we were in for yet another big winter storm—the kind that would shut down pretty much everything for at least a full day. I had to assume that we'd be stuck at home all day on Thursday, if not Friday as well. And based on our experiences last month, I felt I had to assume that we'd spend all that time stuck at home without power.

Realistically, there wasn't that much I could do to prepare for this possibility, but I felt like I had to do something, so on Tuesday I ventured out into the cold and hit up all the local stores I could reach on foot, looking for supplies that might help get us through anywhere from a day to a week of being snowed in with no heat. At the grocery store, I stocked up on canned and instant soups, along with a jar of chocolate-hazelnut spread (a store-brand Nutella equivalent) to placate our sweet teeth. At the drugstore, I picked up a new 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, since working on one was pretty much all that kept us sane during the the January 21 power outage. I also grabbed a couple of "pain relief heat wraps," which are basically just like the little chemical heat packs we already have for emergency use, only tucked inside a stretchy wrapper that you can use to hold them in place on your back or your hip. I'd found that the biggest problem with using the heat packs to keep warm was finding a way to keep them secure under your clothing; tucking them into a pocket doesn't put the heat where you need it, and slipping them into my shirt didn't work because they wouldn't stay put. So I figured we could use these heat wraps for warmth initially, and when they ran out of juice, we could just slip new heat packs into the belts.

Despite these preparations, however, I still felt jittery. I couldn't shake the feeling that we were about to be trapped in a cold, dark house for days, and while I didn't think we were in serious danger of freezing to death, I wasn't truly convinced that the heat packs would be enough to keep us from shivering miserably the whole time. On Wednesday morning, I was poking fretfully through the websites of the local Loweses and Home Depots, trying to see if any of them had any heaters in stock that would run on natural gas. And when I found exactly one in stock at exactly one store, Brian offered to go and pick it up on his way to work if it would keep me from worrying myself to death.

When he went to the store to get it, however, he ran into his first snag. His plan was to hook the heater up to the gas line that feeds our dryer, and he had been assuming that he would be able to use a 10- or 12-foot connecting hose, such as he had seen used with propane grills. However, this turned out not to be an option for a gas heater, so he had to content himself with a 4-foot hose, which wouldn't be long enough to get the heater out the door. So in order to warm ourselves with it, we'd have to camp out in the laundry room. But still, I figured, if things got really bad, we'd be glad to be able to warm up one room in the house, even if it wasn't the nicest room to hang out in. So Brian promised to take a look at the heater and the dryer connection that evening and make sure he'd know how to hook it up in case it was needed.

Snag number two became apparent when we opened the box and started reading the instructions. First, they started talking about various pieces of equipment you'd need to do the installation, none of which was mentioned on the outside of the box. Then we got to the part about the importance of testing the pressure in your gas lines before doing the hookup to make sure that it was no greater than "10.5 inches of water"—and we both realized that not only did we have no idea how to conduct such a test, we weren't even sure what that measurement meant. The further we read, the more apparent it became that Brian's idea of a quick-fix installation was not going to work out. And all the anxiety I'd been feeling earlier in the day now descended on him, as he contemplated the fact that he'd just spent around two hundred dollars on an emergency heater that was going to be useless in an actual emergency.

Fortunately, a check of the weather report confirmed that the much-anticipated snow wasn't expected to start falling until around midnight. So after dinner, back to the Lowe's we went and returned the lot. We did a little poking around the shelves to see if there might be anything else we could use as an emergency heat source, but since I wasn't willing to bring kerosene into the house, we had to rely on our backup backup plan to warm ourselves as best we could with heat packs. Based on sources I'd managed to dig up online, we also planned to confine ourselves as much as possible to one small room in order to conserve our body heat, and to hang up some clear plastic (which we dug out of our storage room) over the room's windows to help insulate them without blocking the light.

Fortunately, we haven't actually had to implement this plan yet. We're now about halfway through the predicted period of the winter storm, and so far, the power has remained steady as the snow has piled up to a depth of about 10 inches. (Well, actually, it's an additional ten inches on top of the six or so we had on the ground already, making a total of sixteen—and that's just in the flat areas. The piles of snow on either side of our driveway have nearly reached the level of my head.) But Accuweather is warning that another 3 to 6 inches of snow is on the way tonight, along with wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour, and that the combination "will likely bring down tree limbs and utility lines resulting in power outages." So I won't feel truly secure until I wake up tomorrow morning and (successfully) turn on the lights. On the plus side, if the power does go out in the middle of the night tonight, the roads should at least be clear enough by tomorrow morning to allow us to escape to someplace that does have heat, like Brian's office. (The cat can't go with us, of course, but hey, we can always leave her with one of those heat packs.)

Meanwhile, my next task is to scout around until I find a contractor who knows how to install one of those little gas heaters properly. Even if we never once have to use it, it should be well worth the cost just for its ability to prevent future panic attacks every time I hear the words "winter storm warning."
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