Monday, July 22, 2013

Staying cool is not a luxury.

Today the temperature is 88 degrees and the relative humidity outside is 92%.  It's our 17th straight day of thunderstorms and rain.  My house is a log house, made of cedar.  Normally it can withstand humidity fairly well but it needs to dry out periodically.  Since that hasn't happened, I've started getting some mildew on the exterior of the logs.  I've sprayed these spots with a water repellent you buy at Home Depot,  and that took care of the mildew.

 Some of the boards on the wrap around porch, which are exposed to the weather, have not held up so well. They were already pretty old, and although they were pressure treated the boards had started to split from so much moisture.  I pulled several of them today and replaced them with new decking boards. There are several types of lumber I keep stored on hand to facilitate repairs. If you use a certain size of board frequently, it's good to keep a supply up in the barn rafters or where ever you have some space. I also keep standard pine studs and other handy lumber for emergency repairs. When you need to do repairs after a storm, you need to do them right then, not when the county gets the roads cleared so you can get to the lumber yard.

It took me about an hour outside to get that done, and by the time I was finished I was worn out.  Nothing is as innervating as high heat and high humidity.  It sucks the life out of you.  Now I'm inside and the temperature in here is a comfortable 74.4 degrees, with 56 % humidity.  I use window units in my house, my shop, the apartment over the shop, and the enclosed spaces of my barn.  There's a good reason for that.

Lots of the summer homes here in the mountains use heat pumps for their cooling system.  They have central air, just like the owners have in their homes back in Florida.  That's convenient, and you don't have to have window units mounted in some of the windows of your house.  You just throw a thermostat switch and all is well.

As long as the power stays on......

Some years back, we had a terrific storm come through here. It was the remnants of a gulf hurricane. Trees went down, there was a lot of flooding, and it happened in the middle of the summer when all the "summer people" were up here. The first things to go were the phones and electricity.

Most of them had generators. They may only have had a 5 gallon can of fuel for it, but they had a generator

Our power grid dates to the 1930's, and Roosevelt's Rural Electrification Program.  Power failures are fairly routine, and they can last anywhere from half an hour to days. So most of the people who can afford one have a generator hooked into an inverter or to a transfer switch. When the power goes out, you kick on your generator.  You can't run a washer or dryer, or any other big load with a 3 to 5 KW generator but you can run lights, the well pump,  the television, radios, and a 5000 BTU window unit or two. Within a day of the storm passing,  people with heat pumps had gone into town to stay at a motel.  They couldn't run the heat pump system on the generator, so the house was not livable.  Because air conditioning not only cools the air but dries it out, many of those people had serious mildew or mold damage when they came back to their places a week or so later after power was restored.

I ran two window units and a dehumidifier,  and managed to stay fairly comfortable. I didn't have any mildew or mold, and I didn't have to go stay in a motel.  So although window units may not look very modern, they have advantages over central air.  Even if I lived in a place where the power was rock solid, I'd keep a couple of small wall units  in the box,  stored somewhere around the place for contingencies.  You can buy a very good 3000 BTU window unit at Walmart (or somewhere else if you don't like Walmart) for around $125.00.

If you are stiff with blunt, as the Brits say, you can buy a propane generator that will run your whole house. It comes with an integral inverter and switches itself on and off depending on the status of your grid power. My brother has one on his cabin in the Sierra's , and he likes it.  Of course, it cost $10,000 so he ought to. For those of us with more plebeian finances, wall units and a good transfer switch will work.

Another nice thing about wall units is they don't have electronic controls. They're all manual. The best piece of gear in the world is useless if the device that operates it is damaged during an electrical storm.  Everything in my house is self contained. Even without power I can run my propane heaters,  my wood burning stove, my fireplace, and the like. I've been in houses where people proudly showed me their new wood stoves that needed electrical power for the blowers, or their great propane heating system that needed electrical power for the control unit. If you are going to live way out , when you design your place identify your critical systems and then ask yourself if they would still work without power. If the anwer is no, you have some more planning to do.

Every time I talk about generators, I like to mention that "back loading" is a really bad thing to do. "Back loading" is where you just plug your generator into a wall socket and power your house that way. First, you don't really know what loads the wires in your wall were set up for, so back loading is a great way to start a fire in your wall or melt your electrical wires. But far worse, when you back load some of that power can "leak" back out onto the grid. Then an electric co-op repair crew comes along, they think the line is "dead" and somebody gets electrocuted.  That happened here two years ago, and killed a 32 year old lineman with a wife and two kids. I can't think of any circumstances where I would ever back load.  A transfer switch will cut you off the grid completely , and you can leave your generator hooked up to the switch so you aren't out in the snow or rain dragging it around and hooking it up. The switch runs about $45.00 at any good hardware store and having an electrician come hook it up costs about $140.00.  You only have to do it once.

The best generator in the world is useless without fuel.


  1. I don't even bother hooking my generator to the house at all.

    I have it set to run my freezer and wood stove blower or a window unit and that's it. I use the batteries from my solar bank with a converter to run the fridge and a light but I have to switch out batteries every 8 hours or so and put them back in the bank to charge off the panels.

    Ya the battery switching is a pain but I use the battery bank to run my shop during normal times so I use no grid electricity out there at all.

  2. As long as it works for you, it's a good system. Especially if your grid power is pretty solid. The other good thing is that you don't have to run your generator all the time. I hate running a generator, because up here in the mountains the sound carries for miles. I might as well be shooting a star cluster as far as telling the world where I'm located. Solar charging and batteries completely alleviates that problem, I would imagine.

  3. "I might as well be shooting a star cluster as far as telling the world where I'm located. "

    That or reading your old blog ...... Ha. Just kidding, Harry!

  4. No, you're right. But I'm being more circumspect this time around! ;-)

  5. No AC for us - haven't the power, and would waste / can't afford / won't unnecessarily break the silence by running a genny to power an AC unit anyway. We have a 40 watt fan, which, when you're sufficiently wet from sweating, cools you down more than adequately.

    Have you tried draping a damp towel round your shoulders - trust me - it works a treat :) And also works if you're out driving - open the windows just a tad, and let the wind / damp towel do it's thing...

    We purchased a 600watt battery charger. This winter, when we have continuously cloudy / rainy days we run the genny for an hour or so / day to power the charger, which charges the batteries, which are connected to the the inverter, which provides stable electricity for the house.

    Life is sweet :)

    1. Dani,
      The problem here is the humidity. It can be 80% outside, and without some kind of air conditioning or dehumidifier mold and mildew start showing up. I admire the way you are set up for off grid living. Electricity is a major dependency.