Yesterday afternoon was extremely frustrating for me, but it was worthwhile. The two reasons it was worth it: 1) Ryan spent the entire afternoon outside on the patio with me on what was a delightful day, and 2) I solved an unforeseen problem before it became critical. This mini-crisis got me thinking and what I discovered is that I’m not as prepared as I thought. So, first I’ll tell you about yesterday then I’ll share my plan.
This problem was a gasoline-powered electrical generator. I wanted to have it up-and-running ahead of the severe weather we might be getting. It looks like we’ll get a fairly good wallop, but nothing compared to the coastal areas. Being so far inland, we’re not in any immediate danger, but the wind gusts (up to 60 mph) and heavy rain could topple trees and knock out power here in Northern Virginia. If you don’t hear from me it is because we lost electrical and/or communication services.
As for the generator, it was a multitude of issues. We received it from Ryan’s Wish List almost two years ago. We had no prolonged power outages since then so I left it packaged. Until yesterday, that is.
I filled it was gasoline and pulled the starter cord. It fired-up but was sputtering. After a minute or so it conked out. I went through that sequence several more times and the result was always the same. I thought it might just need to run for a bit to get warmed-up, but I was beginning to wonder if my gasoline, that I bought last summer, was somehow bad.
I pulled the starter cord again and SNAP! I’m standing there with the handle and about six inches of cord in my right hand. I look down and see the rest of the cord had rewound inside the unit. This is a problem.
So, I get to work on solving it. I’m sure I have cord (somewhere) in my garage. The only question is, would it be strong enough to take the force of yanking on it? I came across several that I though should work, be each failed immediately. Each time I would have to take the housing off the generator, rewind the tension spring (that’s always a challenge), rewind a new cord, and put the housing back on.
After three hours of failure the solution was a simple shoelace. A shoelace! And not just any shoelace either. It was a very old one, from a pair of tennis shoes I can’t even remember wearing (but obviously did, based on their poor condition). Not the type that comes in most athletic shoes over the past decade — I snapped at least two of those. It was the old school type, made of braided string.
While I was working on the “shoelace solution” a friend ran to the service station and pumped a fresh five-gallons of gas. I drained the generator and refilled it.
I pull the cord and the generator kicked in.
For a minute.
Then sputtered out. Again!
What else could it be? I had to know start investigating the least obvious causes. I started with the spark plug, and I’m glad I did. It was cracked. My guess is it happened during shipping two years ago. The same friend then runs to Advanced Auto and get a new plug.
I pull the cord.
The generator immediately comes to life. This time, unlike every other, it’s purring like a kitten.
After all that work it almost makes me want the damned power to go out. If it weren’t for Ryan I would. Even with the generator, caring for him over an extended outage will be daunting. His equipment draws so much power! The bed alone will pull over 75% of the generators capacity, leaving very little for other equipment. It will come down to switching plugs as we use what is needed. We should be okay, unless we need two pieces with a heavy load. Then some tough decisions will be made.
As for Ryan, he will never be at risk. We can always take him to the hospital, but this is clearly not desirable. My self-caused problem (i.e., short-sightedness) is I didn’t put a backup plan in place for the generator failing. I won’t be caught
with my pants down unprepared again. For certain, another generator is a must. This one will be powerful… it has to be. Although not the case with this weather event, it scared me when I realized I didn’t allow for frigid weather. We need a unit large enough to power a minimum of two space heaters, on top of everything else.
So here’s my plan. I’ve found the least expensive unit, $299, and listed it on Ryan’s Wish List (if you don’t see it there then it means it was purchased!). This will become the primary backup and the smaller unit will be my fail-safe. Then, I believe I’ll start a targeted fundraiser to buy and install a “standby unit” that runs off our existing natural gas line. With these two systems in place — generator and standby units — I can then switch critical equipment (like oxygen, suction, bed, space heaters, etc) to the standby and run auxiliary equipment from the generator.