Home Improvement,  Home Ownership,  Preparedness,  Texas,  Winter

Why Your Home May Need a Portable Generator

Post Summary: How to Buy & Set Up a Generator for Your Home

Snowstorms are not a common occurrence in Texas, especially in San Antonio. I have lived in San Antonio for the better half of two decades and I can count on one hand the number of “icy” freezes we’ve experienced. Typically, when San Antonio experiences a deep freeze, it’s one of those “stay home until the roads thaw by 10 am” type of freezes.

Because severe winter storms are so rare in Texas, we simply do not have the infrastructure to handle these big storms like other cities who are accustomed to this type of weather. You see, San Antonio is not equipped with snow blowers, snow shovels, salt trucks and everything else other cities use as they know every year, snow will be coming. This reality became even more real during the infamous winter storm of 2021.

I wanted to take the time to share my story during the winter storm, as I know that many of you can relate to the stress, fear, and frustration that we all felt during that very cold week in February of 2021. And also share with you how I plan to prepare and protect my family with a portable generator should another winter storm (or other weather event) threaten to turn off our electricity again.

So it begins…

Thursday, February 11, 2021, it all began. The news stations were expressing the concern of the cold front coming in. Seriously, not one Texan thought what was about to happen…. Oh but it did. With a vengeance.

As the weather starts to get colder in Texas, I usually reach out to my clients to make sure they wrap their outdoor hose bibs, especially if they are located in the Hill Country. Home Depot and Lowes sell little plastic foam covers or black “sleeves” which are inexpensive and will help prevent freezing pipes. We do wrap our plants in blankets or bags to prevent from the cold killing the plants. Again, not many heed the warning because we know the weather will be back up to 80’s within 48 hours.

Saturday evening, we received little soft, white “flurries”. It was really pretty, but again, the ground was too warm for anything to stick.

On Sunday, Valentine’s Day, everything is icy. Any flurry that landed on the ground overnight had turned into ice the next day. Black ice is not fun!

I had a full weekend of appointments to show homes in the Boerne area, but we decided to rescheduled. To be honest, most Texans do not know how to drive in the rain. I knew the icy roads would definitely be a no-go. Roads in and out of Boerne and the Hill Country area were closing highways, especially over passes. However, the frontage roads were still open.

That evening, I couldn’t believe my eyes! More flurries and this time they were ticking to the ground. I was beyond excited and walked out the front door….. bam!! Oh yes I did…. I broke my A**. I slipped and fell down 5 cement steps. As I was sliding, my right arm slid under the railing and got caught. Now, I’m scared, frustrated and hurt as no one knew I was stuck on the steps. I started to scream and yell, of course, I didn’t want to scream to loud for the neighbors to see me and laugh. Right…?!! Because why did I even think to go outside? Nope, I have no idea either. I know my thought process was to take a few steps to make sure the flurries were really sticking to the ground. Once I confirmed, I was going to get my crew outside for photos! Nope, I didn’t make it that far.

Now, the city is really starting to figure out the weather in the morning, because we have school and work of course. Well, they since the pandemic, the school district realized everyone can “zoom” from home. So this became their plan for Monday as we weren’t sure about the weather conditions in the morning. And to avoid the headache trying to guess as to when the roads will be open.

Ok. that’s fine. All the while, I’m still working on contracts and deadlines.

When the Lights (& Heat) Went Out

Monday brought the moment I will never forget – the flicker of power!

We were told the city “must” conduct “rolling-blackouts” and assured by the city if your power goes out, it will be back up within 10-15 minutes.

I thought to myself, “Um, ok I guess”. I’m originally from Southern California and experiencing rolling blackouts in the summertime was not unusual. Most people didn’t use their AC all year long, but sometimes the weather would get well into the high 90’s-100’s! Your power would turn off, but at most for 30 minutes.

Around 9am, zoom crashed and kids can’t do their classwork. Ok, whatever. For my work, it’s a completely different story. I’m up against an “option period” deadline. By 5pm if a decision wasn’t agreed upon regarding repairs, my buyers were out of a contract and thousands of earnest money.

Around 10am, my phone started to not connect. I couldn’t text, email or make any phone calls. At that moment the power went out. I sat there, and within a few minutes it was back. I thought, “ok, as long as it comes back on, I will be ok”. Over the next two hours, the power would turn off and 25 minutes later, it would come back on… BUT, it was only staying on for 2 minutes. Um, this is not good. To add to the chaos, we’re starting to get really cold. As Texans we really don’t have snow attire. It’s never this cold and long enough. We wear multiple sweatshirts, layers of leggings and maybe two socks.

Now, it’s 12pm and the power hasn’t turned back on. I’m starting to panic. My amazing husband saw the look on my face and said, let’s all take a break and work on a puzzle. I remember thinking to myself, when the power come back, I need to call my office to find out if I’m not able to get documents signed, what is the emergency protocol for my clients. It’s now 1pm and still no power. David’s work phone was sending texts and his calls could go through every few tries. So, I called my clients, office and agents. I was assured if both parties agreed to the terms via text or email, we are protected until docs were signed. This helped me calm down. But then panic began in a different manner.

It’s 2:30pm, partly cloudy and still no power. At this point, I’m getting really nervous because the house is really, really cold! I knew if the power stayed off during the night, we were going to freeze. As 3:30pm rolls around, still no power. I used my husband’s phone to call friends to see if they have power. At worst case, if we can stay the night and be back home in the morning.

Some friends were out of power, but they had a gas fireplace. Side note, we do too, but had converted it to electric. Never again will I do that.

It’s 4pm and we packed up the kids and two dogs and went to the home of our wonderful friends, Adolfo and Lorena Luna.

Of course, they have a big family, kids and dogs so you can understand how embarrassed and frustrated I was. I was confused as to why some people had power while others didn’t. In my mind, the “rolling blackouts” was BS! So far our water was still on, which meant the water heater was keeping the pipes warm.

That night, I’m on our neighborhood FB page. We have different sections in our development and apparently, the section we live in was the only 100 homes with no power. The adjacent neighborhood (which is immediately north to the JW Marriott hotel) never once lost power or water. How is this possible? We are all in the same PID!

Neighbors were posting to the communal FB page to please turn off your backyard string of lights so we can get some electricity. I was extremely disappointed within our community and HOA board members who seem to all live closer to the hotel and none in our section, and the lack of compassion for our section. Again, our section consisted of around 100 homes (families). Oh, before I forget, our neighborhood gates were closed shut (which require power to operate). Not one member of our HOA community thought to think we maybe trapped to get in or out. Not going to mention who had to manually open the gates, but they are the real heroes.

Now it’s Tuesday and we get our family up and out early in the morning in hopes to have power when we get home. Gates are frozen half way open and cars were pushing them open and using big boulders for the gates to at least stay open.

We walked inside to immediate disappointment – the power is still off. Rolling blackouts seemed to be a mute point. Power was 100% off and now so is the water. Our friends still had power and water without any trouble as we learn they are on the hospital grid. Hmm… now this is very interesting to me. Who knew about the grid and the importance if the power went out?

By 2pm, same day, we had a feeling this wasn’t getting any better. We packed up food, clothes, dog beds and coolers of food that could go bad and drove back to our friends house for three more days.

Just When We Thought it was About to Be Over…

Wednesday, seems the snow is starting to slowly melt! Yes, thank you! I’m hoping the power will start having “rolling turn-ons”. We plan to leave in the morning to go back home.

On Thursday at 6 am, I woke up to discover that another snow storm has arrived! Are you freakin’ kidding me right now??? Another round of snow???? The panic has resurfaced and I think, actually my brain stopped working. I couldn’t think anymore and the news is making my anxiety worse.

I go downstairs to fix breakfast for my friends and turn the sink water on only to find that the water is starting to trickle. I shut it off and said, “guys, I think we are about to lose water”. I sit down and have no idea what to do except freak. I jump up, grab a bucket and start scooping up snow. In my mind, the water is going to turn off and we need to at least flush toilets. As a woman, you need to flush the toilet when “aunt flow” arrives… end of story!

As you can try to imagine the tension and frustration I was feeling and the feeling to “survive” came over me. I have clients who’s home I need to check in and I couldn’t get anywhere. The power of having an amazing real estate office and agents who live all over our town, were able to walk down their street to check on homes. I started to hear agents share the importance of checking in as one agents home had busted pipes and flooded. Ceilings were falling in, pipes within the foundation and walls were bursting. Some homes had their water heater located on the outside of their home that froze and burst. By the grace of God, all of my clients and their homes were in good condition, however, they didn’t have water or power like myself.

Now we are at Friday. David and our friend drove to our home to see the condition. Our neighbor stopped by in a panic as he and family were living on the floor by the fireplace for the few nights. Just like us, we thought the power would eventually turn back on, but it never did. He shared with us that he thought they were going to die that night and he’s leaving.

Hearing the stories and the families, like us, turn into fear and survival, yet 100 yards away, they had homes with fully lit and their backyard string of lights as well. I guess in their mind, the trees need to stay warm…smh?

So… We Bought a Generator

This brings me back to July 2021. Why July? San Antonio started receiving a “trickle” of generators and I wanted to have one. My husband didn’t understand the seriousness of my fear and of course, we got into a fight. When I get in panic mode, life stops. I can’t think straight and I begin to break. After a few minutes of “discussing” my fear, he said we can get a generator anytime. I said “really?” He said “yes, let’s go to Lowes right now”. As we were driving, I remember feeling excited as if I was going to Toys R Us when I was a kid. As a kid, we grew up with very little. My mom had to work 3 jobs after my dad passed away. If there was a moment we had a little cash, it went to gas in the car, mac n cheese for dinner or a matinee movie.

As David was driving me to Lowes, I kept asking questions, “did you call ahead, did we pay for it already?”, etc. He smiled and said “yes, they are holding it for us”.

I literally couldn’t believe it was this simple!

We arrived and walked in. I was so excited, I didn’t know where to claim the generator. So, I walked up to someone and asked where are the generators located? The young man looked at me with and was confused. He said generators? I said yes, my husband reserved one. At that moment, I realized my husband didn’t reserve one, rather pulled up their site and it showed 2 in stock. The young man said, “oh ma’am I’m sorry. With all of the hurricanes in the Gulf, we ship all of our generators to the stores closer to the affected areas.”

I looked over at David and he could see the panic coming back. Now, I’m worried about hurricanes taking all of our stock? How is this possible?

Long story short, I ordered 3 generators from multiple venues in hopes one will arrive before the winter. I figured, I have 5 months to get one here.

Two weeks went by and one big generator (dual fuel) arrived!

How we Set Up our Generator

This is where the fun begins…

David hired a plumber and electrician and amazingly setup our home up to accommodate a portable generator. This was the cheaper version vs. permanently attaching it to the home.

DuroMax XP12000EH

Step One: Purchase a Generator

We wanted a generator that was very reliable and had plenty of power. We went with a DuroMax XP12000EH. The generator runs of regular gasoline and propane.  We ran the generator for 2 hours on propane to break-in the engine. We were really impressed that there was no smoke exhaust and that the generator was not as loud as we expected.

Step Two: Purchase a Natural Gas Convertor

There are tri-fuel generators on the market, but they are hard to find currently. You can purchase an after-market kit that will allow your generator to run on natural gas. During the winter storm our home lost electricity and water, but we never lost natural gas.

A worry for us is how much gasoline or propane do we need to have stored to run a generator for a week of no electricity. With a NG convertor we could basically run the generator as long as needed. Here is a video that walks you through the steps on installing the convertor.

The convertor kit cost is around $250. You can find a link to the convertor kit, here.

Step Three: Add a Natural Gas Quick Connect

We contacted a local plumber to add a natural gas quick connect on the side of our house for the generator. At the gas meter he added a t-valve, shut-off valve, 6 feet of black steel pipe and a quick connect.

There are plenty of city codes that need to be followed so be sure to get a licensed plumber to do this work.

Step Four: Add a Transfer Switch

We wanted to be able to use just one cable from the generator to power the house. A licensed electrician installed a Transfer Switch next to our outside main breaker. The switch was tied into our inside panel breaker, which is a 50-amp breaker. The generator will power all inside lights, electrical outlets (fridge/freezer/oven) and most importantly our home heater.

How to Turn On the Generator When You Lose Power

  1. Open NG line to generator, prime
  2. Start generator, let it run for 1 minute
  3. Plug cable into generator, and then transfer switch
  4. Flip transfer switch to generator power
  5. Log start run time

A Couple Other Important Notes on Portable Generators

  • Portable generators require regular maintenance. Make sure you keep up with regular maintenance so everything runs smoothly when you need to use the generator.
  • It’s important to keep track of how long you’ve been running your generator and how many hours of energy it has left so there are no surprises.

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