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Too cold, too hot – are you prepared

Many European countries are ordering government buildings and others to limit their air conditioning thermostat to 77F and heat to 66F. It’s not clear how they can enforce these limits aside from astronomical electricity prices.

But if electricity prices rose dramatically and you were forced to implement something like this what would be the impact to you? How would you prepare or react?

In my case, we keep the AC at 74F during the day and night. In the winter we set heat to 72F but turn it off around 9pm and back on at 4:30am. It is no lower than 50F at 4:30am and we believe we sleep much better in a cool room.

I work at home permanently now and my ‘office’ is next to the garage and on a concrete slab. The room is not very efficient and it’s near 80F in the summer so I use a fan. The drawbacks are I tend to get heat rash and I need a shower at the end of the day.

In the winter, the floor of this room is very cold and the room is usually in the low 60’s. I use a closed-cell foam pad to keep my feet warm, wear a vest and a hat.

My concerns for the coming winter have less to do with the recommended range of temperatures and more with the reliability of power.

How will you adjust? How will our European members adjust?

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  • Comments (16)

    • 2

      Dress for conditions….

    • 3

      Europe’s electric problems – a peak under the covers

      From Bloomberg News: https://tinyurl.com/3ernxudb

      Every week, the people who trade electricity in the UK get to quiz the managers of the national grid for an hour. The conference call, which anyone can monitor, offers an insight into what the men and women on the front line of the power market are worried about. Listening to them is getting scarier by the week — and suggests keeping the lights on this winter will be a lot more challenging than European governments are admitting.

      Prices are worrying enough. British households were told on Friday that their power and gas bills will increase from Oct. 1 by 80%. The so-called energy price cap was set at £3,549 ($4,189) per year, up from £1,971 over the past six months and £1,277 during last winter.

      But the industry’s teleconference suggests the problem is broader than just rising costs. Increasingly, the words “emergency” and “shortages” are being used, with participants focusing on when, rather than if, a crisis will hit. Imagine being able to overhear conversations between Wall Street executives and the Federal Reserve as the global financial crisis unfolded in 2008.

      Here’s a question from last week’s session: “Are you war-gaming possible options for if/when cross-border trading collapses under security of supply pressures this winter?” And another: “Can we have a session where we talk through the emergency arrangements?” Another participant said that the forecast for demand-and-supply electricity balance showed “how bad the winter could be for anyone who can do the maths.” The same caller was blunt about the grid’s own predictions: “I don’t think you believe what you’ve written, and nobody else does.”

      One intervention was particularly revealing. “Based on where winter ‘22 products are trading, where does this position yourself with respect to securing power over the winter?”

      Compare the tone with the British government’s insistence that there’s nothing to worry about. “Households, businesses and industry can be confident they will get the electricity and gas that they need over the winter,” Downing Street said earlier this week. “That’s because we have one of the most reliable and diverse energy systems in the world.”

      A key concern is what happens if European countries introduce beggar-thy-neighbor policies by shutting down cross-border electricity flows, as Norway has already said it’s considering. “Please, the market needs to understand more fully how interconnectors are to be used in periods of very high prices and potential generation shortfall,” one market participant said last week.

      The manager of the Finnish grid, in a rare example of the kind of transparency that’s badly needed, told citizens earlier this week to prepare for shortages this winter. European governments have a duty to come clean with their voters about the magnitude of the coming crisis.

    • 4

      Here in Florida, 95 degrees and 70% humidity is typical summer weather. Sweating just doesn’t work here. Even in short and t-shirt, I can’t stay outside long in that. I also need to be prepared for occasional hotter temperatures above 100 degrees.

      My main solution is A/C, typically set to 75 degrees. If we couldn’t run the A/C, we’d be looking for a hotel with A/C. We mostly stay indoors during the hottest part of the day.

      If I need to go out during the hotter parts of the day, I take my cooling vest. The idea is similar to an ice vest, except it’s designed to pace itself. It cools me just enough to take the edge off of the heat, and therefore can last for a full two hours.

      First Line Tech Mesh Cooling Vest

      B89C69D1-D006-470C-8E12-183A28694461

      • 2

        If you have a full house AC that goes out, maybe having a portable window AC unit that could cool down an individual room would be a smart idea to have. The cost of a night or two in a hotel would probably cover the cost of the AC unit, and possibly you could run that off a generator during an emergency if hotels were full. 

      • 3

        Eric, this cooling vest interests me. (I’m in Arizona).  They have quite a price tag. I scoured the website, and I am trying to figure out how they work, exactly. How, exactly, do you “reactivate” them? Do you wear yours under your clothes?  Staying cool in our 110+ heat is a priority, especially in a grid-down situation.

      • 3

        JBinAZ, I’d be happy to explain the cooling vest in more detail. Yes, it’s quite expensive at $280, but worth it because we have so many hot days in Florida. With this vest, I no longer need to be trapped inside on hot days.

        You recharge the vest by cooling it. Any temperature below 80 degrees will do the job, so I typically just leave it on the floor of an air conditioned room. If you need to recharge it faster, you could put it in a freezer or cooler. In a grid down situation, perhaps you could still manage to power a smaller freezer via generator or solar.

        I wear the vest under a t-shirt. It’s slim and form-fitting enough to be concealed.

        The vest will keep your skin “slightly cool” under the vest. If you tried putting it on in an air conditioned room, you might not even notice the difference. But keep it on while going out in the heat, and the skin under that vest continues to feel like it’s in a cool room.

        This video does a good job explaining how the vest works. I’m also happy to answer any other questions you have.

        BTW, the video mentions ice vests at around the 39 second mark. My wife likes ice vests better because she needs more cooling than I do. Ice vests have a much stronger cooling effect, but they also tend to wear off after about 30 minutes. I prefer FirstLineTech’s approach of cooling just a little bit, lasting much longer, and being much easier to recharge.

    • 3

      The electric grid is not as resilient as it was when I was growing up so I am going to assume between that and fuel risk I am more likely to suffer an electric outage than a natural gas outage.

      If there was an unplanned blackout during any of the seasons, what would you do differently in the morning when you woke up? What if power was off from 11pm until 5am for 2 months – as an example?

      I am assuming that between the grid and a diesel backup our town water tower would be functional.

      I could make coffee the night before and fill a thermos. Take a shower at night and not in the morning. Charge batteries after dinner. Extra blanket.

      Many of my appliances are electric; can I replace them with natural gas? My heat is natural gas so setting up an auxiliary heater or stove is just an extension. Hot water heater would be a little more work because I need the exhaust link too.

      • 2

        Waking up I wouldn’t do much else, but I would probably invest in a thermometer kit for the fridge that runs on batteries to be sure it doesn’t get too warm overnight.

        Seasonal outages, we had one in December and used a camp stove to make dinner instead of the electric range. I think the biggest issue would be just storing food.

        Probably invest in a chest freezer or empty space in the top freezer to stick some ice packs/water jugs in to give extra mass for cooling.

        If it was very common, I think I would invest in a clay fridge for at least the fridge veggies and anything that needs to be not hot. More room in fridge for water jugs.

        The 11 pm to 5 am thing is interesting, I’m already running unplugged at the moment; battery packs I use to charge my phone sometimes, I was charging my flashlight with one earlier, it’ll do my tablet, other light batteries easily. Can charge those with portable panels.

        If the gaps are really long or in the middle of hot days,  a battery generator for the fridge would be important, keep cooling food. Also a solar system to support it.

        Hot water is deff an issue, we had the water heater go out last year mid summer and it really messed with my mom to not be able to take a hot shower. I think the most effective way for that would be a solar stove just always keeping a large pot of water warm would be the most efficient way of on demand not cold water, but the stoves and burners could do that job, but then that depends on money and how local supply structures are dealing with it.

        Also they do make natural gas anything. There’s a reservation out here and they have a lot of propane stuff, I’m sure there’s natural gas versions as well.

        I get the feeling you are maybe a little worried about the situation that could happen?

        Which is valid really, it’s an absolutely genuinely concerning situation. I feel like the next few months are not going to be good

      • 3

        We found out refrigerators are tough in a power outage (eight days, middle of winter).  The problem with a fridge is that you only have a safe temperature range of 10 degrees tops.  Too low, food freezes, to high it spoils.  Freezers, OTOH, can go from around 0 to 32 degrees.  We have two freezers and a fridge in an outbuilding that we were easily able to run intermittently with a Honda 2200W generator.    We have exterior thermometers on all of them.  The freezers, especially the 40 year old one with a different coil system, remained pretty stable and kept food frozen for the duration.  The refrigerators were quickly deemed useless, when depending on intermittent cooling.

        Fortunately, the weather provided us with lots of ice.  We’ve got several assorted coolers.  I shoveled as much ice as I could into the biggest one as a reserve, and filled the others with food.  They were clustered together with horse blankets piled all around. They never melted for the duration of that outage and our food was fine.

        At the moment the old freezer contains about 40 pounds of ice.  If that were to run out, we’d just have to rely on shelf stable foods.

        I thought about covering the appliances with extra insulation, but read up on that and discovered that modern ones have their coils inside the cabinet and adding insulation to the exterior would heat them up.

      • 2

        @Barb Lee,

        I have to get a generator like the Honda 2200 you have. I have heard kits are available to join 2 together and adapt them to Natural Gas or Propane. That would give me a lot of flexibility. I think the Honda 3000 can do the same thing.

        Our chest freezer is in the basement and I was going to put it in the garage for the winter in case power failed. However, I have heard that older freezers can heat up if the ambient temperature gets below freezing. New chest freezers are ‘garage proof’ and keep their contents at the correct temperature regardless of the ambient temperature.

      • 2

        Shaun, we actually have two Hondas, and the kit to hook them together, but never even thought to look for a fuel conversion.  I think I will.  Our large portable runs on propane or gasoline. The only time we ever hooked them together was to run an RV air conditioner, once. Worked fine. Those little Hondas are just the best and use hardly any gas.

        Our Admiral upright freezer is at least 45 years old.  It lived in a garage, then it lived on a back porch with just a roof overhead, and now it lives in a lightly insulated pump house.  It has outlived two “modern” freezers, freezes colder, and stays cold longer than either of those.  But I don’t know if it’s ever really gone below 32F.  Probably.  It has never failed us (knock on wood).

    • 5

      One of the downsides of living in an older earthen house is there’s no AC, so it wouldn’t hurt anyway.

      The upside is older houses work with less modern convenience, so it’s going to perform better in that way.

      So I think the household already operates in a way conductive to power not being a total necessity.

      It would end up in a multi prong approach of improving the house insulation, improving personal local insulation or cooling, and also where applicable, getting used to the temperatures directly, though that isn’t always possible.

      I think planning to not have any ability electrically or gas wise to heat or cool is a realistic circumstance. Unfortunate, really that the systemic foolishness puts everyone forced into it to have to prepare for such problems.

      Going over the house with caulking if you own it or get permission would really help keep the heat in or out; much like a drink cooler, keeping energy from moving from high to low is the critical factor in maintaining temperature.

      A couple years ago, I caulked up a very leaky screen door frame that let rain inside, an equally leaky window frame, and the house became vastly easier to heat, as the cold wind wouldn’t blow into the heater, needing less burn time. Cost went down.

      Another Moderately easy way to keep air out would be door baffles. They go under the door and fill in the space between the door and the frame. Towels can work over it if it’s not wide enough like ours is. This also falls in with foam strip tape you can put in door frames to really seal up a door. Maybe not all the way so air can get in, but the bottom quarter can keep out so much cold. And bugs.

      I keep forgetting to do the foam for winter but just taping cardboard over the huge gap of the front door makes a difference.

      Window treatments can help reflect heat either way, keep it in in cold, out in heat. Plus bubble wrap will add extra insulation to single pane windows cheaply.

      Foam either sprayed in or expanded foam like pipe insulation stuffed into gaps of windows inside can also keep that extra air leak down.

      Hopefully all of that together would improve a house or apartment enough to cut down costs in general.

      A lot can also be done in the personal space.

      Battery powered fans to move the cool air over you instead of just sitting in it. Possibly even use that in winter to move warm air from around a heat source around the room so it doesn’t have to heat up one corner.

      They have heater specific fans that have a thermo something that generates electricity when heated, so as the heater is on, it warms up and starts pushing warm air out instead of just up.

      Ceiling fans can be reversed to push warm air back down instead of sitting up on the ceiling.

      Getting nice comfy cotton and linen for summer would be nice. I have a lot of short shorts and cargo shorts that really help with the cooling.

      Same with cool weather, I have a lot of nice jackets that are so nice to sit around in and like you, a vest. Blanket and pillow weather as well.

      Then I think a nice thing to do if possible, is get used to the temperatures. Some folks do have heat regulating issues, especially now with COVID being entrenched and messing with people’s lives, so that’s not always possible.

      But going out in reasonable clothing and doing light work a few times a week in the temps can really help your body acclimate. It seems much more helpful in the heat, as moving helps get you sweating and actually trying to stay cool, and in cooler temps, keep you burning energy to stay warm.

      Then ultimately, what we all know and love, the emergency preps.

      Without power and gas, I like to think of grid down situations as camping but in a house. You have the shelter, without the fancy amenities.

      For cool weather, I think having hand warmers, alcohol stoves, propane, charcoal, etc, for cooking are good.candles for light and a tiny warmth. 

      Having sleeping bags or camping quilts or lots of nice blankets wouldbbe good. Sheets to block off rooms, cover windows for extra insulation.

      Heat, the same stoves could be used outside to keep the heat out of the kitchen. The battery fans could be recharged through solar. I think the Europe is very moist, so I don’t think the mesh sniper veil soaked with water would work optimally, but in a even slightly cool but dried out AC environment, it could work. Flashlights for cool lighting.

      With proper sun covered space, you could invest in decent portable solar panels and run all your small electronics off solar gained power from a battery pack. It would work even without power out, save money and build that skill.

      Of course, maintaining body temp is achieved with proper food and water intake. Active cold activity burns many calories, and heat also needs a lot of calories and salt to stay cool.

      Water, a given.

      It’ll be like pre industrial revolution times really.

      • 3

        Now this is the master list of what to do!! I am going to print your comment off as sort of a to-do list of things I can do now and during the time of no utilities.

        Thinking of a grid down situation as comfortable camping with a great shelter is a nice way to think of it.

      • 4

        I think as far as the Ukraine/Russia/Sanctions situation goes the US will likely continue to have natural gas but at what price? Everyone is different but as the price rises  we just pay and then decide to turn the thermostat down. Russia is not a significant source of gas to the US but the situation will still lead to high prices for us. 

        “Russia last year accounted for about 3 percent of U.S. foreign imports of crude oil, and about 1 percent of the U.S. supply overall. 

        About 35 percent of U.S. supply comes from international partners, compared to about 65 percent produced domestically.”

        Since 35% of our energy comes from ‘international partners’ it is likely our European ‘international partners’ will bid the price up to buy it for themselves since they don’t really have an alternative. That will lead to higher prices here because NG/Oil producers are at capacity and don’t want to build more capacity due to the disdain the adminstration has for US oil and gas development right now. 

        The second risk that will be with us for a long time is the aging electrical generating and distribution systems in the US. These systems are at full capacity in many parts of the country and a blackout is more likely that 10-20 years ago due to low system maintenance investment. The nominal risk is also higher due to greater weather volatility. And green energy has not been able to fill the gap in the recent past. It’s not clear it ever will.

        So global Armageddon is not as likely as a continual slow grind forcing us to adapt our preparations to ongoing outages (power outages and financial outages due to energy costs). 

        I agree that caulk will become a key prep and maybe one of these:

        Thermal leak detector

      • 2

        Nice summary of what gas prices look like and where they come from.

        I’d like to look more into that thermal leak detector, it easily could pay for itself within a year if it finds a good leak or two.

    • 1

      Such climate changes do not affect Australia as much.