Power Outage Readiness

Power Outage Readiness - candle in the darkLast March, during Atmospheric River Storm #11, we had a 70 hour power outage at my house, and we weren’t alone. Our neighborhood largely went black at night except for solar landscape lights in some front yards and a very few houses that had either a gas generator or solar with a battery backup.

When our lights flickered again during storm #12, I had that “never again” resolve. Of course, for any emergency we know it’s imperative to have safety items such as flashlights, batteries, candles and a way to light them, emergency food, water, and first aid kit. What else? A hand crank radio is wise to have, too, not just for a power loss but for a severe emergency, such as after an earthquake.

Additional power outage tips

  1. Fridge and Freezer:  Ice in the fridge and freezer can help preserve the temperatures needed for food to stay safe. The FDA says that a fridge needs to be at 40f or lower for food safety. Freezers should be as close to 0f as possible. And, of course, we should limit how much we open the doors since each time it will warm the interior.
    • Ice in your ice maker may melt during a prolonged power outage. We hadn’t thought about it until a puddle appeared by the freezer door. If you can load that ice into large plastic bags and seal them, they may help to keep the freezer a little cooler and not ruin your floor in the process.
    • Dry ice keeps longer than regular ice. Some grocery stores do carry it and I wish we had thought to buy it on the first day of the outage.
  2. Camping tools: I confess that I’m not much of a camper, but I was grateful when my husband pulled out his old camping stove and used it to make me breakfast in our backyard.  These stoves and their fuel aren’t too expensive and might be a worthwhile emergency backup tool you’d want to consider having.
  3. Charging laptops, cell phones, tablets: even with our small backup batteries, most of us cannot go 3 days without charging our devices. Luckily the county was not all out of power at once and perhaps each of us had family or friends or an office where we could power up daily. What if it were more extensive? For about $200 a portable power station (electric) can be bought that will get through quite a number of charges for your devices. Here are two that I like (after way too much research – these are NOT affiliate links):
    • BLUETTI EB3A Portable Power Station | 600W 268Wh – on sale today on the Bluetti webbsite for $209, it is $299 on Amazon and in between on most sites. It can be recharged quickly in the loud “turbo mode” setting, or 2-2.5 hours in a quieter one. It can be used in conjunction with solar panels (which are not cheap!).
    • A close contender at $199 on Amazon is the EF ECOFLOW Portable Power Station RIVER 2, 256Wh LiFePO4 Battery, which also has a fast charge and can work with solar panels.  This one has only one 3 prong AC outlet, and the Bluetti had 2.
    • You could also consider buying just the solar panels. I opted not to do that since I didn’t think it would work well during a downpour – but it might during a PG&E summer PSP outage.
  4. Battery backups for sump pumps and garage door openers: we are fortunate and have a dry crawl space that does not need a sump pump, but that’s not too common in our neighborhood. Some sump pumps will only work with the electricity is on – and you might need it most precisely when it isn’t. If you have a sump pump, it might be wise when replacing it to upgrade to one with a battery backup. Same with the garage door opener. Some people are not able to open the garage door even with a release, and if that applies to you or anyone in your home, it might be worthwhile to upgrade it to one with the battery backup.
  5. Gas generators: I don’t have much info on gas generators but have several family members who swear by them. I will say that they are loud! Prices vary depending on whether or not you want to backup your entire home or just a few items, whether it’s portable or permanently installed. Please be aware that gas generators will be unavailable to buy in stores in California starting in 2028, though. The sales ban has to do with air quality.
  6. Portable solar landscape lights are a plus during a power outage. Last summer we purchased some “fairy lights” in mason jars with solar lids that can sit on tables, hang from the handle, or sit atop stakes in the ground. At the time I thought they could be useful during a power outage – and they were. The ones we bought aren’t good for reading, but we moved some from the backyard to the front and put others indoors for lighting in bathrooms, hallways, etc. They stayed bright all night long. This is a good alternative to candles, which should not stay lit when people are asleep in the home.
  7. Solar on the roof with a battery backup is a solid but expensive option. With the battery, your solar generation can actually power your house during the day even in a power outage, and that can be a lifesaver! Of course, if it’s cloudy and storming there may not be much electricity generated. A battery cannot go for days and days if there’s not enough sun coming through, so choices have to be made about how much to use and when. (See above: portable power station.) The batteries that I have checked out recently are pricey at $17,000 to about $22,000 each. This is a huge ticket in the “home improvement” department. That said, when we reroofed last summer, we added solar and a battery backup, and I don’t regret it.

I wish that we didn’t even need to share tips on power outage readiness, but let’s face it: our grid in California a mess. The PG&E employees who are out there restoring our power in horrible conditions (rain, wind, smoke) are our everyday heroes. But choices have been made for decades which were not good for us, the consumers. We need to put ourselves in the position of being ready to do without power at times, sadly.

Do you have any power outage tips that I’ve missed? Please send me an email at mary@popehandy.com and I’ll check out any helpful info to see if it should be added.

Deaths on Blossom Hill Road

Prevent more deaths on Blossom Hill Road - map of the street with words to drive more slowlyThe east Los Gatos community is shaken by the deaths on Blossom Hill Road this year. They were both close together in time and close together in location.

The media isn’t connecting the stories, even though they are only about .15 of a mile apart. One of them was in Los Gatos and the other in San Jose (Blossom Hill Rd is the dividing line). One was a 2 car accident, the other was an auto hitting people in a crosswalk. Both took place in the first quarter of 2023.

The two recent accidents that caused deaths on Blossom Hill Road:

  1. On January 8th, 2023 at 9:52 a.m., a 19 year old Palo Alto man was driving his vehicle from Belgatos Road and turning left onto Blossom Hill Rd when he was struck by another vehicle and killed. The other driver was injured, also. I haven’t been able to find an update (whether the other driver was arrested or what).
  2. On March 26th, a mother, daughter, and dog were legally crossing Blossom Hill Road at Leigh when they were struck by a vehicle driving westbound with the driver running the red light. The driver did not stop. The mother died, the daughter was injured, and the dog also perished. The driver was identified, in part by the use of Automatic License Plate Reader cameras (discussed in a Belwood Neighborhood Watch meeting recently). That person was arrested and is now behind bars.

I want to add that it seems to be a small miracle that two weeks ago, when we had a multi day power outage, there were no fatalities along this part of Blossom Hill, despite the traffic light being out for days and with no police officer guiding traffic there and no temporary stop signs or orange cones in place. We saw people fly through that intersection as if it didn’t exist.

Part of the challenge for preventing injury and deaths on Blossom Hill Road is the question of jurisdiction. There are places where the northern part of the street is in San Jose and the southern side is in Los Gatos. Here’s a map with the approximate boundary line in green.  The two Xs mark the fatal accidents this year.

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Neighborhood Watch

Last night our corner of Los Gatos had a Neighborhood Watch meeting at the Belwood cabaña with Sergeant Bill Hoyt presenting information to us on recent crime events as well as possible solutions going forward. I’ll share some images and what we learned.

Our neighborhood Nextdoor site has had plenty of information on the break ins. For those not aware, there were 6 of them in the Belwood – Belgatos and nearby areas of Los Gatos in 2022.

Neighborhood watch meeting agenda

 

Residential Burlary Briefing at Neighborhood Watch meeting

 

We heard at the Neighborhood Watch meeting that there are four different organized groups involved. Sergeant Hoyt shared that one is a criminal gang bringing in teams for brief stints and then returning them back home, the South American Theft Group. They first began operating here in January 2020. Many of the traits listed below also appear to line up with the other criminal groups, too.

  • they fly in from South America on tourist visas, are put up in a “safe house”, and don’t stay in the US too long before flying back home
  • they hit high net worth areas
  • they generally target homes on larger lots or backing to open space, where presumably they’ll be less noticed
    • Monte Sereno and the areas off of Kennedy Road have had more problems than we have with these types of break ins
  • they drive expensive cars so that they blend in to the surroundings, with Range Rovers or Mercedes SUVs preferred
    • he shared that the gang removed a large safe in daylight with neighbors walking and driving past, and residents didn’t bat an eye as it was loaded into the Mercedes Benz SUV
  • mostly going for cash and jewelry in the primary bedroom and have been known to remove even heavy safes bolted in place
  • dogs do not appear to be a deterrent
  • they most often hit between 5:30 pm and 10 pm and break into homes that appear unoccupied – please read Make Your Home Look Occupied (Live in Los Gatos blog) for tips
  • they get into backyards, smash sliding glass doors, and enter through the hole without opening that door
    • he noted that most alarms don’t have motion sensors, so if the door isn’t opened, the alarm won’t go off
    • if there is a motion sensor, the alarm company will call the owners before calling the police, and the thieves know they can spend a certain amount of time before the police will show up

Deterrents

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Home fire hardening

With the increase of fires in recent years, California has a new fire disclosure law on the books, AB 39 (2019). In response, the California Association of Realtors has come out with a new home fire hardening form. This is a new advisory and disclosure document combined, “C.A.R. Form FHDS, 5/21 Fire Hardening and Defensible Space Advisory, Disclosure, and Addendum”. It’s intended to help sellers and buyers be more aware of what can be done to make a home more resistant to fire.

Selling a home in a high fire risk zone? Expect these home fire hardening questions

In one section of the document, home sellers are asked if they have made the following alterations:

  1. Eave, soffit, and roof ventilation where the vents have openings in excess of one-eighth of an inch or are not flame and ember resistant.
  2. Roof coverings made of untreated wood shingles or shakes.
  3. Combustible landscaping or other materials within five feet of the home and under the footprint of any attached deck. (Wood chips and mulch may not be a good idea!)
  4. Single pane or non-tempered glass windows.
  5. Loose or missing bird stopping or roof flashing.
  6. Rain gutters without metal or noncombustible gutter covers.

All of us who are near Belgatos Park and nearby open spaces can benefit from improving our home’s safety should a fire breakout nearby. We recently measured our vent screens and found them to be 1/4 inch, so will be improving that. It’s a good list.

There’s a longer article on my main blog. Check it out for more information:
NEW California Disclosure – Home Fire Hardening Disclosure and Advisory

Below there’s also a document from the CA Assn of Realtors on the law. This is a good article with helpful information – I highly recommend it.

 

Related reading:

Los Gatos Fire Risk (Live in Los Gatos blog)

A History of Los Gatos Fires and the Los Gatos Fire Department (Live in Los Gatos blog)

CA Association of Realtors: Home Fire Hardening Disclosure Law, Feb 2021 (the form was updated in May 2021)

Grass Fires in Silicon Valley

Today is Labor Day – it’s many things, but it’s also the end of summer. But it’s not the end of the dry season. In fact, the rains won’t really arrive until November. So between now and then, the fire danger will continue to rise in our hilly, rural areas.

A few days ago, the coastal hills near Stevens Creek Reservoir and the Montebello Ridge over Cupertino (just a little north of Los Gatos) burned fiercely.  It took a couple of days and a lot of firefighters to extinguish it.

Now the hills by Mount Hamilton on the east side are ablaze too. We just took a quick drive to the top of Harwood Road to see the enormous plume of smoke rising over the hills by south San Jose.

What does this have to do with Belwood, Belgatos & Surmont?  Earlier today, Bella and I took a walk down Bacigalupi Drive and into Belgatos Park, entering on the side, as we do most days. The grassy area there is parched. The path is covered in wood chips and tanbark. And to my horror, I saw two cigarette butts among the wood chips.

Belgatos Park in Los Gatos CA in FebruaryBelgatos Park in Los Gatos CA in May

 

 

 

 

 

Smoking is not illegal in the park, as my husband (the volunteer parks commissioner) reminded me today. But it is very unwise to do it in the tinderbox areas which comprise most of the park.

Should we put a polite request at the entrance to the park that cigarettes are a great danger to the park, to Belwood and to Los Gatos as a whole, and that putting them out in the grassy areas is inadvisable???

To me it’s obvious: fire season and burning objects over dry grass don’t mix. But apparently it’s not obvious to everyone.

Fire season’s not over yet. Let’s hope that common sense prevails and we won’t have any more senseless fires.