Like many people with a small flock of backyard chickens, we faced a dilemma.
Our birds are housed in a coop built inside a pole barn. There was no electric power in our barn.
The chickens kept on laying eggs.
Fall’s Shortening days signals chickens to slow egg production just as many families need plenty of eggs for the holiday baking season. Placing a timer-controlled light in the coop, set to come on early each morning, gives chickens the optimal 15 hours of combined artificial and natural light they need to keep laying.
Lights and timers need electricity that our barn lacked. So, years ago, we hired an electrician to trench a wire from our house to the barn and add outlets and overhead lights. It works fine but the electrician’s bill was stiff and our chicken lights add to our monthly power bill. Now there’s a less expensive option.
P.S. The Holidays are coming….This might be a great gift for chickens and caregivers!
After trenching the wire was laid down.
We hired a company to install solar panels on the barn roof.
Solar powers our home and the light needed for the coop.
Batteries, light bulbs, and solar collectors have become much more efficient and less expensive. It’s now easy to purchase a solar electric system to power outbuildings that lack electricity.
Alternative Light Options
Big box stores sell security lights that include a solar collector, occupancy sensor, battery, and light bulb. The collector creates electricity during the day that charges the battery. The sensor recognizes when a person approaches in the dark and turns on the light. These are fine for their intended purpose but don’t work to add a few extra hours of timer-controlled light for chickens.
A portable solar kit costs around $400, is easy to install and to light your way. (Courtesy Solar Illuminations)
We recently learned of a company called Solar Illuminations, which can create lighting solutions for chicken coops and other outbuildings. A kit including a solar collector, battery, timer, fixture, and the bulb is just over $400. Sounds expensive but likely is less costly than hiring an electrician to run a wire. And, the sun never sends a bill for electricity generated by a solar panel.
Installing a system is easy and doesn’t require an electrician. Systems can also be designed to power an aquarium aerator that will help keep drinking water unfrozen on cold nights or provide work light in an outbuilding.
We love modern technology’s ability to harness the sun’s energy to give hens a few extra hours of light during winter’s darkness. The result is more eggs without adding a penny to the monthly electric bill.
*Note: Winding Pathways received no special compensation or materials from companies in writing this blog.
Four years ago, we installed a net-metered photovoltaic system on our barn roof. Photovoltaics, or simply PV, is a term that means “light electricity” or solar energy.
On sunny days solar powers our energy needs.
We appreciate our PV system. On sunny days, when our system produces more electricity than we use, it runs our meter backward as power flows out into the energy grid. At night and on cloudy days, when we’re using more power than we’re producing, we draw electricity in from Alliant Energy, our utility. At the end of each month, we pay the “net” so it’s called a Net-Metered System. This eliminates the need to have storage batteries. We’ve had a monthly bill as low as $5!
But what happens when the grid goes down? It did on August 10, 2020, when a derecho roared through Iowa with 140 mile an hour winds. Hundreds of miles of wires were torn down as trees crashed into them. We joined thousands of other homes without power.
Solar chargers help keep people connected when the power goes out.
So, did our PV system power our lights, computers, and television? Nope. We used candles and lanterns when it got dark and couldn’t power our computer, television, or any other electric appliance for about two weeks.
Net-metered systems, like ours, have an automatic switch built into them so they don’t export electricity back to the grid when it’s down. It’s a safety mechanism designed to prevent a utility employee working to restore power from getting a shock. Our system produced electricity during the blackout, but it just dissipated. As soon as our power was restored the PV system again sent power outward.
An Important PV Safety Tip
Our PV system survived the wind intact but others were ripped from roofs and tumbled to the ground. A PV panel laying on the ground upright makes electricity. Grabbing wires or the panel can give someone a tremendous shock. If a PV panel is on the ground stay away……or cover it with a tarp to darken it so it doesn’t produce electricity. It’s safest to wait until after dark to flip it.
Note: The below references to companies are Winding Pathways’ own experiences with quality products.
What Are Common Causes of Power Outages?
Usually, people lose electric power because of a tornado, hurricane, blizzard, or a windstorm that blows down trees. We were surprised that Pacific Gas and Electric planned a deliberate outage to prevent sparks from igniting a forest fire like the terrible one that destroyed the town of Paradise. CA, last year.
Interviews with impacted residents on the national news made us realize how unprepared many people are for the loss of electricity. Californians flocked to gas stations and grocery stores to stock up on fuel and food.
Preparation is Best
This powerful lantern runs several hours on the battery.
Humans are addicted to the flow of electrons we call electricity. Winding Pathways encourages everyone to prepare for times when power is not there. Several previous blogs detail how families can prepare to ride out an outage in relative comfort
Preparation is neither hard nor expensive. Check our past blogs for detail but here’s the short list of simple items to keep on hand in case the power goes off for a few days:
Basic Items to Consider
Food: A few days’ worth of non-perishable food beats not eating. Dehydrated meals keep nearly forever and canned goods also have a high storage life. When a blizzard approaches people flock to grocery stores to buy milk and bread. Neither is needed. And, milk will spoil if not kept cold. Keep powdered milk and crackers on hand just in case.
Light: Flashlights help people find their way around on dark nights, but they’re not too useful when lots of light is needed for reading or preparing a meal. Modern LED lanterns are ideal for general lighting. Our Milwaukee lamp was made for construction workers but throws out plenty of light and runs all night on one rechargeable battery. We keep a few batteries always charged. Many brands of lanterns are on the market. We recommend that people keep one in the closet to help on dark nights.
Fuel and backup heat: Rather than waiting in line at a gas station when power might go out, simply keep some gas in storage in the garage. Be sure to add a gas stabilizer to it. We rotate our gas in spring and fall by simply pouring the old gas into the car’s tank and then filling the can with fresh gas. We keep ten gallons in storage. Anyone living in a cold climate needs to have a backup plan in case the power goes off. Keeping pipes from freezing is important. See our earlier blogs for tips.
Water: Usually municipal water still flows even if the power goes off but it’s always a good idea to keep several gallons of clean water in storage just in case.
My daily labyrinth walk on Wednesday, January 30, 2019, in the middle of the Polar Vortex coughed up several lessons.
In spite of the bitterly cold morning, the snowshoes strap that slipped off and glasses that fogged up, it was a great walk! Nothing I want to repeat, though.
Here are some lessons:
(Think ahead.) Just like a little kid is reminded, it is better to use the bathroom before donning the multiple layers of clothes.
(Before starting out, make sure your equipment is ready and working. Think ahead number two.) Pulling the snowshoes down from the hooks in the unheated garage, I realized the straps were frozen. “Oh well, I can make this work.” Ha! At -25 degrees? Not. Gloves were too bulky to fix on the straps, so I took them off. Within seconds my fingers were numb.
(Be ready for consequences. Think ahead number three.) Not only were my fingers numb but also because I hurried putting the snowshoes on, one strap slipped off partway through the walk causing me to stumble. Additionally, when I wrapped my scarf around my nose and breathed out, my glasses fogged up. Between the two, I pitched off the packed trail into the deep snow. I regained balance and came back on the path. It was kind of scary even though I knew my husband was monitoring my adventure from the house.
(Have a back-up plan. Think ahead number four.) Oh, I could have done the finger labyrinth, or “walked” the outdoor labyrinth from the upstairs window. I also love a challenge. Yet, how much was just showing off for those who live in warmer climates and marvel at how the northerners survive?
(Turning back is OK!) A few times I thought about cutting off the path back to the beginning and just coming inside. That would have been OK.
(Persevering is also OK.) So, “keeping on keeping on” is valuable. Just be aware and safe in our pursuits. When a situation is hard, ask, “Why?” And, then make decisions from there. Move into a growth attitude of “I can do this.”
(Be of Growth Mindset) Learn from missteps. Just like my shortcut crossing on the industrial pipe above the dam and jagged rocks as a little kid, this adventure was good to do. Maybe not one to repeat. Get back on the path.
(Be grateful.) Always a valuable lesson. From small to large gratitudes express them many times each day. This changes everything.
Note: Our comments are personal observations. We have not been paid by any company to review their products.
Wildfires in California. Hurricanes along the coast. Blizzards and tornadoes everywhere. In this era of climate change every household should prepare for long stretches without electrical power or even the possibility of evacuating at short notice. And the recent earthquake in Alaska reminds us of the importance of being prepared especially in cold months when food, water, and shelter are critical.
Fortunately, many families have assembled emergency kits that include a mix of essential items useful when the lights go out. For detail see the Winding Pathways article on important items to stock in the kit. Emergency kits can be quickly grabbed if evacuation is needed and the contents help make life more comfortable should there be no need to leave but the house has no electricity.
Two items often are forgotten but become critically important during a widespread emergency. Be sure to keep these on hand:
When the power goes out credit and debit cards probably won’t work. Cash always works. Keeping a couple of hundred dollars in small bills makes buying necessary items during a power outage possible. It’s a good idea to hide money somewhere in the emergency preparedness kit.
When Hurricane Sandy left millions of people without electrical power for weeks a critical problem was the inability to charge cell phones and other electronic devices. The cell network was operating since companies have backup generators. But most people’s phone batteries discharged, and they had no ready way to recharge them. Fortunately, there are several options for charging. Here are two that work well:
Solar chargers help keep people connected when the power goes out.
Solar chargers:Small inexpensive solar powered devices charge phones when placed in the sun. These are sold in camping and electronic stores. They will work on cloudy days, although charging will be slower than when the sun shines.
Battery chargers: For many years we’ve used Milwaukee brand drills and saws for projects around the house. The company recently sent us an ideal product to solve two problems posed by power failures. It is a light powered by the same lithium-ion batteries that run power tools. The light has a port enabling connection with cell phones. It charges them up quickly. We always keep four batteries fully charged, and each battery will run the light for many hours and recharge a phone several times. The light is surprisingly bright, and we’ll bring it on future camping trips instead of our old gasoline lantern. This device fills two emergency needs-light and charging.
The lantern throws excellent light after dark.
When buying cordless power tools and other accessories it’s a good idea to purchase ones that can both run the tools and charge a phone.
There is a third item that’s also often forgotten. That’s drinking water. We keep in storage 25 gallons of clean water in five-gallon containers. Should that run out we have two backpacker style filters that remove bacteria and viruses from water. If we need even more water, we keep a few tiny jars of water purification pills in our emergency bin. Water filters and purification tablets are sold in camping stores and are usually marketed to backpackers. These enable purifying water from nearby ponds and streams.
Hopefully, the power won’t ever go out, but the reality is that storms are increasing. Along with them comes higher odds that the power will go out. It’s best to be ready.