Frozen Out: No Gas + No Electricity + Subzero Temps

nest thermostat, in house temp: 41F
Nest thermostat app shows inside temp: 41F

It’s been an eventful 36 hours, as people northeast of Boulder, Colorado know. If you’re in Gunbarrel, Niwot or even Longmont, you got a triple-whammy: sub-zero temperatures, a gas line failure that caused over 7,000 homes to be without heat for 24-hours or longer, and an electrical outage to boot. We got all three, and the kids and I kept our sense of humor – in fact, it was rather a grand adventure – but I’m sure glad to have my furnace back on.

Colorado is famous for variable weather, so it’s no surprise to have it be in the 50s one day, the 20s the next, but even for us, this current arctic weather front has been brutal. Two mornings in a row I’ve woken up to sub-zero temps outside. This morning it was -11F (-23C) when I woke up. And wake up I did, just before dawn, because, well, let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Yesterday, Friday Dec 6, my oldest, A-, was home with me as usual (she’s attending an online school). We knew by mid-morning that something was wrong with the gas lines, and were notified of a problem before lunch time. With a high-tech Nest thermostat installed, I could watch the house temperature slowly decline, degree by degree. By the evening, the house would be 41F and at the point the furnace turned back on, it was down to 37F, perilously close to freezing.

A- and I talked about it and decided that we could all have fun and camp out in my bedroom, with the kids piling onto the floor on air mattresses. With the doors closed and a space heater on, we’d survive, even if it’d be cold in the morning. I prepared: heading to the local store to buy three new, heavy blankets and a new space heater.

Still, liking insurance and to prepare for the worst, I called the local hotel about 2mi from our house and booked a room for the night. We could cancel up until 6pm, and Xcel Energy was saying they expected to restart the gas in our neighborhood by 5pm, then updated it to 6pm, then, finally, “tomorrow morning”. I didn’t know that we were destined to have no gas overnight and at 5.45pm I let go of the room and we decided to stay home and brave the weather.

In the early evening we were cold, but doing reasonably okay for a house in the high 40s, bundled up on the couch watching the film Epic when everything went black. Just that jarring experience of no lights, no sound, nothing.

After a few minutes of us poking around with emergency lights (a win!) and flashlights (that work: checking batteries ftw!) we looked at each other and I made the call. “Hotel. This could be all night and without electricity our space heater isn’t going to work.”

bedroom - two queen beds - at the Hampton Inn
Our room at the Hampton Inn    [stock photo]
They were thrilled, so it took precious little time to pack up bedthings, books, an arm full of stuffies for the little one and my trusty iPad Mini so I could read after everyone else had gone to sleep. At least, theoretically. 🙂 I also went around the house and turned on every single faucet. Just a tiny bit more than a drip, but enough so that all the water in all the pipes would be sluggishly moving, rather than sitting still and potentially freezing.

We called the Hampton Inn and they had plenty of rooms so we didn’t need to worry about a reservation. By late that evening, however, they filled up and were turning guests away. We drove over and by 9pm were in our two-queen room on the ground floor. And shhh… we smuggled in Kiwi (who we now call “Keyword”, a very SEO-friendly name for a kitten, ‘natch) so there were five of us in that little hotel room: the two girls on one bed, me on the other queen, my son G- on the floor on his fancy air mattress and Keyword roaming about, wondering what the heck was going on.

The Hampton warned us before we checked in that because of the gas outage they had no hot water, but since their heating system is electrical, the rooms were all fine and all cosy. Sold. With some sort of irony, however, there was some sort of glitch in the heater after all and our room was at least 5-10F colder than I’d have liked. In fact, I had a pretty poor night’s sleep and some very odd dreams round 3:30am, but I marked that up to anxiety about burst pipes, etc.

At 11.30pm I’d received a voice mail from the Xcel crew: they were in my neighborhood and if I could hang out at my house, they could restart my gas. Except I couldn’t just leave my kids in the hotel room in the middle of the night, especially since I didn’t know if “in my area” meant 5-10 minutes wait or two hours wait. Instead, I lay in my hotel room bed and worried about things. Oy.

At 6.45am I snuck out of the room and drove back to the house. I checked the water flow and, most importantly, put a note on my front door saying I was just a few minutes away at a hotel and that they should call me as soon as they were ready to fire things up. I included my cell phone number, and to my delight, got a call about two hours later, while K- and I were at the hotel getting some breakfast.

They were ready to turn on the gas!

xcel energy crew hard at a work in the freezing snow
The Xcel Energy crew hard at a work in the freezing snow

I jumped in the car and drove home, just to meet a guy from a crew of three out of Cheyenne. I offered to make them hot coffee once my stove was working again but they were all set. The guy assigned to my house came in, we went down to the basement and he admired my shiny new Lennox furnace (17mo old) with its automatically lighting pilot system. Done, and ridiculously easy. Then the water heater and that was in good shape.

We came upstairs and the stove lit up with no hassle, as did the fireplace. “Good to go”, he said, and things were ready to start heating back up again.

At that moment I checked, and the house was at 37F, the coldest it got during this adventure.

With the furnace heating things up, I went back to the hotel and we all lay around watching Four Houses on TLC, my kids version of Saturday morning cartoons. Compelling in a weird way, it’s four homeowners who rate each other’s houses and the owner of the house that’s most highly rated on originality, style, comfort, etc, wins $10,000 cash. How do I enter? Not that I’d win, but $10k would sure be nice…

Anyway, hour by hour, I watched on the Nest remote app as the house temp climbed back up, going from 37F to about 45F in less than an hour, then into the mid 50s in another hour and low 60s by around noon. Good enough. We checked out and went home, then got on with our regularly scheduled Saturday activities.

Tonight I am sitting in my house and it’s 67F in here. A bit cool, but compared to what it’s like outside right now — 3F — I’m not complaining. And upstairs is my bed with its warm comforter.

I do have to compliment the Xcel team for doing a great job getting people here to help out and having them work around the clock to get everyone back online and doing all right. Even in the bitterest cold, crews were out working on power lines and going door to door making sure everyone was safe and heating up.

Still, next time it’s this crazy cold I think I’ll skip the excitement. Thanks.

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