At the worst possible time. In the worst possible way.

Yes, Uncle Murphy visited D&L’s house this morning.

D&L have a big (YUGE) house with a big electrical system and an even bigger appetite for electricity. One gloomy day, and their batteries were done. No problem: That’s why they also have a massive, state of the art propane-fueled generator that starts up automatically…

Except when it doesn’t…

And so neighbor D, whom I may have mentioned recently had a stroke, was out trying to figure out why their faithful-for-six-years generator wouldn’t start. Wouldn’t even crank. If his brain were physically hitting on all cylinders he wouldn’t have needed any help from the likes of me, it was pretty obvious.

D is very good about maintenance. He’s positively neurotic about maintenance. No way the thing failed because it wasn’t being maintained. But the turnkey installation came with a small, sealed, maintenance-proof battery – over six years ago. It’s kept charged automatically with solar power. So the battery worked absolutely perfectly – until it didn’t. And when it didn’t, nothing worked. No warning.

As I said, normally D would have worked this out for himself without problem but he’s recovering from literal brain damage. So I came over and helped disconnect the battery. I didn’t have any way of load-testing the battery but all the fuses were good and the symptom (tickticktick) said bad battery. I admitted the battery might not be the problem, but anyway it was due so they wouldn’t lose anything by replacing it. The alternative, since I am not competent to figure out what else might be wrong with the complicated starting circuitry, was an expensive service call that at best would happen sometime next week. I left all the wires connected to the appropriate battery bolts so D shouldn’t need me to install the new one – but of course made clear they were very welcome to call me any time.

We had a lot of rain yesterday, and a YUGE storm last night. D&L took their Jeep through the mud to town for a new battery.

Just got the text: The generator works fine now.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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11 Responses to At the worst possible time. In the worst possible way.

  1. Ben says:

    Cheap battery load testers are…cheap, and damn useful for identifying a weak battery. You really don’t have one?

  2. Joel says:

    I really don’t.

  3. Joel says:

    Gotta say, though, that at that price and given that it works with 6-volt batteries, I will have one before long. Didn’t know that tool existed – in my day load testers were the size of a small desk and had gigantic carbon rods for resistors.

  4. About the time I get homesick for living off grid in the forest, you post something to remind me that it wasn’t all fun and games and that living back in town isn’t killing me. With so many more people around, Murphy has trouble singling me out. Thanks! 😉

  5. Anonymous says:

    In the field we usually used a battery acid tester to test the specific gravity of the electrolyte . All cells close to the same reading and you are good . one or two off and you go shopping .

  6. Mike says:

    I’m glad that the solution was a simple one.

  7. Joel says:

    I have one, but it only works on batteries with cell caps that come off. “Maintenance-free” is maintenance proof.

  8. The Neon Madman says:

    Good on you.

  9. Mike says:

    “Maintenance-free” is just another way of saying designed obsolescence. 🙂

  10. Norman says:

    Many years back had a neighbor who went with a pellet stove. The only things that made it work were reliable grid power with a small solar/battery backup, and a local plant that sold pellets in bulk cheap, “bulk” meaning “by the ton.” No idea what he spent converting a trailer to haul & hold a couple tons or the tin carport to park it under.

    I’ll concur with your estimate – if one accurately compiles the total costs – which includes human time – pellets vs propane is a tie and it’s easy to have propane come out ahead.

    What I fail to understand is people’s propensity for seeking cheaper ways to gain BTU input and near total disregard for limiting the need for BTUs by insulating and air-intrusion prevention. Designing and building the structure to require fewer BTUs changes the math substantially, but it seems $$ for insulation, caulking and proper material fit during construction ain’t as sexy as even more $$ in a BTU-generating source (or fancy countertops and plumbing fixtures, for that matter; yes; you’ll admire those spiffy high $$ countertops every day and then pay the extra $50 in the heating/cooling bill every month forever and not ever think about it, but put another $3K into insulation and caulk instead of marble or sandstone? Never.).

  11. mark says:

    redundancy is goooooood.
    I have a Hi eff propane furnace and a pellet stove and a wood burner

    Pellets provide 70% of the warm
    logs provide 10%
    propane provides 20%

To the stake with the heretic!