On hard dependencies
This week, there was a major power outage in the area where I live. We had no power in the house for over 20 hours.
During this time, I learned a couple interesting things about my appliances. I have a gas stove, a gas tankless water heater, a gas furnace, and a gas fireplace. Before, I naïvely imagined that the benefit of gas appliances is that they would work during power outages. However, this could not have been further from truth.
Disappointment #1: Hot water
When I was a kid, I remember those evenings when we had no power, and I would take a nice hot bath by candle light. My mom used to laughingly say that we can stay clean even if we cannot see it.
Naturally, I imagined that the same would hold true for my own tankless heater years later. What I didn't realize was that the heater that I have is much newer, and it is "energy efficient", meaning it does not have a pilot light that stays on all the time. Instead, it has a whole electrical panel that needs to be run off of 110V in order to ignite the gas.
In the end, we were able to get it to work using an inverter that we connected to the car, but I am going to look for a better alternative for when this happens again.
Disappointment #2: Stove
The stove has no manual igniter, not even a backup one hidden away somewhere.
Of course, it does feel much nicer when you don't have to push an extra button to make the burners turn on under normal circumstances. However, this is a gas stove after all, right? Why should it not turn on without electricity? I mean, one could always use matches, but I do remember the old models having a convenient igniter button.
Again, I resolved this by going to the store (yay for driving when traffic lights are out) and getting a lighter. Maybe I am a bit biased in this case, and it is perfectly reasonable to expect that people have lighters or matches for situations like this. I just didn't want to waste my storm-proof matches for lighting the stove.
Disappointment #3: Furnace
As you may have guessed, there was no solution for this one. The furnace is so tightly integrated with the temperature control (which does not even have backup battery) and with the blower (which is electric), that there wasn't a slightest chance it would work without electricity, even though it is, technically, a gas appliance.
This is where my trusty old fireplace came to the rescue. It had a good old manual igniter which let me turn it on and enjoy some warmth by the flames. Of course, it was really cold in the rest of the house, but there was at least one good spot.
My point is, do gas appliances need to be so tightly integrated with the grid? It would be very nice if they at least came with batteries (or easy way of installing batteries to reduce upfront purchase cost) that would allow them to operate without electricity. Most of the time, this probably would not matter, but in those situations when weather gets out of control and breaks the power lines, would it not be awesome to be able to operate gas appliances?