Power And Telephone

It was impossible to ignore the nagging feeling that once he moves to the country, Mark will feel as if cut off from the rest of the world. Naturally there were things like the television and the phone and of course the Internet. How reliable do you think these are in the country home? He asked Sandra who really didn’t have an answer for him. She tried to call Debra a couple of times already but she wasn’t answering the phone. Perhaps the line is broken, Mark suggested. Perhaps it breaks all the time. Perhaps they are being held hostage by Martians? Said Sandra. Mark laughed, no, perhaps they are not held hostage, perhaps the Martians are stuck in their country home because all the communication has been cut off!

Since the Martians seemed to have Debra and Peter held hostage for the rest of the end of that week – Sandra kept calling and nothing -- Sandra and Mark had no choice but to wait with their questions. They were scheduled to see a couple of new country houses that Claude had been boasting about in his e-mails.

Gary lives in the country, Claude said, and he rarely has problems with electricity but he does say that there are few more power outages that you usually get in a city. I have to admit too that there are some country home properties that don’t have electricity running… There are some people who don’t mind living by the candlelight all the time – if you will. Sandra pictured Julia Butterfly living in a tree, vague trapper movie characters with rugged, bushy faces and hordes of husky dogs. Then she remember an old friend, a writer who lived somewhere up in the mountains and penned one bestseller after another… Sandra was not a trapper or a brilliant loner of a writer; she had to have electricity!

Hooking Up Utilities

Well, Sandra, majority of utility companies will charge you a lot for extending their services if you are in a remote country area. How much? A couple of thousand is not unusual. Gary had to spend close to five grand, Sandra, to get his power and telephone hooked up. I think I mentioned that before too but you’ll gave to get easements for the placement of poles and lines and such if you buy a country home that does not have electricity.

The first house Claude, Mark and Sandra saw that weekend was, how Sandra put it, totally up their alley! It was a lovely old brick house with stain glass windows, nice bathroom, good water well and septic tank in perfect condition. Claude proudly showed them inspection papers – this house was bought last year but had to be put back on the market because the people who bought it ran off to get married in Vegas and decided to stay there.

The inspection records showed an existence of drains and underground cables – this was noted by the licensed surveyor (Sandra noticed Mark’s eyes lit up when he heard the word “licensed surveyor”) – and was also backed up with records provided by the utility company and municipality.

I do have to tell you that if you decide to go with this one you can’t let your trees grow taller than fifteen feet, Claude said. By now Sandra was getting used to the mysterious and bizarre bits that Claude liked to sprinkle his usual monologue with. Most utility companies have a say in how tall your trees can grow, I know it sounds weird but it has to do with power outage and electricity poles, Claude explained. These are normal utility regulations in rural areas. Here’s another thing, Claude waved the paper and pointed to a little map that was drawn on it, with little flags drawn on the grid. This shows you the exact location of all your underground utilities which is important if you ever plan to dig a swimming pool or do – if you will -- any other soil excavation or construction.

There was something else that Sandra noticed on the little map. What is that? Claude looked away, narrowed his eyes and looked toward one of the garden corners which seemed to correspond to a spot that Sandra was pointing to on the map. Yeah, I was going to ask you about that one too, said Mark. Sandra thought he looked as if he already knew the answer. Right, said Claude, that unfortunately is an old burial area. The bones… I mean the people… the family. The graves have been excavated and moved, that’s what I’m trying to say. There aren’t any. Graves. There.

It was still a bit creepy. Sandra found the notion slightly romantic but since she was quite a movie junkie there was that prevailing memory of Poltergeist movie, the whole house-on-a-cemetery-thing. It just seemed too strange. Mark knew that he shouldn’t even bother arguing with Sandra about a thing like that. He could almost hear what she was thinking. It’s okay, he told her. As they got in the car, Claude – as always – reassured them that he was not pissed off. My feelings aren’t hurt Sandra, it’s my job to make sure that you guys are satisfied.

Internet Access

Ah, satisfied, said Mark from the back seat. I need to ask you about the Internet access, Claude. Wireless or dial-up? I’m afraid, most places are dial-up only, but the speed is okay, Claude said. Um, “okay” is not really okay, Mark remarked. Well, said Claude, Gary says that the only thing that is relatively slow about Internet access in the country home, is if you’re downloading large files, they do take some time to get through. Depending on where you buy your country home sometimes you may have an option to use one of the most effective high-speed Internet access services such as DSL -- Digital Subscriber Line -- or Cable Modem service. Both of these however require that you live relatively close to the switching offices of the service provider. For example, DSL service can only be deployed within 15,000 feet of a telephone company central office. Some countryside areas create service islands around switching offices.

Most Internet services are priced based on the distance between the customer and the switching office. They are usually more expensive than in the city, and they are usually only available from one provider. Why? Sandra wanted to know. Lack of telephone competition in rural areas.

Okay, so if I move here and get the Internet access how effective is it? Mark was hoping for good news. Les competition, it must be faster, he reasoned strangely.

Unfortunately no, Claude said and sighed. Even something really simple, a basic modem service, is less effective because there’s a longer average length of something called “local loops” that serve all the clients living in the country. Let’s say you have your 56 kbps modem… its performance relies on the fact that most city lines work with much less noise and faster. The rural telephone lines are often more noisy but the noise is not – if you will – noticeable in conversations and the telephone lines are reliable and do meet all the technical standards for voice lines. I would try to find out about direct satellite services if you need your Internet to work as good as it does in the city. Some places have terrestrial wireless services or airborne radio relays access too. My Real Estate people can find out for you what’s your best bed.

City vs. Country Utilities

When they got home Sandra and Mark turned all their lights on, and their television sets, and the Internet. Then they sat beside each other on the couch and talked about the risks, about both of their fears of feeling as if they were cut off from the rest of the world. Mark surprised Sandra by saying that he didn’t think it was such a big deal, the slower Internet and the occasional power outage. He rarely had bouts of pseudo-philosophical tirades but he seemed to have one now. Think about it this way, he was saying to Sandra, how many times have you been late for school or work because the subway experienced whatever they dub “technical difficulty” or because the bus never showed up? How many times were you unable to even go to work because you caught cold after sitting in the freezer-like air-conditioning when it was plus forty outside? Mark went on and came up with a number of those more or less accurate analogies and Sandra thought that if they live in a country home they’ll have to stack up on boxes of ink cartridges, print paper, floppy disks… discs… She felt tired after a whole day of driving around and despite really, really wanting to listen to Mark going on about power and telephone access she ended up falling asleep.

The next day Debra finally phoned her back and confirmed that she was not being held hostage by Martians. Instead, her and Peter traveled to visit her mother who also lived in a country. Debra’s mother had something very special to show them. It’s fantastic! Debra squealed. It’s called net metering and you can now install this in most states. What is it? Sandra was really curious. It’s a small, grid-connected renewable energy system that basically saves you loads of money because the energy it is sort of recycled by flowing back into the utility grid; and then it spins the electricity meter backwards. When it comes to power and telephone access in the country home it’s so important that you conserve your energy. So anyhow. With this little gadget my mother can store whatever excess energy and offset electricity used at other times during the billing period.

Gary was apparently looking into getting a net metering for Debra and Peter, Sandra wasn’t sure if he should be looking after this but. Oh well.

Sandra thought the net metering sounded great but she was still concerned about the basics. Yes, she knew she had no desire to live in the country home without any electricity but she wanted to get more detailed information about what she should be looking for to suit her needs. She e-mailed Claude to ask him for some specifics about power requirements in the country. She then had to work on some assignments for a bit – as she sent a number of large TIFF files, they went through in less than a minute. Sandra wondered if she would still be able to do that as easily while living in the country. She checked her e-mail and there was a reply from Claude, in her Inbox already.


“So here’s more info about power and telephone access requirements. So, at the very least you’ll have to have something like a 100 amp service connected to your country home, you probably want a 200 amp as your ideal especially if you’ll need more electricity. I don’t know about you but my wife watches television while she blends, bakes and sews. I, myself am almost intravenously connected to HBO when I iron and cook and as you can tell I use Internet non-stop. Anyway. When we find a country house for you we’ll get a local licensed electrician who will be able to tell you exactly what your requirements should be. I know you keep saying you’re not a husky-owning trapper and will never accept country home without power and telephone access but just in case, if you ever bring an electric cable onto your property make sure it connected via underground and you want to make sure you have enough switches, outlets and special wiring for appliances. Some of these may require dedicated circuits.

You also want to ensure that you have outlets in bathrooms, crawl spaces, unfinished basements, garages and outdoors and that all of these have something called a ground fault interrupter protection (GFI). All switches and fixtures within the same area or outdoors must be waterproof. Also make sure you leave some room for expansion in your electrical system , for example use the extra unused slots in the breaker panel.

In some country homes a flexible cable with 3 wires inside, instead of the traditional wiring run in metal conduit, is used. This is quite cost effective, but can be easily punctured. Not sure if I told you this anecdote but Gary was hanging a picture of his grandmother and hammered a nail right into one of those cables and he had to remove the drywall to get access to the cable in order to replace it! If the cable is installed correctly -- through the center of the studs away from the surface – this should not happen but it’s still a risk.

Finally, do contact a professional if you decide to install extra telephone jacks. You don’t even want to know what happened last time Gary decided he was qualified to do this himself. Anyway. Hope that’s helpful. See you next weekend!