Thursday, November 1, 2012

Power Interruption Preparedness

I received a number of phone calls from friends up in New York about generators - how to use them, which was best - likely because they probably thought that I was some kind of nut living with guns and generators out in the wilds of Tennessee.

Yes, I have a generator. I use it for field welding, remote power tool use, and for when I have too many cows to milk by hand (though I solved that by selling a couple cows). I do not have a generator for backup electrical power to the house (although I am sure I could use it to keep the freezer cold, I probably won't because I have other plans... but you never know). Because we have young children and live in an area prone to wind/ice storms (not snow, this is the south) and have lost power often enough we have some experience in the matter of backup plans that have been "field tested" if you will.

Rather than spend $1000 on a generator that may or may not work after sitting in your garage or basement for 5 years and for which you may or may not be able to fuel consider this instead:

1 Kerosene heater - $109
2 Kerosene Hurricane Lamps - $50 (I like the "Jupiter" model. Once fueled it will go for a week) and a box of candles.
25 gallons of Kerosene (which will last forever in storage and unlike gasoline does not explode) $100
1 Browning propane camp cookstove (not needed if you have a gas range at home) $100
2 bottles of standard BBQ propane from Home Depot - $50
3 LED 200 lumens or better flashlights and batteries $20 at Costco. (I tell you to get this just for fun. The kids will have misplaced the flashlights and the batteries you bought will be dead and there will be no batteries in the stores. So curse loudly and stumble down to where you stored the kerosene lamps you previously fueled, hit them with a match that you bought along with the flashlights you can't find... and Viola! You have turned back the darkness.)
2 LARGE coolers. (If you have a big freezer put a block of ice in there now. If not, do your best to get ice in an emergency... but its not that easy, as any Floridian will tell you.) You don't have as much food in the fridge as you think. After 3,6, or 9 meals, it will all be gone.
Get some storable food or put some up yourself by learning how to can foods at home.
1 All American 21.5 Qt. Pressure Canner - $250 with shipping. (You can get the cheap ones at Walmart, but they have a rubber gasket. Guess when the gasket fails? Right when you are in the middle of a big canning job. The metal on metal with the screw tighteners are worth the extra money. We absolutely LOVE our canner. With reasonable care it should last for generations.) If you have a freezer full of food and you have a canner and jars with a little effort you can have a pantry full of canned food instead of very expensive and smelly garbage.

Hot showers can be had with one of these... but you will need a propane tank AND a 12 volt battery which may or may not work when you need it. A large pot of hot water warmed on your Browning stove and taken to the tub will get you clean enough.

Some good books (hardcopy) a chess board and some fine wine and you are good to go.


James M Dakin said...

A bleach bottel with two holes in the cap make a great shower. Pour in hot water, then use gravity. Saves on water compared to tub/washcloth and feels cleaner.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

Wow. That'll work.

tweell said...

You speak truth about the flashlights. I have a dozen flashlights, and know the location of two of them. Chewing out the kids will usually produce 4-5 dead flashlights. I clean the lye out, replace the batteries and put them back on the flashlight shelf, where they will be gone again in two weeks.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

I cannot keep flashlights where I will need them. Batteries always get used for toys, or game boys, or whatever they are called these days... and batteries die.

Kerosene NEVER dies.

kathy said...

We freeze or can 15 turkeys, 30 chickens, 2 pigs and 1/4 big steer each year. I have 3 canners, 2 of them AA's, 1000 jars, 1000 lids plus another 500 Tattler reusable lids and rings and a really powerful propane canning stove in the canning kitchen along with a spare 100 gallon propane tank. If we had to, with all of the adults working round the clock, we could save a lot of meat. I could even make a dent in the vegetables and fruit but most of vegetables are in the root cellar and pretty much impervious. Everybody with a lot of frozen meat needs to learn to can. One cabinet dedicated to the flashlights, the radio and the matches keeps everything close at hand. I have never paid more than a couple of bucks for a lantern at a tag sale. I have maybe thirty of them and hand them out often. One box of candles (250) was pretty cheap at the dollar store. It doesn't cost much to be well prepared but it does take seeing beyond the end of your nose.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

We have 2 big freezers, but are beginning to find appetizing ways of canning meats and soups/stews... and I could not agree more, Kathy: If you have a lot of frozen meat, you simply must have the canners, jars, and propane.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

And the time to get stuff is not when a storm is right off your coast.

PioneerPreppy said...

Reports I been reading say you can't find a D cell battery in New York right now either.

I agree though generators are silly for the most part and in the Sandy hit states they can't get the fuel to run them anyway.

I simply recharge marine batteries with solar panels and have a large enough bank built up now that I can run my wood furnace and freezer almost continuously for four days even if the sun don't shine.

I also have a generator.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

Marine batteries and a solar bank are definitely on my radar screen.

PioneerPreppy said...

If you want some advice don't go overboard. My little system cost me about 300 bucks for the panels, wires and controllers. The heart of the system is really the batteries. For simple electronic charging, rechargeable small batteries and hand tools I use this system exclusively but I have a marine battery bank of 6 now. In an emergency I can pull individual batteries off the bank and use them to run critical devices with line controllers and in my tests I can do it pretty much indefinitely just by rotating out batteries.

Greg T. Jeffers said...

How long does a battery last?

Greg T. Jeffers said...

Have you done any posts on your solar setup? If yes, please link here. I would really like to see it.

Dan said...

Don’t forget the biggie WATER! Using the rule of threes you can survive about:
Three minutes without air
Three hours without heat
Three days without water
Three weeks without food

For most applications a AA battery can replace a C or D cell just fine; you just need to make a spacer. They are commercially available, I am using Eneloop spacers both at home and at work, however in a pinch you can make one with cardboard and tape. A D cell is around 10,000 mAh, a C cell is around 6,000 mAh, AA’s are around 2,000 mAh, and AAA’s are around 900 mAh. So, using AA’s they will only last 1/5 as long as a D cell or 1/3 as long for a C cell. In a radio where the standard batteries last for weeks this won’t be a problem, in an incandescent flashlight…

Back in the day I had a Sony Walkman CD player and a little cassette tape adapter that plugged into the headphones jack on the Walkman and the tape deck in the car. Using this setup on long trips I could get 1 CD out of el cheapo batteries, 2-3 CD’s out of Energizers and 10-12 out of Duracells. Needless to say until I moved on to rechargeables I stopped buying anything but Duracells. Currently I am using Eneloop AA and AAA and a Lacross technology smart charger. The smart charger has a function that will recondition the batteries and bring well used batteries back from the dead and will tell you the mAh capacity of each battery so you can kind of match them up by capacity. A string of batteries in series will only last until the weakest battery goes dead, in parallel as soon as the weakest battery goes dead the load gets shifted to the other batteries and can shorten the life of the other batteries. It isn’t nessary with modern low self-discharge (LSD) batteries but I still mark the d ate I started using them and a serialize them in sharpie. That way when pulling them off the charger I can make a mental note that #3 and #16 are kind of weak and put be sure to put them in the remote instead of a camera or flashlight, etc. Good rechargables and a good charger isn’t cheap but over time I save a boat load and always have a drawer full of fresh batteries.

One last thought on rechargeable batteries. The both charge and discharge on an exponential curve. For convenience sake you can think about it as fifths. A battery that takes 50 minutes to charge will be 1/2 charged after ten minutes, then 1/2 of the remaining charge in the next ten minutes, and so on and so forth. They discharge in the same way and are asymptotic about the 0% and 100% charge states. After 5 fifths it is assumed to be either fully charged or discharged. So if you have some hypothetical batteries that take 50 minutes to fully charge and will then power a flashlight for 50 minutes; ten minutes of charge will give you 40 minutes of light. In an emergency even a little charge matters.


Dan said...

For a generator, I would seriously consider Hondas EU series of portable generators. They are efficient, quiet and powerful enough to run some lights, a fridge and the fan on a gas furnace or a box fan. Since they are popular with RVers, they have off the shelf adaptors to convert them to tri-fuel; gasoline, propane or natural gas; which should greatly improve your ability to find fuel in a pinch. A whole house generator may be more convenient, but a smaller generator will use less fuel or conversely run longer on a given amount of fuel. If you wanted a really slick solution you could move the furnace fan, some lights, the fridge, and an outlet to a subpanel right beside the main panel. Then add a transfer switch to disconnect the subpanel from the main panel and connect it to a “shore power” outlet outside in a protected spot. Then all you need to do is flip the transfer switch fire up the generator and connect it to the shore power outlet. Oh yea on the outlet you put on the subpanel; make it a red heavy duty outlet. Red so you can find it fast when things aren’t going so well and heavy duty because the 99¢ outlets don’t have much metal in them and will not stand up to constant plugging and unplugging. They you have light, heat, a refrigerator and an outlet, for medical appliances, communications, charging batteries, etc. with a minimum of fuss.


PioneerPreppy said...

Greg - Using a small converter like only a 200 WATT or so I can run my wood furnace blower for slightly over 24 hours off one battery. I then can switch it out with one of the other 5. I have to step up to a higher converter to run the blower and the freezer but then I try and just runt he freezer a few hours.

I did several posts while I was building it and then a final one last year. I will need to go find the link. I also want to do a page post on it so maybe I will do that this weekend.

Anonymous said...

By and large I think depending on a generator in tough times is unwise for several reasons owing to difficulty in maintaining a generator for long outages as well as fueling it in a long outage, as we've seen from the lines and lines of people standing in NY/NJ, gas cans in hand, hours on end.

That said, I have a generator too. It is an attachment for my Troy-Bilt tiller that bolts on in place of the tiller tine assembly. I happened to see it, slightly used, on EBay some years ago and couldn't resist the bargain and snagged it. Troy Bilt, now owned by MTD, no longer makes it.

Anyhow, the engine on the tiller got a bit tired (I bought the tiller new, way back in 1988...we've grown old together) and I found a cheap, single cylinder diesel engine that is a Chinese knock off (licensed or not) of a well-known Yanmar design. This engine runs the generator for quite a few hours on a gallon or so of diesel. I actually do most of the tilling with a spade anyhow.

I like diesel because it stores much longer and better than gasoline and if I were to use the genny for a long time, well, I have quick access to a fair bit of diesel. Propane is good too I suppose.

Natural gas? I saw just tonight where neighborhoods in NJ had the gas shut off because it was bubbling out of the (sandy) streets.

In any case, if not for my particular bargain find of a diesel generator, I wouldn't have a generator at all. Even with the diesel, I would only use it intermittently to charge some batteries, check in on the local TV weather person, and maybe runs some tools. The lights are either oil lamps or solar flashlights. The heat is from a masonry heater and the cooking is camp stove or rocket stove. Some of this stuff I ordinarily use anyhow.

I would like to get a few marine batteries teamed with a decent inverter/charger. Then I'd charge the batteries with the generator when I've already started the generator for something large and use only the inverter for the rest of the time.

But inverter/chargers are fairly high tech electronic things prone to failure at inopportune times I fear, thus, so far I've resisted going this route.

I have to tell you one other thing Greg, earlier tonight I was pointed to a piece Stephen Colbert did, mocking Glen Beck a year or so ago for encouraging people to store some food and shared it on my Facebook page only to get personally whalloped by a friend that came my way via political discussions you and I have had on Facebook earlier in the year.

Sometimes, it just doesn't pay to speak up in these tough times to assist others. I hate to "unfriend" people over differences, but some people...well, some people we know in common may be personally and financially successful in many ways, but I'm coming to getting very tired of the personal attacks I am suffering at their hands. 'Not sure how they've come to be so successful if that is how they treat people with whom they differ on political matters.

Stephen B.

Shah Dil Awan said...

Same situation in Pakistan a big energy crises destroying economy investor must take interest in this field and hope fully solution and business both available in Pakistan

kathy said...

We are looking at a hard wired propane generator as we usually have a good 600 gallons of propane on hand. It would sit next to the pool and use musch of the same hardware. It would not be a long-term solution but it would run my dehydrator and freezer until I got the food in the freezers canned or dried. The other prep people forget is money. Cash in small bills matters when you can't use plastic. That means you need a decent safe as well. I'm off to the butcher's today. 30 hens are going to camp, then coming home to become canned chicken. There is a lot you can do with canned, organic, free-range chicken.

energie said...

how long time rechargeable batteries is works?
fernsteuerung schalter

tweell said...

If you need electricity on a budget, why not use your car? Modern vehicles are fuel-efficient and quiet compared to a generator, plus you already have them. Get a decent sized inverter (1500W or more), short 4GA cables to attach it to your car, and a heavy duty 12GA extension cord to connect to your house. Open your main breaker to the power company, plus any you're not going to be using to minimize load. Connect the inverter, start the car, then plug the inverter into the house via the extension cord. Run as needed.

Greg T. Jeffers said...


That is outstanding.

Ragnar said...

I wouldn't rely on the car. A car can turn out 700-900 watts. That is enough to operate one appliance at a time (though it couldn't power a hair dryer) or a few lights. It is better than nothing but nothing to get excited about.