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Dealing with power outages-lessons learned?

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by Badfish740, Nov 2, 2011.

  1. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    Here in the Northeast it seems that we're getting hit with at least one storm a year that knocks out power for days, not hours. Here in Northwest NJ two years ago it was a freak October ice storm, this year it was Irene (we didn't lose power then, thank goodness), and now this past October snow. I thought it might be interesting to start a "lessons learned" thread about what worked and what didn't, what you'd do differently next time, etc... Here is my list:

    Generator connection/placement - My generator is nothing fancy. It's a hand-me-down Generac from my FIL who used to use it in his construction business. It's loud and not terribly powerful (4500W), but it did the job. However, I realized that for extended periods especially, running a rats nest of cords to my critical systems (2 sump pumps, wood furnace blower, chest freezer, refrigerator) is not ideal. I am going to invest in a 30 Amp power inlet along with an interlock switch for my main panel before the new year. This will also allow me to cycle my hot water heater. I had my first hot shower in four days yesterday. Finally, since the plugs are a standard item, a different/larger generator could always be easily connected as well. As far as placement, I had been running the generator on the deck, which for short periods is fine, but by the end of the second day it was driving us nuts. I lucked out and was able to buy another cord at Lowes (literally the last 12 gauge cord they had) in order to move it off of my deck. My property slopes down in the back of my house and I was thinking of building a little "house" into the hillside for the generator maybe 15 feet away from my foundation that would be open on one side. The idea would be to place the generator inside under a roof in order to deaden the sound and protect it from weather.

    Headlamps - Can't say enough good things about these! My wife had gotten me a set of four for Christmas as a stocking stuffer-she saw them at the checkout and grabbed them on her way out. I hadn't opened them until the Friday before the storm hit. Instead of fumbling with a flashlight when trying to set the air control on the furnace or start the generator in the middle of the night I had both hands free.

    Having a full freezer - When I first got my chest freezer I saved milk jugs, filled them with water, and froze them. I would add or subtract jugs of ice as I added or took out food so that the freezer was always full to the brim. Even after being off for 5 hours at one point the temps in the freezer were still in the high teens. Not ideal, but not warm enough to spoil either.

    Wood furnace - This is really only specific to those with forced air wood furnaces, but I really need to get some kind of tee with a "trap door" that can function as a heat dump for when there is no power. Whenever I was not running the generator I had to manually disconnect the duct work (I just peeled the tape off of the joint in order to let it dump into the basement. Not ideal.

    Propane grill - We have an electric stove (which I hate) so we were SOL as far as cooking. I was going to try a recipe that pen posted for some dutch oven bread in the woodstove, but I didn't get to it. I'm going try it regardless of the power being on or not one of these days though. I figured out that you can cook pretty much anything on a propane grill. I removed one side of the grill to expose the burner which I used for setting a cast iron skillet directly on top of. I made some really good cheese eggs and an omelet that way. We had burgers of course along with some pork roll on the grill itself, but on night three I decided to wrap up some chicken nuggets and perogies (we only had frozen food at that point) in foil and they cooked even better than they do in the electric oven!

    Any others?

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  2. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Good to hear that you are back on the grid. For some it will be longer. And for a lot of people their gas stations are also out of power. So I would add that having a good supply of gas on hand is important.

    FYI, I think you will need a a larger generator to run the hw heater. In the most common size unit, each element is about 4500w (though only one comes on at a time).
  3. smokinj

    smokinj Minister of Fire

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    +1 on the hot water. Glad I am able to make my own. Gas stove top but the oven is eletric. 1 freezer and 2 fridges the rest will just have to wait. Warm, dry, clean and fed.
  4. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    I usually try to keep at least 10 gallons on hand plus what's in the tank which I think is 4 gallons? Always with a liberal dose of Seafoam as well-as was stated on here previously the stuff works miracles for cleaning out gunk, dispersing water, etc... As for the HWH I think its something we can live without (at least until my daughter gets older :lol:) for now, but it did feel pretty good just to have a hot shower after four days, so this is yet another reason to look at a better generator for the house. My current generator I got for free and would probably serve me well as a source of remote power for tools rather than a dedicated unit for powering the house.
  5. Stegman

    Stegman Feeling the Heat

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    I don't have a generator, but I'm toying with the idea of getting one before I fall victim to a long-term power outage. Just curious how much it costs [ballpark] to have an electrician come in and install one of those transfer switches. Are we talking a couple of hundred bucks, or $1,000 [or more).
  6. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    It all depends on how fancy you want to get. There are automatic switches which sense the loss of grid power, switch off the main, switch on the inlet, and tell the generator to start-with an electric start of course. Then there are simple interlocks like this one:

    http://www.interlockkit.com/

    I am going to install the inlet and the cable to the main panel myself, then I'll have an electrician install a 50 Amp breaker in the box and connect the cable to the panel which should be a quick and easy job. The interlock itself is $150, the cable (8/4) is probably going to be about $2.50 a foot (I need about 20 feet), so there's $50. The power inlet box will run you about $80 and a 50 Amp breaker is about $20. So right there I'm spending $300 in materials. The labor cost is the big variable.
  7. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    Those interlock kits are great. I think my neighbor has one. In fact, I'm pretty sure he does because he's the only one in the development still running his generator. Make sure you get the light/sounder that tells you when power is back.

    Check your fuel: The night/day before the storm fill your truck/car and check to see what you've got. I had to drive 30 minutes on almost empty before I found a gas station open with fuel.

    Cash: When I finally found an open station with gas they were only taking cash.

    Paper Plates: I wash the silverware but right now water is the precious resource.

    Manage expectations: 5 minute shower is more than enough, especially when other people are sitting in the dark. Everyone watches the same instead of headphones + laptops. Mary Poppins is a great flick.

    Think about other people. When I found out my friends were sitting in the dark and he couldn't get the generator running (float gummed up) I was pissed he waited 2 days to call. First serviceman charged him $175 to tell him he needed a new flyweel but the part was backorded.
  8. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    :lol: I guess it helps to get outside and look around once in a while to see if the lights are on elsewhere ;)
  9. davmor

    davmor Member

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    Great advice. We seem to lose power here in Northern Michigan about once a month. I have a 5500 Watt generator (8500 surge) that I run the basics on. I use a reliant transfer switch. Another thing to try to do is run your generator about once a month. It is good to know things are working good when you need it. Also I add Stabil and Seafoam to the gas tank.
  10. bogydave

    bogydave Minister of Fire

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    Good post
    Some great points.
    Being prepared feels as good as having 2 years of ready fire wood.

    btuser, go tell your neighbor running his generator that the power is back on. :)
  11. daveswoodhauler

    daveswoodhauler Minister of Fire

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    Good idea and good post. Some ones we learned from the icestorm in 2008:

    Crank flashlights that have a battery internal....good for the kids, and you don't have to run out and buy batteries.

    Cash - as others have said....very useful

    Small inverter that plugs into your cig lighter in your car. Works well if you don't have a cell phone car charger, but just a normal one that goes in an outlet. Got one from black and decker for like $12 or something, you can charge up stuff while dricing around looking for a gas station that is open or a working atm..lol

    camping gear - small propane 2 burner stove works great for heating up water, sauces, breakfast....even had tacos a few nights, and the kids love tacos.

    A non item for you folks with older friends or parents....they are old school, so they don't ask for help. (I hate asking for help, so I never do...just the way I am) If you are more prepared the others....stop by your family friends and just bring a hot mean over...something in the crock pot etc.....funny, we became closer to our friends and neighbors during the last storm as we all chipped in and helped each other.

    Lets keep this thread going.....good ideas.
  12. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    Sorry, this is New England. Ten years to melt the ice and another 20 before we're truly friends. If it wasn't for the kids I'd only see people at funerals.
  13. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Buy fifteen gallons of genny gas every October and then burn what is left in the vehicles or lawn mower in the summer. Rinse and repeat next October.
  14. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    I live in a rural area and power outages, although not frequent, are a concern. Fortunately, I have a gravity septic system.

    Generator: 5000 watt 240v generator with a 10 circuit manual transfer switch. I exercise the generator for 30-60 minutes several times/year with a 1500W electric heater on each leg of the supply. It also doubles as power for remote use of the MIG welder away from the shop.

    Heat: the house is normally heated 24-7 with a wood stove, non electric, in the living room. No problem keeping the house warm no matter how low the temperature may go. The shop is heated with Tarm gasifier + storage; short term battery backup to keep the gasser and circulators running; longer term I can charge the batteries whenever the generator runs. Normally would only have to operate the Tarm about 6 hours every other day in the coldest of winter weather.

    Water: the generator will run the 240v well pump, so water is not an issue. Septic system takes care of the other end of the pipe.

    Refrigerator/freezer: these are on generator circuits and really do not take much power. Typically do not power these continuously but cycle them to save gas and run-time on the generator.

    Lights: important lighting circuits are on the generator, all CFL's which work fine. Also have an Aladdin kerosene lamp, the kind that burns as bright as a light bulb, along with a few gallons of kerosene. If reason to suspect a long outage, I typically use the Aladdin rather than run the generator for electric lights.

    Cooking: an outlet circuit is active for the microwave; can also heat enough water to keep dishes clean; warm water for sponge baths.

    Fuel: I maintain a 30 gallon rotated supply of gasoline, use it for the car to keep the gas fresh.

    Food: I keep a good supply of canned, dry and frozen food; enough to last a month and eat OK and much longer if rationed.

    Sanity: an outlet circuit is available for the computer, broadband, TV, sound system, radio, etc. Have batteries on hand to keep the remotes in good order. Everything works fine on the generator. Liquor cabinet is usually well-stocked. A shot of whiskey makes everything warm and trouble free.

    Community: very willing to put up neighbors who need help.

    Worst case: tree falls on the house and exposes it in a major way to the elements -- move to a neighbor, bring the generator, food, etc. -- and the booze! Commiserate together.

    Other: as I live in a rural area, 12 miles from the nearest town, our place is pretty well outfitted with just about everything needed for ordinary survival for quite a long time, including hunting and fishing. Up to a couple of weeks of power outage would not much affect us. Longer would be noticeable, mostly from a lack of normal comforts rather than essentials. Using up all the gasoline for the generator, even after siphoning out of the cars, would be the biggest concern. That's why we keep quite a bit of gas on hand. A summer/hot weather disaster would be worse than winter due to the need to maintain refrigeration and freezer; in cool weather/winter much could be stored outside to reduce refrig/freezer needs.
  15. ISeeDeadBTUs

    ISeeDeadBTUs Guest

    Plenty of Birth Control . . . Hell, what else is there to do when there are no lights, it gets dark at like 5:30, and you can't get to sleep??
  16. jimbom

    jimbom Combustion Analyzer

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    :lol: That and the fifty year school reunion.
  17. Jags

    Jags Moderate Moderator Staff Member

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    Remind me to never move there. :blank:
  18. firefighterjake

    firefighterjake Minister of Fire

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    Hey now . . . some of us folks are darn nice and friendly like . . . some of us even said folks free stuff even if we've never met them in person. ;)
  19. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    We have been lucky so far - less than 24hrs out for both Irene and the Noreaster but I know our number will come eventually.

    Heat
    We are good as long as the wood pile holds out of course...

    Power
    We had a small 3500w genset to keep the sump pump going but I did put in a reliance 10 circuit transfer switch we can power the septic pump, gas boiler/HWH, and a few interior circuits (Fridge, microwave, kitchen, bath, living room/TV). This lets us cycle the septic, hot water heater, fridge and extra freezer a couple times a day. We can also use either the microwave, toaster oven or coffee maker for cooking, though not at once.

    I thought about an interlock but decided against it as I would have to really juggle things not to overload this small generator... however If we ever have a week long outage I will seriously think about trading up to a bigger gen.

    I also got a bunch of APC SmartUPS UPS units used cheap on ebay and plugged all the electronics Id want to use on generator into these. They do power conditioning and should help protect things from the dirty generator power. Plus you can keep some small electronics powered off them between generator cycles if you get a big enough unit.

    Running the generator 24/7 is a waste, at minimal load it uses as much gas as half load. We try to run it in cycles when needed and rely on batteries, candles,etc in between.

    Light
    LED flashilights. Battery life blows away incandescents.

    I have been moving away from alkalines to Sanyo Eneloop rechargable AAs. They don't discharge in storage and if you run out of batteries you can recharge them from the generator.

    Candles are ok, but I'd like to get some good oil lamps as well (to do)

    Water
    Water wise we are OK - town well water that's fed from water towers. I guess if the entire town was out for a week that would run out as well. Maybe keep some jugs on hand.

    Food
    Cooking - I have a white gas camp stove and a couple gallons of Coleman fuel. But that has to be used outside. Might be better to have a propane stove and a few cylinders (to do) or better yet extend the NG line to the kitchen and replace the electric range with gas (someday wish list)

    Food wise we try to keep a few weeks of staples stocked around. BJs or Costco.

    Other
    Its more just for general emergencies but I also keep a big expedition grade first aid kit on hand and some other emergency supplies from my backpacking days like water filters etc. If we ever had a storm so bad the streets were blocked and a bad injury at home it may come in handy.

    We have a battery powered weather/emergency band radio.
  20. Jags

    Jags Moderate Moderator Staff Member

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    Yeah, your right. I'm sure there are "normal" folks there too. :lol:
  21. firefighterjake

    firefighterjake Minister of Fire

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    :) :) :) . . . never claimed I was normal . . .
  22. Vic99

    Vic99 Minister of Fire

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    Especially if you do not have a generator:

    1) Before storm hits charge all rechargeable batteries and cell phones

    2) Run the freezer and fridge colder than you would. Food less likely to spoil if power comes back sooner. Could do the same for water heater - hotter

    3) Get candles, matches, flashlights out ahead of time
  23. EJL923

    EJL923 Feeling the Heat

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    Western Mass
    No generator here, and ive been going on 5 days now without power. That also means no well water for me.

    Water
    The wife was smart enough to fill up water jugs, but drinking only. I didnt get to filling up the 5 gallon pails for flushing. Now that i can get out of our road, i fill up 3 of them at work to have on hand to fill the tanks after flushing, (usually only for the "special stuff").

    Heat
    Having a wood insert in a power outage is trying. I have a flush face, which really relies on the blowers. During the days, our house (lower level) can stay warm from the radiant heat without the surround on, but when the temp drops at night, i run an inverter off the car to power the blowers. They are only about 70 watts for the pair. I also plugged up the dog house air when running during the day to let the stove idle longer. I have found you cant load up an insert if you are not running the blowers, it will overheat. it may be just my setup. Sad to say this is the least efficient i have ever run, but it is out of necessity.

    Boredom
    During the day i try to get stuff done around the garage and yard, but once nightfall comes, boredom ensues. Sports radio passes the time until i fall asleep. The wife likes to read.

    Showers
    Luckily a friend in the center of town was only without power for a day, so we head up there at night for a shower, few beers, and some time to gain some sanity back.
  24. colebrookman

    colebrookman Minister of Fire

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    Around here they lock up the "normal" and the rest of us are out here having fun! Be safe.
    Ed
  25. seige101

    seige101 Minister of Fire

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    I am in the same boat as EJL923 and also live in western Ma (palmer to be specific) going on day 5 no power. Was just looking at a generator online thursday night or maybe even friday.

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