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Long term planning for power outages

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by Badfish740, Oct 31, 2012.

  1. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    We've lived in Northwest NJ for almost five years now. In three of those five years we've had multi-day power outages due to storms. Now some of this is a function of the storms themselves-Hurricane Sandy this time, the October Noreaster last year, and "Snowmaggeden" before that. Some it is also a function of the fact that this is a rural area (though I live in a subdivision) and it just takes a while before they get us back on. The main problem with no power for extended periods for us is no ability to cook indoors easily (electric stove), no hot water (electric HWH), keeping the food cold, and keeping the basement dry. I'm beginning to seriously look at a standby generator setup powered by propane (no gas here)-maybe even with an automatic start. They're pretty pricey, but so is missing days of work every year to try to keep my house in one piece. Anybody have one of these units? I'm not looking to be able to run my house as if nothing happened, I just want to be able to run essential systems without running electrical cords through a window, down the basement steps, across the living room, etc... It would also be nice to have something with an enclosure that could run at night with little disturbance to others.

    Finally, I'm really leaning toward converting the house to hot water baseboard for more than a few reasons anyway. I'm seriously considering a non-pressurized system with some homemade solar flat plate collectors for supplemental heat. Obviously we'll need power to run the boiler pump, but I'm hoping that wouldn't be a huge load. Much better insulation would be a good thing too so that the house could stay warmer longer when I'm not home to stoke the boiler. Any other good ideas besides stocking up on batteries? ;)

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  2. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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  3. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    And, at the bottom of the aricle:
    "“We would not like to see stresses on the battery pack caused by putting it through cycles it wasn’t designed for,” said Chris Naughton, a Honda spokesman. “Instead, they should buy a Honda generator that was made for that purpose.”
  4. FrankMA

    FrankMA Member

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    I've lost power several times over the past 3 - 4 years and finally got tired of not having electricity for up to 6 days at a time. I bought a Honda EM6500SX generator this past September, had a 10 circuit transfer box installed and can honestly say it is one of the best investments I have made recently. I've been without grid power since mid day Monday and aside from having to purchase gasoline to power the generator have not been inconvienced. Last year alone I lost power for 4 days during Irene and then for 6 days during the freak October nor'easter that rolled through.

    I live in a rural area and we're usually the last one's to get our power back on line. The generator powers my well pump, forced hot water furnace, fridge, freezer, lights, all the essentials, etc... 95% of my house is powered for use when the power goes down which tends to be quite frequently starting around October and continuing until early spring. I heat my house with wood so my furnace only kicks on to heat my hot water tank.

    I spent the extra money for a Honda because of reliability, quietness and the clean power is produces. I work from home so I need to be able to use my computer and other sensitive electronic devices - buying the Honda was a no brainer for me. The last thing I want to hear for 16 hours a day is a jackhammer banging away outside my house driving me and my neighbors crazy.
  5. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    Lawyer speak for "it wasn't designed for this use, do so at your own peril".

    In my case at least, as I mentioned, I wouldn't be using the factory battery pack.
  6. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Interesting discussion. I put in a transfer switch and bought an inexpensive 3200 watt generator after the 2010 spring floods. Our heat and hot water is gas, laundry stove and all else electric. We have city water but do have a pumped septic (3-4 day reserve tank).

    The gen is wired to run (not all at once):
    • Sump pump
    • Septic pump
    • Basement circuit including the internet/CATV/phone gear
    • boiler/HWH
    • basement freezer
    • kitchen circuits(fridge/microwave/toaster/coffee pot, lights)
    • Living room circuit/TV
    • bathroom lights
    I have the internet stuff on a computer UPS (APC Smart-UPS 750w). Between that and the laptop batteries we can be online for 2-3 hours without the generator. The plan I follow is run the generator 2-3 hours at breakfast and dinner to cook, heat water, shower, chill the fridge and recharge everything.

    We have enough flashlights and candles for light, We can manage cooking with the micro, toaster and a camping stove. Wood for heat obviously.


    This setup worked really well this time but I have some concerns...
    * In a long outage I don't really want to listen to the drone all day to be able to use computers, etc
    * If we have a long outage with heavy rain I might have to keep the generator running 24/7 to run the sump pump which eats gas
    * If we have an outage with rain while I'm at work the basement could flood before I get the genny up

    If we where out in the sticks and had these outages monthly I'd spring for one of those mentioned Honda inverter units. But for us its maybe once or twice a year, I cant see spending 3-4 grand. What Im thinking Is I instead I might put in a battery backup sump pump, and wire it up to a really big deep cycle AGM battery - say 200Ah, and add an inverter. With this I could power the internet, computer, TV all day on clean power and only run the gen a couple hours in the evening to recharge. I'd get better gas milage out of the generator keeping it heavily loaded when it is running. This would also give me over 12 hour backup reserve for the sump pump in case Im away or be able to run it overnight on battery.

    For fun I could even add a small solar panel to top off the battery....
    hilbiliarkiboi and LEES WOOD-CO like this.
  7. Bad Wolf

    Bad Wolf Minister of Fire

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    I’m running on backup power as we speak. This time it’s Sandy, last year it was Irene.
    I oscillated between the automatic 1.21 jigawatt system and a manual plug in as you go setup.

    Six years ago I opted for a Troy-Bilt 7550 watt unit, with an interlock on the main panel. It will power the whole house including the pump. Heat is from the wood fired boiler of course and DHW is off of that.
    Last year I got a 2000 watt inverter generator (10 hours on a gallon), for extend periods of low draw (like overnight) for just the boiler, fridge, and a couple of lights.

    My reasoning was that for the $3000-$4000 savings I can do the manual setup, refueling and switching. Up until Irene and Sandy we didn’t lose power that often, and even with these two storms it’s been manageable.

    It would have been nice to have an automatic system but I couldn’t justify the extra expense. Now if I was gone for extended periods of time or there was someone elderly at home that couldn’t start it up that would be a different matter.

    I’m loving the small generator, it’s a Champion inverter that I got last year after the snow storm, for $400 (new they are $700). It’s super quite and sips gas.
  8. JustWood

    JustWood Minister of Fire

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    This is my setup also and future plans practically to a T.
    I've heard the propane gennys eat 'pain like nobodys business. The money you wood make going to work (if you could even get to work or work is even scheduled) would be going to the 'painman.
  9. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    I started with a 4000w Coleman Powerback generator that ran the well pump or the furnace+fridge, so I had to do some switching. It was an awesome generator, good on gas, and I had it for 15 years. I decided to upgrade when I saw the lights starting to "rev" (didn't feel like digggin' into it). I still went with a portable, 6500w/8000max. It's just as good on gas, and the power is very steady. It's not an inverter model, but the laptops like it fine. I upgraded the transfer switch to a 10-circuit, and the 30 amp slot goes to a sub panel so I can run some lights in my parent's in-law.

    I really like the idea of the smaller generator for overnight or light daytime loads. Often my dad is the only one home and he needs a light to read. At night would be great too, but I would have to be careful about an overload in case someone got up to use the bathroom and the well pump kicked on. I know Honda has a 3000 watt model that can be run in tandem with another so you can get 220v, and they will idle/cycle to conserve gas. It's a good idea if you want to keep costs small and add later. Honda are THE BEST that I know of, but boy, they don't come cheap!

    Eventually if my parents stay I'll be looking at standby system with automatic transfer, and it will probably be propain. I can't be home all the time to worry about it, or expect them to wheel it out and get 'er going. My thoughts on the standby system are:

    1. Keep it small, like 7k. That's enough for a well pump and furnace. This is emergency power, not grid power. Anything larger than that and you could be burning bucu gallons of propane per hour of juice. My friend has an 18Kwh for his house, and his bill is hundreds/year just for the test cylcle 1/2hr per week. At that price I'd be staying in a motel.
    2. Propane if you don't have NG. Diesel/heating oil is great but the extra cost and maint. will more than likely not be worth it (unless you have to buy a tank and already have heating oil, but even then propane is more reliable/simpler)
    3. Be careful with the fancy stuff. You can save a lot of fuel on a load-shedding model but a $500 circuit board is a lot of propane.
  10. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Ive started reading up on things a bit. What I discovered is it wont be cheap to do this right... But OTOH, someone pointed out to me that If I did add a couple small solar panels (say 100-300w) to this setup permanently mounted someplace the whole shebang becomes a small Solar PV install qualified for tax credits. That would chop off half the cost in MA if true.

    Having at least some power without relying on gas is looking like it may come in useful someday :(
    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/11/0...-gas-stations-as-pumps-run-dry-in-wake-sandy/
  11. peakbagger

    peakbagger Minister of Fire

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    Better watch it on solar tax credit, they are only for grid tied permanent systems. Be aware that places like Harbor Freight stamp everything "qualifies for federal rebate" but thats is inaccurate, they can qualify if used in a permanently installed grid tied PV system only. Do note there are far better deals than Harbor Freight panels out there.

    You can install a battery based grid tie inverter so that you can run off grid with your solar and a generator but you pay a lot more up front ($2,000 to $4000) than a straight grid tied system. You do get a fed rebate of 30% plus whatever the state kicks in so its not all bad but realize the initial extra ocst for battery backup will buy a nice generator and lots of gas cans.
  12. EatenByLimestone

    EatenByLimestone Minister of Fire

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    I'd take a different route. For cooking, get a nice grill that you can use outside in the summer when the power is on, and outside in the summer when the power is off. It will keep the heat outside and the inside cooler. Many grills have a small burner on the side so they can be used to heat water for cooking and washing.

    For lighting, an oil lamp can store in a small place and the fuel can be kept for years.

    A small generator can be run inexpensively to keep food cold, and the sump pump going. If you calculate the power draw on that blower for your furnace you can quickly charge batteries and run the blower off of them so you are saving fuel and not running the generator all the time. Right now NYC, NY and parts of CT are out of gasoline. I'd plan on not having any. Edit: It looks like gas may not be available in some places for another week. http://www.cnbc.com/id/49642174



    Matt
  13. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    The gasoline thing is easily handled. In the Fall I bring home twenty gallons in five gallon cans. Enough to run for a week. In the summer what hasn't been used in power outages gets burned off in the garden tractor, saws and finally around August the truck. Then do it all over again in the Fall. Once a month I fire the gennys for ten minutes or so and shut off the fuel and suck the carbs dry.

    The cost of whole house auto start units would put us in a five star hotel for a lot of nights. With room service. Our problem in winter in 900 feet of snow in the way between us and the road.
    semipro likes this.
  14. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Yeah I figured the comment about solar credits was too good to be true.

    In any case I really should have a battery backup pump. If we lost power while Im at work in a situation like the 2010 rains the basement would flood before I got home. Piecing one together from components with a bigger battery to have the option to run the inverter seems to make sense. Adding the solar panel is more for a fun project than anything else.

    On a bang for the buck basis the smart move would probably be to get one of these HF 2 stroke jobs.
  15. EJL923

    EJL923 Feeling the Heat

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    I went minimalist. My wife and i don't have kids, so it made the decision a little easier. I hated spending a lot of money on a generator that may get used every once in a while. Though, the last few years could blow that comment out of the water. Anyway, i did spend a lot, but on a Honda EU2000i inverter. It can power my refrigerator, stove blowers, microwave, tv... My biggest thing during last years October snowstorm was boredom and not being able to power the fridge. The insert did a somewhat adequate job without the blowers. Once the sun went down, i went inside and listened to a radio. We keep (4) 5 gallon buckets of water in the basement, this is used for water for flushing or anything else you might need. We also keep cases of bottles water in stock. Cooking is either microwave or gas grill or camp stove. If needed, we have plenty people around we can use for showers who have a generator. Not as convenient, but for me i feel like i'm getting my money's worth. I tailgate, camp, and do other outdoor things that i can use my generator for. I can also run 10+ hrs on a gallon of gas. As you can see, that would be helpful in terms of the long lines you see now. Each family has their own needs, but that's what works for me.
  16. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    We filled the two bathtubs. Hint: make sure the plugs hold back the water. :)
  17. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Yup. I keep a 5 gallon can full all the time. Enough for 14hr run time at half load on my set... which could get us though a week if we only use it for critical items. Looking at whats happened in this storm I think I may get a second can and keep 10gal on hand. Probably also get a long hose for my siphon pump so in a real emergency I can take some out of the 20gal gas tank on the Pilot.

    I wonder how many of these folks in gas lines heeded the warnings and filled up their cars and cans before the storm. :( Even so its heartbreaking to watch the news.
  18. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    NYC may be rethinking their planning, i understand the subway is STILL under (salt) water and may be down for months.
  19. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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  20. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Reading the article, he is running off the 12v starter battery - not the big traction battery. I see a couple problems/questions relying on this:

    #1 - The starting battery not deep cycle. Running it down a few times with an inverter is a fast way to ruin a starting battery.
    #2 - How does the volt recharge the starter battery? Will it charge it off the traction pack? or just start up the engine?
  21. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    I under stand the motor will come on automatically if the starter battery becomes discharged ,would be a great selling feature for the car to be able to power your house form your car.
  22. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Thats the thing - if it has to run the gas engine to recharge the starter battery its no better than hooking up an inverter to any other car. I guess I dont see the advantage if you can utilize the big battery.
  23. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    Agreed ,it would be a shame not to be able to use that huge energy storage contained in a fully charged volt drive battery. What a great commercial ,the whole neighborhood is dark except 2 house all lit up cuz they have volts in the driveway hooked up to their power supply.
  24. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    The Volt is able to run for 40 miles without the engine, so if you never drive farther than that I guess it would charge (unless the charging unit also charges the starting battery. I'm going to guess the engineers figured this out.

    I'm pretty sure the Volt's gas engine charges the car's (main) battery and that is what runs the electric motor + electrical systems of the car. It would make sense that the starting battery is drawing from the traction battery.
  25. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    If the starting battery is fed from the main then yes I agree this would work fine and probably much more efficient than any portable gen.

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