One of last weeks articles generated many questions about the need for generators, what size is necessary, etc. I am in no way an expert on power generators. I have one. I have my house wired to be able to use a generator to supply emergency power for things like lighting, refigerators/freezers, water pump, water heater, etc. Certainly there are many different methods available to enable you to operate your entire home continually off the grid for long term survival. I think there is a Sbynews contributor who is actually somewhat of an expert in that area and I would definitely defer to his expertise. As a matter of fact I will seek his expertise in the very near future. But for the purposes of this article, we will stick to the use of fuel operated generators for short term power supply.
The first question I want to address is "do I really need one". Some people stated that they had gas heat, has range, and candles - they would survive. A few things. Gas furnaces require electricity to run the electric blower motor that circulates heat from the heat exchanger to the rest of the house. Gas can make all the heat it wants in a gas furnace but none of it is any good if it doesn't get out of the furnace.
Next was a response to the power being interrupted due to an ice storm. The comment was made....it's an ice storm we don't need a refrigerator. we can put our food outside and it will remain cold. Really? I would offer this rebuttle. It isn't uncommon for an ice storm that knocks out power for several days or a week to be followed by sunny, 50 degree days. Definitely not cold enough for safe food storage. That being said, everyone needs to make their own decision relating to the need to include a generator in their SHORT TERM survival preparation. The reason I emphasize short term is that an extended wide spread power failure will disable fuel pumps. Fuel storage supplies will eventually run out and it may be difficult to obtain more until power is restored. (The size of your fuel supply may be key to determining when you phase from short term to long term survival plans.)
Once you have made your decision to include a generator in your plan, several things need to be considered.
2) installation type (permanently or temporarily tied into your electrical panel)
3) Fuel type
Again, these are my opinions based upon my experience. Everyone is encouraged to do their own research.
Size - the size is based on one most important consideration. How many amps you need to operate your home in an emergency mode. In most cases, you will have to discuss this with an electrician or someone with extensive knowledge in the area in order to determine what size you need. I have a 7700 watt gas generator capable of delivering 240 volts at 30 amps. what does that mean? It means I can operate my lights, my refrigerator, my freezer, and my water pump at the same time. In order to operate my electric water heater, I have to shut my water pump off. I just let my pump fill the tank and don't allow any water useage for an hour while I run my water heater. After the water is hot, I shut the water heater off and turn the pump back on. Anyone who is getting a shower needs to do it at that time and limit it to 5 minutes. That way my water heater can provide enough hot water for everyone before running out. This system works well for my situation. You will have to find one that suits yours. My house operates entirely off of electricity including heat pumps (I do have gas logs for supplemental heat). Therefore In emergency mode I shut certain breakers off so that they don't overload my generator. The generator ONLY runs for a few hours out of an entire day. That is plenty to keep the food cold, allow for the refilling of water containers, personal hygiene, etc. It is not enough to maintain a status quo standard of living. there are generators out there that can provide seamless power that can satisfy every creature comfort if your pocket book is deep enough.
Installation type - There are two basic types. That which is tied in permanently and that which is tied in temporarily. One that is tied in permanently is usually larger and wired directly into you electric panel by a licensed electrician. You can have the type that turns on automatically when it senses an interruption of power or the type that you turn on physically when the power goes out. In large part this depends on your budget. The larger type tied permantly in to your panel is obviously more expensive than a smaller unit you roll out and plug in when the need arises. Either way, the connection should only be made by qualified professionals.
Fuel type - Again, a few options. The least expensive way to go is a gasoline generator that is temporarily connected to your electrical panel. A gasoline generator of sufficient size for most of your emergency needs can be found on Craigslist for about $300 in good condition. Gasoline can be stored for up to a year if you use the proper fuel stabilizer. And it would be wise to use the Prepper method of FIFO. First In First Out. Use the fuel you have been storing for your generator to run your lawnmower and other things such as tillers, chainsaws, etc., and replace your stock with fresh fuel. NEVER forget to stabilize. Another tyoe of fuel would be diesel. Diesel generators are more expensive but they tend to last much longer than gasoline generators. Fuel can be stored much longer and the fuel systems don't tend to get clogged up by using older fuel. You should treat diesel fuel to prevent it from gelling during the winter months. If you have propane heat as many do here on the shore, a propane generator would be an excellent choice if you intend to use the type of generator that is permanently tied in to your electric panel since the connection is permanent. A gas line is connected to the tank and runs directly to the generator. The gas doesn't go bad and it can be easily tested monthly to be sure that it will work when you need it.
Once your generator is connected and is operating properly, have your breakers color coded so that you know which ones must be turned off when the generator is being utilized. For example, your main breaker should always be turned off prior to throwing the breaker on that allows your generator to supply power. So the Main breaker should be color coded "red". If using a smaller generator like I do, all breakers should be turned off but those needed to provide essential power. Those breakers such as your heat pumps, air handlers, etc., should also be colored "red". Breakers that you will either leave on or turn on should be colored "green". Those breakers would be limited lighting, outlets that charge cell phones and rechargeable flashlights, refrigerators, freezers, etc. Breakers that will be turned off and on alternately, such as water heaters and water pumps, should be colored "orange". ALL orange and red breakers should be turned off before any green breakers are turned on. A color legend should be posted near the electrical panel with easy to understand instructions on how to employ emergency power.
At this point all there is left to do is teach everyone in your house the proper way to operate the generator and the panel in the event you are not at home when an emergency arises. Don't forget to start your generator once a month at a minimum to be sure that it will be working properly when you need it.
I can't adequately express the feeling of satisfaction you'll get when the power goes out and you still have water, lights, etc. It can only be second to the feeling you get when you look at your neighbor and he, too, has lights because you were able to talk him into being a prepper.
Who is prepping in YOUR neighborhood because you've spread the word? ;)