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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Preppers View - Power Generators

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'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.

1) size
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? ;)


Anonymous said...

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.

That is true. But in my case I have two gas fireplaces on each end of house. The blowers won't work as you point out but there will be enough heat to be comfortable.

And if the outside temp. was 50 it shouldn't take long to restore power unless there is widespread damage.

Obviously a generator is a better way to go. I was just pointing out we wouldn't be helpless without one.

Anonymous said...

My neighbors on both sides think it's a waste of time and money.
However ,last year one of them ask me to plug into my generator. I did allow them to do that , but also informed them of the need to have a generator on hand.
I hope they took my advise.
No more hand outs here.

Daddio said...

AS an expert on this subject, I can tell you that connecting a portable generator to your home's electrical system MUST include a properly wired power INLET, as well as a listed transfer switch or interlock kit.


Trying to remember to switch off your main breaker only leads to trouble and liability to the power company crews who are attempting to repair the grid.

Any such installation should be inspected by an independent electrical inspector before being placed into service.

Anonymous said...

This is great info I bought a generator last year with the Huricane we never got but I'm glad to have it. Now for long term grid being down thats a hole nother ball game people nowing you have a generator might just be the last thing you need. Prepper2k12 keep the stories coming like you said the more preppers the better we all are.

Anonymous said...

I installed (with some help) a 15KW Generac whole home generator, that operates on nat. gas or propane. Also installed a automatic transfer switch so there is no need for manual on/off operation. Another great feature is a exercise mode with a timer, so once a week it runs 12 minutes to keep the battery charged for starting. For most homes a 7.5 kw is large enough, but I bought mine used from a electrican and it was still under warranty. When you live in the woods, and have an overhead service it's nice to have backup power. Most appliances have a wattage usage. If not they have a amp. rating. to calculate wattage- amps.x volts= wattage.

Anonymous said...

just a quick note you can get gas without that Eathnol crap in it down in Fruitland you should still use Stableizer in it but it will last longer.

Anonymous said...

Ethanol will soon be a thing of the past. Congress has ended the subsidies for methanol plants. Soon we will have the good stuff again.

Anonymous said...

Good articles, keep 'em coming.

People in the cities won't be able to store gas, so what do you recommend for them as an alternative?

Prepper2k12 said...

8:42, we have a gas log as well and it would be our only source of heat. We have heat pumps and our generator isn't capable of providing the necessary amperage for them to operate. We would, however, be able to use our air handler to circulate the heat created by the gas log since our cold air return is in the same room. Gas logs are, in my opinion, an outstanding heat source for a short term power failure. And battery operated co/smoke detectors would be perfect companions. Please keep in mind that open dialogue and the flow of information is important for the development of good, solid planning. No one can think of everything. Thanks for your input.

Cyndi Layfield said...

We have a 25KW generator with auto matatic tranfer when the electric goes out.Our generator also takes a test run every saturday from 8Am to 830 Am it is powered by diesel fuel.It is in a self contained building with a 300 gallon tank for the diesel.If we do not hear it run every Saturday we know something is wrong but faithfully for the past 4 years it has had no problems except the heater went up one time.It is nice to have electric when all of our neighbors do not during a power outage.It used to power our chicken houses but due to snow collapse of the roofs 2 years ago we had it hooked up to our home and all the garages and security lights.

Anonymous said...

We were thinking about getting a generator. We went to buy one when the storm was coming last year but they were sold out. We planned on getting one this fall but just never got around to it. We are gonna get one now. Reading this reminded me of how we felt when we couldn't get one last year and we were afraid we were gonna be without power like those people up north for weeks. Thanks for reminding us.

Anonymous said...

We use our generator and backfeed our panel all the time with no problems. We always remember to turn off our main breaker. If you forget to turn off the main breaker someone working on the lines could be hurt. Or if the power comes back on and you are running off of your generator with main breaker still on, you will blow your generator up. A power transfer switch will definiely eliminate that problem but they are expensive to install. I like the idea of color coding the breakers. Real good idea. minimizes the chance of mistakes.

Anonymous said...

Prepper2k12 do you no of any local prepper groups? I work with a few guys and we talk about this kind of stuff but the more people I can meet that are likeminded the better

Anonymous said...

I too would like to know who else is prepping. I get the "oh, you're one of THOSE people" look if I bring it up. Perhaps someone could take the initiative to set up a group, perhaps on Facebook(?), to help all of us on the Eastern Shore get connected?

JoeAlbero said...

I'm watching some of these comments where some are asking people to expose who they are. FUNNY, don't you find it interesting how 99% of the people coming here remain anonymous, yet now all of a sudden ANONYMOUS people want to know who others are, yet THEY refuse to offer their names?????

It makes me wonder, are these Police Officers or BIG BROTHER? Every one now knows Homeland Security is now watching the Blogs.


Anonymous said...

I know what your saying about big brother Joe But what would you suggest Other preppers do to meet.

Anonymous said...

A network of preppers on the eastern shore. I'm down with that. When do we get together? Where?

Anonymous said...

Just think. If we weren't so dependent on electric we wouldn't need generators. And now computers. I guess we'll never learn.

Anonymous said...

Somebody take the initiative and set a date, time, location, and what you would like to discuss, and have a mixer. A meet and greet.

Anonymous said...

The Government should and does encourage being prepared for potential national disasters, (FEMA PSA's). Yet, other parts of the Government consider it suspect or of possible terroristic threat. (DHS PSA's. Burning MILLION's of our tax money to do both.

Anonymous said...

Since I work in the electrical field everyday as an electrician - I would like to 'chime-in' on this discussion.

FYI - all of the local power companies - (i.e. DP&L/Pepco, Choptank, Delaware Electric Coop) - have significantly cut-back their repair and maintenance crews. Their strategy - if there is a major catastrophe then they'll ship-in from outside the area to try and address the outages.

Bottom line - it would be prudent to invest in your own back-up generator system. A 10kW size system should be enough to accomodate most average size homes. Even a 7.5kW system would get you through a crisis - but you might have to throttle your heavy loads - (i.e. hot water, electric range).

If you install a back-up generator then you should have a transfer switch to decouple from the powergrid and that will enable you to be completely independent. Most generator sets come with a manual transfer switch and some with an automatic transfer switch. I prefer propane and/or natural gas because you don't have to contend with the fuel sludge issues as with diesel and/or gasoline.

Hope I was of some help.