Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Emergency Backup

The heat wave gripping HomePlace seems to have spread far beyond the borders of Falls County, or even Texas. It seems just about the entire country is 'one hundred degree hell'. My friends in Oklahoma have been suffering with one hundred and ten degree highs within the last week. It's amazing what folks will do to beat Texas at something!

This has many people gathered around an appliance even more popular these days than the fabled Television Set. I speak of none other than that hero, beloved by millions, the Air Conditioner.

Sadly, AC's popularity is in its self a problem. With millions of folks across the country taking refuge from the summer heat in near frostbite splendor the power companies just can't take the drain. That in its self can cause power grids to fail.

Storms are another cause of massive power outages. The combination can be a disaster. Both my friend Zack at "The Next Chapter" and HomePlace have suffered power outages that lasted several days in the last year. If you're caught off guard these can be deadly. Preparation and planning makes all the difference in the world.

There are all kinds of preparations. Candles and matches, flash lights and batteries, and emergency supply of food and water should things we already have on hand. You may need another way to cook. A detailed list would be another blog.

The first, most obvious fall back tool for a power failure is a gas powered generator. With this you can restore power in minutes, or even seconds!

Friends in Houston have the deluxe emergency plan. With their house came a huge generator that runs on propane. It automatically comes on as soon as the power goes out. The generator is large enough to run everything in the house with power to spare. If it weren't for blinking clocks and microwaves they might never know they had a power outage.

Our system isn't that elaborate.

Our generator can handle 6560 watts of surge power and 5250 watts of continues power. We got it to run power tools on parts of the ranch where there were no electric lines. It comes in real handy when the power company drops the ball. But it would take a generator of 8000 to 10,000 watts range to power house, refrigerator, freezers, AC and all the little things that make up a home. Depending on the size of your generator, you're going to need to pick and choose.

If you can make do without the AC, use a fan. Move the contents of the refrigerator to ice chest. Freezers do a pretty good job of 'holding their cool' but you can help them with that.

We use a lot of two liter soda bottles here. Wash them out and fill them with water. A drop or two of iodine will keep anything interesting from growing in the bottles and won't affect the taste. I always mark the treated bottles with a "D" on the cap. We also have frozen bottles just to keep things cool. The difference is, when the "D" bottles thaw, we can drink them.

Even if we lived somewhere we could depend on the power provider I would keep frozen bottles. Nothing is more expensive to run than an empty refrigerator or freezer. As groceries come out we fill the empty space with water bottles and vice versa after a shopping trip. The practice saved a bunch of food when we were without power for the better part of a week. They will thaw, but it takes days to weeks depending on the outside temperature.

Even the best generators are going to have a short life if run non-stop. We tend to run ours in four hour stretches. Then we go to a battery backup system.

We have a couple out buildings it just isn't cost effective to run power lines to. To light them I use a battery and inverter. This will easily run a fan, tape player and some small tools. If I need more power, that's what the generator is for. That's also how I recharge the batteries.

My house system is a self contained cart I got from Sportsman's Guide a few years back. It is no longer in production, the good Lord only knows why. The good news is you can assemble your own.

An inverter system isn't complicated (or doesn't have to be) and can be tailored to pretty much any budget. You can find inverters ranging from as small as 75 Watts to as large as my generator. The thing to remember is the more power you draw; the faster your batteries are drained. Inverters can be found lots of places. I have seen them at Lowes, Wal-Mart and Harbor Freight. They may have them at Sam's Club.

I prefer marine deep cycle batteries for my power storage. They are available from Wal-Mart so finding them is no problem. Regular car and truck batteries can be used if you would rather.

To make your power last longer / be able to run more items on the inverter you add more batteries. I started with one in my workshop and added one every month or so until I had a total of six. I have gone from needing to recharge twice a week to getting more than a month between charges.

I won't get into the 'parallel or series' debate on what method works best to run multiple batteries. Goggle them and make your own choice.

My cart has the battery charger built in. You will need one to recharge your system. There are chargers that will tell you the level of charge the battery / batteries. That feature is worth the extra money in my opinion.

So I run the generator for four hours, then three to four hours on the inverter system while the generator cools. Once I start the generator again I plug in the battery charger and get ready to repeat the process.

We can't run as much on the inverter system as the generator. We do without the AC for a couple of hours but we have lights, fan, telephone, TV and the computer.

But you know what, it beats the heck out of candles.


  1. Candles promote romantic atmosphere though. However un-romantic a generator is, I'll protect it against marauders anytime.

  2. I've got a stash of cheap decorative kerosene lamps that I've picked up places here and there. They may be cheap and decorative, but they produce light in the event of an outage, and are less likely tip over or cause other issues thanks to the wide bases and glass surrounds. We've got a woodburning stove for heat and possible cooking, and the kitchen stove/oven is propane, it'll need a match to start in the event of a power out, but it'll run just fine. We're going to have to get a generator though, and set up a battery backup system though.....

  3. Greetings from Texas,
    Kerosene lamps are good. Lord knows we have had trouble with cats knocking over candles. The problem is if they knock a kerosene lamp over it can be disasterous. It's hard to find "safe fire". All fires have to be watched like toddlers.

    The battery backup system is good for peace of mind. Since I use mine in out buildings I make daily checks of the charge level. The thing is your is strickly a backup system it needs to be checked at least once a week.

  4. Oh I'm not saying I don't watch them like a hawk, they just worry me marginally less than a candle, especially now that the puppy is large enough that when he bumps into a table, he BUMPS into a table.