This all started thanksgiving this year. Our only snow of the season so far. I was hauling a Megabot suit across the country leaving my wife home alone. When we purchased our house, we had some clear signs of damage from freezing pipes. The previous owner did what could best be described as quarter assed prevention of them freezing again. The garage door was off it's tracks, heat tape had been taped to some pipes, and pink foam panels had been affixed to the ceiling to try and keep the pipes from freezing. All of this depended on having electricity.
The electricity went out. Libby went to stay at her sisters who had power and eat a thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat and didn't get up till the very next morning. I was on the road and could not help so I called up my friend Tyler who was eating dinner at his parents house. He was able to come and drain the water from our pipes and help us make sure we did not have our pipes blow again. My wife strongly urged that we come up with a better solution to power outages.
Step One: identify power needs.How much power will you need to provide? This is a decision you will need make based on needs and wants as a trade off. Most importantly, how do you heat the house to keep pipes from freezing?
Wood StoveIf you have wood stove you just need some wood and you are good to go. Anything beyond this will become luxury. To power this type of heater, you will need a large breakfast of eggs and bacon. You may have some air circulation fans that should be powered, but this will be very low on the power requirements.
Electric HeatThis will be hard if not impossible to run off a portable generator. An 80,000 btu Electric heater requires approximately 25kw of power. This can be costly to run and is expensive equipment. You will likely save money over all by converting to natural gas. Check with your local utility for available rebates.
Propane/Natural Gas/Wood PelletsThe heating systems use other fuel than electricity for a power source. This means that the electricity required is for circulation, venting of exhaust gas, and air handling. This is just a fraction of the required power and can easily be handled by a small generator.
Calculating power needs.
|My set up has a natural gas fired hot water heater and hydronic power source for baseboard heaters.|
|Lets look at what my heater requires for power. It has two 3 amp 120 volt pumps. The manual does not state input amperage or total wattage so I will need to do some more research.|
|The water heater was sitting next to it so I grabbed that info as well.|
|A load center with no Breakers installed.|
|A sample power chart.|
In the above chart, I have given an example of what this may look like. I am having a new service installed so I am going to have my load balanced then. What you do see in this chart is that my dryer and stove take a lot of electricity. In order to buy a 500 dollar generator instead of a 3,000 dollar generator you will have to make concessions and not use the stove and oven for the duration of the power outage. In the following chart you can see what my plan would be.
|Emergency power loading.|
Generators are usually rated by watt output. We will have to get our amp total back to watts with the simple WATTS=AMPS*VOLTS. Important note! Since some generators will be a 240 volt connection, it will draw from both sides at a maximum. 30Ax120V+12A*120V=5040W. This is what the number lead you to believe. In reality, we need to double the highest load side and use that for the power calculation. 30Ax120V+30A*120V=7200W So a 7200 watt generator would be needed to operate this at full capacity.
Step Two: Choose a generator
Inverter: 200-400$My first plan which was possible was to get an inverter. You can get a high duty cycle model that can output 600 watts continuous for reasonable money. This can run off of a car battery with the car running for a period of time. It is a solution that is a compromise on many levels, thee car is not meant to sit and idle for long periods and the electrical system is not designed for constant draw high current like this. However, if the choice is to risk damaging your alternator, or freezing the pipes, it may be worth it. This can also be a stop gap if the supply of generators has dried up in the area and the power is still out. You may damage your car with this method for long periods of use. I recommend borrowing your mother in laws car for this reason. Shut off headlights and AC for best results.
Small quiet portable generator: 500- 1500$
Medium Portable Generator 300-2500$
Permanently installed generator 3500$ and up plus instalation
Step three: Getting power into the house
|This is how you kill people.|
Oh shoot, it is a snow storm and we are not at all ready: 0$ and up
One circuit for the heater: 100$ + Installation
Sister Box: 250-800$ + Installation
Load center transfer switch: 500$ + installation
- In our new house, we have an old 100 amp service.
- Some of the breakers need to be replaced. The breakers are old and hard to find a replacement for.
- I want to install a cnc mill and a welder in the garage and this will require more power.
- We run a very efficient house so a small amount of power will run the whole house on the generator.
- The cost of a service upgrade was 1800 alone. The cost of a 30 amp generator hook up was 800 installed. Together, I get 400 dollars off and everything done in one day.
- The new service will also give me smart grid features so I can better monitor our energy uses.
Automatic transfer switch: 500-1000$ + Installation
Step four: Plugin it in
Extension cord: 25-300$
Standard outlets: Nema 5-15 and 5-20
30 amp Twist lock 14-30
50 amp Twistlock
Minimum rated components
Step five: Kick the tires and light some fires
- If the generator is heavy, get a wheel kit, or build one. On rough terrain, bigger casters are better.
- Use 93 octane fuel. It will make starting easier.
- Put in fuel stabilizer whenever fuel is stored in the generator.
- Make sure the generator starts up around September. You don't want to find out about needed repair work during the power outage.
- Have spare oil. Use synthetic detergent free.
- Turn your spare gas. Put a little manila hang tag with purchase date written in pencil or grease pen. Ink pens will bleed from the fuel. Keep about a gallon in the generator, the rest keep in a fuel jug. Once every few months, dump it in your cars tank and refill the 5 gallon container.
- Fuel has a shelf life when it has all of the additives that are now required.
- The new CARB complaint tanks are a pain to work with. If you have older jugs, hold onto them.
- When the power is out, people can get desperate. If they need a generator, they may take yours. The first line of defense is to stash it away in the back yard or side where it is not so easy to see from the street. Once you have planned out where it will be, figure out a way to lock it to your house. Backing your car up and chaining it to a subframe member works great in a pinch until you forget and drive away dragging it with you. A cable lock with an anchor point should be planned.
- Think about how you will get the generator from the storage to service. If it is burred in the back of the garage, you will be kicking yourself while digging it out with a flashlight.
- Test your setup and practice hooking it up. Teach others in the house to operate it as well. They may need to refuel and restart it.
- Have a spare spark plug.
- Have a can of starting fluid handy.
- When hiring an electrician, get references from friends and family. The reference should not be "Hire my boyfriend, he is a great electrician". It should be "I hired Sue to do this job and she was a good communicator, showed up when she said she would. She completed the job to my satisfaction and I would recommend her to anyone who needs work done."
- If you can't get a reference, try and find an electrician who has been at it for a while. Angies List is a good source for this.
- Doing business with friends and family can be stressful. Expectations often are not made clear on one or both sides prior to the work that needs to be done.
- The electrician pays less than you for materials. He will charge you the same price, or more than you would pay at home depot. He is not screwing you, this is part of the business model. If you buy your own supplies, the electrician likely won't cover them with a guarantee. And may even increase the cost of the job.
- An electrician is like a doctor. You pay them for their experience, not so they can recite the nema code book. When you explain your goals, listen to the feedback they give you.
- this person is going to be in your house, you should feel comfortable with them to be in your house with you.
- They should pull permits for you and show you a license. Go online and verify it is a valid license.
- If your neighbors do not have a generator, figure out what it would take to tap off a little bit of power.