December 18, 2017

Portable Generators

Portable Generators

To go with the last article Off grid fuels, here is a look at using portable generators for emergency power. I know I had some misconceptions about generators. Maybe this can clear up some you might have as well.

A portable generator is one of the most economical ways to provide electricity in a power outage. It’s true they can be expensive and the more you spend the more power you’ll have and the quieter it might be. If you’re selective about what you use it for, you can spend as little as a few hundred dollars. This would be great if you just want to run it for an hour in the morning and evening to keep the freezer cold.
Fuel Types

I mentioned in Off grid fuels that I chose propane as one of the fuels I store. There are generators that are available off the shelf that will use propane and there are companies that will make after-market modifications to permit its use as well. I have read that a generator will go through more propane than gasoline in an hour. If this is true, I can store a large propane tank that doesn’t need to be rotated as it doesn’t go bad; the same can’t be said for gas. I have also read that propane runs quieter. I don’t know if this is true. I was able to find a company that will take the new carburetor and modify it to use gasoline, propane or natural gas. There are kits to do this, but that’s a bit out of my depth.

Noise is a factor that many people don’t take into consideration and is often a later complaint. I have read how some people will take the generator to the edge of their property line and run extension cords back to the house, just to limit the noise. Honda generators boast some of the lowest decibel ratings on the market, but Honda’s can be expensive. Review Portable Generators reviews many different generators and they look at noise as one of the factors.

If your neighbors can hear your generator, you may be asked to help keep their food cold. If Joe Dirtbag can hear that you have a generator, he might try to make off with it. If you have it away from the house, chaining it down might be a good idea, if for no other reason than to slow Mr. Dirtbag down.
Wattage Calculator

Review Portable Generators has a decent Watt Calculatorbut here is a sample one. There are some items such as a refrigerator, freezer or washer that require more power at start up and require less as it runs.

You might not be able to power everything in your home at one time, but a generator of even 2000-3000 watts can simultaneously power multiple smaller electronics such as a TV, DVD player and microwave for popcorn. Or it could power one or two larger items such as a washer or dryer.

If your main goal is to keep food in the fridge or freezer from going bad, you don’t need to run the generator 24/7. A couple of hours in the morning and evening should suffice. Also, the fuller the fridge and freezer are, the longer they’ll take to thaw out. You can take up empty space with 2-liter bottles of water.
Connecting to Your Home

There are two ways to do this, either run extension cords from the generator to your appliances, or with a power transfer switch. To connect a generator directly to your home you’ll need to have an electrician install a power transfer switch (As can be seen below). This will allow you to connect the generator to the power transfer switch and then select which breakers you want powered. This will also prevent you sending power back down the line, which could harm a utility worker.
Final Thoughts

You’ll also want to store oil and filters so that you can do maintenance as needed. I was asked once about whether or not a person should start their generator or just leave it new in the box. My answer was that if you leave it in the box, you won’t know if it works and you won’t know how to use it. If you take it out of the box then you’ll need to run it once or twice a year to exercise it and make sure it runs and you’ll also need to do maintenance on it.

Generator Joe is one resource that you can use to delve deeper into the subject, there is a huge amount of information under the resource and Information tabs at the top.

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Off Grid Fuel

Off Grid Fuel

One of the five basic human needs is energy. We use energy to cook, to keep us warm and, in the modern world, to keep our food cold and provide entertainment. In a grid down situation some of the dependencies on this need might be scaled back or removed completely. With some forethought you can provide warmth, hot food and a maybe even a running TV and DVD player to help occupy some time.

All of these needs require fuel in one form or another. Here is a breakdown of some (I know I am missing some) types of fuel, broken up by what need they can help meet. As I am writing this I am thinking of an event such as an ice storm that has brought down the overhead power lines and my entire town is without electricity. The power company will be able to fix it, but it could take as long as a week.
Wood, Charcoal, Propane and Natural Gas

Wood, Charcoal, Propane, Natural Gas and Kerosene

Emergency Power
Diesel, Gasoline, Propane and Natural Gas


Wood can take 6-12 months to “season” or dry out before it is best for burning. You must have a wood burning stove or fireplace to utilize it indoors. If you have an indoor fireplace, please have it inspected and don’t just keep it as the “I’ll use it if I have to” plan. It takes a lot of work to get wood to the usable size sold in local stores. Unless you have the tools and know-how, going out to get wood “if it hits the fan”, isn’t a great fall back plan. You can buy wood now and pile it, let it season until needed, but then you still need to have an indoor method to use it.

In my opinion charcoal is great for grilling. Having a bag or two stored might not be a bad idea. However, in my opinion, it’s not great for a grid down situation. It is for outdoor use only. You can cook with it outside but that’s about it. I don’t have much experience with storing charcoal for long periods but I have had trouble starting some that was left in the bag from the last season.

In truth my knowledge of kerosene is limited. What I know is from the little research I have done. I believe you can buy kerosene at Home Depot or similar stores. Other than that I can only think of one place I could buy it in bulk quantities. I have read that it can store for a very long time in a metal drum but in plastic containers, only for months. I think that has to do with the plastic leeching, but that is only a guess. The heaters that I have looked at are expensive and most say they are rated for outdoor and indoor use, with proper ventilation.
Diesel and Gasoline

Diesel stores better then gas does but neither store indefinitely, even with additives. You could use a rotation system similar to having four, five gallon containers full in the garage. Each week before you go to the gas station to fill up, you pour one of the 5 gallon containers into your vehicle. You would then take that container and put it in the back of the rotation. This way you always have 20 gallons of fuel and it should all last the month it will be in the garage. These two would primarily be used for a generator or extra fuel for the vehicles.
Natural Gas and Propane

Natural gas and propane have a lot in common. Many homes use them as their primary fuel now. Here is an article that explains some of differences between propane and natural gas. One important thing to be aware of is that both gases store indefinitely, without any additional additives.

My home uses natural gas; for the furnace, water heater, stove and dryer. If you’re in the same boat, as long as the gas company has power, we’ll have natural gas. In the ice storm scenario with no electricity, I am faced with some of the appliances having an electric start, such as the stove. I would have to carefully use a lighter on the burner to get flame. The blower in the furnace is electric as is the ignitor, so a means of powering the fan, lighting the ignitor or an alternate way of heating would still be required.

From my research on the two, natural gas is most commonly used to fuel households and some vehicles. Because propane is more easily available in smaller tanks, it is used for both of those as well and small heaters, generators, camp stoves and camp lights. It is also much more readily available. I can think of one place to get natural gas and multiple convenience stores as well as two businesses that sell propane, all within a 5 minute drive.

A warning about using the propane quick exchange machines at convenience stores, often they will only fill a 20lb tank to 15 lbs. My guess is they think they could over fill it and explode. Using those machines would be a good idea if you have a beat up tank and you wanted to exchange it. (A commenter later pointed out that it was federal law that prohibits exceeding 15lbs)

Because of the storage life, the variety of things it can be used for and the availability of it, propane is the fuel I have decided to store.

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