My Home Power Outage Preparedness Story

So, you need an economical home power outage preparedness strategy but you are not an electrical engineer and are completely confused with understanding volts, watts, amp hours, peak power, and the like.

Most people don’t realize the immense amount of electricity that we consume on a daily basis. Additionally which items in our homes consume the most and the least?  LED lights consume the least, with air conditioners, electric ovens, and electric heat on the other end of the spectrum.

Three things to consider in generating electricity are having:

  • a fuel source
  • a method to generate the power
  • a way to distribute this power. 

Short term power loss solutions

For short term (several days) power outages, you can easily rely on LED lights run on batteries (camping lanterns, flashlights) and an electric generator run on gasoline to sustain you.  I have successfully used a small 4-cycle gasoline Champion AC generator (1400 watts steady, 1800 watts peak) to run our second refrigerator and a few LED lights for a week when a storm recently disrupted our power. 

My strategy was to power some basic essential items without the expense and complexity of installing a large generator to run my entire house.  I transferred all food items from my older large double door refrigerator to my newer and more energy efficient 18.1 cu ft. full-size refrigerator (with top level freezer), which I powered with the generator.  I have a natural gas cooking range, fireplace and outdoor barbecue. These all operate fine during a local power outage. You need an inexpensive butane lighter to light them, and I always have a stock on hand.

How much power do you need?

Sizing the generator to your needs is the most important part of planning and developing a balanced solution (examples: generator type: 2 vs. 4 cycle, generator capacity, gas consumption, expense). You need to add up the power (in number of watts) of the essential items you expect to use and then size the generator appropriately.  You can typically read the label on an electric device to understand its rating.  If only volts and amps are identified, multiply them together (watts = volts x amps). to provide a reasonably accurate estimate of each item. 

What else can you do?

Refrigerators and freezers (or any other motor driven device) are very tricky to size because they regularly cycle on/off. They also consume very large amounts of electricity for a short time when their compressors turn on. Therefore, your generator must have a peak short term capacity that is approximately 10 times the steady state power the refrigerator consumes. My refrigerator’s steady state power was 140 watts. Therefore, I needed a generator with a peak capacity of at least 1,400 watts. My generator can provide 1800 peak watts so I had some margin.  When your refrigerator cycles on you can hear the generator immediately start to “chug” and then settle down.  If you don’t size your generator properly, your generator will likely stall and/or blow its fuse.

Power outage preparedness

I even was able to operate a toaster (a high power device) using the generator but needed to actively load manage things to ensure the generator was not overloaded by plugging and unplugging things so neither the toaster or refrigerator would operate at the same time.  We had no power for a week so this was easy since there was not much else to do.  I ran the generator morning too late at night, using about 10 gallons of gasoline for the week.  Gas stations were open within a 20 minute drive, so my fuel source was available. In a more wide-spread power outage (hurricane, blizzard/ice storm, etc.) fuel may not be so readily available.  Remember, gas stations require a supply gasoline and need electricity to pump it. So, I have two 5 gallon gas containers in my garage.

I regularly use gasoline for my lawn tractor, and then resupply. This ensures that it stays fresh since old and stale gasoline will not be good for your generator.  You also need a supply of oil for the generator.  Remember to run your generator dry after using it so no gas remains in the tank or lines. Otherwise, you will get a very nasty surprise when you need to use the generator again in an emergency and it will not start because it’s all fouled up after years of being dormant.

Considerations to take for power outages

Make sure you have a heavy duty extension cord (rated at 15 amps) of the proper length to run the power into your house and reach the items you want to power. Your generator must be outside for obvious reasons so make sure you have thought through your cord routing path through a cracked window or door. Also, be careful to only use power strips for only low wattage devices (say less than 10 watts each). Large power consumption devices (refrigerator, toaster, etc.) should be direct connect to the generator only through the heavy duty cord.

Conclusion

Prepare by conducting a dry-run to ensure you have all the items needed and will be ready to go should (when) the emergency strikes.  Plan and test now and you will be eternally grateful!

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