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Emergency power - for the beginner

Discussion in 'General Survival and Preparedness' started by hitchcock4, Aug 14, 2015.

  1. hitchcock4

    hitchcock4 Monkey

    Thought I would share what I have for emergency power. We have a small family, live in a city, normal sized house. This is not meant to last for weeks without power, but rather days. A few times I have had to rely on the generator, but solar is only a small part of this. Ideally I would have more solar or some other form of renewable energy that could last us much longer.

    First, the generator:
    NorthStar Portable Generator ā€” 2700 Surge Watts, 2400 Rated Watts (uses Honda GC160 engine)
    • Owned almost 4 years (have seen reviews from people that have had the same model NorthStar for more than 12 years)
    • Started with this because it is Light enough to carry (to put in a truck and take camping) and I only need to power a few things (see below).
    • Use the generator for 40 minutes to and hour every 60 days to maintain it.
    • It will power refrigerator and extra freezer. Also will power Internet routers and a couple of computers at the same time. I only need 800 to 1000 watts. Again, not meant to power the whole house, just keep things from thawing out in the fridge/freezer.
    • Next generator I buy will have a L5-30R or L14-20R outlet, which seem to be the most popular receptacles on generators. We could use this to allow us to use the generator without running all the extra cords, if equipped with the correct transfer switch . [Transfer switch such as this one Reliance Controls 20216AK 20-Amp 6-Circuit Indoor Power Transfer Switch Kit w/ 25 Foot Cord when properly installed, will move 6 circuits from your home to the generator.]
    • I keep some gas on hand, but no more than needed. Rotate the gas by using it in the car and obtaining fresh gasoline every 5-6 months.
    • Again, next generator I buy will probably supply 4000-6000 watts, enough to power the fans/electrical on cooling system. Our HVAC uses a heatpump, so it uses AC and natural gas.
    Other items in use: I have focused on portable, since these could be used in an emergency situation, while camping, or thrown in the car/truck as needed to BO.
    • NPower Portable Inverter ā€” 750 Watts: can be used with a 12 volt battery to power two 120V AC items, such as an induction hotplate for cooking.
    • KaliPAK 401- A Solar Generator/battery in a backpack. 12.8 lbs includes the 384 Wh, 26Ah battery pack with 4 USB ports and two 12volt ports. Bluetooth capable so that you can keep track of energy usage from an app on your phone. Purchased via Kickstarter and will arrive in late September.
    • WakaWaka Base: Solar Generator/battery package which includes a 10 watt solar panel, 5000 mAh battery, and two rechargeable flashlights. Built to charge USB powered devices (charge up to 3 devices at once).
    • Inergy "Lion"- Solar Generator/battery package which includes a 20 watt solar panel, 170Watt-hour battery, and 200 watt inverter in a 4 pound package.
    • Two StrongVolt Solar:7 devices. Provides solar power to charge a single phone or iPad. Keep these in the car. Using what they call SunTrack technology, if the sun is behind the clouds, it will "reconnect" and continue to charge the phone after the sun is back out, which most solar chargers do not do. Also purchased on Kickstarter but these are available online from Walmart for $79.
    • Various small 2400mAh to 13,000 mAh cell phone chargers.

    Cords, primarily for use with the generator.
    • Southwire 100ft 15 Amp/10 AWG (10 gauge) extension, max 1875 watts
    • 100ft 15 Amp/12 AWG extension, max 1875 watts (triple tap on end)
    • 25ft 16 AWG extension, (13 Amps)
    • About 30 ft, 14AWG extension

    BTW, see this thread Power outage Honda to the rescue | Survival Forums for some advice from KingFish on maintaining your generator.

    In a followup to this I will discuss generator safety. I had a neighbor in St. Louis who had his house burn down due to not following the rules.

    Please comment on the above. I know there is a lot of wisdom in the people that have been on this forum for year. I'm just a new Monkey. ;)
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2015
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  2. wnn

    wnn Guest

    Only thing i see is the inverter for "say a hotplate" depends on the hotplate ( amps) say 1500 w , you may have problems. Something else to look @ is if you have a bike ( mtb ,10 spd ect) is a Genny head made just for bicycles , you can even use it on a stationary bike. Look up motherearth news , you can build a nice small engine gas battery charger / Genset out of it cheap. Heres a pdf for alt power using a alternator.

    Attached Files:

    Marck and Ganado like this.
  3. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Just a NOTE, here: As for a Human Powered Bicycle Generators.... Be aware that even the BEST Human Athlete can only generate about 150 WattHours for any length of time. So at 12 Vdc, that is just over 10 AmpHours.... In todays modern living, you would be much better off buying Solar, or Wind, because the Calories burnt, generating that power, will need to be replaced by Food Intake, and the Exhaustion will be significant.
    Homer Simpson, Yard Dart, wnn and 3 others like this.
  4. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey Site Supporter

    AKA, no free lunch.
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  5. hitchcock4

    hitchcock4 Monkey

    As mentioned above, I had a neighbor a few houses down from me catch his house on fire while using a generator. In his case, he used wire that was too thin for the load he was putting on it. The wire heated up, caught fire, then brought the fire into the house. Fortunately, everyone was already out of the house (dropping kids off at school), so no one was hurt. But if you have ever touched an electrical cord that was hot, you know that a thin cord can heat up if overloaded.

    [I am not an electrician so I hope I use the language properly.] Power cords are rated for the maximum watts they can carry; they will list AWG which is the thickness of the wire (smaller # means thicker, higher gauge wire); and rated for Amps it can carry as well. DO NOT USE CORDS BEYOND WHAT THEY ARE RATED FOR. That is what ended up burning down my neighbors house. Whether he plugged multiple cords into each other or used too thin a gauge, I do not know.

    Take as an example http://www.walmart.com/ip/Professional-Cable-EXTCORD-15-Professional-Cable-15-3-Outlet-Standard-Extension-Cord-Brown/17326377 . No information on AWG, Amps, or watts listed. Do not buy this cord for anything!

    Instead, purchase an extension cord for its purpose. Take a look at Prime Wire & Cable Bulldog Tough Outdoor Extension Cord with Triple Tap Ā— 50ft., Model# LT611830 | Extension Cords| Northern Tool + Equipment which allows for 3 items to be plugged into it. It is rated for 1875 watts (max), 15 amps, and the gauge is 12 AWG (designated by 12/3 -- 3 means three wires or grounded). This is a proper cord for most household items including your refrigerator -- other than a hair dryer. [Hey, does the wife or daughter really need to dry her hair when the power is out? [violin] If so check the wattage on that hair dryer as it may be 1600, 1875 watts or higher.]

    Do your research on the items you intend to plug into the generator on a regular basis. If you use a meter such as this http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA24G0P60122 on each of the items, it will tell you the Amps and watts used on that product. Make sure you test for a while, long enough to get a MAX as well as an average Amps and watts. When you purchase the generator, it does have a "surge" watts rating -- its maximum. But use the smaller number on the generator, the "rated" watts. Most people will plug in items that use between 50% and 80% (total for items) of the Rated watts. But depending on how often the refrigerator or whatever "kicks on" (compressor kicks on, in that case) you will need to use common sense on what percentage you use. If in doubt -- go higher with the rated watts -- but you don't want to overbuy for what you want to run.

    In general, here are my rules for running a generator so that you don't end up with a fire.
    1. Make sure everyone in your house over the age of 12 can safely SHUT OFF the generator. Train anyone over the age of 16 to safely start the generator in case you are not home to get the generator going.
    2. As mentioned above, use the appropriate extension cords. If you need only a 50 ft cord, do not purchase a 100 ft cord. Purchase and abide by the ratings on the cord. Do not "string" multiple cords off the same cord. Each cord you use should be plugged directly into the generator. [I'm sure that an electrician could tell us more about appropriate ways to string cables, but my rule is that each extension MUST be plugged into the generator. Can't go wrong by being too safe.]
    3. Do not add gasoline while the generator is running (or hot). I hope this is obvious, but unless the generator has a specific method for adding fuel while running, you need to let it go. When it runs out, let the engine cool, then add fuel.
    4. A generator must be used outside (well ventilated). I have heard of people using it on an enclosed porsch (a screened in porch) but I personally do not have experience with that.
    5. My tip: I run the cords to the needed locations either under a garage door (then close it), or in a window. In the case of in a window, I also cut a 1x4 to the width of the window, with a notch drilled into it at an edge big enough for the cord. So I run the cord in, put the board above it, then close the window as much as possible. If done correctly, you barely have any space that heat/cold can come into the house. [Remember that I bought my Genny 4 years ago, the next 1 I get will connect to the house via a transfer switch, eliminating the need for these pesky cords.]
    6. Generators are meant to be grounded, although I have seen others run without a ground. I attach mine using a #10 ground wire to metal piping (electrical conduit) that I know is grounded. I know it is grounded because I have done a continuity test between the pipe and several grounded outlets in my garage.
    7. When completed running, a generator will need to cool for 30 minutes before putting it back in the garage.
    Any other tips?
    Marck, Motomom34 and Tully Mars like this.
  6. William Warren

    William Warren Monkey+

    This is good information, and I'll add a couple of tricks I picked up.

    1. Remember that auto-start generators can chew through your fuel fast: if one comes on while you're away for the weekend, you might come home to frozen pipes and empty propane tanks. It's important to have an alarm system set up to notify you or a neighbor that the power is off, so that you or they can take action to keep things from getting worse. Come to that, your alarms should notify you, too, because if the generator doesn't start, you'll need to take steps then, too.
    2. Unless you think it's important to have your wiring set up so that only certain circuits can be run from the generator, you don't need to spend the money for a transfer switch. You can install an interlock assembly on your regular circuit-breaker box, and it will keep anyone from turning on the generator unless the main breaker is turned off, thus protecting linemen who may be working on the wires. Be sure the interlock you buy has a "UL" seal, to keep your insurance valid.
    3. Your generator should be sized for all the things you must have (and must have spare "starting" capacity for big motors, such as well pumps), but it's OK to include capacity for some luxuries if you're willing to discipline the kids not to use them without permission.
      • Freezer
      • Refrigerator
      • Heating system
      • Electric Stove, if you don't want to buy and maintain a Coleman stove
      • Well pump, if you draw water from a well and don't choose to keep reserves
      • Sump pump, if you have a sump
      • Stair-lifts of other aids for the handicapped
      • Ventilation and/or air conditioning, if needed for health reasons
    4. It's a really good idea to go through your water-supply (and heating systems, if they're using water) and plan how to empty them completely when power fails. This may mean just rearranging pipes for a "downward" tilt so that there is only one "low point" where you can empty all the pipes by gravity, or you might have to get a scuba-diver's compressed-air tank and appropriate fittings to "blow out" the lines if some of them will trap water. The idea is to have the option to turn off the generator and to let the house cool down below freezing, either to leave it for extended periods or to section off parts of it that don't really need that much heat - bedrooms and cellars - so that you can just use a wood stove or smaller "wall" heaters to bring one or two rooms up to a comfortable temperature without wasting any fuel.
    5. Remember that you're going to have to make choices about what stays on and what doesn't, and here's where you'll have to talk to your kids about doing without TV and computers during a power failure. You can disable the Internet quickly and easily, simply by unplugging the cord to the cable modem or DSL line or FiOS box, but it will be much easier if the kids understand that it's necessary and normal, and that you'll write their teachers a note explaining why they don't have their homework.
    6. You need to have a "dry run" during some cold day, and to kill the power and see how long it takes for interior temperatures to get down below 4.5 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit), so that you know just how much time you have to take action if you're away from the house or asleep when the power fails.

    William Warren
    Marck, 3cyl and hitchcock4 like this.
  7. T. Riley

    T. Riley Monkey+++ Site Supporter++

    Does anyone else use a whole house transfer switch? I have a 10kw B&S propane generator and 800 gallon of propane storage. The generator and transfer switch were less than $3,000 delivered. 10 seconds after the grid power shuts off the generator kicks on and everything comes back to life, all circuits except AC. The transfer switch monitors the load and if low enough kicks on the AC if it was running. If the tanks are full it will run the house for 20+ days 24/7. Running it an hour a day, almost 600 days.
    Marck, sec_monkey and hitchcock4 like this.
  8. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Our shop repairs generators and over the last 30 years I have seen the quality of the "emergency" generators drop until our shop no longer sells them. The ones sold by the box big box stores may last a few hundred hours with very good care. The cheap China stuff, a few hundred dollars, may last a couple hundred hours. A lot of our customers use them as a portable power source while framing a house or as more reliable power than the temp power on the job site. Thus a normal week of use is 60 + hours and they are using air compressors, saws and other heavy loads. Only a Honda or similar quality one will give you 3 to 5 thousand hours with good care. That is for a portable set of around 6 to 8,000 watts. I am no expert on the long term units, but I have seen old slow running diesels, around 1500 rpm, units in Maine and Vermont that are 30 years old and they still put a cleaner and more stable power than the brand new big box ones. The best small ones I have seen were small diesels used for road or airport emergency lighting and the best overall were the heavy diesels used for off grid power in the remote camps, on boats or rvs. The failures we see most are due to lack of oil or not changing the oil, dead gas or other carb problems, improper electrical loading and just plain wearing out after a few hundred hours.
    Any new small engine should never be started without checking the oil level, too much oil is just as bad as to little in a splash lubricated engine, have the oil changed after the first tank of gas, there usually in no oil filter and all of the junk from building it is still in the engine, and be changed at least every 40 to 50 hours as the engines are air cooled, run hot, and as mentioned have no oil filter. If you stop the engine for an extended period and do not shut off the gas, the carb will allow the gas to evaporate and either plug up the fuel passages with a varnish like deposit or let the concentrated water alcohol mixture which is formed when the ethonal absorbs water and settles to the bottom of the tank fill the carb and the motor will not start. .The fuel filter will stop water and protect the carb, but the water and ethonal mix will go through the filter, it will ruin the carb. Since the temp in a small yard shed may well be over 100 degrees,in much of the US in the summer, the damage can be done in a week or two. While the generator may be rated at 6,000 watts, if it can generate 220v ac, it actually contains 2 windings that put out 3,000 watts each. If the 115 v load is not balanced, the generator voltage regulation will attempt to regulate the 115 v on the one leg it monitors and have the other output way to low or way to high, and that may well destroy either the generator or the load. The new generators are designed to use less copper in the electrical system by using either a much higher melting point insulation, or aluminum as a substitute and either way there is very little room for abuse before they melt down and the damage may well occur over a period of time.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2015
  9. William Warren

    William Warren Monkey+

    What's the easiest and least expensive way to balance the loads?


    William Warren
  10. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

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  11. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Usually as you set up the transfer switch, the electrician will make sure the loads are balanced. My transfer switch has meters on it that show each legs actual load and that allows me to disconnect, throw breakers manually, and protect the generator. Most homes are set up with 2 legs that measure 120 v to ground on each leg and 230 v or so from one leg to the other. That gives you your 220 for the stove, dryer, deep well pump and all. .As stated above they will have to be manually selected and connected when you set up your transfer switch. Many of the better generators have a switch that is marked 120 in one position and 220 in the other. In no case will these generators have the 2 120 legs connected in parallel with this switch in the 220 position and if the generator does not have this switch, they never will connect the 2 120 legs If you wish to always be sure to use the full output of the 120 on the generator, you will have to use both sets of the outlet plugs on the generator. If you plug an extension cord into one plug and put a power strip on the end of it and plug nothing in the other plug, you will only use half of the rated load. The usual sign that this will may happen is that you will have at least 2 breakers, fuses, on the generator panel. We tell our customers to use one outlet plug for the air compressor, and the other one for the saws. If you need to use two 10 gauge cords, so be it, if you do not want to do this, we will be happy to sell you a new generator as the cost of replacing the electrical parts and labor is about the cost of a new unit,
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  12. William Warren

    William Warren Monkey+

    I'm going to need your help here: if I overload either of the 110 outlets on my generator, doesn't it just trip the breaker?

    William Warren
  13. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Depends on the Breaker.... If the winding is just barely able to handle the Load and overheats before the Breaker Trips, the "Magic Smoke" will leak out, Big Time.... And you can scrap the GenEnd because it is not worth rewinding... Chinese Junk is not known for having any extra Copper in their windings..... And the Marketing Droids ALWAYS over Rate the Specs of their Junk....
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  14. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    As BTPOST points out the windings are designed to just barely handle the load under normal use in order to save copper and with the new high temp insulation are designed to run very hot. Then in order to cover motor starting loads, they are set up so that a short time overload will not trip the breaker. A lot of the generators now use those little "push to reset" button breakers and they are just a little bimetalic strip that the current flows through and it pops open when it gets hot. Not very accurate and slow acting, but very cheap to make. A massive overload may fry the windings before the breaker trips and repeated just about to trip overloads may over time destroy the windings. The windings have much more thermal mass and cool off slower than the breaker and all you need is damage in one hot spot. It really suckers you as you get away with it for a while as the damage to the insulation accumulates and you think everything is fine until the magic smoke comes out. The old US and Italian made units used low temp insulation, massive amounts of copper and real breakers and were nearly impossible to kill. The old military units carried this to the extreme and are a wonder to behold, but you need a fork truck to move a 8,000 watt unit. The new China made $300 -400 units will not last even if you baby them.
  15. William Warren

    William Warren Monkey+

    OK, that's easier to understand: scary, but understandable. I have a B&S 5,000 watt unit at my house, which I got from Home Depot as a close-out when they switched to the "storm" models they sell now.

    I'm not in that ballpark, but I did spend a lot of time looking for the one I have here, which is a unit that is not one of the "good for one hurricane" kind of boxes they're selling now. I limit the use to about 4,200 watts, and it's a straight 240-volt connection into my house wiring, so I know the load is fairly well balanced. It's worked without any problems through three or four bad storms, with full heat/refrigerator/electric stove loads.

    Still, I'm worried that there's no "standard of reference" here; i.e., I could buy a military surplus unit and hope it had been properly maintained, or shell out some serious money to get into the commercial range. I have a 13,500 watt auto-start Generac unit at my winter home, and it's been a godsend several times over, but there's so much gossip and folklore and so many old-wives' tales about these things that I'm just stuck looking for some hard information.

    William Warren
  16. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    As a very general rule, I don't work a gas engine harder than about 50% load, they are most economical at that range, and leaves a goodly bit for startup loads. With diesel, figure you can get along really well at 80% steady loading, the extra torque available takes care of starting loads. And I never run tools and equipment at 100% of rated loading, there's no margin for error. Even a simple tool like a breaker bar will not take kindly to overloading, whether deliberate of accident.
    kellory likes this.
  17. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Nothing like an Old Onan J Series Genset... Built like the preverbal Brick S**tHouse, and will easily last 10K Operational Hours between InFrame Rebuilds.... They are made in Diesel, Gas, Propane/NG Models, in 1,2,and 4 Cyl Versions, both Air and Liquid Cooled, with REAL Power Ratings from 3Kw-17Kw.....
    oldawg and Ganado like this.
  18. tatkinsh

    tatkinsh Monkey

    The wattage rating on portable cords is based on the pattern of the cord cap rather than the actual ampacity of the cord used. First let me say a little about the American National Electrical Manufacturers Association's (NEMA) receptacle and plug numbering pattern. The first number in a NEMA designation identifies the voltage, phase, and Equipment Grounding of the device. A 5 indicates a 120 volt, single phase, pattern with an equipment grounding conductor connecting pin. The second number indicates the ampacity of the circuit that pattern of device has been identified for connection to. The suffix letter indicates whether it is a building Receptacle (R), a cord Plug (P), or a cord Cap (C). Cord Caps are the receptacle ends that are installed on portable cords. Even devices identified for use with a smaller ampacity circuit are often capable of safely conducting much larger currents, often two or more times the patterns identified amperage. For instance all Fifteen ampere receptacles that except more than one conductor per terminal are tested to carry twenty amperes feeding through the device's internal straps. Most fifteen ampere pattern receptacles would safely carry Thirty amperes although they are not tested for that load.

    The OP mentioned a 10AWG cord that is rated for 1875 Watts. That is because the maximum voltage found on the outlets that the installed NEMA 5-15P plug will fit into is 125 Volts. When you multiply that by the Fifteen Ampere rating of a National Electrical Manufacturing Association NEMA 5/15R Receptacle that the cords 5/15P plug will fit into that gives you the 1875 Watts. The Ten Gauge cord will quite readily carry Thirty Amperes; or a theoretical 3750 watts; but the US National Electric Code (NEC) does not allow the installation of anything smaller than a Thirty Ampere Receptacle (NEMA 5/30R) on a thirty ampere branch circuit and the cord is fitted with a fifteen ampere pattern 5-15P plug end. If the OPs generator is fitted with a 5-30R receptacle outlet he would be well advised to change the plug end out to a 5/30P plug. At the other end he would run the cord into a large Weather Proof box fitted with a cord grip and Three 5/20R Receptacles. Each receptacle would be protected by a Twenty Ampere Breaker mounted in the Weather Proof box If he were being truly fastidious about code compliance. The NEMA 5-20R Receptacles will except either the 5/15P or 5/20P Plug. That would allow that cord to be used to essentially extend the Generator's Thirty Ampere receptacle outlet One Hundred feet away from the generators fumes and noise. There are a number of ampacity tables available on line to identify the actual current carrying capacity, or ampacity, of any given gauge of cord with any type of insulation and overall outer jacket.

    That said I will admit that I do side step some code restrictions at times. You will often find adapters tied to the plug end of my portable cords. I will use a ten gauge cord with a 5-20P plug end in a 15, 20, or 30 ampere receptacle by using pattern adapters at the plug end. The Receptacle cap end will be either a Twenty Ampere pattern or a multiple Fifteen ampere pattern. That makes my cords less than idiot proof but I try very hard to not be an idiot around electricity. That does mean I have to think about what I am doing and if I'm Eleven hours into a twelve hour work period I should be working with a more rested coworker who can check my work for safety. Since I have to actually place the adapter in the layout when using the cord out of it's identified range that prompts me to check if the use I am about to make of it is in fact safe.

    Yard Dart likes this.
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