Preparedness Pays: Draft Chapter 4A

Getting hit by lightning is not fun! If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, which include moving to the SW, feel free to hit the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo, use the options in the Tip Jar in the upper right, or drop me a line to discuss other methods. It is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

NOTE: This is a (very) rough draft

Planning For Power

The final resource you need to be thinking about as you work up your preparedness plan is power. This modern world requires it, as we live by our cell phones, computers, internet, cable, and other amenities of modern life. Without power, we can lose a significant portion of our daily tools, from that cell phone to the stove.

Even if you have gas appliances, there are good odds they won’t work with the power out. As noted earlier, it’s a “safety” feature to prevent gas leaks and fires. The fact that it also deprives you of the use of an otherwise fully functional appliance in an emergency has most likely never crossed the bureaucratic minds behind the “safety” feature.

So, let’s take a few minutes to think about what can be done to ensure we have at least some power in any emergency. As always, start small then work up from there.

For individual phones and such, you can get solar chargers and hand-crank chargers. The emergency radio I own has a crank for recharging both its batteries and anything plugged into the USB ports. I know some people who swear by a particular solar charger that they use when camping, on river trips, and other outdoor activities. These are useful for all emergencies and give you some long-term options.

Also, don’t forget the next step up: Exercycles that generate power. Yes, the old standby is out there in the form of a stationary bike and generator. For moderate- and major-disasters, they are well worth considering.

We’ve already talked batteries, but let’s consider something larger. Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) are an option and you can find some good deals on them. They are great for your computers and other electronics and pairing them with a good surge protector can save you a lot of time, money, and headaches.

A good surge protector is one that comes with a warranty that covers up to $XXXX of value of the item or items plugged into it. When I lived down South we frequently got surges from lightning. One time, it was enough to overwhelm the surge protector and take out the television. Contacted the company, got the certification of the lightning damage they needed, sent them the ears and tail of the surge protector, and they bought me a new television.

When I say Preparedness Pays, I’m talking things like this. Without the surge protector, things could have been much worse, since a fire is not out of the realm of possibility with a surge that large. Instead of damage, loss, and a major expense, it was a minor expense (postage, little fuel, new surge protector) and a small amount of inconvenience. There’s a reason everything electrical I own is plugged into a surge protector.

UPSs and battery backups come in all sizes. It’s also not just your electronics that may need protecting. If you have a sump pump in your basement, it’s a good idea to have a battery backup for it so that a power failure doesn’t turn into a flooded basement. Same if you have a well, that pump needs a backup too.

While the big box home supply stores may have them, don’t forget as you are planning and thinking to check out places like Tractor Supply Company, Rural King, or your local equivalents. Not only may you get a better price, but you may find that the staff there have dealt with this issue before and can be a good knowledge resource.

Now, about those appliances that brick when the power is off. You might want to check with the appliance manufacturer or seller about what level of power is needed to keep them running in an emergency. It can be more than you think, though in the case of a particular stove I never did get a good reason on why it drew so much power initially.

Should you put refrigerators and freezers on backups? That is up to you. It is an option, and some will argue a very good option.

Now, let’s talk wind and solar. They are options, though I consider them partial options. That said, you may find various programs that will defray or cover the cost of adding those options to your home, and potentially increase it’s value.

That said, both are partial options because they are intermittent. Day/night. Winds are calm. You get the picture. They are not going to provide steady-state power over the course of a day, a month, or a year.

Now, something that you may or may not get told when talking to companies about adding their solar/wind/other to your home is that there are two basic options for dealing with the steady-state issue. The first is simple, set things up so that when you are generating power and not using it, that it goes into the system (and you should get paid for it). When you need power, you pull it from the grid like normal. The second is to install a fairly good size battery bank to store power for the times you aren’t generating/generating enough. You may still have to pull from the grid on occasion, but you can reduce that amount.

The last time I looked into such, it was a very expensive proposition. That was before I factored in having to build a shed to house the storage batteries as I was not willing to put them inside my home at that time. There are risks to that option you would need to explore thoroughly and include your insurance agent in those explorations and discussions. The tech is supposedly getting better, but you would be surprised to find that from local codes to insurance policies, things are still built around tech that is 20-50 years old.

There are also generators as an option. A small one can keep the essentials like a refrigerator and a couple of lights, running. A moderate sized wheeled generator can run most of your house. A large generator will run your house.

When looking at this option, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first is, what is essential for you and your situation? For example, in the rural house the essentials were: gas stove, refrigerator, freezer, gas furnace, a few lights, sump pump, and power for the computer. That covered the essentials we’ve been talking about in the previous chapters.

Based on this, I figured my electrical load, looked at being able to do a few nice things (washing machine and dryer for example) via rotation (take power from one area and put it to another), and then decided to get a mid-sized generator that was on wheels. Then I installed the power run and lockouts into the main breaker box, and was good to go.

Yes, unless you are one, you will also need to plan to hire an electrician to set up the power feed into your home. Most utilities require a power feed with lockouts so that during a power failure you are not accidentally putting power into the grid. Because if you do that, you can injure or kill the nice people working to restore the power. Don’t do that.

Now, before you start to plan, here a few things you will also want to consider. First, any generator is going to need a secure spot outside the house for operation. Note the word secure. Doesn’t matter how big or how small, you need to be sure that generator doesn’t walk off. In emergencies, they have a distressing tendency to grow feet and wander off. Securing it needs to be part of your plan.

Second, you need to think about noise. In a minor emergency, you might not have to worry about it too much. But, it is worth the extra money to invest in a quiet generator, and yes, some are much quieter than others. The other part of the reason is not about disturbing you or the neighbors, it’s that in moderate to major emergencies that sound is going to be a beacon that can draw unwanted attention to you. Potentially, very ill-intentioned attention as you have power that they want, and if you have that, what else might you have? There are good reasons for the first rule of Preparedness Club: there is no preparedness club.

Third, in line with that, whatever options you choose you will also want to plan on being discrete about lights, heat, and such. If your house is a blazing beacon of light in an otherwise dark area, well, the ill-intentioned will come. As will most of your relatives. So, as part of your plan, you may want to think about upgrading to blackout curtains and other steps to reduce what can be seen or heard. Again, look at it as a way to improve where you live.

Finally, as you plan, keep in mind that you don’t have to provide constant power. Let’s face it, it is nice and we are used to it. That said, to keep things going like the refrigerator and freezer, you may only need to provide power part of the time. Run them twice a day and not constantly. Saving fuel and other power resources is a good thing, especially if you aren’t sure how long the disaster will last.

Congratulations. You now have a basic framework to use in planning for individual resource preparedness. Next, let’s look at harm that can happen to an individual and start thinking about how to plan for that.

The book as it goes:

Preparedness Pays: Draft Introduction

Preparedness Pays: Draft Chapter 1A

Preparedness Pays: Draft Chapter 2A

Preparedness Pays: Draft Chapter 3A

2 thoughts on “Preparedness Pays: Draft Chapter 4A”

  1. RE: surge protection. It’s worthwhile to protect the entire house; Siemens (among others) make a couple different levels of capacity, best place for them is in the meter box outside where the power comes in so whatever surge might occur is seen by the whole-house surge protector before it gets to anything else. Talk to your utility, some “rent” meter-base surge suppressors for a few bucks a month that go between the meter and the meter connection.

    The people who make circuit breakers, like Square D, make surge suppressors that are installed in the circuit breaker panel (aka, “distribution center”). They occupy two slots so they engage both legs of the incoming power just like your electric stove, clothes dryer, etc. (each leg is 120 volts in the US, and there is a buss inside the breaker panel for each leg). Doing it this way is cheaper, but the downside is the surge has to get inside and into the breaker panel to get stopped, and it may find household circuits first, or at the same time, on which it may attack electronic appliances.

    The outside unit will probably cost $200-$300 + electrician labor to install, the breaker panel version about $65, that’s cheap enough to do both. (If $300 sounds “expensive” consider what replacing the electronics in your furnace would cost, and how long it might take in the face of our current “supply chain shortages”.)

    FYI, surge suppressors are intended to be sacrificial, they die instead of your appliances, so monitor them. Most have indicator LEDs to show they’re working or have taken a hit. And, they’re “suppressors” not “impenetrables” so it’s not a bad idea to also put local suppression on important appliances.

    FYI, RE: UPSes for appliances, be sure whatever UPS you use can support the Locked Rotor Current required to start the appliance – that’s the sudden, initial high amperage draw motors require to start up. The high draw lasts only a second or two, but if the UPS cannot meet it the motor has to work harder and will, eventually, die an early death. Bye, bye, refrigerator. (EX: my fridge draws 1150 watts on startup, but only 120 watts a couple seconds later on run).

    Also FYI, if you put a light on a UPS – a wise choice because otherwise when power fails you’re suddenly in total darkness – you will need some way to be notified that power is out. A “failed circuit alarm” exists for that purpose; they’re used primarily on receptacles feeding freezers, pumps, etc.and screech like a smoke detector when power fails. Not a bad idea to get two and plug the second one into a receptacle in or near the bedroom.

    A light on a UPS can also be a security tool, talk to cops who investigate home invasions. BTW, LW mentioned “light being a beacon that attracts the unwanted” when you run a generator during power outages. Same is true with that light on the UPS. Sometimes “dark is your friend.”

    RE: generators – be realistic on just what needs power. Be frugal with your watts and you’ll be surprised how small a generator you can get by with, smaller is quieter and uses less fuel. But don’t forget that high wattage motor startup draw, your generator needs enough surge capacity to handle it easily. I went almost a week once with a 3,000 watt ultra quiet Honda, ran the fridge, plus a window AC at night, a few fans during the day, on about 2.6 gallons/day of gasoline; inverter generators reduce engine speed when they’re not heavily loaded to save fuel. Test your fridge and/or freezer – set freezer to max cold, fridge to “max cold without freezing food” and measure temps (wireless thermometer), then when it’s at its coldest and shuts off unplug and see how fast it heats up, then plug in and see how fast it returns to cool. You’ll probably find ~2-2.5 hours on, 4-6 hours off is a workable cycle meaning the generator doesn’t have to run all the time, but if you’re powering a window AC at night go ahead and leave the fridge plugged in.

    Some Ohm’s Law electrical math – “amperes” or “amps” is current flowing through the wires, “volts” is the electromotive force behind it, and “watts” is the energy consumed. Volts X Amps = Watts; Watts / Volts = Amps; (Watts / Amps = Volts, but except for the larger appliances your household curcuits will be on 120 volts). Here’s the “garden hose” comparison: Volts = the pressure pushing the water through the hose; Amps = how many gallons per minute are flowing through the hose; Watts = how far the water sprays.

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