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With the constant power failures and rolling blackouts in the last few days due to the ice and the ball-freezing cold, I found I kept reaching for a few tools almost constantly; the Milwaukee M12 LED light and Power Port to charge the iPhone. While the power was on I charged the phone and battery with home-supplied juice, and when it was dark the two M12 batteries kept light and information flowing.

We had gear in the form of tons of candles, firewood (see: firelogs and boxes upon boxes full of shop scraps) extra food, water, and blankets, but honestly it wasn’t too bad considering we spent half the night iced in without power. Looking back, and hopefully not too far forward, this isn’t nearly as bad as the totally unprepared seem to have it.

Of course that best answer is to always be prepared for Armageddon and have a complete shelter packed to the brim with everything you’ll need for life after humans, but if you don’t have a spare bunker lying around, enough supplies and fuel to sustain humans and heat for a few days (or better yet, weeks) is a good idea.

M12 Cordless Tools [Milwaukee]
Street Pricing M12 Flashlight [Google Products]
Street Pricing M12 Power Port [Google Products]


17 Responses to Bad Weather Backups

  1. ChrisW says:

    I bought a 3000 Watt generator fro HF. It has performed well, but I was surprised that it needs premium gas. Another surprise was that a transfer switch costs much more than the generator. I may just run extension cords in the house.

  2. Alan says:

    Just to point out the obvious (well to most folks here) that a transfer switch PROFESSIONALLY installed is critical to powering your house with an emergency generator. Just running juice into your home wiring without a transfer switch (which isolates house wiring from the electric wiring in your neighborhood) could allow power to energize wiring in your neighborhood just when emergency personnel are working on the power lines.

    Of course, if you just run extension cords, then no biggie. (And please run your generators OUTSIDE, not inside or in the garage to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning).

  3. Discobubba says:

    Hasn’t there been a post about generator’s and safety on here before? Not that it doesn’t bear repeating. Safety is always good to mention. On that note don’t forget to consistently check your battery backup on fire and CO alarms. If your power went out and something failed with an HVAC system it could create a problem, or for that matter if your generator wasn’t vented properly. On a similar note I’m actually in the process of trying to set-up a manual coal stove into our masonry chimney which would ensure we have heat in the event of a power outage.

    There are quite a few forums, websites, and groups, with great people willing to help others prepare for disastrous events. Unfortunately most don’t think to turn to such resources until after the matter but it never hurts to advocate thinking, and preparing ahead!

  4. PutnamEco says:

    Always nice to have cordless tools available during hurricane season, never know when you may have to deal with an emergency repair when power is out and the wind and rain make generator powered tools a risky venture.

  5. zoomzoomjeff says:

    Funny how a storm brings people like myself to think about preparedness. I was thinking “hey, big storm, I have a generator I got for cheap a few years ago. cool.” Then I thought through what would happen. We have NG for heat, but the blower doesn’t have a separate plug to hook onto the generator, so I’d only be able to run an extension cord with bathroom heaters plugged in, if an ice storm took down the power lines.

    So do I buy an expensive transfer power switch, or wire something up where I can just plug in my furnace fan blower? I was thinking maybe the blower fan simply plugs into a receptacle wired to the circuit. Then I can simply unplug it and plug it into the generator when/if needed.

    Discobubba–what’s a good website for that kind of stuff?

  6. Mac says:

    Yeah, the 8K W diesel generator is the way to go! Have thought about getting a transfer switch to make powering the house stuff easier, but haven’t really been able to justify it – haven’t had a need yet. Probably not worth it in my case.

    Heard conflicting reviews (some good/some bad) on Milwaukee’s Power Port.

    PutnamEco – have plenty of cordless tool around – the non-electric ones. 🙂

  7. Discobubba says:

    @ZoomZoomJeff: Sounds like you’d need a combination of electrical and HVAC advice. Dunno off-hand if the forum’s I know of would be able to cover specifics like that but the two I can think of are:
    & The Zombie Squad

    The Hearth Forum is probably your best bet, it’s mostly geared toward Traditional Wood burning but there is an area for general advice:

  8. Toolaremia says:

    I lost power for more than 12 hours last Wednesday when that wet, heavy snow hit the Mid-Atlantic. After have a blast driving home in 10-12″ of virgin snow on some back road with my very large 4×4 2500 Dodge, I arrive home to no power. No problem!

    1. Each room has a flashlight, most have been retrofitted with LEDs for 12+ hours of light. Garage has one too and an LED headlamp. I put that on when I first get home.

    2. I have 2 larger uninterruptable power supplies (1500 VA) that I bought for a song on feeBay years ago with dead batteries. These are $500+ units I bought for maybe $50. Add $70 of fresh gel cell batteries per unit. They usually run my desktop computer and server (both Linux powered). Computers were still running when I got home, power had been off for hours. Shut them down and fired up the laptop. Cable modem and wireless AP run off the UPS, so I did the usual reading email, watching the news (online), catching up on Toolmonger ;-). I plug a couple CFL table lamp into the other UPS to light up the room like the power was on until I get to step 4.

    3. My garage is under my house and I run a 30,000 BTU propane “ventless” heater to warm it up for work in the Winter. I always have a full 20 lb tank of propane ready, rotating two tanks. Fire it up, let it run all night and leave the upstairs door open. CO sensor never registers above zero, only used a quarter tank of LP, house stays at 55° all night. Best $60 I ever spent on Craigslist. (If I owned the house I would permanently install and plumb it into the main propane supply, but I don’t.)

    4. Get out my 800 Watt, $75 Harbor Fright generator, put it in the bed of the truck out in the driveway. The truck has a cap on it to keep the rain/sleet/snow that was still coming down hard off of it. Run an extension cord into my home to run the lights off of. The UPS’s won’t run off it as the power it too weak and dirty, but lights don’t care.

    The blizzard was great because I got to use all kinds of tools and appliances I don’t normally use. Also got to fully utilize my truck’s excellent 4×4 capability. And my stove is propane too so I had a hot meal to boot! 😀

    Jeff, If I owned the house I would buy a larger generator and put a plug and socket on the central propane-fired furnace. This is fairly common for folks who don’t need or want a transfer switch but need heat when the power goes out. It gives you the ability to run the furnace safely off an appropriately-sized generator with just an extension cord.

  9. PutnamEco says:

    Mac Says
    have plenty of cordless tool around – the non-electric ones. 🙂
    🙂 So much fun to rip plywood and drive tap cons with hand tools, especially when your dressed for the storm and in a hurry to prevent further damage.

  10. zoomzoomjeff says:

    Discobubba–thanks for the links. I’ll check ’em out.

    Toolaremia—that’s the reassurance I needed to hear, that it’s fairly common for folks to do something like that. I have a 6800 watt peak/5500 constant generator, so it should run the furnace fan no problem, as well as lights via an extension cord through the door or window. Basically I just want to not freeze.

    I too thought the blizzard was great because I got to play with my 4×4. Locking both axles together and busting through drifts is fun! I gladly volunteered to drive my wife to work two days in a row.

  11. Andrew says:

    Diesel generators can be a problem in very cold weather (when a power outage is more likely) because the diesel fuel can gel up and clog fuel lines unless stored and handled carefully. If you have the money to invest in an 8 Kw generator, get one powered on propane and get a 100 lb propane tank.

  12. Toolhearty says:

    I don’t get the expensive transfer switches. Basically, it’s a switch, so long as you don’t want to get fancy and have it automatically switch over to generator power when the mains fail.

    As I recall, there’s a relatively inexpensive version that mounts in your load center (breaker box) and you manually select between “Mains” or “Generator” (might have been made by Generac, don’t recall). It’s one or the other, can’t be both (break-before-make type switch). One can put sticky dots by those breakers that should be left on (like for the furnace blower motor) while turning the others off before switching over to generator.

  13. Toolhearty says:

    Andrew Says:
    If you have the money to invest in an 8 Kw generator, get one powered on propane and get a 100 lb propane tank.


    I picked up a conversion kit and a spare carb for my generator so it will run of gasoline (for portability), NG, or (worst case) propane with just a bit of fiddling. Do need to get me one of those big propane tanks one day. Priced an 80lb. version at Menards, wasn’t that bad.

  14. zoomzoomjeff says:

    Toolhearty–I agree about the transfer switch. Doesn’t seem to warrant the cost of what it is. In fact, this discussion has gotten me thinking more seriously about the generator I have and wondering if I should just sell it. Worst case I just hop in the Jeep and venture to the in-laws 10 miles away or a number of friends in different communities. Throw some logs in the inefficient fireplace and call it good.

    Then it hit me—what about summer and flooding? Here in the Des Moines area, 2010 and 2008 were the equivalent flooding of the great 1993 flood. My sump pump ran 24/7 for 3+ days never once shutting off. If I wouldn’t have had electricity, my basement would have had 4-5 feet of water like my neighbor across the street without a sump pump.

    Hmm….Now I guess I’ll keep the generator and seriously budget for a transfer switch.

    Or, maybe just go all in and make something like this setup, which I’ve been fantasizing about for years anyway.

  15. Tim B. says:

    @Toolhearty — The simple method you’re talking about that goes into the breaker box is typically called a “generator interlock kit,” and can be found as a manufacturer’s available option on quite a few of the modern ones. They are also available as an aftermarket option for many panels which do not have an OEM option available. Check out: http://www.interlockkit.com/

    These are a GREAT, fully NEC-compliant alternative to an added ‘transfer switch’, with the only downside being that it is manual-only. Basic theory of operation is this: You have an open breaker which spans both of your load center’s rails, and the “output” of that breaker is basically treated as an INPUT wired to a listed generator hook-up box (outside the house, etc). When you use the interlock, the plate ONLY allows that loop-back breaker to be turned on if the MAINS breaker is in the OFF position, avoiding any risk of feeding power back to the neighborhood. Since the breaker spans both rails, you then enable individual household circuits (i.e., lights, furnace motor, etc) as necessary, within the capacity of your generator.

    When I had to re-do my load center a year or so ago, I intentionally chose a Square-D model which had a low-cost OEM Interlock Kit option, specifically so when I had the money to get a generator, I’d be able to easily incorporate it into the panel… no regrets!

  16. Steve says:

    I wanted to shed some light on the transfer switch discussion. basically it prevents the power from your generator from back feeding into the public utility’s system. Your neighbors house can actually power itself up from your generator if it’s not prevented from leaving your home. Now thats not the main reason for a transfer switch people, it’s to prevent your generator from killing the public utility workers trying to restore YOUR power during an outage. In my state, (Maine) having a transfer switch IS THE LAW. You can go to prison for killing a public utility worker you know and your insurance won’t pay either if you burn your home down. Think they don’t know about transfer switches? Ask them, your agent will know what it’s used for. It;s Primary purpose is for safety, to protect the line workers from electrocution. That and your but form going to jail for unintentional homicide.

  17. MatthewC says:

    Great info, found on Google, thanks.

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