Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Surviving Irma - The Lessons Learned Post

Irma taught me a few lessons that I think might be useful to more people than just me.  Some things worked exceptionally well, others not so much.  Times like these where a total reliance on your SHTF plans is when weaknesses can be exposed.  This didn't happen in Matthew last year, but with Irma, a massive hole in our plans was exposed.

Let me lead with our biggest lesson.  I'll phrase it like most of us learned it as kids.
Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
There's a more modern, more up to date, more tactical version of that common wisdom, "two is one and one is none".  Same idea.

In our case, the "eggs in one basket" was that we weren't going to lose electricity long term because we have a LNG-powered whole-house backup generator.  That belief colored everything we did.  As the power went out on Sunday night while the storm was building, the generator fired up and came on as it has done a few times in the past.  All seemed normal.  Monday morning, while we were still under steady 25 mph winds with gusts to about 40, we had a knock on the door.  It was the fire department.  Someone had called to report a gas leak, and they found our generator.  They told us it was blowing raw fuel in the exhaust and to turn it off.   The SW winds were in position to blow the fumes away from the house and I would have never smelled it.

I called the company that had done the installation and the owner came out within a few hours.  He said it was blowing more fuel than it should, but said, "if it was me, I'd be running it", after telling me he really can't say that for liability reasons.  That left me in a quandary, though, of "should I run it or will my neighbor call out the fire department again?"  We opted not to run it, except for an hour a day to try to keep the food in the freezer frozen.

This is another issue.  I see people talking about running their small generator just a few hours a day to keep the refrigerator cold.  I have a remote reading thermometer that I can put in the refrigerators and none of them will cool off in a couple of hours a day.  Is the issue that the modern, high-energy efficiency refrigerators get their efficiency by sacrificing peak cooling capacity?  It seems possible to me.  Maybe if we had a generator on one hour, off one hour all day, or on one/off two, that would work.  A hidden drawback of "all the eggs in one basket" is that we have a big freezer and buy some frozen foods for months ahead of time because we're sure we're not going to lose electricity long term.  We stand to lose a lot more money's worth of food without that power. 

Important background info.  In July, we received a letter from Generac telling us that there was a potential problem in the generator, the fuel plenum that might have rust damage and it cause this exact failure mode - I've since learned the plenum is essentially a buffer that provides a surge of fuel when the generator gets a load surge.  The letter said to schedule an inspection for a typical cost of $80, and if the plenum is bad, they'll provide the replacement and reimburse the $80.  With the eclipse trip coming and a few other things in life, we said we'd schedule the inspection when we got home, and promptly forgot to get it done immediately.  The tech who installed the plenum just left a little while ago, but our power came on last night about an hour short of 48 hours being out.  Internet and cable came back after that.

The problem isn't really going without electricity.  Yeah, it sucks, but we had some ways around that.  We have several batteries (things like these or these are very useful) that can act as backups, a small solar panel to charge the big one, and keep some things charged, but nothing that would keep our freezer or refrigerators going because we had assumed the generator would be there.  In other words, I was blind to that weak spot.
I'll return to that concept.

Having a barely-working generator, we relied on batteries.  The next tweak we could do to our preps would be to have fans that run a quieter.  We have a camping fan but it was loud for trying to sleep next to.  I have a 500 Watt inverter for that large 12V battery on the solar cells.  It will power things on 120V with about a 20% energy penalty (I assume the inverter is 80% efficient; I haven't really measured it).  It also has a fan that's a bit loud.  These are relatively minor annoyances.  Getting a fan that won't deplete 8 D cells or one of the jump starter/cell phone charger batteries overnight is a really good idea.

There were positive lessons, too.  What worked well?

Until Hurricane Erin in 1995, we basically had no preps.  Not even plywood and concrete nails.  We put in a system based on the POMA components that can be bought at Home Depot.  These are corrugated aluminum panels that are very impact resistant, held to the wall with permanent anchors in the concrete and 1/4-20 stainless hardware.  It takes a few minutes per window to put them up and when taken down, the stack easily fits in one corner of the garage.  Each panel is 15" wide, but with varying heights, so they stack in that width, and front to back take up no more than a couple of feet.

We also added a "hurricane rated" garage door, although I think it's only rated to the bottom of Cat 3, 115mph.  I reinforce it from the inside to try to offset the forces of it pressing in. 

LED lights, in particular these, are great.  There might be a similar product from someone else, but they work as an area light or handheld.  Several levels of brightness and I never used the highest. 
The whole concept of having the solar panel to charge my 35 AH battery so that it can run things overnight or longer worked out.  If the sun is bright, we can charge the battery at close to a 2A rate, but using it for more than about 12 AH of energy means there's barely one charge/discharge cycle per day.  I think I need to scale the system up.

Cooking was trivial.  There was no need for a propane stove or to use the charcoal grills.  Our LNG range has a piezoelectric ignition so that when we turn on the gas, it lights without a pilot light.  When the electricity is out, all we need to do is hold a match or lighter near the burner and ease the gas on.  When we partitioned our energy to run some things on gas and others on electricity, we gained that.  Hot water for dishes or showers or other uses, unfortunately, needed electricity to control the tankless (LNG) water heater. 

At the risk of overstating the obvious, it became painfully obvious that the quality of life in the aftermath of the storm was determined by the available energy.  Electricity or gas, without some energy source, we're quickly returned to bare bones primitive life.  You can store that energy as big tanks of diesel, gasoline or propane, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipe (like we have for some of it) or electric energy in massive battery arrays.  Batteries have the specific energy disadvantage I've talked about before in the context of electric cars; basically, while an internal combustion engine uses a fuel tank and gets its oxidizer from the air, a battery has to provide its own oxidizer.  In the house, that turns into several square feet of some room to store the batteries.  In terms of the machinery to make life comfy, all machines break; all plans go sideways.  Spares are always good.  If not mandatory.

It's always reasonable to think of what can be improved, and my inclination is to get something that would power the most critical infrastructure: the freezer, the refrigerator, should the main generator not be available.  Perhaps add in a few lights and a small room unit air conditioner.  All of that could be accomplished in the metal shop, where I have a small Mini-Split air conditioner.  The question of how it's powered is up in the air.  Cover the south facing areas of my roof in solar cells or store some fuel with those attendant problems?  


52 comments:

  1. Why not just track the standard run time of the freezer? the thermostat will call for cool and then shut it down- measure that time and it will give a good indication of how long and how often it needs to run. When we lose power I normally run the generator a few hours a day, mostly for the reefer and freezer, well pump and coms. If the load is watched, the freezer can be run with other less demanding loads- although if running a 240 v input to a panel, it is wise to make sure the big loads are balanced on each side of the two legs. Otherwise I think it is hard on the generator. Maybe someone can advise on this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never noticed it cycle on and off like it was on a thermostat. Perhaps it's on a PID controller instead of a bang-bang controller. The Mini Split A/C is on a PID controller, with the air coming out colder as the input air gets above the set point. Otherwise, it seems to be running continuously.

      Note to self: sit down in a chair next to the freezer and see if I can tell when it cycles on.

      Delete
  2. Solar panels on the roof seem like a questionable backup for power loss in a hurricane. I'd expect them to be prone to wind damage. Do you have systems available down there that are rated to survive hurricane conditions?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If they were "naked", I expect the cells themselves to end up in shards covering everything, but I think they could be built into something that would survive the storm. There are building codes and all, but I don't know how realistic they are. It's the second objection to photovoltaics. The first objection is what we call SWC: size, weight, and cost.

      Back when I got the LNG generator, I had priced solar cells. At the time, a system was $6000/kW, with all the taxpayer money you get to install it. The LNG system was about 1/20 of the cost.

      Delete
    2. Most panels are rated to about 120MPH, and will withstand fairly large hail (e.g., 3/4"). It depends on their installation angle, though.

      On a different, off-topic note, I thought Captcha stopped doing its thing of using the public as a calculating brain? It's still going, here...

      Delete
    3. I have twelve 265 Watt PV panels mounted on an angled frame attached to my metal-roofed double wide mobile home (on a permanent foundation). The mounts were professionally done by a master electrician/solar installer, and they have weathered 85 mph (measured) winds from microbursts (usually lasting less than an hour), here in the mountais, as well as 60 mph winds that blew for over eight hours. I don't know if they would survive 120 mph winds, but the installer said they are rated that high.

      Delete
  3. The house that I'm building will run on the electric grid, but the Generac (back up generator) will draw from the large 500 gallon+ propane tank. I've considered the notion of a diesel generator in addition to that but want to see how the primary back up works. In the mountains, there is no historical basis for the sort of winds that a hurricane generates and if it was dumping fuel because of the wind there are no neighbors to complain. I'm simply reflecting on your experience. However putting in hard points for shuttering windows makes sense. I'm going to research that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Solid plan. A guy I used to work with had a similar system and found that when he needed to live on it, the propane went by way too fast. His wife required some sort of medical device be powered 24/7 so it was not an option to be without. The contractor he bought from used some tables or lookup data to size the propane tank and the expected "one month's worth of propane" went by in about a week.

      From what I know of where you are, I believe you're not likely to get the harsh storms Colorado does. Up there, I've heard that power interruptions are almost every day occurrences, and the farther you are from the majority of the grid, the more frequent they are.

      Delete
    2. LL, I live in the mountains of SW Montana at 5000', the west side of the Sapphire Mountains, with an incredible view of Trapper Peak. In addition to solar (with an 830 AH battery back-up), I have a Generac propane genny (6500 surge/5500 steady output) hooked to a 1000 gal propane tank, plus dual 2000 watt Honda gennys (4000 watts when connected) that I converted to dual fuel, gasoline or propane.

      So far I have not clocked any winds in excess of 85 mph where we are. Mt Washington in New Hampshire has clocked winds in excess of 200 mph, but they are close to the Atlantic coast. I don't expect I'll ever see wind speeds of even 100 mph, let alone 200.

      SiG, my wife uses a Bi-PAP machine at night, and sometimes during the day for a long nap. It does not require that much power, and can easily (and _has_) run off of our batteries when needed. My large freezer is very efficient, especially as I keep it full, so it has a large thermal "inertia", and doesn't come on very often. I don't run the propane genny often, as our grid power is usually available, although it does go down for an hour or two, once every month or so, especially in the winter. We're supplied by a rural electric co-op.

      I'm not sure why your co-worker went through his propane so quickly. An inefficient generator perhaps, sized much larger than needed? In my case, my propane generator would only be used to charge my battery bank if we get more than one or two days without sun (heavy overcast or stormy weather). I don't anticipate running it for more than a couple of hours a day when that happens (in a grid-down situation).

      Delete
    3. I'm not sure why your co-worker went through his propane so quickly. An inefficient generator perhaps, sized much larger than needed? That's long enough ago (our '04 hurricanes) that I don't recall an explanation. For all I know it was just that someone slipped a decimal place on the calculations.

      I certainly don't think it's a property of propane fired generators, just a mistake.

      Delete
  4. You can run a (very small, about 4000BTU) 115V air conditioner off a 3KW inverter. It takes a massive investment in large, industrial inverters to run anything bigger. And for a serious solar system, a 35AH is pathetically useless for anything except providing a ballast for the system. I'm running two chest freezers and a refrigerator off 3KW of panels, and an 800AH battery bank that will run them for 24 hours under no-sun conditions. It wouldn't handle the additional load of an air conditioner, though it will handle several ordinary room fans.

    It's the startup current of the compressor that kills you. The grid will smirk and carry on, but an inverter says "I'm outta here" instantly.

    And, yes, modern refrigeration is designed to run 70%-85% of the time, barely enough to cool the volume. That is a real pain in this kind of situation.

    You know what solar power is good at? Charging phones and radios. Otherwise, for anything resembling what you want you are looking at $20K - $30K. I like LL's notion of two generators using different fuels. Nice safety factor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 35AH is pathetically useless for anything except providing a ballast for the system Yeah, I'm getting that feeling.

      I'm running two chest freezers and a refrigerator off 3KW of panels, and an 800AH battery bank that will run them for 24 hours under no-sun conditions. My gut feeling is that I can take the number of kW and multiply by 5 to get the number of square yards the cells take up. That's estimating the panel is 20% efficient. That might be a little small; I don't know what number the pros use. That says 3kW = 15 square yards, or 135 square feet. My panels are about 3' tall, so that would be a panel 45' long. If I double them to 6' tall, that would be 22-1/2 x 6. That's in the neighborhood of power that becomes useful.

      How many square feet of batteries in an 800 AH bank (assuming they're honestly 800 AH)? That sounds like maybe four of these?

      Some years ago, I was talking to a guy who was my air conditioner contractor/repairman at the time. He said he was installing "soft start" kits that allowed the small gasoline powered generators to work. I assume it's something to stretch out the pulse of the compressor when it starts up.

      With my LNG generator, I could hear it groan every time the main A/C compressor came on.

      Delete
    2. The batteries are Rolls-Surrette lead-acid, warranted for 10 years and they did manage that (need to replace now). Two strings of two 6V 400AH, for a 12V system, sits in 15"x26" floor area, 16" high. The specific part number isn't made anymore. I have to be honest, I beat them to death: one isn't supposed to discharge below 50%, ever, but I did that every day for ten years. One of the big expenses of the battery bank is that you have to size it such that you only pull it down about 30% before recharging, so most of that lead is just sitting there looking pretty instead of working for a living.

      Solar panels are from a Chinese place that's apparently no longer in business (I looked), but I bought a pallet of 26 300W panels measuring 39" x 77", and they have continued to perform. I note little if any degradation in ten years.

      I live in Central Idaho at 3500', so snow is a big issue. The panels are in a frame at a steep angle, and close to the ground, so it's easy to sweep the snow off of them. Yeah, I know about trackers, but these panels cost me 83 cent per watt and it is cheaper to buy more than to track them.

      When you look at the overall cycle, including the charge efficiency of the battery, the discharge efficiency of the battery, the change of panel output with temperature, the inverter efficiency, and the charge controller efficiency, you will collect about twice as much energy as you will use. This is hard experience talking, from an engineer. In fact, the DC voltage into the charger is about 90V, and I try to use that as much as possible for things like space heating (I dump extra power into heating the shop stupidly with resistance coils, once the batteries are charged). 90V works pretty well with a 110V heater coil. Anything you can do to bypass the inverter efficiency is a plus.

      Practically, a 12V system cannot run anything bigger than a 3KW inverter because of the amperage involved. Big systems are 24V, 48V, or in some case 96V. I only have 10 panels deployed out of 26. My next upgrade will be to put all of them out, move to a 48V battery bank 8X the capacity, and get some high-power inverters (I want a total of 18KW available).

      Other events have put that on hold, and the entire enterprise reminds me of tilting at windmills -- but I really enjoy the idea of being independent of the grid indefinitely if necessary. For saving money? Forget it. Bad notion!

      Delete
    3. Also, soft-start controllers are a goodness for inverters, also. Unfortunately, they aren't cheap, as they are essentially a motor controller like a servo, only the only thing they do is a (adjustable) power ramp. By not cheap, I mean $800 for a 5HP motor.

      Delete
    4. Thanks for the details. I took a look at the rough numbers for planning purposes, and see that according to some website I closed a minute ago, the average cost for an 8 kW system would work out to be about $18k. I might be able to cut that with some DIY work, but I suspect it wouldn't be by much.

      Yeah, if it were possible to have a complete 18 or 20 kW system, that would be cool. On the other end, I don't know how small a system I could get away with.

      BTW, I didn't thank you for that info on the refrigerators needing to run 70-85% of the time, so thanks!

      Delete
    5. I've been building up from small to large, experimenting all the way, so that I can have real-world expectations. It's a little easier to do here, where there isn't so much of an "inspector problem" as Florida (I lived in Clearwater for 12 years, I know what a problem that can be). It's fun to do, but it's very, very pricey.

      $18K is about right for a properly-balanced 8KW system. I allowed for larger-than-usual inverters ($14K worth) for short-term-high-power demands I'd expect to have in my shop. They are very different from low, but continuous draws. LED lights are so trivial I don't even really count them. Look at the big power users: hot water, air conditioning, electric range. In Florida, hot water can be direct thermal solar, the kitchen range can be propane, which leaves the A/C as the biggest power drain. Size for that, and everything else will come out in the wash. Modern 'fridges and freezers, despite running all the time, are so damn efficient that they aren't hard to support. For instance, my new main kitchen refrigerator draws <100W (!). Of course, that's a couple kwhrs a day...

      Real world: when batteries were new and shiny, my 3KW of panels at 46 degrees north latitude gave me 9kwhrs/day in the summer and about 5.5 in the winter.

      Delete
    6. My 3.2KW system cost $30K, but that is because I went with industrial 2V batteries, costing $11K of that $32K. My system is 48V, so I have 24 Deka industrial FLA batteries. They are inside of open heavy steel boxes (four of them, six cells to a box), measuring about 24" wide by 72" long, 14" high. I wanted longevity, because if TSHTF, replacing batteries is going to be damned hard to do. With proper care, these should last at least fifteen years. I'll replace them at (or near) that time, if "the center holds".

      Al of my inverter/battery charging/monitoring and controlling equipment is Outback, which was more expensive that Xantrex and some other manufacturers, but has a much better history of reliability. I've had the system for four years now, and no issues so far.

      My system has collected as much as 22.4 KWH in a day, but averages about 12KWH during the summer. Our winters here tend to be fairly sunny, but last winter we had more cloudy days than usual, and the average dropped to about 9 KWH. The winter before it averaged about 10 KWH.

      Delete
    7. Reg T - glad you stopped by because I know from our prior chats that you have good info to contribute. Is 9 kWH enough to live comfortably on, or did you have to be extra vigilant? I know you don't get lots of sunlight in the winter up there, so I'd think it would tough to live on less than half the electricity.

      Malatrope - we changed the water heater, and range/oven from electric to natural gas a few years ago, so the only big power sucker we have is the central air for the bulk of the house. The addition we did in '14 has a separate A/C system, a mini-split which seems to be light draw.

      Delete
    8. Reg T: do you like Outback better than Magnum? The latter seem to do stacking better.

      My 9kwhr number was actual power out to the load. The amount at the output of the panels is about 50% higher than that.

      Delete
    9. SiG - 9 KWH daily - during a darker than normal winter - would be enough if we are vigilant and conserve. The easiest way I have figured to do that is to disconnect circuit breakers and only use the circuits I need to use at any one particular time. During the winter our reefers are indoors, to keep from freezing, but our big upright freezer remains outdoors. Our well pump and cistern pump are both Grundfos solar submersibles, which are "soft start", with no big surge like standard pumps usually do. No lights during the day, even on cloudy days, thanks to a number of skylights throughout the house. Heat is via wood stove, with propane back-up, although I stock enough wood we only use propane if I'm too lazy to start a wood fire.

      Things like the LG dishwasher, TV/DVD player/stereo, etc. we can leave off and just read (I have about 1100 books in our library, 1/3 reference and non-fiction, 2/3 fiction). Biggest issue is that I need to replace our 220V water heater with a propane water heater. I have an on-demand Aquastar I can install pretty easily, I just haven't gotten around to doing it because I was going to do solar hot water. The quotes I've gotten for SHW were in excess of $7K, so I've held off on that. The model Aquastar I have isn't the one that will work as a back-up with SHW, but I think I'm going to install it anyway. Rheem makes a good unit too, although it is more expensive, IIRC.

      Malatrope, the only Magnum equipment I have any experience with was a large battery charger I had installed on our 37' catamaran (used) when we decided we'd rather live aboard a sailboat than to own a home. It worked very well, with no issues. When we were staying at Boot Key Harbor (Marathon, FL) during the winter of 2009, I had a Xantrex inverter/charger-charge controller installed, with a large bank of AGM batteries. Unfortunately, the Xantrex burned a circuit board and we discover that the installer ran EVERYTHING through the Xantrex. So nothing worked - not shore power, our diesel generator, the battery bank, or the engine generators (two Yanmar diesels, one in each hull). The Xantrex was only four months old.

      When Magnum first started selling, I didn't think their equipment was that good (Outback was definitely better at that time), but I have read that they have really improved, and expanded their line. In 2013, when my grid-tied system was installed, Outback was still a better choice, but I don't know that it still is. They are still putting out excellent equipment, but I have heard Magnum is doing so now, as well. I'd have to sit and do some research if I needed to choose currently. I am pleased with my Outback system, but I need to add some panels, because I am not charging my battery bank as quickly or as I would like if the grid were to go down - or become too expensive, as I've read it has in California.

      My figures come off of my Mate 2 monitor, and are what the panels have produced, but I was told that what is used or stored in the battery back is only about 10% less.

      Also, because I'm using 24 2V batteries, I have a filling system where I can pump water into all the cells from one point, the tubing to all of the cells interconnected. It can be done with a small electric pump, but I chose the manual option, so that I can feel when resistance to squeezing the bulb indicates all the cells are full. I equalize the bank every third month (four times a year).

      Delete
  5. Regarding "cold boxes", one factor that is always ignored is the location. In hot locations like FL, when you lose the A/C, they are suddenly working much harder. There are two factors that apply now: the higher ambient temp that the boxes are sitting in, and the less efficient radiators due to that elevated temp.

    Those boxes will now have to work harder to do their job, and are more likely to fail under the increased strain of elevated temps and increased run times. Unless you have a temperature alarm on them, you won't know they are going bad. Failure may be total, or partial, where it can maintain a cool, but not cold interior.

    Suggestions:
    Position them in the most insulated room.
    Add A/C to that room.
    Consider adding a jacket of insulation (foam sheets taped on for temporary use).
    Duct air around the radiator to exhaust outside, to stop the room heating cycle.

    Generally, you want as little air space inside them as possible. Even empty boxes can help control heat transfer from opening the door.

    ReplyDelete
  6. My lesson learned from Irma is don't follow the rules. The weather head to my service entrance got knocked off during the storm, and the strain relief snapped. I realize that's the sort of thing you are supposed to have a licensed electrical contractor fix, so I started calling on Monday and found one who was willing to show up early Tuesday morning. I told him the mast size so he could bring a new head, although just the cover had popped off the old one and one of the retaining screws was gone. He showed up as promised, and hoped to be able to just replace the cover since the rest of the weather head was OK and the splices were intact. Unfortunately, my home is one of the General Development units from the end of Apollo, and the cover for the new weather head was too large to attach to the old head. He clipped the wires after tagging them appropriately and installed the new head. He texted the details to the County, and they sent FPL an OK to reconnect. Unfortunately, the crew out here today was from Texas, and they weren't authorized to connect. Next time I'll drill out the old screws in the cover myself and let it go until AFTER the storm entertainment is complete. My neighbors all have power, but it looks like I'll be on generator until some time Sunday...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Man, that's horrible. Hope it ends up sooner than Sunday.

      Delete
  7. I have to say, you make me feel pretty unprepared. A backup generator's been on my mind for a while; I guess I should bite that bullet. And I'm with LL, good hard point tip.

    Thanks for the post.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have a smallish gas gennie, that I've had since Y2K. It's pretty efficient using about 5-8 gal for a partial day. it will run the fridge, chest freezer, garage fridge, lights, coffee, microwave, and will power the washing machine and let the gas dryer run. It will also power a small window AC unit. Not all at the same time, obviously, but most of the convenience stuff will run all together. It's just the AC and washing don't play well.

    During Ike we were without power for 14 days. We started out only running a couple hours on/ couple hours off during the day, but soon ran all thru daylight hours to cool down the living room with the window unit. The only real difference was that my fuel consumption was double my estimates. If you have enough fuel, running steady is fine. The only reason not to is fuel and noise.

    From that experience we wanted to add a NG whole house gennie so we could run everything, and so that it would be quieter, without the need to refuel. (BTW, get a small hand pump. My wife couldn't lift the 5 gal fuel can to refuel, but had no problem dragging one over and using the small squeeze pump.) Anyway, I finally found a good price on a used gennie, and LO, it's sitting on a pallet in my driveway. DIDN'T GET IT INSTALLED in time for Harvey.

    No problem though, I just got out the gas gennie, cleaned the carb, and we were good to go.

    Moral of the story is, a small gennie and a room AC unit, with plenty of stored fuel will save your butt when the whole house gennie fails. (or I fail to plan).

    Even better would be a small gennie that is ultra quiet, like the little honda 3000.

    You probably don't want to run at night, based on our experiences with IKE. Sound CARRIES!

    Our nighttime needs were met with battery powered lanterns and kindles.

    nick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I noticed after the '04 hurricanes that after the first one there were a couple of little gennies running all night, while after the second storm (about 3 wks later) the neighborhood was full of them and we were the odd balls out without one. The last real hurricane here was in '04 and there were only a few running. I suppose all those folks moved out or they found out (or thought?) their generators wouldn't work any more.

      The LNG generator is probably quieter than a gasoline generator, but it's still loud in a dead quiet neighborhood.

      Do you know the size of your "smallish" generator? 3 or 4 kW?

      Delete
    2. I'm not the anonymous guy, but I have a 5kw gas generator (wish it were diesel) that will run just about everything (big things one at a time) and uses about 5 gallons of gas in 10 hours. I'd love to have a 10kw propane one on a big tank.

      Delete
    3. I just looked, it's a Generac 4000XL (for extended life). I couldn't read the nameplate but I'm thinking 4700watts surge? On the 220v and 120v receptacles? I was a bit surprised when I put the ammeter on my household service at how little was actually being used at any one time. The little gennie was enough to meet most of the needs in my 2400 sqft house, with the exception of the AC and the range/oven. Gas water heater and dryer take off some of the load. In fact, I was only a little bit short of my measured amps for starting the compressor on the AC, but I've read that you don't want to be anywhere close to undervolting/ underpowering the compressor as it will quickly burn up.
      The ideal situation from a noise and fuel perspective would be having 3 gennies sized for the loads. Whole house for running the big AC and carrying on as if nothing was wrong. Something like my gas one, for meeting most of the needs in the house but still only using gas sparingly, except the major power hogs, and a little one like the Honda EX3000 for running just a couple of things, very quietly.

      Getting 2 of the ex3000s and the linking cable comes close to that goal. You get the little quiet one, but when you need more power, and at 220v, you add the second one too. It's not a CHEAP solution though....

      I'm working on getting the whole house gennie installed soon, but as you might imagine, most of the guys are really busy ATM, and I need to get the slab in first. It's always something.

      nick

      Delete
    4. The initial reason I got the two Hondas (2000i and 2000i Companion) is because one alone would not run the air conditioning unit on our fifth-wheel RV, but two tied together would. They are very quiet (relative to Colemans, Generacs, etc), and stingy on fuel use. I bought the Generac propane genny to hook to my 1000 (800 max fill) gal propane tank so that I could recharge my battery bank easily and fairly quickly. The 4000 watt Honda combo will actually run everything in the house I need to run, quietly, as long as I don't try to run everything at once. With the propane conversion, I can run it off of the big tank.

      Delete
    5. SiG, there are some good youtube videos on cheap/easy enclosures you can build to cut the noise significantly.

      Malatrope, I really wanted a diesel genny becausethey last a long time, plus the fuel keeps for a _long_ time, if you treat it against the bio stuff that can grow in it and ruin it, but they are so much more expensive I just couldn't see doing it. Treated with Pri-G, gasoline is supposed to last three or four years (a lot longer than Stabil), plus since propane last almost forever, my propane Generac/propane converted Hondas will be fine as long as that 800 gals lasts.

      If you can get natural gas piped in, like Sig can and many other communities have available (not here, so sad), I would rig for that. then propane if NG isn't available. My understanding is that engines running on LPG and NG run cleaner and last longer than on gasoline. I don't know if that will still beat how long a good diesel engine will last, but it is a whole lot cheaper than any diesel generators I have ever seen.

      Delete
  9. My Northern Tool Powerhorse brand 1600 Watt 50 pound luggable inverter generator ran a small and a medium chest freezer, the refrigerator, and a couple LED nightlights on 1/10th gal/hour of 93 octane from the pump. Nameplates say the generator could start both freezers simultaneously. I added the fridge because what are the changes of simultaneous happening in a few days, not counting the first starts? The 850 VA upright vacuum I tested the generator with worked it harder than the 3 compressors. These freezers are bang-bang thermostats, I could hear the generator rev as freezers turned on. Judging from the generator rev the fridge is also bang-bang, but I think the fan runs more than the compressor. Turn off the icemaker if you don't have a water supply. After the wind died I set up the generator outside in a plastic doghouse with the exhaust facing the opening, didn't heat up in the least. Now I'm going to dump out the gas tank, put in a cup of the $6/quart long-storage gas from Lowes, and run it dry. When they restock, Wal-Mart has similar long-storage gas for $12/gal. If you only use it as a cleaner and not as the fuel, it's cheap. There is plenty of storm warning time to stock up on pump gas. If you get more than you use don't store it, put it in the car. Would a sailboat wind generator withstand a hurricane?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You wouldn't get enough power out of a wind generator, despite hurricane, to be worth owning it. I have one of those, too. Won't have a second one.

      Delete
    2. Anon @ 12:37 - There is an excellent gasoline additive for long term storage that also will improve stale gasoline, called Pri-G (Pri-D for their diesel additive). It is much cheaper than Stabil (more for about the same number of ounces, but it treats a _lot_ more gasoline than Stabil) and has been tested to keep fuel usable for a longer time. It ends up being much cheaper than the long term gas from Lowes or Walmart.

      With wind generators, there are some that will certainly survive hurricanes in the Cat1 to Cat 3 range, not so sure about Cat 4 or 5. BUT, most of them will not generate usable electricity when the wind speeds exceed 50 or 60 mph. There is a range for most of them where they are efficient, but above or below those speeds, output drops, down to zero usually.

      Wind gennies can be a usable addition to PV (photo-voltaic) panels, as the wind often blows when the sun doesn't shine (and there is often an ill wind _where_ the sun don't shine ;-) They are often maintenance heavy, plus there are some companies which make and sell junk, so you can take it in the shorts if you don't research and do your homework. If you ever do get a wind generator, don't do as many people do (one of the biggest reason people are disappointed in them) - don't mount them on your roof (a real newbie mistake), and don't mount them within 300 feet of a building, trees, or anything else that can affect the wind UNLESS you put them on a pole that is at least thrity feet higher than said building, trees, etc.

      Those structures/trees cause turbulence which robs the wind of energy, making the wind generator useless. I can't tell you how many expensive machines get mounted too low and/or too close to obstacles. What a waste, and bad PR for something that can be useful to a homeowner, as opposed to the huge commercial machines which self-destruct with great regularity, and have been proven to be pretty inefficient.

      The magazine called _Homepower_ is available online either in digital format or sent to you as a high quality printed magazine. As a subscriber, you can access hundreds of articles written from back when they first started in 1987. Excellent resource, and they will (or used to, anyway) respond to individual questions you might have. Good people, although you may have to hold your nose on other subjects, as they tend to lean Left a bit. Some of them even believe in AGW. Ignore that, and you will find them very helpful, especially with folks new to solar PV/wind/hydro/solar hot water/etc.

      I have a 3200 watt grid-tied PV system with battery back-up, and have a 750 watt wind generator, but I haven't put it up yet at our new home.

      Delete
    3. I used to pick up _Home Power_ at the newstand. Loved their guerrilla solar page, photo of a masked homeowner on their roof who illegally set their inverter to feed the grid. Testing neoprene welding cable insulation in battery acid to prove it could be used instead of much more expensive cable which code mandated.

      Before I discovered the Wal-Mart storage fuel, I considered making my own gasoline from camp stove fuel plus toluene for octane. Thanks, I'll check into Pri-G.

      Delete
  10. I'll add one last thought, based on our run during Ike.

    Most gennies, but especially the cheaper ones, put out really "dirty" power. The frequency can vary and the waveform can be really noisy.

    Most UPSs don't like generator "dirty" power. We found that NONE of our point of use UPSs would run on gennie power. They all thought the power input was too crappy and switched into battery mode. This kinda sucked :-) We ended up plugging stuff directly into the gennie and hoped for the best. I believe we did damage some of our electronics and shorten their lives, most particularly the mainboard of our (expensive) refrigerator. Lots of things these days are really computers- fridge, washing machine, many water heaters, and of course TVs.

    My solution was to buy surplus LARGE UPSs that had been decommed by local businesses. The larger, typically rack mount UPSs have a switch on the back that says "Generator" and they will accept a much wider range of incoming power in that position without alarming. I use them to filter the power for our more sensitive electronics.

    nick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i can attest to the fridge thing. my newer fridge never got below 50 degrees running on gen power 24/7. finally realized the power wave was too lousy for it to work. old fridge in the shop ran just fine. not all new ones are such, but most are designed now to run 24/7 nearly while using very little, but pure sine wave, power. we just decided to keep very little in the fridge as a way of life.

      Delete
    2. If the problem is from a non-sine wave AC power, something like a line filter should help. Line filters that remove noise on the line will shape the sine wave by nature of the circuit elements they use. Not every line filter would work, a lot of them just reject radio frequency noise, so their components have very different values.

      There would be some work involved in adding something like this Corcom filter but it might rescue the refrigerator.

      My refrigerator seems to run fine on my generator, so I can't test it. Just a theory. All the disclaimers you can imagine.

      Delete
    3. My Generac propane generator doesn't put out clean power, but the Honda 2000i gennies (even tied together to access a max of 4000 watts) are inverter systems that (supposedly, at least) put out pure sine wave AC which works fine for anything that functions on grid power. I think it is true of any of the Hondas ending in "i" (for inverter).Yamaha and a number of other companies make inverter generators as well, but I believe Honda has been making them the longest.

      Delete
    4. Mine seems to put out clean power. I've never put an oscilloscope on it to look, but nothing in the house complains. My computers are happy.

      A lot of inverters put out ugly power, too. That's a whole 'nother subject.

      Delete
    5. I actually did put a Fluke scopemeter on my gennie when we had the problems and the wave was spiky as all he11. That was part of what led to my diagnosis and work around.

      nick

      Delete
    6. Cool. I have an old Tektronix 475 that I got surplus in the last 10 years. I went to turn it on a few months ago and it did nasty things. I think I've got to fix the power supply.

      Delete
  11. We built with oil fired boiler and a radiant floor heat system, so hot water and heat are a very low electrical draw- the pumps and burner take almost nothing to run. Propane for the stove. Woodstove for back up heat. The big one is the well pump- of all the conveniences of modern life, having water out of a tap is #1. Years ago we went for 10 days or so with 2' of snow on the ground, no water, in a single-wide mobile. No 4x4 so no food runs. My neighbor was kind enough to let us use his well water. No electric, no big deal- no water=A PIA.
    I am using a Honda 6500 watt generator, with an inverter. $$$ unit, but it has some huge pluses- very low fuel consumption, as it does not have to run a steady 3600 rpm to get the right frequency. It is very quiet,and the power is super clean for computers, although with running a ups it probably does not matter. I tried running it the other day with a inverter welder and it worked fine.
    The main trick with any gas powered item is Non Alchohol gas. It stores well, especially if the cans are kept in a cool location .
    I also drain the carb before storage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No electric, no big deal- no water=A PIA. We didn't have water problems this time, but some cities lost their water. Commenter Mark Matis, 30-ish miles from me, lost water the last time I heard.

      OTOH, we've lost water with no storm involved a couple of times in the years I've lived here.

      OTOOH, if you're snowed in, you could put your food outside to stay cold. Around here that's not an option.

      Delete
    2. Water is on, but system-wide "boil water" notice due to "multiple service main breaks", allegedly from Irma. My bet is somebodies hydroplaned into fire hydrants. Don't see any other credible ways of "service main breaks" from a hurricane like Irma in the local area.

      Delete
    3. Mark, I saw on Accuweather's videos that somewhere - I think it was either Cocoa or Cocoa Beach - a section of roadway collapsed, and it showed a large (6"?) water line had broken and was spewing many gallons a minute into the gulley created by the collapse. Maybe that happened in more than one location?

      Delete
    4. That's possible, Reg T, but not altogether that likely unless that water line was either improperly installed in the first place, or had been around so long that it had corroded out. The overwhelming majority of the East Central Florida infrastructure was built no earlier than the start of the Apollo program. Yeah, that was a while ago, but the Cocoa water system has grown massively since then, and the mains should be good for many more years before "spontaneous" failures should be expected. SiG's previous experiences with water outages have almost undoubtedly been due to digging without contacting Florida One Call. Some areas of the country do have problems with floods washing away fill over the water mains and then debris damaging them, but that isn't credible with East Central Florida topography. As I said, someone decapitating a fire hydrant will also do it, but other than that the most like cause is poor design or poor construction. Not that anything like that could happen in Brevard County will all the fine upstanding politicians we have running things around here...

      We may not be the Windy Shitty nor the Big Craphole, but our politicians have learned well from them...

      Delete
    5. Heh. I was just thinking - I wonder if the crew that designed and built Oroville also designed and built the Cocoa City Water System? We have imported MANY people from California over the years...

      Delete
    6. Mark, I don't know if you followed the whole "Save the River" theatrics before the last election, but one thing that stood out to me was that miles and miles of sewer pipe from the early systems are made of that orangeburg pipe. Those systems are virtually all located along the river, both sides, because that area was settled first.

      Due to age, and the way it was made (wood fiber and pitch), that stuff leaks and leaches sewage into the areas around the river and then into it. Nobody proposed replacing that because it's just too expensive. They point to other sources that are easier to address.

      But one of these days, and one by one, every one of those old pipes is going to have to be replaced.

      Delete
    7. I understand about sewer pipe. Got one leaking on my lot that is undermining a street light pole. But sewer pipe is under far less pressure than water mains, and quite frankly until it fails to more than a minor leak, it ain't really that much of a problem.

      It would be interesting to see just what mains broke, and what caused the breaks. Maybe they were all old cast iron pipes from the 50s. I'm not betting on getting an accurate accounting of that, any more than I bet on an accurate forecast and weather report from NOAA and the NHC...

      Delete
    8. Some background on how Brevard County government "works":
      https://books.google.com/books/about/Brevard_Good_Ole_Boys.html?id=RA9qHAAACAAJ

      Delete
    9. I remember reading that in paperback. Must have been back in '92 when it came out. Could still be on one of the bookshelves around here. Probably still true conceptually but the details all changed enough so you can't just go clean out those sewer traps.

      I found it interesting that all of a sudden there were fish kills in the Indian and Banana Rivers, and algae blooms so thick you can't see a white-painted plate 8" under the surface, and someone pulls out a pre-made plan to "fix" it, complete with a budget.

      Delete
    10. In looking at our sewer situation here (because of the Harvey flooding, our sewers were messed up, with the treatment plant completely underwater)a lot of the older lines had notes about upgrades and material type.

      long story short, there is some sort of liner they put into the existing sewer as an upgrade, probably like pulling in new water mains. It's all a welded seamless plastic pipe hundreds of feet long.

      nick

      Delete