Need recommendation for an emergency power plant

Updated on March 4, 2021 in General Stuff
31 on February 18, 2021

In the name of “never again,” I am going to buy an emergency power plant next week.  We can live comfortably in one room plus the bathroom in emergencies. The hot water and fireplace run on natural gas, though if a portable emergency plant could heat a little space heater and a hot plate, that probably would be good.    So, I want enough power for a couple of electric lamps, a space heater, and a hot plate.

https://www.amazon.com/Anker-Powerhouse-Generator-Flashlight-Emergencies/dp/B08LYMJJD5/ref=sr_1_17_sspa?dchild=1&keywords=Emergency+Power&qid=1613688278&sr=8-17-spons&psc=1&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUExUE82SThJSU1XTEZBJmVuY3J5cHRlZElkPUEwMDEwMjY0MVZWNjU4UFdUQkVSVCZlbmNyeXB0ZWRBZElkPUEwMTgxNzgzMjlQQVRLVEFSVldLSyZ3aWRnZXROYW1lPXNwX210ZiZhY3Rpb249Y2xpY2tSZWRpcmVjdCZkb05vdExvZ0NsaWNrPXRydWU=

They have more expensive and cheaper ones.  Price appears to vary according to storage capacity, watt hours or some such.  

What would you do?   And do I just periodically charge this thing up in anticipation of another emergency that we may not see again for 5 years?  Or do I get a little gasoline powered generator and charge up the power supply only in the event of an emergency?

I’d ask my senator, but he just got back from Cancun and I don’t want to bother him right now.

 
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0 on February 18, 2021

I was reminded over the summer (rather embarassingly) just exactly how much power 600 watts is when two 5 light fixtures in my basement with 60 watt bulbs that I’d mindlessly wired up in my basement caused an outlet in my shop (wired in series with those lights) melted down while my wife and I were cleaning. Trust me, 770 watts isn’t much more.

For about the same price, you could get 5 times that power at Costco.

https://www.costco.com/firman-3650w-running–4500w-peak-gasoline-powered-generator-with-remote-start.product.100399669.html

And for roughly double the price you can get 3 times more power than that.

And with the some help from a real electrician you can tie it into the house when the power’s out (NOTE: you HAVE to disconnect from the utility, not merely plug in and run it while the power’s out).

That’s what I’d do. And keep a few 5 gallon gas cans in the shed.

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0 on February 18, 2021

Thanks, that looks good. But the generator has to stay outside.  How does it run your indoor stuff without hardwiring it to the house, which I am not at all opposed to?  

I think I’d like to have a battery system as well, running off of that generator, so that I can bring the battery inside once it’s charged up.  In other words, get both the gas powered job for outside and the battery for inside, the latter charged up by the former.  

Or am I missing something?  or making to too hard?

Another thing I’d need to look at is, how long would a charged up battery system stay charged up?  I wouldn’t mind charging it up in the garage every few months, but charging it continually for a storm that may not come for another 10 years or more may be dumb.

Thanks again.

 

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0 on February 19, 2021

What I’ve always heard (but never tried, so grain of salt is appropriate) is that you run a short extension cord (think camper power in a state park campground) into an outlet somewhere in or outside the house. In my case, I’ve got an outlet right outside the basement door (my property is on a hill which leaves one end of the basement completely above ground with a nice big walkout door).

So when the power fails, I’d shut off the feed from the utility, plug in the generator next to the door, move gas cans into the basement, and then just walk out the basement door to refill the tank until the disaster has passed. And then reverse the process. Easy peasy.

Growing up in Michigan, I’ve obviously thought about this for a long time.

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1 on February 19, 2021

By the way, the wife and I have talked about this regularly over the years, so I actually went and looked at our panel to see what would be reasonable (again to be verified by a professional). Our house runs on all electric. HVAC, etc. All of it, due to the design of the subdivision in the mid-90s.

We’ve got a 200 amp feed from the utility which can be completely disconnected with a simple main disconnect breaker at the top of the box.

Adding a “campground” style 30 amp plug to the side of the house and running it to the box would probably cost me $300-500 (my next door neighbor is a plumber who’s drilled a number of holes in our basement walls already and the cable would only need to go about 15-20 feet). Then I (or someone qualified) would just have to add another 30 amp breaker to the box, connect it to the appropriate 15 amp circuits, and then hook up some kind of as yet to be determined failsafe that would never allow the utility power and generator power to be connected at the same time.

30 amp, 120 volt power delivers 3600 watts which is what the Costco generator delivers. Now the full electric HVAC is 60/60 ampacity at 220 volts which is about 26,000 watts and the biggest draw in the house so the HVAC and the stove and a couple other things couldn’t be run, but small space heaters and blankets could make that survivable. And a wood stove in the basement that we’ve talked about could really make it toasty (and keep the water pipes from freezing).

Now maybe if you’ve got natural gas, propane, or oil heat you may be able to run the whole thing with one of the larger generators.

Again, that’s how I’d do it.

on February 19, 2021

Okay, that all sounds good. Appreciate you.

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3 on February 19, 2021

I know I’ve told this story before, but why not again? It’s Friday, after all.

Some years ago, my father in law was wandering around the tools/hardware section at our local Sears store. He did things like that. Just wandering around because he was bored.

Spotted a really sweet deal on a Craftsman gas powered electric generator. Someone had bought it, and for whatever reason decided to return it. Sears took the return, but now they were stuck with this thing, that had been unboxed and used, and couldn’t sell it as new.

So they made him a smokin’ deal on it. He ended up getting it for half price or something like that.

I don’t recall how powerful a unit it was. All I can say about that is it was all I could do to hump it into the back of a pickup truck. It was a pretty serious piece of machinery.

Well, my mother in law didn’t like this one bit. She thought it was a stupid thing to buy, a total waste of money. She absolutely wore him out over that thing for weeks. That’s what she did. She’d fixate on whatever it was in the universe that was irritating her right now, and lean into it until the next thing came around.

That went on for a while, when what do you know? A huge thunderstorm blows through town and knocks down a bunch of power lines. They ended up being out of power for three days.

I have never seen anyone take more pleasure in getting the last laugh than my father in law did during that outage. He tended the generator religiously (turns out it takes quite a lot of gasoline to keep one of those running continuously), and mostly kept their house powered. It had enough juice to run everything (including two refrigerators and a freezer chest) in addition to all the lights and such. The only thing it couldn’t run was the AC.

During the period of the outage, I found myself sitting with him on their deck. The generator was humming away beneath us.

My mother in law was piddling around in her flower garden, and came up the deck stairs.

“Hey Norma!, as long as your going inside, why don’t you bring me and Jeff a couple more ice cold beers!”

The glare from her was priceless.

on February 19, 2021

I love that story for so many reasons. Thanks.

on February 19, 2021

Hahaha. “Make ’em ice cold.”

But you bring up an interesting point about the gasoline. There have to be some efficiency studies showing whether a battery unit, charged up by an ac outlet, is cheaper to use than a gas powered generator. Of course the battery jobs won’t run a big fridge much less an ac unit. And once you charge them up, do they stay charged up for a couple of months at least if not used?

I’ll be ticked off if I buy a big rig and a sheepish Ted Cruz leads an overreaction to the Texas storm so that we never lose power again.

The same way I was frustrated after I bought my million dollar insurance umbrella policy (incredibly cheap) and I couldn’t seem to get in an accident.

Oh, and the update is that we had power all day yesterday, with no interruption, skies are blue, and happy days are here again.

on February 19, 2021

Adding to the above, can’t you solve the “continuous operation” issue by pairing the generator to a battery storage unit? That’s how a Prius works.

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1 on February 19, 2021

In the present context, all the battery is going to do for you is get you a few minutes until the generator spools up and starts producing power. A battery system with enough storage to run even a partial household for a meaningful period of time is going to be huge bux.

Good friend of mine sells equipment to the data center market. Those guys run elite level UPS systems, because they can’t afford even a millisecond of outage. Their systems are all battery+diesel (mostly, some nat gas). If there is an interruption in mains power, the batteries carry them over until the diesels can get up to speed.

But unless you’re doing something pretty unique, you just don’t need that at home. And the difference between “backup system with zero downtime” and “backup system with 30 minutes downtime” is about 100x the price.

It always comes down to the old hotrod shop motto: “Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?”

IMHO, the sweet spot for the average homeowner is a good quality gasoline powered portable generator. Like a Honda. If the time ever comes that you are going to need it, you will be relying on it to run continuously for days. You want something that is rated for continuous service. Keep it in the garage. Keep a couple of five gallon cans of gas on hand. If you happen to get hit with an outage, throw the main breaker on your box, drag the generator out to the driveway, plug it in (preferably to a 20A circuit if you have one) and be careful how many things you turn on in the house.

(BTW, if you go this way, a few times per year, dump the gas into your car and refill the cans with fresh.)

If you really want to step up you ice cold beer game, you can go to one of the stationary, natural-gas powered home backup generators. Nice and convenient, but a big jump in dollars, particularly since you need a professional electrician to install them. And they generally run on natural gas, so your power is only as reliable as your natural gas supply. Or you can get one that runs on propane, but that introduces a whole other set of supply chain issues. But even with those systems, you generally won’t get the “battery bridge until the generator kicks on” capability that the pro’s use.

 

 

on February 19, 2021

I appreciate the information.

I know I am like a dog with his bone about my battery idea, but surely one can run a mini-fridge on a large, thousand dollar camping battery for a couple of days (which you don’t need in a winter time blackout anyway; you just put the milk and the bacon etc. outside on the patio table.)

Also , you can use a small, propane powered gas stove or the patio gas grill to cook and boil water on, for coffee and washing your face and nether regions.

That leaves heat and light. I can run small space heaters and use camping lanterns.

My wife is against heaters of any kind … she’s like one of those northern Mongolia llama shepherds. So I guess all I really need is some heavy duty camping lanterns for the few hours of darkness we have before bedtime.

I can buy a lot of lanterns for the cost of a gas powered generator.

I’m glad we had this conversation.

No, I need to get something to power a couple of mini fridges fir a 2 days, and maybe a space heater. My wife may be indifferent to extreme cold, but I am not.

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1 on February 19, 2021

Again, for what it’s worth having been in the automotive industry and the increasing politicization of it for decades, I don’t think you’re out of the woods on a year to year basis.

First, your power problems are largely dictated by politics, not rationality. As Jeff talked about in another thread the power grid across the country is being continuously pushed to the limits of reliability. There hasn’t been a new coal fired power plant in something like 3 decades simply because the permitting process is an endless nightmare that won’t allow anything new to be built. Existing plants are being pushed to their functional limits of 95% plus capacity utilization. And they’re 40 or 50 years old. I read somewhere that Texas has also closed 3 coal power plants in the state in the last year or 2. Your state is on track to pull a California routinely for the next several years. Do you ever wonder why that state seems to burn every year? It’s because the environmentalists have basically banned controlled burns that have been standard land management techniques from the beginning of time. And rolling blackouts in California have long been a standard feature of every damn summer.

And CO2 driven global warming is proving to be a huge political con job. The real scientists (who aren’t political hacks grinding for more Federal funding of their useless existences) are generally noting decreased solar activity as the driver of the changing temperatures in the same way it happened during the “Maunder Minimum” of 1645-1715.

https://www.foxnews.com/science/nasa-warns-long-cold-winter-could-hit-space-in-months-bringing-record-low-temperatures

No, global warming is dead as evidenced by this record cold snap affecting not only something like 73% of the land mass of this country, but the entire Northern Hemisphere from Europe to Asia. And it doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon.

And there’s a reason hybrids like the Prius only ever achieved 3% market share nationally, mostly in DC and LA and electric vehicles have only hit about 1% market share currently (including Tesla) despite the technology being 35 years old now (remember GM’s EV1?)

No. I’ve almost got my wife talked into buying a generator in the near future (she’s kind of like Jeff’s MIL). And you can bet I’ll do that if I get close to an approval.

Not that you need to follow my bullshit, but I’m actually looking to put my skin in the game if possible.

on February 19, 2021

I’m not plugging hybrid cars, if that’s how I came across. I’m just trying to figure out if there’s a way to efficiently use a passive device, inside the house, charged up for a couple of hours by an outdoor gas generator, instead of running the gas powered generator continuously. I hate noise like you can’t imagine.

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1 on February 19, 2021

Speaking of hybrids, generators, and power outages, I totally thought of you guys when I saw this one:

 

https://thepostmillennial.com/man-in-tx-powers-his-whole-home-with-his-f150-truck-during-blackout

 

on February 19, 2021

A perfect example of Gel Mann. I too have a generator and a couple of 120V outlets in my 2017 F150 powered by a 5.0L V8 but it’s not rated for much juice (400 amps or so if I recall). For 2021 they’ve upgraded the option to pump some considerable power.

But he’s got an Ecoboost engine powered by gasoline and not a “hybrid”.

Still, a perfect example of what I’ve been talking about.

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1 on February 19, 2021
surely one can run a mini-fridge on a large, thousand dollar camping battery for a couple of daysFrom robjh22

That becomes a pretty simple calculation. The battery will have a certain number of Watt-Hours of capacity at full charge. The fridge will draw a certain number of Watts. It’s basic arithmetic from there. 

The unknown here is how much time the fridge spends running, vs how much time it spends sitting there. No idea, and the answer will depend entirely on how often it is opened, how much stuff is put into the fridge that isn’t already cold, etc.

Put a WAG on it of 50%.

Going back to the battery you listed when this started, it says a “whopping” 777 watt-hours. At 120v, that is 6.5 amp-hours. Figure your mini-fridge draws two amps. That gives you 3:15 of continuous use. If you figure a 50% factor for how often the fridge runs, you’ll get 6:30 in wall clock time.

on February 19, 2021

Wow, no easy way.  I think the fridge will just have to be emptied of perishables and we’ll set them outside in Winter.

In summer, 105º is routine down here, so that will be a problem. I’ll just have to get that gas powered generator, I guess. 

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4 on February 19, 2021

Damn y’all. Just took some flooring back to the store in my truck. Turns out I’ve got a 400 watt generator with a 5.0L engine and a 36 gallon tank sitting in my driveway. There goes my crafty ploy to buy another generator. I could plug an extension cord into the house and power some lights, my wife’s work computer station, the internet, some chargers, and with careful load management probably a TV with my 30th anniversary present. See what y’all did?

Of course, a wood or pellet stove for the basement (plumbing into the chimney already exists) could still be an achievable goal. They’re probably really cheap on Craig’s list.

Hmmm……. 

on February 19, 2021
I could plug an extension cord into the house and power some lights, my wife’s work computer station, the internet, some chargers, and with careful load management probably a TV with my 30th anniversary present. See what y’all did?From Piecesofmalarkey

 

What I did was learn a ton of technical stuff,  LOL.

on February 19, 2021

A lot more oomph and a lot more money, but this thing supposedly tops off in 18-36 hours using solar panels that are available … for an additional $599.99.

 

https://www.goalzero.com/shop/portable-power/goal-zero-yeti-6000x-portable-power-station/goal-zero-yeti-6000x-portable-power-station/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=shopping&gclid=Cj0KCQiA4L2BBhCvARIsAO0SBdabFAmEAAIFne3i407D3cAuXQDvzi0jArvn3apDftwgT58nxrlpmHMaApGOEALw_wcB

I could justify this if I were a camper, I suppose.  

on February 20, 2021

5 grand? Hell, with that and a trade in you’re probably well on your way to a new F150. With a 7200 watt generator on board.

on February 20, 2021

Yes. Those beasts are for serious outdoorsmen, not me.

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