Friday, July 20, 2012

Preparing for Blackouts
I’ve been through many blackouts. At times we went through one every two days all summer long, sometimes it was a week without power, even more in other places. Summer time was particularly bad because of the greater demand and lines would burn up and transformers explode, but that didn’t mean you didn’t have them every once in a while the rest of the year too. That’s just the way it is in most South American countries. Even if you have power, and this again happens during Spring and Summer, we experience “dirty power”, low voltage power that is often not enough to make appliances work and even ruins many of them. Instead of having 110V, you just get 100V or 90V. Some appliances tolerate this better than others. I remember that the microwave simply would work, and the AC and washing machine would make awful noises while working at half of its normal performance. The “dirty power” issue isn’t part of daily life in most of USA, but as decay spreads due to the financial crisis it could eventually become an issue. The day you have this feeling that the light bulbs just look dimmer than usual… yes, that’s it.

You can solve this by finding a voltage elevator. This may not be available now but if the problem becomes common soon enough electricians will start putting these together, its not that difficult for a pro electrician. The one I had in Argentina solved my “dirt power” problem, and was build by an electrician that saw the business opportunity. Thank you Capitalism! This guy, he was selling thousands of these to happy customers like myself. You might want to add to that a surge protection as well, or get a proper power stabilizer that either increases or decreases so as to always provide 110V or 220V, depending on where you live.

Regarding blackouts in general, many of these points I’ve covered before, in more detail, but a quick list of tips would be the following:

1)Have plenty of LED flashlights. Don’t bother with anything else since LEDs are by far more efficient than incandescent lights. I’ve used candles extensively, but the fire hazard is considerable and always there.

2)Get used to having a LED light with you at all times. With the gadgets available today, no one should be without a nice 1xAAA LED or at least a button cell keychain flashlight in their keychain.

Streamlight 73001 Nano Light Miniature Keychain LED Flashlight, Black

3)Be very careful regarding going to bed and leaving candles lit. A curtain blown by the wind, a candle that falls after melting, glass container shattering due to temperature or accidentally spill, any open flame indoors is a considerable risk.

4)A headlamp can be your best friend during blackouts. Its one thing to go without light for a couple hours, its another to go for a couple days. You cant just sit it out, you have to do stuff. With a headlamp, you get to use both hands while putting that light exactly where you need it. Thing doing repairs, washing the dishes, working, heck, even the military understands this and has helmet mounted lights.

5)Whenever possible, use flashlights and other devices (radio, etc) that run on a single battery. Sometimes 1xAA is all you have left, and it means that you can power two separate lights instead of just one.

6) Go for lights that use commonly available batteries for blackout flashlights. Even if you have CR123A tactical lights, also keep more common AA and AAA flashlights at hand. If blackouts become common, you’ll need to get yourself rechargeable batteries and these also tend to be cheaper (and safer) in the AA and AAA variety.

7)Don’t get a huge generator. They are heavier to move around, noisier, more expensive and use up more of your precious fuel resources.  A 35oo watt generator (more or less) will run your fridge, washing machine, water pump, PC, lights and charge your tech devices. It wont be doing all at once but you can run some at the same time. If you run your fridge three hours a day and keep good fridge door discipline (open it only when absolutely needed) thats usually enough in most temperature condition.

Yamaha EF2000iS 2,000 Watt 79cc OHV 4-Stroke Gas Powered Portable Inverter Generator (CARB Compliant)

DuroStar DS4000S 4,000 Watt 7.0 HP OHV 4-Cycle Gas Powered Portable Generator

8) Know what you need in terms of power. Some appliances have particularly demanding starting watt needs. A microwave or well pump for example may not work at all with a smaller generator. Check each specific appliance so as to see how many watts it needs to run, and double that so as to approach the starting watt demand.

9)A chest freezer is more efficient. Because of the shape and the way the door opens alone, it works better for when you only turn it on a couple hours a day. In very general terms, cold air works like a liquid. With a vertical fridge cold air will “spill” out of it each time you open that door. A chest freezer or fridge is better in that regard. Another tip: Throw a few soda bottles into the freezer. When lights go out you can move these in the bottom of the fridge along with your food (all together piled up) and cover it with a plastic tarp, even several plastic grocery bags will do, the more layers of insulation the better. This way you can keep food cold enough for a couple days in hot summer conditions. I’ve done it before myself several times so I know it can be done.

10)Don’t run your generator for stuff you don’t need. TV, videogames, even AC Is a luxury you may not be able to afford. If you have one of these poorly designed boxes of a house where natural ventilation doesn’t occur, then run the AC for about an hour before going to bed. As for kids, tell them go play ball with their neighborhood friends. You might want to keep them within sight in your back yard for security reason.


7man said...

I have one of each of these from d.light

These solar lights are inexpensive. With the S1, you can read a book or use it for specific task lighting. The D10 is good for general room lighting and the S250 is a lantern and useful for charging cell phones and such.

Anonymous said...

Great post.
I have been following for over a year and have bought several products you have on your post.
Thanks for your recommendation of the 4 sevens light .
I have purchased 2 of the quark lights and will be buying more.
Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

I'm going all out for redundancy since I live in the desert. 5 KW of PV solar, battery bank, 2.5 KW gasoline generator, and a 6 KW nat gas generator, all tied into Xantrex 6048 grid controller/inverter. I also have four 2.2 KW UPS units used for server back up which happen to double as power sources for smaller loads when power is down. They also clean up dirty power. Finally, I'm going to have select LED's running on backed up circuits to keep power to security systems and lighting.

One is none, two is one, three is two. In my case 8 or 9 is enough.

Anonymous said...

I have a portable cooler that JUST BARELY will fit in my refrigerator if I remove the bottom shelf. Like a deep freeze, the cooler traps the cold air, and helps keep my food from going bad.

Hope this helps


Anonymous said...

If you are in a house vice an apartment, then having a pro install a generator transfer switch is strongly recommended. In cold weather you can have hot water and furnace running until wood stove takes over (you do have a wood stove in your cold climate home, don't you?) It also takes away the hassle of running cords, just one monster cable to the box on the side of the house.