I used a Honda generator (4500 watts rated, 5000 watts max), and it performed flawlessly. It will run approximately 8.5 hours on a tank of fuel with enough left over to make sure the tank is not run dry. In the time the power was off, I went through approximately 26 gallons of gasoline. At today’s prices, that’s less than $100 worth. If I had it to do over again, I would not run the refrigerator and maybe not the freezer either. It takes far more power to keep them cool than I had estimated. Even running the generator all day long and shutting it down at night left the refrigerator just barely cool the next morning.
Some tips for next time:
- I would probably go with a large ice chest and hope that I could find ice.
- Eat up whatever you can from the refrigerator and toss the rest out.
- A good chest freezer will hold the temperature pretty well, but if power isn’t restored quickly, you’ll have to decide what to do about that food.
- Frozen food isn’t cheap, but neither is gasoline.
- I would probably save the generator just to run the well pump and I wouldn’t scrimp on the water (Remember: Water. Lots of water.)
In addition to my generator, I have an inverter connected to two large 12 volt batteries that used to back up a cell phone tower (they are replaced regularly, and if you can locate a source of those that have been rotated out, they are an excellent bargain). If the sun is out, this is charged with three 64-watt solar panels.
Since I was running the generator anyway, I just charged them using a regular battery charger. At night, I disconnected the generator from the house, and connected the inverter. I turned off everything except where I would be running a fan. One fan running all night would draw the batteries down to 85% – 90% of full charge, which is quite acceptable for a deep discharge battery. This worked out very well.
While generators were scarce at some points, there was usually some place they could be found. I didn’t hear of anyone who wanted one but couldn’t find one with a little looking and driving.
What could NOT be found, though, was cable and connectors if you wanted to do anything other than just plug in an appliance directly to the generator. The 30 amp twist lock connectors and the flexible 10 gauge cable to go with them were in very short supply or non-existent. Don’t try to use romex or other solid wire. It doesn’t work with a connector that is designed for stranded wire.
Be sure you have the needed connectors and pre-wiring well before it will be needed. If you are back-feeding your house, be sure to talk to an electrician first and get a transfer switch installed. If you try to back-feed your house on your own and do it incorrectly, you can kill or seriously injure someone. There is no excuse for back feeding into the utility lines. Always disconnect from the utility line, and then put a padlock on the panel so that no one but you can open it. Never unlock it until after the generator has been shut down and disconnected. [NOTE: I would strongly advise DO NOT try to back-feed your house. I now have a transfer switch, installed by an electrician.]
When South Florida evacuated, they went through our area and sucked up all the gas. The storm came along and knocked out the electricity needed to pump gas, if there was any left to pump. People were using generators that needed gasoline.
When the storm was over, evacuees came back through again, only this time there wasn’t any gas left. Not a good situation.
Gas containers were non-existent in any of the stores at any price. If they appeared on a truck, they were gone within a few minutes. Be sure you have a good supply of gas containers (the 6 gallon Rubbermaid containers I use work very well). If you’ve got a safe place to store them when full of gas, be sure to have a good supply on hand. If you don’t have a good place for regular storage, at least have the cans so you can improvise when the situation calls for it. Never store gasoline in your garage or anything attached to or close to your house. Also, if gas is really scarce, it’s nice to have a way to lock up your stored gasoline.
Always use a good fuel stabilizer in any fuel that is not going directly into your vehicle gas tank. I have been using PRI-G for years, and I’ve never had any fuel related problems.
Be sure to use sunscreen and/or wear a hat and clothing that protects you from sunburn. You’ll be spending a lot more time outdoors. If you think trying to sleep without air conditioning is miserable, imagine what it’s like when you add a painful sunburn to the situation. I know someone who felt so good soaking in a pool to cool off, that they ended up with a nasty sunburn. Others got pretty red while cleaning up debris and working on repairs.
Keeping things dry
Without air conditioning, little spills and puddles just stay there. Keep an old towel handy in the bathroom to clean up excess water. There will be plenty of it around as you fill the toilet tank with buckets of water scooped out of the bathtub. Also, without air conditioning, a house with carpeting can start to smell bad pretty quickly.
As I talked to the folks who live along the same dirt road that I do, I found that no one knew all of the other neighbors. I carried around a pad of paper and asked each family to write down their name, address, phone, cell phone, email, or whatever they felt comfortable sharing. I compiled the information, printed them out on heavy card stock, and distributed the list to all who are on the list. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but this hurricane gave me a good reason to do so without anyone having to wonder why it would ever be needed.
If you have a generator and can pump water, and you have a neighbor who doesn’t, you can supply their house with water by running a garden hose from your water spigot to theirs. You will need a double-female adapter (pick one up from a hardware or garden supply store). You will also need to make sure that the neighbor does not have any kind of anti-backflow valve on the spigot. Following Hurricane Charley, two of us in the neighborhood supplied others with water. This time, only one was needed because my neighbor bought a generator. I’ve seen it work over a pretty long distance if you’ve got enough garden hose.
With generators in short supply, and the fact that you can’t hide a noisy generator, theft is always a possibility – even in a rural area. I kept my generator padlock and chained to the house at all times. I also kept the front gate padlocked so that no one could drive down to the house to load things up.
If you normally carry a concealed weapon, you might end up soaked with sweat every day, which means you have to make a choice. I chose to leave mine at home locked up in the safe; going into town was another matter. It depends on your circumstances.
I quickly learned to pace myself when clearing debris and making repairs. For a guy who is used to sitting in an air conditioned office while writing software, hard labor outside in the heat of the day can be really draining. Tips:
- Move slowly, carry smaller loads, and take more frequent breaks.
- Know your limits and don’t exceed them.
- Decide right at the beginning what needs to be done immediately, and what can wait until later. Clearing the road needs to be done now. Clearing the yard can wait.
One of the advantages of not having power is that you end up going to bed shortly after the sun goes down, and then getting up at dawn. I tried to do most of my work in the early morning and late evening. Yes, I know that’s common sense, but I still needed to remind myself of that.
I tried to carry around a small Thermos filled with ice water. That worked OK for a while, but it didn’t hold anywhere near enough. It was too tempting to just drink that and be done with it. I was sweating away a whole lot of water, and a little Thermos of ice water just didn’t cut it.
Next time, I want to have at least a half gallon container of ice water with me when I’m outside. Even better, a half and half mixture of Gatorade and water. Going inside for water is not a good plan. You need it outside where you are working. With no air conditioning, there is little incentive to head inside for a break, so you end up resting in the shade of a tree. That’s where you want to keep the cold water. (Remember – Water. Lots of water.)
After the hurricane, the county had a number of aid stations where they gave out some, “must have,” essential items, such as:
- Food (military MRE’s)
- Sand bags
- Mosquito repellant.
Mosquito repellant is NOT an optional item when working outside after a hurricane. In the early morning and late evening, the coolest time of day when you want to be working outside, huge clouds of mosquitoes would appear. I guess all that new standing water tells the mosquitoes that it’s time to breed, and they don’t waste any time doing so.
Two new items on my list are a can or two of mosquito repellant, and lots of Gatorade
One of the handiest things through this whole time without power was the little Gerber “Infinity” flashlight that I carry with me at all times. I keep it on a lanyard (I use the lanyard from my Surefire lights, since it is a lot better than the el cheapo lanyard that comes with the Infinity light) and it is looped around my belt with the light hanging in my pocket. It is quick and easy to get to, and was in constant use.
Infinity lights are powered by a single AA battery, and use a very bright LED. I use a Lithium AA battery in mine for slightly more power, longer life, and lighter weight. They use a twist on/off switch with an O-ring seal, and are practically bomb-proof. Highly recommended!
For general lighting, I used a Coleman camp lantern with two fluorescent bulbs and 6 D-cells. I’ve had this for years, and it has always performed very well.
Organization and Information
I was constantly referring to my “Preparedness Organizer” during this time. It contains:
- How many amps different appliances use
- Which circuit breakers control what
- Generator information
- Contact phone numbers
- How much bleach to add to purify water
- Radio frequencies and codes, and a ton of other useful information.
It also has a notes section where I write down things I need to change for next time. Many folks have that information available, but not all organized in one place.
I need to get a better radio for something like this. I keep a small short wave radio in a pack in my car, and I’ve got my ham radio gear, but I’ve got nothing in between. My brother in law has a nice battery powered table top multi-band radio that worked great. It was just the right size, and the batteries lasted long enough to be perfect for listening to the news in the evening. That’s on my list of things to get.
As with the last storm (Hurricane Charley), cell phones were useless for several days after the storm. For some reason, even with all the lines down, my land-line phone continued to function (most of the time anyway, but none of my neighbors had working phones).
Cell phones were great just before the storm when I found a hard-to-get item at Home Depot and wanted to call friends and family and see if they wanted me to pick up something for them. Same thing after the storm if you were lucky enough to be in an area where the cell towers were still working. Remember that if your land-line phone requires power to work, then the phone won’t work either. Older cheaper phones always seem to work. You can usually find an unused phone jack in the house to keep one plugged in for times like this.
In part 3: On to hurricane 3: Jeanne, what I improved upon, what I changed, and more lessons learned from depending on a generator.
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