Hurricane Matthew–Some Lessons Learned

Dear Editor: Although I shouldn’t have been, I was once again amazed at the panic and last minute attempts to prepare, as Hurricane Matthew approached Florida. Florida’s geography dictates that there is only one way to travel to get out of the state, and that is north, unless you own a boat or plane.  The interstate freeways and highways get a lot of traffic and the stores get cleaned out, by hurricane refugees.  The parking lot of the Walmart that I visited was full of recreational vehicles (RVs).  Many of their owners were standing around with nowhere to go.  When a nearby gas station had what looked like a fuel resupply truck pull in there was a stampede of people on foot with empty gas cans lining up at the pump and blocking cars from getting in. Be prepared and top off as soon as you hear the word “Hurricane”: Nearly everything sold out.  Bread, milk, water in all containers, the camping sections were cleared, gas, diesel, propane, and butane were all gone.  The big box stores did quite a bit of business in plywood and lumber. Even car batteries took an inventory hit.  Empty propane bottles and gas cans … Continue reading

Advertisement:

Letter: Circling Back on My Preps

Dear Editor, My preps are in five areas, per the “group think” of SurvivalBlog. I have worked from area to area starting with what is easiest and cheapest up the ladder in each area. As I circle back I am working my way up but also looking back and questioning myself: Where did I store the extra ammo? Exactly what is in that unmarked box on my closet shelf and how might I better package to grab and go should we have to hastily migrate? Electrical items are on the agenda today. It started up with recharging the AAA-size batteries for some of my flashlights. I noticed that many of my stock of batteries have been raided by my children seeking to power different toys. Next, I checked my inventory of batteries and chargers. I learned: “So that is what the stray seemingly orphaned wall wart goes to!” Also, “Is the metal cabinet in the office with almost no cell reception enough to provide a Faraday cage?” Of course “no” is the answer so it is time to pick up some military surplus steel ammo cans for that. Maybe I should figure out if the inverter is in an anti-static … Continue reading

Advertisement:

A Micro Solar Power System With Maximum Utility, by B.C.

Necessity being the mother of invention, I recently stumbled backwards onto an inexpensive and truly totable way to power two-way radios, shortwave, and other receivers; charge smart phones and iPads; provide lighting; quickly purify water on the go; keep night vision functional; enable electronic security systems; and pump rainwater to a gravity tank, while protecting all these functions from EMP in the interim. I will quietly be turning 50 next month. I joined the survivalist movement in the early 1980’s, at the tail end of that upswing of interest in such things. Vietnam was still fresh in our minds, and the cold war in full gear. There were movies, magazines, and books but not the saturation made possible by the Internet today. I still have issues of Mother Earth News that I saved from the seventies and a survival book copyrighted in 1978. Having endured the Blizzard of ’78 in Ohio as a child, Hurricane Hugo in college, and been hit by the Blizzard of ’96 in Atlanta, the day after arriving for graduate school I had long recognized the necessity of radios for listening to broadcasts and so I accumulated many different ones powered many different ways. I even … Continue reading

Advertisement:

Letter: Generator Tips

Good morning, Hugh, I thought I might pass along a tip or two about generators. I have several, the most used being one of a pair of Honda EU2000i, which does constant duty as an “unlimited length extension cord” around the property. The other is a much less portable 6500 watt unit, which lives in “hurry up and wait” mode in case power fails and the well pump is needed. I’ve got a homemade kit to couple the 2000s together to double the output, if I find I need some more “portable watts” for a power tool. The second EU2000 is left oil-filled with the fuel tank empty, and it’s run quarterly; the 6500 watt unit is in the same condition but run monthly. (The two 2000s are swapped semi-annually to equalize wear.) To run them without putting fuel in the tanks, which will eventually go stale, I use a 3-quart metal gas tank salvaged from a dilapidated and soon-to-be-scrapped riding mower sitting behind my local dealer’s building; inspection proved the interior was not rusty, so a few minutes with a screwdriver and $5 got me the tank, complete with shutoff valve. An old microphone stand, which cost $2 from … Continue reading

Advertisement:

Our Solar System Experience, by F. in TX

Back in 2014, my wife and I installed a 9 KW solar system. The system is an off-grid with battery backup. After about 18 months of use we do like the system, despite the cost and complexity of installation. I spent about a year doing research on which type of system best met our needs and settled on a grid tied system with battery backup, since it would give us the ability to use grid or off-grid power. With most grid tied-only systems, you will be outta luck once SHTF; grid-tied-only systems shut down as a safety precaution. The off grid capability is really valuable. One lesson we learned the hard way with anything grid-tied is to investigate which type of insurance your power company requires and how much (if any) tariff will be charged. Our homeowner’s insurance does not offer the liability protection required by our utility, so we had to search for a new policy. Also, the utlility charges a $40 monthly tariff. These two requirements by the utility make grid tied solar not very practical for small systems, in my opinion. In the end, we only switch the system off grid when the sun is shining and … Continue reading

Advertisement:

Letter Re: Backup Electric Power Design Considerations

Hugh, The largest draw on your power is for the refrigeration of both you and your food. These guys have some interesting solutions that are direct connect DC. They seem to be fine folks, but the solutions are pricey. Danzer makes an interesting refrigerator that runs on 24 volt. I get the idea from numerous articles that you really should not have just one solar system in your house. I have bought components and run my Ham radio off a panel and a couple of deep cycle batteries, but I have a long way to go. www.wholesalesolar.com has some great products and great prices if your “puzzler” needs something to study. Ready Made Resources, a SurvivalBlog advertiser, has well-priced, quality, turn-key solutions if your “puzzler” is otherwise occupied. – RV

Advertisement:

Letter Re: Backup Electric Power Design Considerations

Editor, I found KK’s recent letter interesting in that he, as an experienced solar installer, recommends DC coupled systems. In particular, I would like him to expand on how his clients cope with using DC rather than AC on their properties and how and where they buy DC appliances, tools, pumps, et cetera. I understand that battery-powered electronics and tools are ubiquitous and well tested, but in general the batteries have voltages from 1.5 to 18 volts or so and the chargers accommodate that by plugging into 110 volt AC. Do his clients use small point load inverters for this? Where can you easily buy DC-powered clothes washers and other household appliances, for instance? Would they not have different voltage requirements? My understanding is you cannot take power (different voltages) off of different points in a battery bank as that creates long-term difficulties. Do not lower DC voltage systems require large size wiring to be run throughout a home? My deep well required 400′ of #10 cabling to accommodate the 240 volt 1 1/2 hp submersible pump. I’d hate to think of what the cabling cost would be for powering a DC pump at lower voltages, not to mention the … Continue reading

Advertisement:

Letter Re: Backup Electric Power Design Considerations

HJL, I believe R.V. and Expat are referring to AC Coupled inverters. I’ve installed hundreds of offgrid solar systems from 300 to 30,000 watts and I have never used an AC coupled system for an offgrid install. Mainly because it requires more fancy equipment and customization. I don’t feel it gives my customers a good value; it is more complex and less durable. That’s not to say there are not scenarios where it may be the better choice, especially if you are grid tied and net metering. If your readers are interested in the technology, search for “AC Coupled Battery Backup” on the Internet. If I had to go AC coupled with batteries, I would choose a combination of Outback, SMA, or Enphase. If you are looking for a durable offgrid system, 99% of the time, DC coupled is the better choice…for now. – K.K.

Advertisement:

Letter Re: Mechanically Interlocked Panel

Hugh, I’ve had a “prepper” mindset for most of my life (I’m in my late 40’s) and find the information contained in your blog to be some of the best on the web. I try to read the blog often but have never submitted a piece based on my experiences. Today I was perusing SurvivalBlog when I realized that I have some information that may be helpful to your readers. It will definitely save anyone considering wiring their home for a back-up genset considerable money as well as simplify its operation. One who is considering this project typically will read that the only safe way to wire a back-up generator to your service is through a transfer switch. There is another way that I contend is safer, much less expensive, and simpler. It’s called a mechanically interlocked breaker panel cover. Basically how it works is this: a receptacle is installed outside the home where the generator is plugged in. That receptacle is then wired to a breaker in the panel (mine is a 30 amp breaker). This breaker is typically located in the uppermost right slot on the panel. This breaker can not be thrown to the “on” position without … Continue reading

Advertisement:

Letter Re: Backup Electric Power Design Considerations, Expat and Other Thoughts

HJL: Welding cable is a fine way to cut amperage loss in your line. However, since it is intended by the manufacturer to be used for welding and not solar system, it is labeled for welding and not labeled for building installation. Code inspectors want to see a certain label. They will not accept deviation. After all, an abundance of engineering went into what is in that code. Welding cable use would make pulling a system when bugging out much easier. (I am assuming there are a range of “bugging out” versions with regard to situational haste.) Since you cannot defend a fixed position, my preps are done with an eye to rapid transportation. Supplies do not sit on shelves. They sit in bins, buckets, or ammunition cans that sit on shelves. The introduction to Enphase’s products is very enlightening. I encourage Expat to go read. I found the technological advances exciting. (The prospect of saving money does that to me.) An inverter that is smart enough to push power into my electrical system and cut my power bill is very advantageous. Shaving a kilowatt hour or two off my electric bill 10 hours a day would be very nice … Continue reading

Advertisement:

Letter Re: Solar Power

Hugh: It seems straightforward to accumulate the beans, bullets, and band aids, and this site has been a tremendous help. However, solar power seems formidable. Every article I read quickly devolves into talk of how to wire and link things, amps, voltage, et cetera. I am an older professional woman with no mechanical expertise, but I do know that electricity can be dangerous, and I hesitate to do these things myself. It would be a tremendous help if someone could write an article listing simple plug-and-play systems that could be purchased from reputable companies. If they could do it by price points, it would be even better (e.g., if you have $1,000, buy this – and it will be enough to power these items). In addition, can these systems be left on at an unattended retreat or are they a fire hazard? – prepperdoc Hugh Replies: Plug-n-play solar systems are expensive. There are things that have to be taken into account, which require technical expertise and is why solar installation is a thriving industry. You basically have two options: Use a plug-n-play system like Goal Zero or similar. You can get these systems from our advertisers, if you prefer to … Continue reading

Advertisement:

Letter Re: Backup Electric Power Design Considerations

Editor, As a full time user of off-grid power I’ve a few quibbles with this article. One is the casual reference to rooftop solar panels. Solar panels get dirty-fast. Solar panels in general are not all that wonderful in generating concentrated energy and dirty panels generate far less than optimal. They need to be cleaned with a soft brush and hose often. In northern parts snow sticks to panels real well and then generate nothing. Unless you have a widows walk installed below the panels, don’t even think about installing them on high roofs. Anything that gets in the way of the sun will have a totally unreasonable negative effect on solar panels. Even that tiny bare twig way up in the top of a tree, so make sure you have a clear path especially in winter when the sun is low in the south (for northern hemisphere). The author mentions “installing an inverter at the panels and sending an AC current down the line to the battery bank”. Obviously you cannot charge batteries directly with AC power. Any inverter has to be installed after the battery bank. As the author says, hook several panels up in series to boost … Continue reading

Advertisement: