Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Are You Storm Ready?

Simple oil furnace change-over setup.

Now that the snow storm, wind storm, and power outages have passed, it's time to re-think some things about being prepared for the next one. Rivrdog, Random Nuclear Strikes, and a lot of other blogs have all done series on preparedness, and I'm not going to go over the same stuff that they have already covered. I do have some insights, however, that you may want to consider.

As soon as the power goes off, fill the bathtub with water. This will come in handy for flushing the toilet once in a while. It can also be useful if you need to douse a small fire. I'm assuming that you already have drinking water stockpiled, but if that runs out, you still have the bathtub full just in case.

If you have a generator, you should have a few cans of fuel for it stored away. There is a great product called STA-BIL that you can add to your stored gasoline to keep it from turning to varnish. You should not let fuel get over a year old, though, even with STA-BIL. Don't forget motor oil for the generator. A few quarts on the shelf could prove handy if the generator starts using oil. Most, but not all new generators have an automatic shut-down feature if the oil gets low. If you are buying a new genset, look for this feature.

If you have one of those fancy gensets with automatic startup and switchover built in and it's all wired in to the house already, the following won't apply to you, but for the rest of us, here's some ideas.

Extension cords? If your generator is big enough, you can set the house up with a manual change over switch and power just about everything through the house's wiring. Otherwise, you will need to run extension cords from the genset to whatever needs electricity.

If your furnace is gas or oil fired, it will be a top priority to get powered up. In some cases you can just turn off the main breaker at the panel, then make up an extension cord with a male plug on each end. Plug one end into a wall socket, then plug the other into the genset. This is not a recommended method though, as you may be powering stuff that doesn't need to be powered up. A better solution would be something like I've done in the picture above. The plug goes directly to the oil furnace. the socket is powered from the regular furnace power circuit from the main panel and breaker. To change over I just pull out the plug and plug it into an extension cord going back to the genset. The toggle switch cuts the power to the furnace from the panel if you are working on the furnace. It isn't really needed as you can just pull the plug to de-power the furnace.

Do you have enough extension cords to get to what you want to power? Are they heavy duty enough to carry the current your devices need? A 14 gauge cord is probably OK for most stuff, but 12 gauge is better, but more expensive. Most extension cords are marked, but not all. How are you going to get the cord into the house? Through a door, or a window? You can get flat extensions cords in short lengths at the hardware store in 12 and 14 gauge. They come in short lengths, like 6 footers, and are made for air conditioning units. I use one of those to go through the door, then a good sized extension cord on the inside to get to the furnace. It just fits under the door.

Generator? Have you started it lately? Changed the oil? Is it easy to move to where you want it to be when you need to run it? Many gensets don't have wheels, and are miserable to move around. A lot of them that DO have little tiny wheels that sink into soft ground. Remember that just because it rolled easily in July when it hadn't rained in two weeks, it may be a completely different situation right after two inches of rain. You might consider picking up some bigger pneumatic wheels and mounting them in place of the stock ones.

Lights? We keep a couple of kerosene lanterns and a Coleman propane lantern handy, along with several flashlights and a rechargeable spotlight. Be sure to have lots of batteries, too.

Cooking? The good old Coleman two burner camp stove and a couple of gallons of Coleman fuel handles the job nicely. We also have a single burner butane stove as a backup. If all of that fails, we can cook on the propane stove in the RV.

Heat? In addition to the oil furnace, I've got two propane heaters. They are industrial units often used in new home construction to dry the sheetrock mud quickly. The SMALL one is 200,000 btu's, and the big one is 250,000 btu's. (That's not a typo!) It will heat the entire house toasty warm in five to ten minutes. It will also burn all of the oxygen out of the air in no time, leaving you extremely dead, so it must be used with great caution!

One of the most important points I'd like to make is that the time to get everything together and figured out is BEFORE the power goes out. Put your genset in place, string some cords, and get everything all planned out well in advance, then stow it all so you can find it, so you aren't trying to do it all in the dark with a flashlight in your mouth.......


At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Sigivald said...

The best long-term kinda-expensive-but-not-very solution to emergency water in the home, is the one my house came with (the previous-owner-but-one being Mormon and thus Prepared).

A second water-heater tank, in parallel with the existing one, or just installed on the cold-water line, and not hooked up for heat.

That's something like 50-odd gallons of constantly-refreshed water, just waiting to be used in an emergency.

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 8:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We may well wind up with a house at the NJ shore in a year or two. First we get the hot water heater out from under the house. Second is a generator; in this case, one fueled by the natural gas line that already goes into the garage (old clothes dryer hook-up). The house has electric heat which can be turned on/off room by room. The stove is gas. Just have to get the generator up off the garage floor, although the garage sits on about as high a spot as you can get on the island.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 4:36:00 AM, Anonymous og said...

I need to get the generator out and start it.

I have a 220 outlet in the garage. I have a 220 cord with two plug ends (yeah, I know, dangerous, but hear me out). I pull the main and plug the genset into the wall outlet, and just turn on the breaker for the furnace and one room's worth of lights. We have gas which rarely fails, so I'm moderately safe on that account.

In the meantime, it gives me a decent 220 outlet.

Pleased you're safe and sound, anyway.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 8:32:00 AM, Blogger Lucy Stern said...

I love that extra water heater idea...

Don't forget to keep the house well venilated when using your propane stove, coleman or butane stove. The fumes could easily make everyone sick or kill you. Never use charcoal in the house and always keep that generator outside when using it....

We have two 55 gallon water drums and a siphon for extra water usage.

One small tip here: If your heat is out for the night, fill a two liter soda bottle with very hot tap water (not boiling) and screw the lid on tight. Put the water bottle, under the covers and rest your feet on it. It will keep you warm for hours...

We have a "stormtracker" that used four different power sources for emergencies. Look it up on EBay or at Home Depot and give it some consideration. We live in Hurricane territory so we are prepared too....Good luck and Merry Christmas.

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 6:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great tips. I like how you have it in the picture. Nice and safe. Had my share of storms including one on the praries of SD with no serious clothes, 50-60mph winds, 20 below and car stalled. Story lasted 3 days. Might blog that one as I should have died. Maby I did blog it already? Can't remember. Since my heart attack my wife says I'm one card short of a full deck. Oh well, would have made a great posting. How come you're getting all of the cold and storms and in New England here, we still have not had any snow? Nothing only 50-60 degree weather. Finally ran out of leaves to rake. Hopefully you guys in the NW will finish with a nice 07 and we in the NE will get our storms and cold back. How can you have a good old Nor'easter without any snow or cold?
Stay warm my friend.
The old muser

At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 8:21:00 PM, Anonymous Joe said...

One real dangerous thing that needs to be mentioned about hooking a generator up to your house wiring. Positively, absolutely disconnect your house wiring from the utility grid or you may bbq a utility worker trying to fix the power lines!!


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