Prep Test Time – Power Outage

Power outages can be a pain; however, most of the time they excite me. Not only do I get to enjoy the absolute quiet, without all the hum from electronics such as refrigerators, fans, dishwashers, computers, etc., but I get to play around with my preps.

Before I had much in the way of preps, when we lived in town, we had a unique situation where we were the only one on the block without power for 4 days. I get it, major storm, LOTS of people without power, and one house without power in the middle of many with power isn’t a high priority.

Since we moved to a rural area, fortunately or unfortunately depending on the way you look at it, we’ve not had a power outage that lasted more than a few hours. But that doesn’t stop me from frequently breaking out some of my preps and having fun when it happens.

Recently the power went out for about an hour. Since I didn’t know how long it would be out, I started the generator so we could continue cooking our crock-pot meal without worrying about it going bad. This spurred me to take some pictures of some basic preps and share.

#1) The generator. I understand, not every budget can afford a generator, but once you’ve been without power for 4 days, that’s not a place you want to be in again. Our current generator is a smaller 3200 watt unit, but I have plans to upgrade to a 5500+ watt generator when the budget allows.

Currently we just use extension cords and run them through a window, using towel(s) to seal the window cracks and keep cold air out.  With these we power the necessities such as FREEZERS for the Brothers M chickens, refrigerators, oven*, and I guess now a crock-pot. Of course we’ve run the coffee maker too; can’t live without coffee.

I mentioned oven. Our stove is gas on purpose. We can run the stove-top without electricity and if we want to run the oven, we only need enough power for the electronic controls. You cannot do that with an electric oven unless you have a much bigger generator than we have.

One last thing on generators, I use mine as an alternative to battery powered tools. There are frequent times where I need to do some work beyond where an extension cord will take me. I have a cordless drill, but have not invested in a lot of other cordless tools. I do have the essential power tools in a corded variety. Wheeling the generator to a remote part of the homestead to power tools is not as convenient as battery powered tools, but it has sure come in handy, especially when I built our mini-barn on our land before there was even a house or power.

#2) The fireplace. Our house is electric heat. This 74% efficient fireplace will heat the whole house, including the basement if we could force heat down there. It is much more efficient with the built-in electric fan, so in a long power out situation we would power the fan with the generator, but even without the fan, the radiant heat does a good job of heating the house, especially if close the  door to the upstairs and focus on the main level.

#3) Propane heater. I installed this propane heater in the basement to help with heating the downstairs when the fireplace is heating the upstairs floors. This one has a thermostat to kick it on and off and does not need electricity. If for some reason we didn’t have power and couldn’t use the fireplace, we could close off the upper levels of the house and use it to keep an area of the basement until power was restored.

#3.5) Emergency outlets. You may have noticed the odd grey outlet next to the heater. While I was finishing the upstairs and basement of our house, I wired the lights and these grey receptacles on their own circuit. They are all on one breaker circuit per floor, so that once I’ve properly bypassed the external power*, I can hook the generator into the breaker box, shut off all breakers except these lights and receptacles, and have lights and a place to plug in essentials. NOTHING is permanently plugged into these receptacles so we are not powering any phantom draws off the generator by accident.

*DO NOT just plug a generator in to your breaker box without properly disconnecting/bypassing it from the main power line. This poses a safety hazard for the linemen trying to restore power to you and in most places is illegal.

#4) Decorative wall sconces and candle/flame power, possibly my favorite. I’ve always liked wall sconces and candles as decorations, mood lighting, and fragrance. We have them in many rooms, especially the bathrooms. We keep a supply of cheap unscented tea lights on hand to put in the sconces when the power goes out to provide light. You want unscented because after a while the scented ones can become overpowering.

We also have scattered candles and oil lamps. I love the ambiance of an oil lamp, but I only pull them out when the power is out which is probably why I enjoy power outages so much. I also have this cool candle-powered LED lamp that is powered by a tea light candle. It’s somewhat expensive as just a prep, but it was a special birthday gift for me and it provides so much more clear light off just one tea light.

#5) Uninterruptible Power Supply(UPS). I picked up a cheap 1200 watt UPS that needed a new battery; batteries are not especially cheap, but not overly expensive either if you shop around. The 1200 model is designed to run a PC and monitor for 15+ minutes. I plug our internet router and Wifi router into it. The UPS will keep them running for at least 60 minutes. This enables us to surf the net on smart phone, laptops, or various other battery powered devices.

#6) A laptop. I started a draft of this post on my laptop while the power was out. It’s usually fully charged and can run off battery for a couple hours give or take. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good working laptop. I buy previous generation, refurbished business class equipment that is designed to last a long time for a fraction of the cost of a new piece of equipment.

Besides the obvious advantages of being connected to the internet through my router on UPS, it also can double as a power station to run/charge phones through the USB cable.

#7) Emergency radios and flashlights. We have several AM/FM/Weather band emergency radios. When the kids wanted their own radio, we purchased these emergency radios for them instead of just an AM/FM radio. Most can be charged with a crank, some can be charged via USB or Solar. Most also run off regular batteries and some have lights. My favorite is my eTon Scorpion(the black one) that I bought many years back to take with me on some hikes.

We also have some cheap crank flash lights, but they mostly just stay in the “storm box”. Periodically I’ll get them out and crank them to charge the batteries, but mostly we rely on regular flashlights.

I really like the little $1 flashlights from Wal-mart. They are much brighter than I expected from a cheap light. The also come with batteries, so you can store them unused and have them ready when you need them. Most of all, with 4 kids in the house, I find that no matter how many flashlights I have, nor how many death threats I give to not use them, they disappear. At this price I buy a bunch and let the kids use them, so my more expensive lights can stay where I want them to be.

#8) Rechargeable batteries. The last thing I’m going to mention is the rechargeable batteries and charger. We purchased these primarily to have batteries for all the game controllers and later purchased more batteries for some robotic building sets. However, they serve as a backup power source if we ever needed to go an extended period of time without power.

Running the generator constantly can get expensive, not to mention you’re limited to how much gas you have on hand or can get.  For example, in an ice storm we may find yourself in a rationed situation since there’s a fairly steep hill between us and town. A good strategy is to run the generator for an hour or two at a time, then shut it off for a few hours.

Refrigerators and Freezers can easily go 4 hours or more if you’re not opening them. Run them on the generator for an hour or so to keep them cold.   If you can charge the batteries as the same time, if the generator isn’t big enough, run it for another hour to charge up you rechargeable batteries, phones, and laptops. Then you can shut off generator to save gas and still function off the stored power you just saved. Several hours later, when you need to recharge batteries or cool your food, you start up the generator and repeat the process.

A lot more can be said about preps of all types, these were just a few that came to mind around power outages. There’s a lot of information out there. Hopefully you’ll find things that fit your situation and lifestyle to help you live a better life, even if you only ever use them for the “fun” times.

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